Ashwagandha: Learn About Its Science-Backed Benefits

Ashwagandha root is an adaptogen used in Ayurveda, an ancient Hindu system of medicine that is gaining popularity in the West. Ayurveda uses a specific diet that includes herbal remedies, teas, oil, and skin treatments to promote a healthy life and prevent disease.

Key takeaways:
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    Ashwagandha is an adaptogen.
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    Ashwagandha can benefit fertility and testosterone levels, stress levels, thyroid function, hair loss, and inflammation.
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    Ashwagandha is generally considered safe, although there are some medical conditions where it should be avoided.
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    More research is needed to understand the function of ashwagandha, but preliminary research is promising.

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is an herb grown in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and Africa. It is a member of the Solanaceae family of plants, and the root has been lauded for its adaptogenic properties. Ashwagandha has been widely used to support the body’s stress response, regulating homeostasis and cortisol levels. The root can be brewed as a tea, taken as a tincture, a supplement, or a powder extract. One of the most popular extracts is KSM-66, a full-spectrum, certified organic branded root extract.

Studies so far have been small-scale. While more research is needed, there is growing evidence that ashwagandha could have a positive effect on a number of interrelated health conditions.

Benefits of ashwagandha

Because ashwagandha is a holistic application, research into the function of its benefits is preliminary. However, evidence suggests that ashwagandha might play an important role in a healthy life, especially with conditions that are related to stress and inflammation.

Improves fertility and testosterone

Some research has looked at the relationship between ashwagandha and female hormones. Promising evidence suggests that it might be used to treat infertility. Studies have also shown that taking ashwagandha increases sperm count and boosts testosterone in males.

High cortisol levels are linked to infertility in both men and women and are linked to disrupted hormones and a decreasing sperm count. Ashwagandha acts as an adaptogen, increasing cortisol levels, and increasing blood flow in the body. As a result, ashwagandha is often used to support the libido.

Ashwagandha may also increase testosterone in females, raising cortisol and supporting thyroid function.

Promotes hair growth

Hair loss is a natural part of aging, but it can also be a sign of hormone imbalances. Some research suggests that ashwagandha can benefit hair growth and overall health. The herb has been linked to higher levels of DHEA, the hormone responsible for hair growth.

Many experts also believe that ashwagandha treats stress-related hair loss. High levels of stress can interrupt the growth cycle of your hair follicles, causing them to enter a resting phase and shed.

May improve the quality of sleep

In a 2019 study, participants reported a significant improvement in their quality of sleep for 8 weeks. Their results were notable compared to participants who took the placebo, though more research is needed. Some research also suggests that adaptogens, like Ashwagandha, are effective in combating fatigue.

More research is needed to understand whether ashwagandha makes you sleepy, or if it affects sleep quality by helping you cope with stress.

May improve thyroid health

There’s growing interest in examining the relationship between ashwagandha and thyroid health, and initial studies are underway. There are two types of thyroid disorders: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

Some research suggests that ashwagandha can improve hypothyroidism, which is characterized by an under-functioning thyroid. Growing evidence suggests that taking ashwagandha raises thyroid levels.

Research about ashwagandha supplements and hyperthyroidism, caused by an overactive thyroid, is also extremely limited. But some research suggests that it may exacerbate the condition and that it should be avoided in people with hyperthyroidism.

Lowers inflammation

Perhaps one of the functions behind ashwagandha’s therapeutic benefits is its ability to lower inflammation in the body. Reducing inflammation protects brain health, improves memory, lowers cortisol levels, and lowers your risk for obesity and heart disease.

The root of ashwagandha contains a compound called Withaferin A, known for reducing the production of inflammatory cytokines.

Lowers blood pressure

Some research has shown that ashwagandha naturally lowers your blood pressure. However, for people who have high blood pressure, ashwagandha could interact with medications prescribed for the condition. If you have high blood pressure, be sure to discuss taking ashwagandha supplements with your doctor first.

Improves muscle growth

Taking ashwagandha may support your fitness goals. One study sampled young men who had minimal experience with resistance training and asked them to undertake the training for eight weeks while taking 300 mg of ashwagandha twice a day. Participants who took the supplement saw a greater gain in muscle strength and size, and they had less exercise-induced damage than the placebo group.

While ashwagandha doesn’t cause weight gain, increased muscle mass does.

May reduce stress and anxiety

Most experts relate ashwagandha’s health benefits to its ability to help you cope with stress. Stress is a precursor to a number of mental and physical disorders, including anxiety. Some studies have shown that ashwagandha is linked to decreased levels of stress and anxiety. Some explanations for this might be:

  • Ashwagandha can help you sleep better, which positively affects your mental health;
  • Ashwagandha has a moderating effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, a system of neural pathways that regulates homeostasis;
  • Ashwagandha reduces cortisol levels, your body’s main stress hormone.

How to take ashwagandha

It’s important to know when to take ashwagandha to get the best results. While it’s safe to take any time of the day, many experts suggest that the best time to take ashwagandha is in the morning. However, many studies have observed participants taking a supplement twice daily, in the morning and at night.

You may find that taking supplements at night works better for your routine. In that case, whatever time of day will allow you to be consistent is best, as ashwagandha works best over time.

There’s no recommended ashwagandha dosage, and clinical studies often administer the root extract between 250 mg to 1000 mg per day.

While ashwagandha is generally considered safe, some medications can cause interaction and certain conditions where ashwagandha should be avoided entirely.

What you should know before taking ashwagandha

Here's a list risks that indicate who should not take ashwagandha:

  • Pregnant people. Some studies have shown that ashwagandha can cause fetal distress or miscarriages;
  • People with high blood pressure or low blood pressure. Because ashwagandha may lower blood pressure, it’s not safe for people with low blood pressure. If you’re on medication for high blood pressure, ashwagandha may cause an interaction;
  • People with autoimmune disorders. Ashwagandha can stimulate the immune system, and this can worsen symptoms;
  • People with hyperthyroidism. Ashwagandha can trigger your thyroid to release the thyroid hormone, which will worsen the condition.

Medication

While ashwagandha is generally considered safe, some medications can cause interactions with ashwagandha, thus it should be avoided entirely. Ashwagandha may interact with the following medications:

  • Immunosuppressants;
  • Antidepressants;
  • Sedatives;
  • Blood thinners;
  • Thyroid medication;
  • Antihypertensives.

Potential side effects

Ashwagandha is generally considered safe to take, but some side effects have been reported. These include:

  • Nausea;
  • Headache;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Upset stomach.

Combining ashwagandha with other supplements

Ashwagandha can be combined with other supplements and adaptogens. Here are some common combinations:

  • Ashwagandha and magnesium. Research suggests that ashwagandha and magnesium could work together to promote restful sleep and combat insomnia;
  • Ashwagandha and I theanine. In addition to improved sleep quality, ashwagandha and I theanine can improve cognitive function during the day when used together;
  • Ashwagandha and Rhodiola. Rhodiola is also an adaptogen known for improving mental clarity. Many people take Rhodiola and ashwagandha together to maintain energy throughout the day;
  • Ashwagandha and melatonin. Melatonin is often used to sleep better, and ashwagandha can be used as a support to combating insomnia and improving sleep quality.

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