Ashwagandha is a supplement that’s been used in Ayurveda for centuries, and is widely reputed for being a good means to calm anxiety, boost flagging moods, elevate your libido, fight inflammation, and sustain your cognitive function.
Its benefits are wide-ranging, and though it’s less well-studied in a scientific or clinical context than some other supplements on the market, it has an incredibly long history as an herbal remedy.
1. Ashwagandha is regarded as one of the most powerful powerful herbs used in Ayurvedic healing.
It’s been around since ancient times, and is renowned for its restorative benefits.
The meaning of ashwagandha in Sanskrit is literally “the smell of a horse”, which indicates that this herb offers the strength and vigor of a stallion. The herb has been commonly prescribed for helping strengthen the immune system of a person suffering from an illness. It is also known as the “Indian ginseng” primarily because of the rejuvenating properties it provides.
Ashwagandha hails from the tomato family, and is fleshy shrub with yellow flowers and oval leaves. The shrub also bears red colored fruit that are as big as a raisin. It grows in the dry regions of the Middle East, northern Africa, and India. However, it is also available in milder climates today, such as the U.S.
2. Ashwagandha contains several different biologically active compounds.
Ashwagandha offers a whole lot of health benefits, helped by the fact that it has useful medicinal chemicals such as Withanolides (steroidal lactones), amino acids, fatty acids, choline, alkaloids, and lots of different sugars.
The best part is that the fruit and leaves also have therapeutic properties, while the root of the ashwagandha plant is used in a lot of Western herbal remedies as well.
3. There are over 200 different studies conducted surrounding the healing benefits of ashwagandha.
Medical researchers have been fascinated by its effects, and how this botanical herb offers the following: improves sexual potential for men and women, helps stabilize blood sugar, reduces depression and anxiety, improves thyroid function and treats adrenal fatigue.
4. There are numerous studies that have shown the beneficial properties of ashwagandha in helping improve stamina and endurance.
It sharpens brain function, and also reduces pain in the body. The energizing, and calming effects of the extract helps bring down stress levels in the body, and improves motivation, concentration and stamina as well.
A study conducted on lab rats found that, when given ashwagandha, the rats swam twice the distance in a faster time than rats that were given a placebo (1).
Researchers therefore concluded that the extract would have the same effect on humans, since it balances adrenal hormones that are responsible for physical activity.
Ashwagandha side effects
Ashwagandha doesn’t have a lot of serious side effects to report about, and there isn’t much scientific research available on its possible complications.
Very high dosages can cause GI problems. However, when taken in large doses the extract may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and upset stomach. It is also not recommended to apply the herb directly on your skin.
People with certain medical conditions should not take ashwagandha. Doctors have advised people to be cautious when taking ashwagandha, especially those that are undergoing the following conditions: pregnancy or breastfeeding, diabetes, high or low blood pressure, stomach ulcers, autoimmune diseases, and thyroid disorders.
Ashwagandha could worsen autoimmune diseases. Ashwagandha may make the immune system more active, which could increase the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. It may also slow down the central nervous system, making it unsafe to take before or immediately after surgery.
Ashwagandha offers a lot of special benefits to people but there are certain precautions that people suffering from specific medical conditions should take.
You should also remember to always discuss taking Ayurvedic healing herbs with your doctor before you go ahead and take them. This is because certain people may experience complications or an increased risk of suffering from complications.
Most research uses doses of 500-2000 mg of root extract per day. Studies vary widely when it comes to the dosages that have been used with success. Dosages ranging from 500 to 2000 mg per day of ashwagandha root extract have been reported.
Generally, smaller doses have been used in research on relatively healthy subjects for exercise performance and recovery and for libido and sexual health (2), and higher doses in this range have been used in studies on diseased populations, for example, in people with high blood pressure (3).
Some studies make dosage proportional to body weight. Extrapolating dosages from animal studies is trickier—these are usually expressed in a dosage per kilogram of body weight, but often, these doses are far higher than might be reasonable in a human.
As such, the only helpful takeaway from animal research when it comes to ashwagandha is that larger people may need a higher dosage, since the effects might be proportional to dose per unit body weight.
This is not surprising, given that the same phenomenon has been observed in supplements ranging from caffeine pills to weight loss supplements.
Ashwagandha benefits FAQ
Q: Can ashwagandha treat anxiety?
A: There is a substantial amount of scientific research, albeit mostly confined to herbal medicine journals and studies in animals, that suggests that ashwagandha may be able to quell anxiety.
One article published in the Alternative Medicine Review, which examined the substantial literature in animals such as rats and mice, noted improvements in experimentally-designed measures of stress levels in animals treated with ashwagandha (4).
In humans, a paper published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine looked at five different studies that examined ashwagandha and anxiety compared to placebo pills, and concluded that all of them showed improvements on the ratings scales used by the studies to assess anxiety (5).
In sum, while more and larger clinical studies are needed, preliminary evidence does suggest that ashwagandha may help improve symptoms of anxiety.
Q: Can ashwagandha make you lose weight?
A: The scientific research on ashwagandha and weight loss indicates that the best results come when you leverage its well-documented anti-stress and antioxidant properties.
Ashwagandha is particularly effective as a weight loss aid when it is used among overweight and obese adults who have chronic stress—one randomized controlled trial demonstrated a reduction in both weight and in measures of stress among overweight adults in eight-week study (6).
Q: Can Ashwagandha fight obesity-related inflammation?
A: Some research shows that ashwagandha may be able to ameliorate some of the negative effects of being overweight, such as the increase in lipid oxidation (7). These results make sense in the context of obesity as an inflammatory condition—the antioxidant properties of ashwagandha may help counter this inflammation.
Q: Can ashwagandha help you sleep?
A: Ashwagandha is found in several sleep aids, and appears to induce sleep thanks to a specific biologically active compound called triethylene glycol.
Since ashwagandha has been used in ayurvedic medicine for centuries as a calming and grounding agent, it should not be surprising that it exerts a sleep-inducing effect.
Notably, this compound is soluble in water, which may explain why ashwagandha tea is a popular sleep aid.
Q: Is ashwagandha good for thyroid problems?
A: The effects of ashwagandha on thyroid hormones is supported by some research in animals, which suggests that ashwagandha can increase the level of circulating thyroid hormones in your blood.
This topic has not been explored in much detail in humans, but two potentially promising findings do support the idea that these effects apply to humans.
One is a secondary analysis of a study that was originally designed to study the effects of ashwagandha on bipolar disorder—during the course of the study, the researchers noted a small but noticeable increase in thyroid hormone levels over the course of the eight-week study among those people in the experimental group (i.e. the one receiving ashwagandha) who had lower than normal thyroid levels at the study’s outset (8).
The other piece of evidence that ashwagandha can affect thyroid levels actually comes from a case report on a woman treated for excess thyroid hormone levels that resulted after taking an ashwagandha supplement for several weeks, then increasing the dosage (9).
So, while some evidence indicates that ashwagandha exerts an effect on circulating levels of thyroid hormones, they also underscore the fact that you should be careful and consult your doctor before taking an ashwagandha supplement for thyroid problems.
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Ashwagandha could be a useful addition to your supplement stack if you want to tamp down on anxiety, boost your energy levels and libido, and combat feelings of depression.
Typical dosages range from 200 to 500 mg, with lower doses being used in studies on athletes and higher doses being used for clinical studies.
Either on its own or integrated into a testosterone booster, sleep aid, or sexual wellness supplement, ashwagandha’s range of potential benefits is certainly impressive enough to give it some serious consideration.