Ashwagandha is an ancient herb used in Ayurvedic medicine for more than 3000 years, primarily for stress, increased energy levels, and concentration. But now, more health benefits have been discovered and lots of research is revealing the health benefits of Ashwagandha. Including its positive effects on the brain.
Here’s the science of it:
It’s also known by its botanical name, Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal and also Indian ginseng and winter cherry. Most people refer to it as ashwagandha, which means “smell of the horse” in Sanskrit because of it’s smell and strength-giving abilities (Spritzler, 2018).
Scientists have identified over 50 different chemical components of the various parts of the plant including steroidaland , all known as withanolides (Lopresti et al., 2019). It’s a small shrub with yellow flowers, native to India and North Africa and extracts are made from its roots or leaves. It’s an adaptogen to help balance the body and help it deal with stress.
With so many natural chemical compounds in it, Ashwagandha really has a lot of functions and uses. It’s widely used for anxiety and stress relief. That is probably what most people know about it. It is also reported to help with memory and brain function so we’re going to discuss this more heavily. It’s also being tested for cancer treatment, male infertility, and lowering blood sugar levels. Even thyroid treatment.
There are some things you need to know about Ashwagandha before using it though, including dosing. Keep reading.
Ashwagandha for Anxiety and Stress Reduction
A lot of research recently shows that Ashwagandha is very effective in reducing anxiety in people with a generalized anxiety disorder and chronically stressed people. Not only did participants in studies self-report less stress and anxiety but their cortisol levels (stress hormone) were lower and so were their blood pressure and pulse rate (Lopresti et al., 2019). It’s also good to know that it had minimal side effects. Keep in mind, they screened out participants who had risk factors for taking ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha for Cancer
So Ashwagandha has shown to kill cancer cells. Seriously. Studies on multiple types of cancers including brain cancers, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer and also recently, treatment-resistant and aggressive cancers such as hepatocellular carcinomas (Ahmed et al., 2018). It induces cell death in cancer cells.
Because the findings are so positive in the fight against cancer, it might be included in some types of treatment in the future. Its strong antioxidant properties help prevent cell damage. The study noted above used Egyptian Ashwagandha which they deemed different than Indian Ashwagandha. However, they both induce cancer cell death. And one animal study prevented the spread of cancer to other organs.
Ashwagandha for Male Fertility
Another surprising health benefit of ashwagandha is It increases testosterone levels in men and also increases sperm count and motility. Spritzler (2018) noted a study of 75 infertile men in which their testosterone levels increased significantly. And in another study on men who were taking ashwagandha for stress, 14% of the men’s partners had become pregnant after three months on Ashwagandha. The men also had increased antioxidant levels. That’s impressive as a result of a research study on a natural herbal supplement.
Ashwagandha for Inflammation
This wonder herb also increases natural killer cell activity (our fighter white blood cells). Lab results from people taking ashwagandha showed decreasedmarkers in their blood. As we’ve seen from other articles here, inflammation can lead to diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and even cancer.
See Related Article: Bacopa Monnieri Benefits
Ashwagandha for Blood Sugar
Blood sugar levels are reduced in both people with diabetes and those without after taking ashwagandha. It even reduced fasting blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes to the same level as if they’d taken an oral diabetes medication (Spritzler, 2018). Not only does it reduce fasting blood sugar levels, but it also increases insulin sensitivity in muscle cells, making them less resistant to insulin.
The health benefits of ashwagandha are pretty amazing. But there’s more..
Ashwagandha for Lowering Cholesterol and Triglycerides
Studies are showing the potential for increased cardiovascular health from taking ashwagandha. It does lower cholesterol and triglycerides pretty significantly. In one study, 17% had a decrease in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and an 11% decrease in triglycerides. It sure beats taking statins which are known to be bad for your overall health.
This could be a good answer for people with high cholesterol who use it with other strategies to reduce bad cholesterol and improve your chances of not getting heart disease.
Ashwagandha for Memory and Brain Health
It’s still early days for the study of ashwagandha for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia. Early studies show that ashwagandha has neuro regeneration abilities though. AD and dementia have multiple causes and points of the destruction of brain cells.
One of the biggest causes is neuroinflammation. Preliminary studies show ashwagandha promotes cellular health and prevents neural cell death. Whencells are protecting the brain from a perceived threat, they can sometimes go into overdrive and actually damage the neurons. In addition, plaques are formed to try and protect the brain but this has the opposite effect and is a feature of AD and dementia.
Several studies point to ashwagandha as a potential treatment for neurodegenerative and cognitive impairments. They also showed increased memory and better coordination. It has been used to boost memory in Ayurvedic medicine. In a few human studies done, one showed that this herb significantly improved memory, task performance and attention (Spritzler, 2018).
Who Should Not Take It
If you have type 2 diabetes, you’ll definitely want to check with your doctor before trying ashwagandha. You might have to watch closely and adjust your insulin.
If you have thyroid disease or are on medication, also check with your doctor as you might need to adjust your medication or see if your doctor approves of you taking ashwagandha. It can raise thyroid levels.
If you have an autoimmune disorder like rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s, lupus or type 1 diabetes.
If you have gastrointestinal issues or diseases, you should check with your doctor before taking it. It can cause some stomach upset if you’re susceptible to that.
With all the studies I read about, very few people had any side effects taking it. But they did rule out people with the above issues from participating.
The standardized root extract is usually 450-500mg once or twice daily. Follow the directions on the bottle. There are several formulations available now at 1950mg and 2100mg. That’s fine. It is available in capsule form or powder to mix as you please.
Where We Are Now
The health benefits of ashwagandha are many, as we have seen. Cancer, anxiety and stress, male fertility, lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, blood sugar lowering. And the super importantand antioxidant properties. It’s also a super neuroprotectant against some of the cell actions that happen with AD and dementia. Plus it helps memory and motor function.
With the neuroprotective properties and anti-cancer properties alone, it’s well worth taking this amazing herbal supplement. I’m including links to a few for you here. Check them out today to get the best one for you.
Ahmed, W., Mofed, D., Zekri, A. R., El-Sayed, N., Rahouma, M., & Sabet, S. (2018). Antioxidant activity and apoptotic induction as mechanisms of action of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) against a hepatocellular carcinoma cell line. The Journal of international medical research, 46(4), 1358–1369. doi:10.1177/0300060517752022 from the NCBI database.
Lopresti, A. L., Smith, S. J., Malvi, H., & Kodgule, R. (2019). An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine, 98(37), e17186. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000017186 from the NCBI database.
Spritzler, Franziska. (2018). 12 Proven Health Benefits of Ashwagandha. Healthline. Retrieved October 14, 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-proven-ashwagandha-benefits