Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, is an herb with a rich history in Ayurvedic medicine. It is renowned for its potential health benefits. Ashwagandha, offers numerous potential health benefits and has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. From stress relief and cognitive function enhancement to immune system support and increased energy, this adaptogenic herb has much to offer.
But what does science say about the benefits and side effects of ashwagandha? Here is a comprehensive guide to help you understand this herb better.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha, also known as Withania somnifera or Indian ginseng, is a popular herb in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It has been used for centuries in India and neighboring regions for its medicinal properties. Ashwagandha belongs to the Solanaceae family and is native to the dry regions of India, North Africa, and the Middle East. The name “ashwagandha” is derived from the Sanskrit words “ashwa,” meaning horse, and “gandha,” meaning smell, as its roots have a distinct horse-like odor. In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is classified as a “rasayana,” which refers to herbs that promote overall well-being, longevity, and vitality. The medicinal properties of ashwagandha are primarily attributed to its active compounds, including alkaloids, steroidal lactones (withanolides), and flavonoids. These compounds are believed to have adaptogenic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune-modulating, and neuroprotective effects.
What are the health benefits of Ashwagandha:
What happens when you take ashwagandha? What does Ashwagandha do to your health? Ashwagandha has been studied for its potential benefits for various health conditions. However, most of the studies have been done in animals or in vitro (in test tubes or petri dishes), so more human trials are needed to confirm its safety and effectiveness. Here are some of the possible benefits of ashwagandha based on the current evidence.
Ashwagandha for Immunity:
Ashwagandha may have benefits for immunity, as it can help boost the production and activity of white blood cells, which are the body’s natural defense against infections and diseases. In another study, it was found that ashwagandha increased the production of antibodies in mice. Antibodies are proteins that help the body fight off infection.
Ashwagandha also may help boost energy levels and stamina, which can also improve your immunity. Energy and stamina are essential for maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, which can support your immune system and prevent diseases. Ashwagandha may also be a rich source of antioxidants, which can protect your cells from oxidative damage and inflammation, which can impair your immunity.
Ashwagandha for stress and anxiety:
Ashwagandha may help anxiety and stress relief. Ashwagandha may help lower the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and improve the mood and mental well-being of people with chronic stress or anxiety disorders. Several studies have shown that taking ashwagandha extract daily for 6 to 12 weeks can significantly reduce stress and anxiety scores compared to placebo.
Ashwagandha Improves cognity and brain function:
Ashwagandha may help enhance cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, learning, and problem-solving. It may also protect the brain cells from oxidative damage and prevent or delay neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Some studies have shown that taking ashwagandha extract or powder daily for 8 to 12 weeks can improve memory, reaction time, and mental performance in healthy adults or people with mild cognitive impairment.
Increasing muscle mass and strength:
Ashwagandha may help stimulate muscle growth and activity and reduce muscle damage and soreness. It may also improve physical performance and endurance in athletes or people who exercise regularly. Some studies have shown that taking ashwagandha extract or powder daily for 8 to 12 weeks can increase muscle mass, strength, and power compared to placebo.
Ashwagandha for fertility and sexual function:
Ashwagandha may help balance hormones and increase testosterone levels in men and women. It may also improve sperm quality, quantity, and motility in men with low sperm count or infertility. Additionally, it may enhance sexual desire, arousal, satisfaction, and orgasm in both sexes. Some studies have shown that taking ashwagandha extract or powder daily for 3 to 6 months can improve fertility and sexual function compared to placebo.
Ashwagandha for lowering blood sugar levels:
Ashwagandha may help improve insulin sensitivity and secretion in people with diabetes or prediabetes. It may also prevent or reduce the complications of high blood sugar levels, such as nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, and heart disease. Some studies have shown that taking ashwagandha extract or powder daily for 4 to 12 weeks can lower fasting blood sugar levels compared to placebo.
Ashwagandha for reducing inflammation:
Ashwagandha may help inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory molecules, such as cytokines, and enhance the activity of natural killer cells, which are part of the immune system. It may also reduce the symptoms and severity of inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and asthma. Some studies have shown that taking ashwagandha extract or powder daily for 6 to 12 weeks can reduce inflammation markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), compared to placebo.
Ashwagandha for lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels:
Ashwagandha may help improve lipid metabolism and prevent oxidative damage to the blood vessels. It may also lower the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke. Some studies have shown that taking ashwagandha extract or powder daily for 8 to 12 weeks can lower total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels compared to placebo.
Ashwagandha for preventing or treating some cancers:
Ashwagandha may help induce apoptosis (cell death) and inhibit angiogenesis (blood vessel formation) in tumor cells. It may also enhance the effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy and reduce their side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and hair loss. Some studies have shown that taking ashwagandha extract or powder daily for 3 to 6 months can reduce tumor size and growth in people with various types of tumors and cancers. Studies have shown inhibitory properties of Ashwagandha against many cancers, (breast, colon, prostate, colon, ovarian, lung, brain).
