What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub that grows in India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. The root and berry are used to make medicine.
The name Ashwagandha is derived from the Sanskrit words “Ashwa” and “Gandha” .
Ashwa meaning Horse.
Gandha meaning Smell.
The translation of Ashwagandha is roughly, “the smell and strength of a horse”.
According to traditional Indian classification, Ashwagandha is considered a Rasayana which means that it helps in lengthening the lifespan.
According to modern science classification, ashwagandha as an adaptogen, which means it helps the body adapt to stress.
Ayurveda also classifies the herb as Bhalya – something which increases strength and Vajikara – something which promotes healthy sexual functioning.
Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb. It is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, it is most well-known for its restorative and rejuvenating benefits.
It has been used for over 3,000 years to relieve stress, increase energy levels, and improve concentration. Its botanical name is Withania somnifera, and it’s also known by several other names, including Indian ginseng and winter cherry.
Ashwagandha is a prominent herb in Indian Ayurvedic medicine and has become a popular supplement due to its health benefits.
Some Proven Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
Historically, the roots of Ashwagandha have been used to treat stress, nervous breakdowns, diabetes, constipation, gastrointestinal issues, Insomnia, arthritis, skin conditions, fevers, snake bites, memory loss and various other conditions. The leaves, seeds and even fruits have been used to treat various conditions.
Let’s begin and see at them one by one.
1. Help to reduce stress and anxiety
Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen which means that it helps the body to adapt to stress. It can boost brain function and help fight symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Several controlled human studies have shown that it can reduce symptoms in people with stress and anxiety disorders. In a 60-dat study with people with chronic stress, those in the group that supplemented with ashwagandha reported a 69% reduction in anxiety and insomnia, on average, compared with 11% in the placebo group.
Adaptogenic supplementation may provide an alternative to pharmaceutical treatment, as some studies suggest its effectiveness in reducing moderate to severe anxiety. Even in cases of chronic anxiety, ashwagandha has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, and boost individuals’ resistance towards stress.
2. Help to reduce symptoms of depression
Although it hasn’t been thoroughly studied, some studies suggest ashwagandha may help alleviate depression.
In the 60 day study on 64 stressed adults, those who took 600 mg of high-concentration ashwagandha extract per day reported a 79% reduction in severe depression, while the placebo group reported a 10% increase.
The thing is, only one of the participants in this study had a history of depression so the reliability of these findings is unclear.
3. Help to reduce cortisol levels
When you are stressed, or when your blood sugar levels get too low, your adrenal glands release cortisol. That’s why it is known as a “stress hormone”. In some cases, cortisol levels become chronically elevated which can lead to high blood sugar levels and increased fat storage in the abdomen.
Ashwagandha may help to reduce cortisol levels. For instance, study was conducted on chronically stressed adults. Those who supplemented with ashwagandha had a 30% reduction, on average, in cortisol, compared to the control group.
4. Boosts testosterone and increases fertility in men
Ashwagandha helps to maintain a healthy level of testosterone is vital to the health of men. It also significantly boosts sperm quality and fertility in men. Ashwagandha has been proven to improve and maintain healthy male fertility levels.
In a recent study on 75 infertile men, the group treated with ashwagandha showed increased sperm count and motility, as well as a significant increase in testosterone levels. Furthermore, the group who took the herb had increased antioxidant levels in their blood.
In another study, men who received ashwagandha for stress experienced higher antioxidant levels and better sperm quality. After just three months of treatment, 14% of the men’s partners had become pregnant.
5. Help to reduce blood sugar levels
In various studies, ashwangandha has been shown to lower blood sugar levels.
In one test-tubes study revealed that it increased insulin secretion and improved insulin sensitivity in muscle cells.
Additionally, in a four-week study in people with schizophrenia, those treated with ashwagandha had an average reduction in fasting blood sugar levels of 13.5 mg/dl, compared with 4.5 mg/dl in those who received a placebo.
What’s more, in a small study in six people with type 2 diabetes, supplementing with ashwagandha for 30 days lowered fasting blood sugar levels. However, the study didn’t include a control group, making the results questionable.
6. Might have anti-cancer properties
Certain studies have found that withaferin, which is a compound in ashwagandha, helps induce apoptosis, which is the programmed death of cancer cells.
It also prevents the growth of new cancer cells in several ways. Withaferin is believed to promote the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) inside cancer cells, thereby disrupting their function.
Studies also suggest that it may help treat various types of cancer, including breast, lung, colon, brain, and ovarian cancer. In one such study, rats with ovarian tumors treated with withaferin alone or in combination with an anti-cancer drug showed a significant reduction in tumor growth. The treatment is also believed to prevent the spread of cancer to other organs.
7. Help to increase muscle mass and strength
Research has shown that ashwagandha may improve body composition and increase strength.
In a study to determine a safe and effective dosage for ashwagandha, healthy men who took 750–1,250 mg of pulverized ashwagandha root per day gained muscle strength after 30 days.
In another study, those who took ashwagandha had significantly greater gains in muscle strength and size. It also more than doubled their reductions in body fat percentage, compared with the placebo group.
8. Help to reduce inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s normal response to conditions such as infection, toxins, and trauma. Under normal conditions, the body will produce an anti-inflammatory response to restore balance. In cases of chronic pain, however, the body is not able to regulate the inflammatory response. The result is chronic imbalance and chronic pain.
