Ashwagandha is a herb whose origin is traced back to India.
Apart from the funny smell it has that is similar to that of a horse, it has been found to have great medicinal value and has helped people through the decades with various conditions such as anxiety and stress.
Modern research, however, is showing that there could be more potential uses for this herb than it is was used for.
We explore Ashwagandha at length and see how exactly it helps.
What is Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is a tiny Indian herb whose berries, leaves, and roots have been known to have medical value. They have helped with various aspects of life that contribute to improving our moods and overall well being.
Other than India, it also grows in some parts of Africa and the Middle East (1).
It is said to help the body with handling stress, reducing high anxiety and depression levels, and dealing with the stress-related aspect of other health conditions (2).
It is also referred to as Winter Cherry, just like Physalis alkekengi. Although, there are actual differences between the two.
Ayurveda, the Hindu medicine system, has made use of Ashwagandha and recommends it for areas such as fastening recovery, longevity, and boosting sexual performance.
Research also shows it is useful in a wide variety of other issues like memory loss, malignoma, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease (3).
Most popular names used to refer to Ashwagandha include Ashvagandha, Indian ginseng, Ajagandha, Asundha, poison gooseberry, Asgand, Peyette, Strychnos, Ashwanga, Turangi-Ghandha, Asoda, Ashwaganda, Physalis somnifera, Queen of Ayurveda, Orovale, Ghoda asoda, Samm Al Rerakh, Asana, Amukkirag, Asgandha, Amangura, Kuthmithi, Hayahvaya, Vajigandha, Ginseng Ayurvédique, Sogada-Beru, Kanahe Hindi, Cerise d’Hiver, Samm al ferakh, Avarada, Ayurvedic Ginseng and Withania Somnifera (4)(5).
The name Ashwagandha itself means the smell of a horse and this herb was given that name because its roots have a smell like a horse’s.
It is also believed to have been named that way due to its abilities to fill you with energy and performance like that of a horse (6).
How Ashwagandha Works
How Ashwagandha works exactly has not been fully understood. However, experts believe that the active substances in it make it possible to bring about the positive effects it is known to bring.
There are 2 major substances, steroidal lactones, and alkaloids, that play a big role in how it works. They are both referred to as Withanolides.
The withanolides contain properties of anti-oxidation. They help protect the body from the negative effects of oxidation which include turning cells into free radicals that may harm the surrounding cells in the body and the brain and cause various health conditions as well as accelerate the aging process (7).
Withanolides are also known to regulate GABA and monoamine oxidase (MAO). GABA is a naturally occurring amino acid in the brain which helps with relaying information between neurons.
A calming effect is produced when it attaches itself to GABA receptors, which is why it is linked to a reduction in stress and anxiety.
Monoamine oxidase is the enzyme that is involved in degrading different Monoamines including serotonin, noradrenaline, and norepinephrine.
Monoamines include three different types of neurotransmitters, which are Indolamines such as serotonin, Catecholamines such as dopamine and noradrenaline as well as histamine.
That is why Ashwagandha is a well-known adaptogen that aids the body when it comes to stress management (8).
Ashwagandha has also been found to have chemicals that help with fighting inflammation in the body (9).
Also, experts say that Ashwagandha allows for dendrite formation that results in improved cognitive performance. Dendrites are the branch-like extensions of the nerve cells in the brain that help with relaying information from one neuron to the other. The formation of new neurons is linked to better brain performance (10).
Benefits of Ashwagandha
Here is the list of benefits associated with the use of Ashwagandha:
1. It can improve brain abilities – Studies show that Ashwagandha may have the ability to boost cognitive performance and increase the function of the parts of the brain that may have been affected by different health conditions or brain injury. It has been shown to improve memory, reaction time, and performance of tasks in human studies. Due to its adaptogenic abilities, it enhances mental performance indirectly by reducing anxiety since anxiety is one of the major causes of poor mental performance, among other ways, it enhances the brain (11)(12)(13)(14)(15)(16).
2. Reducing inflammation – Both animal and human studies have shown that it can help with reducing inflammation. In humans, it has been found to bring down different inflammation markers including C reactive protein that is associated with a high likelihood of heart disease. It also promotes immune cells that help with ensuring your body remains strong and capable of fighting infections (17)(18)(19)(20)(21).
3. Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression – Studies have shown that Ashwagandha can reduce high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in people with chronic stress. In animal studies, it showed the ability to block the pathways of stress. In human studies, it was found to help people who were struggling with stress and anxiety at higher rates than placebo. It has been found useful for social anxiety as well as generalized anxiety. When it comes to depression, few studies done it show that it can greatly reduce depression and manage panic disorder, although more research is needed to confirm how effective it is for these two (22)(23)(24)(25)(26)(27)(28)(29)(30).
4. It can regulate blood sugar levels – A number of humans studies on Ashwagandha have revealed that it may be able to regulate blood sugar levels in both healthy and sick people, especially those dealing with diabetes and schizophrenia. It was found to increase the secretion and sensitivity of insulin in muscle cells. When it comes to type 2 diabetes, more research is needed as the study done on it did not have a control group thereby making the results inaccurate (31)(32)(33)(34)(35)(36).
5. Increase strength and muscle in men – Different studies that involved men who took Ashwagandha continuously for a few weeks showed that it resulted in increased muscle (both size of the muscle and muscle strength) and reduced fat in the body (37)(38)(39)(40).
