The Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

Ancient herb eases stress, boosts memory, and may help you lose weight

Ashwagandha nutrition facts

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Ashwagandha is native to India and Southeast Asia and is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, an alternative natural system of medicine that originated in Indian over 3,000 years ago. Its botanical name is Withania somnifera and it is also known as "Indian ginseng" and "winter cherry." The name is Sanskrit for "smell of the horse."

Ashwagandha is commonly used as a household remedy in India and as an aphrodisiac for the elderly. It is now widely available all over the world and is promoted for use for a variety of reasons including anti-stress, anxiety relief, difficulty concentrating, and adrenal fatigue. The herb is sold in several forms including capsules, teas, and powders.

Health Benefits

Research on ashwagandha is limited, but several studies suggest that it may be useful in addressing several physical as well as mental and emotional challenges. Here is what you need to know about the potential health benefits of ashwagandha.

Physical Benefits

There is some limited evidence that ashwagandha's may play a role in anti-diabetic activity. For instance, research shows that it may help stimulate cells to more efficiently take up glucose from the blood stream to lower blood sugar.

A review that included 24 studies found that those who included ashwagandha in their diabetes treatment had significantly reduced blood sugar, hemoglobin A1C, insulin, and blood lipid levels. More randomized-controlled trials with large sample sizes are needed to better strengthen the evidence for using ashwagandha in diabetes treatment.

While animal studies have shown that ashwagandha may help reduce levels of inflammation, there is limited evidence showing its role in humans. In one study, researchers gave individuals with COVID-19 a supplement that contained .5 grams of ashwagandha along with other herbs to take twice a day for 7 days.

Reductions in inflammatory markers CRP, IL-6, and TNF-alpha were seen compared to the placebo. Consequently, ashwagandha may help reduce inflammation in the body, but much more research is needed before it can be an evidenced-based recommendation.

Finally, there are limited studies showing ashwagandha's role in male fertility and testosterone production. A small review involving four studies showed that ashwagandha treatment significantly increased sperm concentration and sperm motility in men with low sperm count. Ashwagandha also showed effectiveness in increasing sperm concentration and motility in men with normal sperm count.

Another study showed that 43 men who took ashwagandha for 8 weeks had a 14.7% increase in testosterone than those who took the placebo. While the current evidence is strong, there is not enough large-scale data to conclude any potential benefits of ashwagandha for male fertility and more studies are needed.

Mental Benefits

Ashwagandha is most commonly used for its role in reducing stress and anxiety. You may have heard it referred to as an adaptogen, which is a substance that helps the body cope with stress. Research shows the ashwagandha helps control our stress mediators, which include heat shock proteins, cortisol, and c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK-1).

One small study had participants take 250 milligrams or 600 milligrams of ashwagandha extra for 8 weeks. After 8 weeks the participants showed decreased levels of perceived stress as well as decreases in cortisol levels compared to the placebo group.

While research on the efficacy of ashwagandha on reducing stress and anxiety is promising, there is not enough research to form a consensus about proper dosing for widespread recommendations.

Possible Side Effects

Reported side effects to ashwagandha include mild to moderate drowsiness, GI discomfort, and loose stools. Less common, but other reported side effects include vertigo, nasal congestion, cough, decreased appetite, nausea, constipation, and skin rash.

Contraindications

Because ashwagandha is thought to increase testosterone levels, it should be avoided in individuals with hormone-sensitive prostate cancer. Individuals who take benzodiazepenes, anticonvulants, or barbiturates should avoid ashwagandha due to its sedative effects. Additionally, pregnant women should not take ashwagandha as it is shown to induce abortion.

Taking ashwagandha may also affect the thyroid so those with thyroid abnormalities or disease should check with a healthcare provider before starting a supplement. If you think you have an adverse reaction to ashwagandha or are unsure if it will react with any medication you are taking, always check with a healthcare provider before taking it.

Dosage and Preparation 

Dosage recommendations vary greatly. Doses anywhere from 250 milligrams to 1,250 milligrams have been shown to be effective for different conditions. Such wide dosing ranges are another reason why there is inconclusive evidence for the benefits of ashwagandha.

Research also shows that you may not notice the effects of ashwagandha right away and may need to take it for a few months to notice any differences. Check with a healthcare provider if you are considering starting an ashwagandha supplement and are unsure of what dose is right for you.

Ashwagandha can be taken as capsules, gummies, or powders. It can be taken at any time of the day, but many like to take it at night to aid in sleep. Ashwagandha powder is often seen mixed into smoothies, water, honey, or even desserts for ingestion.

What to Look For 

When choosing an ashwagandha supplement, look that it has a root powder or root extract containing 0.3% and 1.5%, respectively, of withanolides. This is the key compound that is thought to play a role in the adaptogen's activity.

You also want to look for the USDA organic stamp. Because supplements are not regulated by the FDA, brands can freely put words like "natural" and "organic" on their products. This stamp ensures that the product contains at least 95% organic ingredients.

Also be sure you can find a certification from an independent third-party on your ashwagandha bottle. This shows that the company is committed to best practices in production, testing, and supply chain. Important certifications to look for on nutraceuticals are GMPs, Good Manufacturing Practices, and FSMA, Food Safety Modernization Act.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is an adaptogen?

    Adaptogens are herbal compounds that help our bodies cope and recover from short- and long-term physical and mental stress. Research shows they can help combat fatigue, boost the immune system, enhance mental performance, and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Examples of adaptogens include ashwagandha, goji berry, licorice root, and turmeric.

  • Is ashwagandha an aphrodisiac?

    Ashwagandha is considered an aphrodiasiac. It may be effective for low libido in both men and women, though science does not support its use for erectile dysfunction.

  • When should I take ashwagandha?

    Ashwagandha can be taken at any time of day. Many like taking it at night to help with sleep and easy anxiety. The best time to include it is whenever will be the most consistent for you.

  • How long does ashwagandha take to work?

    Ashwagandha can take 2 weeks to start feeling the effects. However, some find it takes anywhere from 6 weeks to 12 weeks for it to work.

  • How long does ashwagandha stay in your system?

    There are both water-soluble and fat-soluble compounds in ashwagandha. The water-soluble ones leave your body in 2 to 3 days and the fat soluble compounds take up to a month to leave your body.

  • Will ashwagandha help me sleep?

    Research shows that ashwagandha has good sleep-inducing potential. Those who took 300mg twice a day had better quality sleep and faster sleep onset.

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14 Sources
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