Ashwagandha for treating asthma and bronchitis:
Ashwagandha may also have benefits for asthma and bronchitis, as it may help reduce inflammation, relax the muscles in the airways, improve lung function, and boost immunity. Ashwagandha may help relax the muscles in the airways, which can improve breathing in asthmatics. Muscle spasms in the airways can cause them to constrict and obstruct airflow, causing wheezing and shortness of breath. By relaxing the muscles, ashwagandha may help open up the airways and ease breathing. Ashwagandha may help boost immunity and prevent infections that can trigger or worsen asthma and bronchitis. Ashwagandha may also have antioxidant and rejuvenating properties that can protect the cells from oxidative damage and inflammation.
Ashwagandha for allergy:
Allergic reactions are caused by the immune system overreacting to substances, such as pollen, dust, or food. This can result in symptoms such as sneezing, itching, swelling, or difficulty in breathing. Ashwagandha may help fight allergies by reducing inflammation and boosting immunity. Inflammation is a common feature of allergic reactions, as it causes swelling and irritation in the affected tissues. Immunity is the body’s ability to defend itself against foreign invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. By reducing inflammation and boosting immunity, ashwagandha may help prevent or alleviate allergic symptoms.
Ashwagandha for thyroid:
One of the possible benefits of ashwagandha is improving thyroid health. The thyroid is a small gland in the neck that produces hormones that regulate metabolism, growth, and development. Thyroid disorders can occur when the thyroid produces too much or too little hormones, resulting in conditions such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Ashwagandha may help increase the levels of thyroid hormones and reduce the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Treatment with ashwagandha may be beneficial for normalizing thyroid indices in subclinical hypothyroid patients.
However, it may be noted that, ashwagandha may not be beneficial for hyperthyroidism, which is a condition characterized by high levels of thyroid hormones. This can cause symptoms such as weight loss, anxiety, palpitations, insomnia, and heat intolerance. Ashwagandha may worsen the symptoms of hyperthyroidism by increasing the levels of thyroid hormones and stimulating the immune system.
What are the Precautions and Interactions of Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha may interact with some medications, herbs, or supplements and cause adverse effects or reduce their effectiveness. Therefore, it is important to consult your doctor before taking ashwagandha. Ashwagandha may also be unsafe for some people who have certain medical conditions.
What are the Side Effects of Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is generally considered safe and well-tolerated when taken in moderate doses for short-term use. However, some people may experience mild to moderate side effects, such as:
- Low blood pressure
- Low blood sugar
- Hormonal imbalance
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Liver damage
These side effects may depend on the dose, duration, form, and quality of ashwagandha supplements. They may also vary from person to person depending on their age, health status, and individual sensitivity. Some people may also have allergic reactions to ashwagandha, such as rash, itching, swelling, or breathing difficulties. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop taking ashwagandha and seek medical attention immediately.
How to Take Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is available in various forms, such as capsules, tablets, powders, extracts, teas, and oils. The dosage of ashwagandha may depend on the form, brand, quality, and purpose of use. There is no standard or recommended dose of ashwagandha for everyone. A common dose that has been shown to be effective and safe for stress and anxiety is 300 mg twice daily for 8 to 10 weeks. It is advisable to start with a low dose and gradually increase it until you find the optimal dose for you. You should also follow the instructions on the label or as prescribed by your doctor. Do not exceed the recommended dose or duration of use without your doctor’s approval. You can take ashwagandha with or without food, depending on your preference and tolerance. Some people may prefer to take it with food to avoid stomach upset. You can also take it at different times of the day, depending on your goal and schedule. Some people may prefer to take it in the morning to boost energy and mood. Others may prefer to take it in the evening to promote relaxation and sleep.
Ashwagandha is a traditional herb that has been used for centuries to treat various health conditions. It may have benefits for stress, anxiety, brain function, muscle mass and strength, fertility and sexual function, blood sugar levels, inflammation, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and some cancers. However, more research is needed to confirm its safety and effectiveness for these purposes, especially in humans.
Ashwagandha is generally considered safe and well-tolerated when taken in moderate doses for short-term use. However, some people may experience side effects, such as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, drowsiness, headache, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, hormonal imbalance, thyroid dysfunction, liver damage, or allergic reactions. Ashwagandha may also interact with some medications, herbs, or supplements and cause adverse effects or reduce their effectiveness. Ashwagandha may be unsafe for some people who have certain medical conditions or are in specific stages of life. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid taking ashwagandha if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have an autoimmune disease, stomach ulcers, thyroid disorders, or liver disease. It is also important to consult your doctor before taking ashwagandha in any form.
Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a dietician before starting any fitness programme or making any changes to your diet.
Sources and references:
Effects of a standardized extract of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on depression and anxiety symptoms in persons with schizophrenia participating in a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial – PubMed (nih.gov)
A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial on the effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera dunal.) root extract in improving cardiorespiratory endurance and recovery in healthy athletic adults – PubMed (nih.gov)
Antihyperglycaemic and antihyperlipidaemic effect of poly-constituents, in aqueous and chloroform extracts, of Withania coagulans Dunal in experimental type 2 diabetes mellitus in rats – PubMed (nih.gov)