6. It may improve heart health – Ashwagandha may also bring down levels of blood fats such as triglycerides and cholesterol in a big way. Since these blood fats increase fatty deposits in the blood that then bring troubles with blood flow, Ashwagandha helps to reduce them which in turn lowers the risk of getting heart disease and improves heart health generally (41)(42)(43)(44).
7. Increases testosterone levels in men – Various studies in men have shown that it helped improve sperm count and sperm quality, increased levels of testosterone increased sperm motility, and even increased antioxidant levels in the blood that was linked to more health benefits (45)(46)(47)(48)(49)(50).
8. May treat cancer – Different lab experiments and animal studies have revealed that Ashwagandha may help treat different types of cancer including brain, lung, ovarian, breast, and colon cancers. This is due to the compound in it called withaferin that handles cancer cells by promoting the death of the cancer cells and hindering the growth of new similar cells (51)(52)(53)(54)(55)(56)(57)(58).
8. Treating various health conditions – Ashwagandha is potentially effective when it comes to dealing with other various health issues, For instance, it was found to reduce the symptoms of arthritis such as swollen joints, pain, and issues with mobility. Studies also showed it can be a good aid in managing weight as it lowers the desire for food and the stress that comes with weight problems. Also, it has been found to hinder amino acids that are present in patients with Alzheimer’s and protect the brain from glutamate neurotoxicity that is linked to various cognitive disorders.
Moreover, an analysis of various studies showed that Ashwagandha can improve overall health due to the different effects it has on handling stress, inflammation, and even promoting rejuvenation (59)(60)(61)(62)(63)(64).
Ashwagandha User Reviews
Reading user reviews of previous users of Ashwagandha may help you understand how people are finding it for various health benefits. However, we strongly stand behind checking with your doctor before getting into the use of Ashwagandha as well as any other supplements.
These reviews should also not make a replacement for professional medical advice. Always follow what your doctor has advised you. Experiences differ when it comes to medication and even supplements as we all have different brain and body chemistries.
Visiting a doctor before using supplements will help you get a better understanding of how effective the supplements may be for you and also learn the best way to take them going by your current health condition, among other essential factors.
Started taking Ashwagandha after a few months of anxiety symptoms. Waking up through the night and feeling wired and edgy. Take tablets at night before sleep. This is my second time taking tablets for around 6 weeks as suggested. First time worked well but anxiety returned so on again. Highly recommended and hopefully helps you also if anxiety is an issues
Started taking 350 mg Ashwagandha daily to help with anxiety. It made me feel like I’d drunk several cups of coffee. I was very jittery and it gave me an upset stomach. I stopped taking it after two weeks and then tried to take a much lower dose ~100 mg and while the jitters were not there at that dose it had the same negative digestive effects including severe bloat and diarrhea. Be careful with this stuff.
I love Ashwagandha. I’ll be taking it until I die. I don’t really see important acute effects myself, but long-term it’s been life changing. I take 1x 450mg (NOW brand) every day somewhere between breakfast and lunch. If I take two I do end up feeling noticeably more relaxed and don’t-give-a-fucky. But, if I stop taking it then within about 3-4 weeks later I feel much more anxious overall. Social events become very much about staying just long enough to seem normal before my “I really just want to go home” feeling gets too loud.
Adding my experience: very good for helping with anxiety and increasing social confidence, but it gave me absolute fucking insomnia. I tried every dose, brand, type of extract. It’s not just me, I’ve read about this on several amazon reviews and on forums including reddit. It only affects a small portion of users with insomnia. Must be genetic. I just want you guys to know to watch out for it.
I started taking it 2 days ago. So far I noticed less anxiety, which directly led to improved communication with other people.”
When it comes to dosage, there is no specific set dosage that has been confirmed.
The type of Ashwagandha supplement you work with as well as the health benefits you seek to get from it will determine how much of it you should take.
There are different Ashwagandha supplements like the Ashwagandha extract, Ashwagandha leaf powder, and root supplements. So be sure to read the instructions on the label of the supplements you buy.
Some experts recommend taking 300mg two times a day after you have had your food or 240mg every day for 2 months.
Others may encourage 400mg to 450mg taken one or two times per day or even from 750mg to 1250mg per day (67).
Ideally, doses of 200mg to 1500mg have been generally well tolerated and effective.
It is always a good approach to start with low doses and slowly up the dose as you keep using it and feel comfortable.
Always consult a doctor before you take it.
If you are taking other medications or you have skin allergies or other reasons you think might interfere with your taking Ashwagandha, make sure you let your health care provider know so that you are advised accordingly.
Side Effects of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is considered to be generally safe.
However, if you overdose, some of the side effects you may experience include diarrhea, indigestion, vomiting, drowsiness, nausea, irritability, bloating, skin allergies, and stomachaches.
Liver complications are also a possibility although very rare.
It may also have a negative effect when taken by people who have thyroid conditions, blood pressure, diabetes as well as those who are taking medications for those conditions, not to mention those taking sedative medications (68).
Those who have stomach ulcers and those who are struggling with autoimmune diseases are also discouraged from taking it as it may affect them.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also advised not to take it.
Also, those who are about to go for surgeries are advised to stop using it for 14 days before the actual day of surgery.
Due to limited information on children’s use, for their own safety, they shouldn’t take it.
If you experience these and other side effects while taking it, cease the use immediately, and seek medical attention.