There are many Ayurvedic herbs that address ongoing, excess inflammation. Ashwagandha is one such herb which has proven to be effective in reducing inflammation. Ashwagandha herbal tea prepared from leaves is helpful in relieving inflammation.
9. Help to lower cholesterol and triglycerides
In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, ashwagandha may help improve heart health by reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Animal studies have found that it significantly decreases levels of these blood fats.
One study in rats found that it lowered total cholesterol and triglyceride levels by 53% and nearly 45%, respectively.
While controlled human studies have reported less dramatic results, they have observed some impressive improvements in these markers.
In a 60-day study in chronically stressed adults, the group taking the highest dosage of standardized ashwagandha extract experienced a 17% decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol and an 11% decrease in triglycerides, on average.
10. Help to improve brain function and boost memory
Research has shown that it promotes antioxidant activity that protects nerve cells from harmful free radicals.
Although ashwagandha has traditionally been used to boost memory in Ayurvedic medicine, only a small amount of human research has been conducted in this area.
In one controlled study, healthy men who took 500 mg of standardized extract daily reported significant improvements in their reaction time and task performance, compared with men who received a placebo.
Another 8-week study in 50 adults showed that taking 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily significantly improved general memory, task performance, and attention.
11. Help to improve thyroid health
The thyroid is an organ located at the back of your neck. Before talking about how ashwagandha can cure thyroid, it is important to understand the different types of thyroid disorders. Hypothyroidism is a thyroid disorder characterized by low levels of thyroid hormone, whereas on the contrary, hyperthyroidism is linked to high levels.
By boosting T3 and T4 thyroid hormone levels, Ashwagandha may play a role in managing hypothyroidism but worsen symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Hence, it is advised to consult a doctor before taking ashwagandha for treating thyroid-related disorders.
12. Help for Alzheimer’s treatment
Researchers have found that Ashwagandha inhibits the production of beta-amyloid plaques. These plaques, considered lethal to brain cells, grow in the brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
At the National Brain Research Center (NBRC), scientists conducted tests on mice with Alzheimer’s. After a few days of treatment cognitive performance of the mice improved significantly. At the end of one month, their brain function had returned to normal and the amyloid plaques that had been present in the mice’s brains were reduced.
Studies show that rather than altering brain chemistry directly, ashwagandha boosts a protein in the liver which clears amyloid from the brain.
13. Help to increase stamina
In our fast-paced modern lives, it is natural to feel drained out and tired. An unhealthy lifestyle and diet can decrease your stamina and make you feel exhausted. If you are having trouble in coping with your daily tasks or feel like you lack stamina, then ashwagandha must be your go-to solution. Ashwagandha facilitates the body to reserve and sustain vital energy throughout the day to promote sound and peaceful sleep at night. It also increases your overall ability to exercise and work.
14. Help to improve immunity
Ashwagandha is known as one of the most potent immune supporters in Ayurvedic tradition for people young and old. University of Michigan Medicine notes that ashwagandha is an immune system stimulant, helping the body fight off infection. One animal study found that ashwagandha strengthened the immune system in mice after seeing an increase in white blood cells.
Dosage and how to take Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha root powder can generally be used at daily dosages of 120 mg to 2g in combination with other preparations. However, it is advised to consult a doctor before starting with the consumption of this herb. Pregnant and lactating women are advised not to consume Ashwagandha as abortifacient properties have been reported for ashwagandha.
- To Reduce Stress and Anxiety: Most benefits are linked to dosages of 500–600 mg per day taken for at least one month.
- To Lower Blood Sugar Levels: Ashwagandha may help lower blood sugar levels. Benefits appear to start at dosages as little as 250 mg per day.
- To Boost Fertility: Five grams of ashwagandha per day may boost fertility in men in as little as three months.
- To Enhance Muscle Growth and Strength: Daily doses of 500 mg of ashwagandha may provide increases in muscle mass and strength in as little as eight weeks. While most studies have been primarily focussed on men, some research suggests women may reap the same benefits as well.
- To Lower Inflammation and Help Fight Infection: Supplements containing at least 250 mg of ashwagandha or 12 ml of ashwagandha extract offer the most benefits.
- To Boost Memory: Consuming 500–600 mg of ashwagandha root extract per day may boost various aspects of memory.
Side Effects of Ashwagandha:
Ashwagandha is considered safe for consumption if you take the right dosage. Though the effect of long-term consumption of this herb is not known, there have not been any cases of fatal or severe ashwagandha side effects. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause vomiting, diarrhoea, or upset stomach in some people. The side effects of the herb differ from one person to another, and it advised to talk to your health practitioner before taking them.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised not to take ashwagandha as there is some evidence of the herb causing premature delivery and miscarriage. There is no study on the effect of ashwagandha on lactating women, and to be on the safer side, they are advised not to take the herb.
Ashwagandha is an Indian herbal plant that has been a part of Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. The root of the plant is used in medicine in the form of powder, and it is marketed in the form of capsules/tablets as well. Ashwagandha offers several health benefits to both men and women, though there is no extensive clinical study conducted to provide evidence.
Ayurvedic medicine has been successfully using ashwagandha for several diseases without any major complications. As there are no hard evidence on its benefits or even the side effects, it is recommended that ashwagandha be consumed in small to medium doses after consulting with your health practitioner.
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