Ashwagandha use is widely popular, and this supplement has been relied upon for centuries. Traditionally prescribed to help children thrive and to grant longevity to older people, recent studies indicate that this medicinal herb can have
Ashwagandha use is widely popular, and this supplement has been relied upon for centuries. Traditionally prescribed to help children thrive and to grant longevity to older people, recent studies indicate that this medicinal herb can have beneficial effects for individuals of all ages.
With ashwagandha, it is possible to enjoy better concentration, assist the body to cope better with stress and reduce blood sugar levels. Sexual vitality is increased with regular use, and many people find that they are less depressed and anxious thanks to ashwagandha. Some men have experienced improved body composition and increased muscle strength as a result of supplementing this herb. Evidence additionally indicates that ashwagandha may be helpful in the fight against cancer.
Learning more about this powerful medicinal herb can help anyone to see how an ashwagandha supplement can benefit their health and longevity.
Ashwagandha Background and History
Translating from Sansrkit, ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse.” In fact, the plant’s roots are said to smell like horse sweat, but many people also argue that taking this supplement gives the user the strength of a horse. Adherents also say that this translation is an allusion to the traditional belief that this herb can be used to enhance sex drive.
The species name of ashwagandha is somnifera. In Latin, this means “sleep-inducing,” and this name alludes to another use of the plant to support healthy sleep.
Native to the Indian subcontinent, ashwagandha grows naturally in the arid climates of Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Nowadays, it is cultivated in more temperate zones in the United States and elsewhere to help support global demand.
In India, ashwagandha has been used for approximately 5,000 years. Children who failed to thrive were often dosed with the herb, as were elderly people who were experiencing the common illnesses and debilitations of old age such as rheumatism.
Ashwagandha may be referred to by many other names. Frequently, it is called winter cherry or Indian ginseng. The ginseng label is derived from the herb’s rejuvenating properties. However, on a botanical basis, ashwagandha and ginseng have no connection.
In fact, ashwagandha is a member of the nightshade family just like the tomato. The plant is a shrub with a full, robust profile. Its leaves are oval shaped, and the plant bears yellow flowers and red fruit that are about the same size as a raisin.
Ayurveda Medicine and Ashwagandha
Ayurveda practice labels ashwagandha as a Rasayana (1). This is a plant that supports happiness and vitality as well as increased life span. Traditionally, the root is ground and then mixed with milk, ghee or honey, any of which may help to alleviate ashwagandha’s somewhat bitter flavor. Many people consume such a mixture before bed to support relaxation and healthy sleep.
When it comes to supporting the vata constitution, ashwagandha is commonly used (2). It helps to balance the vata energy for better vitality, improved cognitive function and suppler joints. Traditional uses supported better memory retention and healthy hormone function.
10 Benefits and Uses of Ashwagandha
Over thousands of years, ashwagandha has been a remedy for numerous ailments and conditions. Studies into the benefits of ashwagandha are ongoing so it is likely that researchers will find even more uses for this herb in the future.
1. Reducing Anxiety and Stress
This is the most well-known use of ashwagandha. Chronic stress is an epidemic in modern societies and finding ways to cope with or manage this stress is a primary goal of millions of people.
A number of controlled studies on human subjects have demonstrated that ashwagandha is capable of reducing the severity of stress and anxiety symptoms in people who suffer from related disorders (3).
Another study involving individuals with chronic stress demonstrated ashwagandha’s ability to deal with insomnia and anxiety (4). One group of participants was given a placebo, and the other was given an ashwagandha supplement. At the end of a 60-day period, the control group that was taking a placebo reported an 11 percent reduction in their symptoms. The group that was given the ashwagandha supplement reported a 69 percent reduction in their symptoms.
In another human study, researchers concluded that 88 percent of study participants who were given an ashwagandha supplement over six weeks reported experiencing less anxiety. Only half of the participants who were given a placebo also reported a reduction (3).
2. Lowering Cortisol
When people suffer from stress, their body is flooded with cortisol. Commonly called the stress hormone, cortisol is responsible for numerous health issues. At healthy levels, cortisol is critical for managing inflammation, regulating blood pressure and supporting restful sleep among many other benefits (5).
When cortisol levels are raised on a continuing basis, the condition leads to extra fat stored in the midsection and dangerously high blood sugar levels.
However, several studies indicate that supplementing with ashwagandha can bring cortisol levels back down to normal (6). Study participants that received a high dose of the herb experienced an average reduction in cortisol levels of 30 percent.
3. Alleviating Depression
Studies are still investigating the connection between supplementing with ashwagandha and the alleviation of the symptoms of depression. Nonetheless, preliminary evidence suggests that it may be helpful (3, 4).
In one of these studies, nearly 65 adults who were suffering from chronic stress and depression were treated with a daily 600 mg dose of ashwagandha extract. These participants reported an approximate 79 percent reduction in depression symptoms after 60 days. A group in the study that received a placebo actually increased their symptoms by 10 percent (4).
