Native to India and Southeast Asia, Ashwagandha is a non-toxic herb vital in Ayurveda, a traditional alternative medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing. The plant’s powerful health benefits have been used for thousands of years to treat various health conditions.
Ashwagandha is one of the essential herbs in Ayurveda, a traditional form of alternative medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing.
The plant can help with several conditions related to memory and cognition, including children and those who have had a head injury or illness with memory deficits.
Doses can start at 250 mg and go up to 6,000 mg, but the higher your dosage, the more likely you will experience adverse side effects.
While it’s best known for relieving stress and anxiety, it can also help improve your memory and blood sugar levels and increase fertility.
1. Helps with stress and anxiety
Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen, making it a great aid in helping the body cope with stress. It regulates cortisol levels, reduces the activity of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) influence, and stimulates GABA receptors — all of which play a central role in the stress response. Ashwagandha also helps reduce anxiety and depression levels by doing this. Not only will this help you feel more at ease, but it will also boost your resilience against stress.
2. Improves muscle strength and performance
Ashwagandha is one of the most potent adaptogens for increasing endurance and physical performance. Ashwagandha contains withanolides, powerful adaptogens that can improve energy and endurance in baseline athletes (like improving your VO2 max). It has also been shown to decrease oxidative stress – a significant cause of fatigue.
The plant improves your overall energy for your best workouts, but it will also help you recover more quickly and efficiently from them – a vital aspect in building muscle. Evidence shows that the plant improves both upper and lower body strength, lower body power, and recovery.
3. Boosts memory and cognition
Improving memory is another exceptional benefit of ashwagandha. It protects brain cells, reducing swelling, and lessening inflammation. In addition, it can boost your brain’s chemical messengers, which play many roles, including promoting nerve cell communication, learning, and cognition.
The cognition-promoting effect seen with Medhya (the mind and mental/intellectual capacity) has shown to be the most successful in children with memory deficits, those dealing with a head injury, prolonged illness (Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s), or old age.
A study was conducted to see the effect of ashwagandha in rats with Alzheimer’s after showing cognitive deficit symptoms and a significant decrease in the frontal cortex and hippocampal ACh levels. After just two weeks of treatment, taking 50 mg/kg daily significantly reduced the rats’ cognitive deficit and cholinergic markers.
4. Has cancer-fighting properties
Long used for its medicinal properties and as a natural remedy throughout Asia, the herb has more recently been studied with modern science, including as a treatment option for cancer (and other diseases/illnesses). For example, extracts in the herb have been known to limit or inhibit the activity of cancer cells in various types of cancer, including:
- Skin (melanoma);
In a study of 100 patients with breast cancer, each was given two grams of ashwagandha every eight hours throughout chemotherapy, resulting in a reduction in fatigue (due to the chemo) and showed signs of improvement in overall quality of life. In addition, other research using plant extracts has led to "exert cytotoxic effects" in lung, colon, and breast cancer cell lines.
5. Improves sleep
Stress, anxiety, and depression can often lead to insomnia. Ashwagandha helps the HPA axis regulate in the same way when you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep.
Researchers tested 60 patients (40 subjects were given the supplement, and 20 had placebo pills). The patients who received the supplement were given 300 mg of ashwagandha root twice daily for ten weeks while researchers looked at total sleep times, sleep efficiency, quality, and other tests. Sleep onset latency improved on both sides at five and ten weeks but was significantly shorter for those who received the herb than those who received the placebo. There was also a significant improvement in sleep efficiency for the test subjects. The results were similar for sleep quality, mental alertness, and all other sleep parameters.
6. Lowers blood sugar
While taking ashwagandha can’t cure diabetes, using it to manage blood sugar levels has proven effective. Ashwagandha can improve your blood sugar levels, increasing insulin sensitivity and production while reducing sugar levels in the bloodstream. One study showed ashwagandha’s effect of increasing insulin secretion and improving insulin sensitivity in muscle cells.
Other studies have also suggested that taking ashwagandha can effectively help improve and manage adult fasting blood glucose levels.
7. Improves fertility for men
Fertility is one of the essential relationship aspects for those looking to conceive. There are several reasons for infertility these days, including diet, lack of exercise, age, and hormonal imbalances, but ashwagandha has proved effective in helping men increase fertility.
Oral consumption of the plant can also inhibit lipid peroxidation, improve sperm count and motility, and regulate reproductive hormone levels.
If you are struggling with infertility and have been trying to have a baby for years, ashwagandha may be a helpful resource in helping to become pregnant.
8. Can aid in weight loss
Ashwagandha has many positive benefits, promoting healthy weight loss. The herb is rich in antioxidants, helping the body burn fat more efficiently, boosts the immune system, normalizes blood sugar levels, and helps regulate cortisol levels (the stress hormone), which can significantly impact weight due to unhealthy eating habits.
A study looked at the correlation between chronically stressed patients and the effect of ashwagandha on weight management. Each of the 52 participants was randomly placed into one of two groups, receiving either 300 mg of ashwagandha or a placebo twice daily for eight weeks. Throughout primary efficacy measures taken at weeks four and eight, the results showed significant improvements in both measures for the test participants, proving that the plant can aid in healthy weight management.
Doses and side effects
Ashwagandha is a safe, natural plant that most individuals can take safely for up to three months. You may notice a few side effects (more likely for those who consume the supplement in larger doses), including pregnant women who should avoid taking the supplement as it can cause fetal distress or even premature labor.
If you’re unsure what dose to take, starting with a small amount might be a good idea. Research suggests starting at lower doses, varying from 250 mg to 600 mg daily. From there, you can work your way up to what is comfortable for your body and needs.