Medically review by Kim Langdon
Let's talk about ashwagandha. Maybe you've heard of it, or maybe it's brand new to you. We think it's a pretty interesting supplement, though, and is worth looking into.
We've covered the basics of adaptogenic supplements here, and ashwagandha is one of them.
What is ashwagandha?
It's often referred to as the Indian winter cherry or Indian ginseng. Unsurprisingly, it's fairly common in India, and it's been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine.
It can be described as one of two things: a Rayasana which is an herb with properties that increase physical and mental health, and is thought to expand happiness, or an adaptogen which is an herb that increases the body's ability to handle both physical and emotional stress.
In terms of herbal supplements, the research done on Ashwagandha is extensive, so there are many conclusions we can draw in regards to its effectiveness.
One of the most convincing factors in using adaptogenic supplements, including Ashwagandha powder, is that there are virtually no negative side effects. These herbs are harmless if not incredibly beneficial for numerous reasons.
Over time, Ashwagandha has revealed itself to contain anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, anti-cancer, and anti-oxidizing properties.
The anti-stress benefits of ashwagandha
Most of us are susceptible to stress, and some more than others. Those who suffer from anxiety - the most common mental disorder - are even more likely to experience severe and chronic stress.
Ashwagandha powder can be used as a natural remedy to treat both. Like we mentioned above, this herb has no side effects, so unlike prescription medication, it can be used to manage even mild symptoms.
Adaptogens have the potential to normalize the body's physiological functions.
Think about the term "adaptogenic"; ashwagandha helps the body to adapt to its current state, even if that state includes increased stress, which is a combination of both physical and mental factors.
Ashwagandha has been proven to improve resilience towards stress.
Thus, high-concentration doses can help individuals to manage cortisol levels (the stress hormone), experience less physical distress during bouts of anxiety, and increase the quality of life experienced by the individuals overall.
Ashwagandha for adrenal fatigue
This is something that we suffer from if our cortisol levels are consistently high over time.
Essentially, it's a byproduct of chronic stress. Cortisol is the stress hormone, and our bodies will aim naturally to keep the levels balanced, as we do need some to be present.
However, chronic stress keeps them high without ever having a chance to balance out thus resulting in adrenals that are... well, exhausted!
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include: feeling fatigued upon waking up every morning, even if you've gotten a good night's rest, a decreased threshold for stress, salty food cravings, weakened immunity, joint pain, and unexplained weight gain.
Ashwagandha powder - since it's an adaptogen - helps the body to regulate hormones including cortisol. In one study, a daily 500 mg. dose of ashwagandha reduced cortisol levels in participants by around 30%.
Read more about natural supplementation for adrenal fatigue.
Ashwagandha for athletic performance
Ashwagandha powder is also effective in treating physical stress. If you're accustomed to long and grueling workouts, the recovery process is incredibly vital for our body.
Working out has a fantastic array of benefits, but intense workouts like interval training, strength training, distance runs or sprints put a lot of stress on our muscles.
Over time, proper recovery leads to better muscle development.
In this study, individuals who supplemented with ashwagandha saw greater muscle development, the ability to bear more weight and decreased muscle damage.
This might be due to its anti-inflammatory properties, which reduce lactic acid. Lactic acid builds up in our muscles during workouts, and if we don't work to reduce it, it causes stiffness and soreness we want to avoid.
This means ashwagandha is effective in preventing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), reducing pain felt 24-48 hours post-workout.
This supplement can also have a positive effect on endurance and performance in sports beyond lifting weights. In one study done on rats, ashwagandha use was associated with better endurance.
If you're looking to max out your time during cardio, or prepping for a long-distance run/hike, ashwagandha could increase your body's ability to handle prolonged activity.
This study (done on animals) shows that Ashwagandha can limit cancer cell growth in tumors, increase lifespan, and increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
Since it's an adaptogen, it also helps the body to endure the negative side effects of chemo.
Ashwagandha for pain
This root is notoriously anti-inflammatory which is one of the major focuses on nutrition in our 9-week wellness program and 7 Day Make Ahead Meal Plan.
Decreasing inflammation can be key in addressing chronic pain from autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Fight diabetes with Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha can help regulate many bodily functions including the rise and fall of insulin.
People with diabetes may experience positive side effects with more stable blood glucose levels while using the root regularly.
Hypothyroidism means that the hormones produced by the thyroid are compromised.
Like with cortisol, Ashwagandha has a way of regulating these hormones, and this study shows that a daily dose of the stuff can increase production in the thyroid.
Hypothyroidism can be a major culprit if you're experiencing resistance to weight loss or gaining weight without explanation.
Considering Ashwagandha's laundry list of superpowers, it's likely no surprise that it's a great way to ensure a long, healthy life.
Not only is it good for preventing diabetes, treating chronic pain, and killing cancer cells, but it's potentially useful in warding off degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, and preventing trauma after head injury.
Keeping the brain healthy is vital to a long life.
If your sex drive is running low, Ashwagandha is a natural aphrodisiac. It can help treat erectile dysfunction in men and increase both sexual desire and satisfaction in women.
This is due to its ability to release nitric oxide in the body, thus improving blood flow. You can also read our feature on 15 foods for better sex for more all-natural remedies to loss of libido.
How to use Ashwagandha powder
The recommended dose is 600-1,000 mg. twice daily. Too much Ashwagandha has small and rare side effects, but signs that you're overdoing it include diarrhea and nausea.
Pregnant women and individuals who are medicated for anxiety, diabetes, depression, and insomnia should consult with a doctor prior to usage.
- Tea. Boil a teaspoon of Ashwagandha powder per one cup of hot water for a relaxing elixir.
- Milk. Use locally sourced dairy or your favorite dairy alternative to boil a cup of milk, and follow the same instructions above. You can add some raw cacao for a hot cocoa mix, or turmeric to make 'golden mylk.' Turmeric is another notorious anti-inflammatory.
- Smoothies. Add 1-2 teaspoons of Ashwagandha to your morning smoothie and blend away.
- Capsules. You can purchase Ashwagandha powder in capsules, or purchase empty capsules to fill on your own.
Have you experimented with Ashwagandha? We want to hear about your experience! Tell us how you use it and the benefits you've seen.
This article was fact checked for accuracy by Dr. Kim Langdon, MD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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Changhadi Govardhan Sharma, author. Ashwagandharishta - Rastantra Sar Evam Sidhyaprayog Sangrah - Krishna-Gopal Ayurveda Bhawan (Dharmarth Trust) Nagpur: 1938. pp. 743–744.
Abdel-Magied EM, Abdel-Rahman HA, Harraz FM. ?The effect of aqueous extracts of Cynomorium coccineum and Withania somnifera on testicular development in immature Wistar rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2001;75:1–4.
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Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She delivered over 2000 babies to mothers in a suburban Midwestern community.