4. Regulating High Blood Sugar Levels
CDC estimates suggest that some 100 million people living in the U.S. have diabetes or its precursor condition, which is known as prediabetes (7). Left untreated, the disease can be deadly. Even when it is not lethal, diabetes is linked to many other serious health conditions that directly impair quality of life.
Studies demonstrate that taking ashwagandha may be able to reduce blood sugar levels in the blood (8). The effects were observed in people with diabetes as well as people who have not been diagnosed with the disease (9).
One study even concluded that ashwagandha could be as effective as prescription diabetes medications. The small research project involved half-a-dozen subjects who all have type two diabetes. Each subject took an ashwagandha supplement for one month, and they experienced lowered blood sugar levels that were comparable to the levels achieved through prescription diabetes medications (10).
5. Lowering Bad Cholesterol
People all over the world fight a daily battle with their cholesterol levels. Having too much bad cholesterol puts people at a much greater risk for a variety of cardiovascular diseases.
However, some studies suggest that supplementing with ashwagandha may lower bad cholesterol levels. Several animal studies show these results, with the most significant of these discovering that when rats are dosed with ashwagandha, their cholesterol levels may be reduced by an average of 53 percent (11).
While these results are impressive, the outcomes from human studies show less precipitous declines in cholesterol levels. Nonetheless, improvement was noted (6, 9, 12). Cholesterol levels were taken down by an average of 17 percent in these human subjects.
6. Reducing Inflammation
Inflammation is an essential part of the body’s natural response to illness or injury. Unfortunately, the body sometimes overreacts, causing inflammation in parts of the body where it is not required. Chronic inflammation is linked to stroke and heart disease. It also may be responsible for conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (13). Accordingly, controlling inflammation is critical to a healthy lifestyle.
Studies are demonstrating that ashwagandha may help people fight inflammation (14). Some of this research, which was conducted on human subjects, shows that natural killer cells are activated by ashwagandha (15). These cells are a vital part of the immune system. Strengthening them keeps people healthier.
Other studies concluded that C-reactive protein, an inflammation marker, was decreased in the body with ashwagandha extract supplementation (6). For the research, one group of participants was given 250 mg of ashwagandha each day. They experienced a decrease of 36 percent in C-reactive protein markers. The group given the placebo experienced just a six percent decrease.
7. Improving Memory and Cognition
Traditional ashwagandha use included its application as a memory booster. To date, not a great deal of scientific study supports this use. One study that involved 50 healthy adults demonstrated enhanced memory and attention. The research took place during an eight-week period, and study subjects took 300 mg of the supplement two times each day (16).
Another study revealed better task performance and reaction time in a group of healthy men who were given 500 mg of an ashwagandha extract on a daily basis. Men in another group were given a placebo, and they showed no significant improvement in task performance and reaction time (17).
In yet another study that was performed on rodents, the outcomes suggest that ashwagandha may enhance antioxidant activity. This activity is responsible for shielding nerve cells from free radicals. Rodents with epilepsy were dosed with ashwagandha. The impairment of their spatial memory was all-but cured, likely as a result of a significant lessening in oxidative stress (18).
8. Increasing Muscle Mass and Strength
It seems that the traditional use of ashwagandha to increase strength and vitality is based on scientific fact. Several studies suggest that the regular use of this herbal supplement may result in better body composition. Many users also report increased muscle strength (9, 23, 25).
The goal of one study was the determination of dosage levels of ashwagandha that would be both effective and safe. Men involved in the study who supplemented between 750 and 1250 mg of ashwagandha root every day demonstrated a noticeable improvement in muscle strength within one month.
Another study involved two groups of men. One was given an ashwagandha supplement while the other received a placebo. The group that received the ashwagandha lost twice the body fat percentage when compared with the control group. Moreover, the ashwagandha group showed far greater increases in the size and strength of their muscles.
9. Boosting Male Fertility and Testosterone
In one study, several men were treated with ashwagandha, primarily for stress. The men who received the treatment were tested and found to have improved sperm quality as well as higher levels of antioxidants. Approximately 14 percent of the sexual partners of the study participants became pregnant after treatment for three months.
Another study looked at nearly 100 infertile men. They received an ashwagandha supplement, and subsequent testing revealed a marked increase in sperm motility. The overall number of sperm also had improved. Each subject also demonstrated a noticeable improvement in testosterone levels.
10. Fighting Cancer
This group of studies supports one of the most promising and exciting developments in the use of ashwagandha. Scientists are suggesting that this all-natural herb may actually help to fight cancer.
Various studies on animal subjects indicate that ashwagandha may help cancel cells to commit suicide via apoptosis (26). The same study provided evidence that this medicinal herb further may inhibit the growth of new cancerous cells.
Another study revealed that reactive oxygen species, or ROS, may be generated in the body by ashwagandha. ROS are like poison to cancer cells while they do not harm healthy cells. The same study suggests that cancer cells may be less able to resist apoptosis thanks to ashwagandha (27).
