If you walk by the herbal supplement aisle, the word "Ashwagandha" is sure to catch your attention. Ashwagandha, aka Withania somnifera, is a herb used in Ayurveda, the Indian system of Medicine, for over 2500 years. It is valued for its adaptogenic properties and anti-inflammatory effects. It is widely used as a natural stress reliever, and as an adaptogenic herb, it helps maintain homeostasis during stress.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a popular herb in Ayurveda. The herb is well known for its ability to help strengthen the immune system, and for the same reason, it is nicknamed the "strength of the stallion." The plant is native to India and parts of North Africa. In Sanskrit, the words "Ashwa" and "gandha" mean horse and smell, which translates to the smell (strength) of the horse.
Ashwagandha is a shrub with yellow flowers. The roots and leaves are widely used to treat a variety of conditions. Its medicinal qualities are attributed to withanolides, which exhibit potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-stress effects, and rejuvenating properties .
Here are some key health benefits of Ashwagandha
Lowers stress: Ashwagandha helps reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A randomized, double-blind study considered the gold standard for research studies found that Ashwagandha supplementation reduced stress. Researchers assigned 125 mg per day, 125 mg twice daily, 250 mg twice daily of Ashwagandha, and a placebo to four groups. The study results showed that the group that received the highest dose experienced a 30% reduction in stress levels compared with the control group . Another randomized study from 2012 suggested that taking a high concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improved a person's resistance towards stress consequently boosted well-being .Studies attribute Ashwagandha's anti-stress effects to the presence of sitoindosideVII and sitoindoside VIII, the two organic compounds naturally present in the herb.
Excellent adaptogen: An adaptogen is something that helps to decrease damages caused by stress, is safe to be consumed for a longer duration while having beneficial effects without influencing normal body functions. Researchers agree that Ashwagandha possesses all the characteristics described in the definition of an adaptogen . It provides all-round wellness because the herb benefits both the mind and body of an individual. Ideally, an adaptogen should: a) decrease stress-induced damage, b) be safe and produce a beneficial effect even if the number of administrations is more than required, c) be devoid of any negative effects such as withdrawal syndromes, and d) not influence normal body functions more than necessary.
Immune booster: Ashwagandha contains a range of constituents like withanolides, sitoindosides, and other alkaloids that are pharmacologically and medicinally important. These chemicals protect cells from oxidative damage and are responsible for the immuno-modulating effects of the herb. Studies have shown that ashwagandha helps boost the activity of natural killer cells, thereby enabling the immune cells to fight infections.
Improves cognitive health: Preliminary studies show that Ashwagandha may work to boost memory and brain functions . Research shows that the herb’s antioxidant confers nerve-protective effects, which mitigates harmful free radicals. In one controlled study, 500 mg of standardized extract of Ashwagandha showed a significant boost in the reaction time, and task performance among healthy men compared to those who received placebo.
Promotes strength and muscle mass: Ashwagandha is considered a tonic to boost muscle mass and endurance which connects back to the name "strength of the stallion." A study that evaluated the tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha in healthy volunteers found a significant increase in strength and muscle activity . In a randomized study, ashwagandha supplementation is linked to increases in muscle mass and endurance, suggesting it may be a valuable tool alongside a resistance training program . One study that compared the effects of Ashwagandha and another herb (Arjuna) on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy young adults. The results showed that taking a combination of both herbs promoted performance and endurance among athletes. Researchers suggested that ashwagandha supplementation may be useful in conjunction with a resistance training program.
Lowers anxiety: Several controlled studies conducted on humans have shown that Ashwagandha was effective in reducing anxiety levels. A study conducted among individuals with anxiety disorders for 60 days found that Ashwagandha supplemented group showed 69% lower anxiety levels than the placebo group . A similar randomized, placebo-controlled conducted for asix weeks found a 88% reduction in anxiety levels in subjects who took Ashwagandha supplements compared to the placebo group.
Boosts testosterone and male fertility: Ashwagandha supplements are also well known for oosting male fertility. One study found that Ashwagandha supplemented group showed an increase in sperm count and mobility among 75 infertile men . In a similar study, that assessed the effects of Ashwagandha in stress-related fertility found that the herb reduced stress and improved sperm quality. After 120 days (treatment period), researchers found that 14% of particpants’ partners became pregnant.
The above benefits are a handful of the many advantages of Ashwagandha, and there is more to this herb.
If you are interested in taking an Ashwagandha supplement, here are some tips:
Research: Choose Ashwagandha supplements from a reputed manufacturer who adheres to high standards with respect to purity, testing, and formulation. This ensures you get a supplement that is carefully formulated. Always shop from a manufacturer that makes lab testing and analysis readily available with details on the ingredients in the formulation.
Free of unwanted additives and allergens: A lab-analyzed supplement is free from heavy metals like lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury. An added plus is a formulation that is free of gluten, soy, nuts, and other common allergens.
Potency: Withanolides are the essential compounds in Ashwagandha supplements. If the ingredient label does not list withanolides, the potency of the supplement is questionable. Look for 0.3% and 1.5% of withanolides in root powder and root extracts, respectively, for best results.
Here are our recommendations for high-quality Ashwagandha supplements available in the market.
Ashwagandha Root by Gaia Herbs Professional Solutions: Gaia herbs uses a patented delivery system called Liquid Phyto-Caps developed exclusively by Gaia Herbs called Liquid Phyto-Caps. The Liquid Phyto-Caps have the ability to disintegrate within 10-12 minutes of ingestion and are generally better than gelatin and soft-gel capsules. The Liquid Phyto-Cap products are 100% vegetarian, tested free of heavy metal toxicity, pesticides, microbial contamination, and contain no animal by-products (including gelatin). Gaia Herbs Ashwagandha Capsules are formulated to improve immune health and the body’s stress response. The recommended dosage is one capsule two times a day or as directed by your healthcare provider.
Ayur-Ashwagandha by Douglas Laboratories: Ayur-Ashwagandha by Douglas Laboratories provides 300 mg of the herbal extract of Ashwagandha root in each capsule to support stress and adrenal function. Douglas labs non-GMO supplement is promoted as a means to support energy production, mental and physical performance. The formulation contains no yeast, wheat, gluten, soy, milk/dairy, corn, sodium, sugar, artificial color, preservatives, and flavoring. The recommended dosage is one capsule per day or as directed by your healthcare professional.
Ashwagandha by Pure Encapsulations: Pure Encapsulations Ashwagandha provides 500 mg of Ashwagandha root in a vegetarian capsule. The formulation is standardized to contain 2.5% withanolides, which are known for their adaptogenic effects that support mental and physical wellness. The supplement is non-GMO, hypoallergenic, vegan, and gluten-free. The recommended dosage is to take one capsule every day with or between meals or as directed by your healthcare professional.
While Ashwagandha is safe for most people, it should not be taken by people with special health conditions. If you are pregnant or lactating, Ashwagandha must be avoided. Similarly, people with autoimmune disorders should avoid it unless prescribed by a healthcare professional. Examples include people with lupus, Hashimoto’s disease, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis. Also, people on thyroid medications may experience increased thyroid hormone levels and should be careful when taking ashwagandha products.
In a nutshell, Ashwagandha supplements have multiple health benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, which is now a universal problem. Besides, it also plays a vital role in lowering depression-related symptoms, boosting fertility, and improving cognitive function. Taking Ashwagandha as directed by your provider may be an easy and effective way to improve your health and quality of life.