Ashwagandha is one of the most powerful and well-known herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. Find out everything you need to know about the unique power of Ashwagandha today in our guide.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a plant with unique medical properties. The roots and berries of ashwagandha are used to make different types of medicine.
The plant is popular throughout the Ayurvedic (traditional Indian medicine) community for its ability to treat stress, fatigue, lack of energy, and other symptoms. It’s one of those plants that appears to have multiple benefits throughout the body and works to restore overall wellness and wellbeing.
The plant is also known as Indian ginseng. However, ginseng and ashwagandha are not actually related in any way. The plant is most similar to the tomato plant and belongs to the same family as the tomato.
The plant itself comes in the form of a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers. Its fruit are red and approximately the size of a raisin.
Ashwagandha grows naturally throughout the drier regions of India as well as northern Africa and the Middle East. As ashwagandha has become more popular, farmers in the United States have begun growing it in milder climates throughout the country.
Ashwagandha goes by a few different names, including Indian ginseng, winter cherry, dunal, and Solanaceae. Its taxonomical name is Withania Somnifera.
The name “ashwagandha” in Sanskrit actually means “smell of horse”, so some people refer to the herb under that name.
To most people, however, it’s simply known as ashwagandha.
Benefits of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is often used by traditional medicine practitioners to treat symptoms like:
In Ayurvedic medicine, practitioners will often recommend using ashwagandha to boost your overall energy and to “rejuvenate your wellbeing”.
More recently, studies have shown that ashwagandha can have benefits beyond just boosting your energy. Some of the recent studied benefits of ashwagandha include:
How Does Ashwagandha Work?
Ashwagandha is thought to work because it contains a variety of useful medicinal compounds. Some of the most important medical compounds in ashwagandha include:
One of the key reasons why ashwagandha is that it has adaptogenic benefits. Ayurvedic medicine believes that certain herbs have high levels of adaptogens, and these herbs provide valuable health benefits.
“Adaptogens” are nutrients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbs that help control your body’s response to stress. They’re called “adaptogens” because they help you adapt to the changing world around you in a healthy way.
When you’re comparing ashwagandha supplements online, you’ll notice that many manufacturers advertise “withanolides” content (say, between 1.5% and 3%). Withanolides are the active compounds in ashwagandha and include a variety of nutrients and herbal extracts.
Scientific Evidence for Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha has not been studied extensively over the years, but it has been studied in several major double-blind, placebo-controlled studies conducted by major research organizations. Here are some of the biggest and most important studies involving ashwagandha thus far:
2012 Study Shows that Ashwagandha Root Improves Resistance to Stress and Improves Quality of Life
One of the most influential studies on ashwagandha root was published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine in July, 2012. That study involved 64 subjects with a history of chronic stress. Over the course of the double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, participants who took ashwagandha were observed to have better resistance towards stress and a better self-assessed quality of life. Obviously, 64 subjects isn’t a very large sample number. However, other studies have reinforced these benefits even further.
2009 Study Shows Ashwagandha Reduces Anxiety
A 2009 study aimed to examine the effects of ashwagandha on people with severe anxiety. One participant group took 300mg of ashwagandha (1.5% withanolides content) twice daily over the course of 8 weeks. Both the placebo group and the ashwagandha group also received counselling. Ashwagandha supplementation was observed to provide a 56.5% reduction in anxiety symptoms as assessed by BAI, although the placebo group “only” experienced a 30.5% reduction.
2000 Study Demonstrates Anxiolytic Properties of Ashwagandha
One 2000 study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry laid the foundation for future studies of ashwagandha’s anti-anxiety properties. That study involved 39 subjects, 20 of whom received ashwagandha extract. Researchers observed that the extract had anxiolytic (anti-anxiety promoting) effects. Researchers also noted that “the drug was well-tolerated and did not occasion more adverse effects than did placebo.”
Study Shows Ashwagandha Can Significantly Reduce Total Cholesterol Levels
A study from the year 2000 involving 12 Indian men and women demonstrated that ashwagandha root powder could decrease blood glucose comparable to that of an “oral hypoglycemic drug” (i.e. traditional diabetes medication). Levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol were significantly reduced and researchers noted “no adverse effects.” That study was published in the Indian Journal of Experimental Biology.
16 Month Study Shows Ashwagandha Reduces Stress and Anxiety While Boosting Cardiovascular Health
This next study involved 98 people over a period of 16 months. Participants received 250 to 500mg of ashwagandha extract daily (either in two divided doses of four doses of 125mg). The study concluded that “daily consumption of standardized WSE [Withania somnifera extract]…reduced experiential feelings of stress and anxiety, serum concentrations of cortisol and CRP, pulse rate and blood pressure; and increased serum concentration of DHEAS in the chronically stressed adults who completed the study.”
The study has faced some criticism because the authors were associated with two companies that produced ashwagandha supplements (Nutragenesis and Natreon). You can view the study online here.
How to Use Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is relatively easy to add to your daily diet. The most common way to take ashwagandha is in capsule form. You can find countless ashwagandha supplements available online and from local supplement retailers.
Most supplements contain 600 to 1,000mg of ashwagandha extract. You take it once or twice per day. some people also believe that taking ashwagandha with a cup of hot milk or tea before bedtime is more beneficial.
How to Buy Ashwagandha Supplements
Some of the most popular ashwagandha supplements on the market include:
— Dr. Mercola’s Ashwagandha (90 Capsules Per Bottle): $17.47 on Mercola.com
— Herb Pharm Ashwagandha Extract Mineral Supplement: $10.37 on Amazon.com
— GNC Herbal Plus Ashwagandha Extract 470mg: $15.99 on GNC.com
When comparing ashwagandha supplements, you should primarily look at two things: the amount of extract and the percentage of withanolides. Withanolides, as you may remember from above, are the active ingredients in ashwagandha and include multiple vitamins, minerals, and herbal compounds. You want the maximum amount of withanolides in your ashwagandha supplement to maximize the health benefits.