Studies performed on a variety of animal subjects demonstrate that it may be possible for ashwagandha to be successfully used in the treatment of various forms of cancer including ovarian, breast, brain, lung and colon (28, 29, 30, 31, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25264898).
One study involved female mice who were suffering from ovarian tumors. Certain mice were treated with ashwagandha or received an anti-cancer drug in addition to the herbal supplement. At the conclusion of the study, the mice had experienced a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the size of their tumors. Scientists also found that cancer was prevented from spreading to other organs as a result of the treatment.
How to Take Ashwagandha Powder
Frequently, an ashwagandha powder is mixed with water or milk and honey. A traditional method involves mixing ashwagandha powder with equal parts of ghee, which is clarified butter, and honey. Most people use between one-quarter and one-half of a teaspoon of ashwagandha once or twice each day.
Many people love to make ashwagandha into a tea. All that is required is one cup of hot water, a teaspoon of honey and a half teaspoon of ashwagandha powder.
An alternative recipe results in an ashwagandha tonic. Two cups of milk are simmered on a burner with between one and two teaspoons of ashwagandha for about 15 minutes. One-eighth of a teaspoon of cardamom and one tablespoon of raw sugar are added to the mixture. Generally, people drink one cup of this tonic once or twice each day.
What is the Correct Dosage for Ashwagandha?
Lower blood sugar levels were achieved in studies in which participants were given between 250 mg and three grams on a daily basis. Generally, these doses were given two or three times per day (10, 12).
Many people take ashwagandha because it is known to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation throughout the body. Several studies show that people may want to take between 250 and 500 mg of ashwagandha on a daily basis to achieve these effects (6, 34).
Memory improvement is another reason why many people take an ashwagandha supplement. Some studies show that ashwagandha is effective for this purpose, especially when taken in a dosage of between 500 and 600 mg each day (16, 17).
People who have not taken an ashwagandha supplement before may want to begin with a lower dose in order to minimize the potential for uncomfortable side effects. A recommended starting dose is 300 mg. This dose may be slowly increased every week or two, with many experts recommending taking between 1,000 and 1,500 mg every day (35).
Some studies indicate that people may be able to more easily tolerate ashwagandha in tablet or capsule form (36). Those who are really bothered by the smell or taste of this herb may wish to take a capsule as opposed to the powder. The ultimate daily dosage remains within the same guidelines, with many people supplementing 1,250 mg each day.
Best Time of Day to Take Ashwagandha
The traditional time of day to take ashwagandha is in the evening before bed. This is because of the herb’s ability to promote healthy, restorative sleep. Taking this supplement in the evening also makes sense because the body undergoes many regenerative processes during sleep. It is possible that the most efficacy can be achieved from ashwagandha can be achieved by taking it in the evening.
However, some experts suggest taking ashwagandha two or three times per day. These doses can be spaced out evenly, such as taking them at breakfast, lunch and dinner, though food is not required to be taken with this supplement. Spacing out the doses minimizes the chances of experiencing side effects and probably allows for more complete absorption of each dose.
Possible Side Effects of Ashwagandha
Within ashwagandha are withanolides such as withanolide A, withanone and withaferin A. Effectively, these are ashwagandha’s active ingredients. Withanolides are flavonoids. The higher the concentration of these flavonoids in an ashwagandha supplement, the more potent it is. Currently, most formulations of ashwagandha contain approximately 5 percent withanolides, the highest concentration available.
Scientists suggest that the ashwagandha leaf contains a greater concentration of some withanolides than the roots do (36). Accordingly, it may make sense to check the source of the ashwagandha in any particular supplement.
The higher the concentration of withanolides in the ashwagandha supplement, the better the chances are that side effects will occur. Typically, these are relatively mild, and they may consist of indigestion, diarrhea and vomiting. People who develop these symptoms should immediately discontinue ashwagandha use. They may be able to resume the supplement at a later date, but care with dosage should be exercised. For instance, it may make sense to start with a milder dose and to give the body more time to adjust to the supplement.
When taken within suggested guidelines, ashwagandha appears to be safe for human use. Nonetheless, it is sensible to consult with a doctor before taking any supplement, including ashwagandha. This is especially true for people who currently are taking prescribed medication for conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or thyroid issues. This also is true for anyone who takes a prescription that suppresses the immune system.
People who have any of these conditions or take any of these medications may suffer an adverse reaction to an ashwagandha supplement. Namely, ashwagandha can cause blood pressure and blood sugar to dip to dangerous levels. The supplement also may build up levels of thyroid hormones, which further may be dangerous.
Women who are nursing or pregnant are advised not to take ashwagandha. Researchers say that there is some evidence of a link between ashwagandha use and miscarriages (38). Additionally, virtually no studies have looked at the advisability of a nursing mother of using ashwagandha. This means that it is best not to use this supplement while breastfeeding.