Ashwagandha is a medicinal herb that has incredible health benefits for the body. It’s classified as an “adaptogen,” which means that it can help your body manage stress. Ashwagandha can also provide all sorts of other health benefits – such as lowering blood sugar levels, reducing cortisol, boosting brain function, and help fighting symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Let’s find out why adding ashwagandha to your daily diet might be beneficial to your overall health.
THE ORIGIN OF ASHWAGANDHA
According to Healthline.com, ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, a form of alternative medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing. It has been used for over 3,000 years to relieve stress, increase energy levels and improve concentration.
“Ashwagandha” is Sanskrit for “smell of the horse,” which refers to both its unique smell and ability to increase strength. Its botanical name is “Withania somnifera,” and it’s also known by several other names, including winter cherry and Indian ginseng.
Many of ashwagandha’s health benefits are attributed to its high concentration of withanolides, which have been shown to fight inflammation and tumor growth. In fact, it’s ashwagandha’s ability to work as a stress-protective agent that has made it such a popular herb. Like all adaptogenic herbs, ashwagandha helps the body to maintain homeostasis, even in moments of emotional or physical stress.
But the benefits don’t stop there.
It has also shown incredible results for balancing thyroid hormones. Plus, it’s been used for mood disorders and the prevention of degenerative diseases.
IMPROVES UNDERACTIVE THYROID FUNCTION
One of the most amazing aspects of adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha is that they help people with thyroid problems. Ashwagandha has been shown to support a sluggish thyroid for people diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, or underactive thyroid.
For the millions of people who are struggling with thyroid problems – many of whom don’t even know it – ashwagandha may serve as the solution they’ve been waiting for.
Ashwagandha benefits for helping patients with subclinical hypothyroidism were evaluated in a 2017 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The 50 participants were diagnosed with thyroid disorder but didn’t display obvious symptoms of thyroid deficiency – i.e. fatigue, constipation, dry skin, weight gain, and muscle weakness – to name a few.
During an eight-week period, the treatment group received 600 milligrams (mg) of ashwagandha root extract, daily, and the control group received starch as the placebo. Researchers found that ashwagandha improved serum thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4) levels significantly, compared to the placebo recipients.
It was concluded that ashwagandha may be beneficial for normalizing thyroid levels in patients with hypothyroidism.
ASHWAGANDHA AS A STRESS REDUCER
Chronic stress is an ever-present facet of our modern lives and has been linked to higher risk for a number of illnesses. According to Organixx.com, a 2016 study conducted a double-blind, randomized clinical trial, in which 52 people who were subjected to chronic stress received either 300 mg of ashwagandha or a placebo control, twice daily.
Treatment with ashwagandha significantly reduced stress levels felt by the study subjects, as assessed by various questionnaires. At the same time, blood cortisol levels (a reliable indicator of stress levels), body weight, and body mass index (BMI) were noticeably better in the ashwagandha treatment group when compared to the control group.
Similarly, 60 days of treatment with ashwagandha significantly reduced both stress and cortisol levels in 64 subjects in another double-blind, randomized, placebo controlled clinical trial. These studies and others indicate that ashwagandha can help to effectively and safely manage chronic stress and its consequences. Along with alleviating stress symptoms, it is also known to combat fatigue, infuse energy, and enhance powers of concentration.
“Besides managing stress, it can help with chronic fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, mild obsessive compulsive disorder, restless leg syndrome, and fibromyalgia,” says Ann Baker, plant expert and holistic nutritionist.
“In the Western world, [scientists] abstract the active ingredients in an herb, synthesize in the laboratory, and use it in a drug that has a specific action – typically shutting something off in the body,” Baker further explained. “But when you use the whole herb, it can be used to treat many different conditions instead of targeting just one, like a drug does. [Herbs] support the body, as opposed to suppressing something.”
ASHWAGANDHA AND MUSCLE GAIN
Ayurvedic medicine texts suggest that ashwagandha encourages “bala,” which means strength.
But does modern research back up this claim?
Clinical research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine says ‘yes’. The study tested 57 men between the ages of 18 and 50. The men were not involved in any weight lifting training prior to the study. The men were divided into two groups. One group of 29 men was given 300 mg of an ashwagandha extract twice a day for eight weeks (600 mg per day).
The other group was given a placebo for the same period. Both groups underwent a supervised muscle training program for the two months. Before and after the study, the researchers tested the subjects for muscle strength using bench press and leg extension workouts. They also measured muscle size, fat composition and muscle recovery.
The researchers measured muscle recovery levels by testing blood levels of creatine kinase – which is a marker for muscle injury, which increases after strenuous workouts. The subjects were measured prior to and after the two months of withania supplementation.
The research found that those who took the ashwagandha were significantly stronger after the eight weeks. The ashwagandha group bench-pressed an average of 101 lbs., while the placebo group benched an average of 55 lbs. The ashwagandha group lifted an average of 32 lbs. on the leg extensions, while the placebo group averaged 22 lbs.
The ashwagandha group’s muscle size also increased. The average arm muscle size for the ashwagandha group was 3.3 inches, while the placebo’s average arm muscle size was just two inches. Meanwhile, the ashwagandha group’s chest size averaged 1.2 inches, while the placebo group averaged less than one inch (0.55 inches).
HOW TO TAKE
Ashwagandha root extract is the preferred form of ashwagandha, for the purposes of supplementation. The lowest effective dose for the acute usage of ashwagandha – and perhaps the most cost-effective dose – is 300-500 mg. The optimal dose is 6,000 mg a day, usually divided into three 2,000 mg doses. And while 300-500 mg is effective for most situations, a lower dose of 50-100 mg can be seen as effective in a few instances, such as reducing the immunosuppression seen with stress and augmenting anxiolytic (anxiety reducing agents).
Ashwagandha should be taken with meals. If taken once a day, it should be taken with breakfast.
Don’t expect to pop an ashwagandha pill and feel all your stress magically dissipate.
“It’s a tonic, not a medicine,” Baker says, “meaning you’ll only notice the results after taking it daily for at least a few weeks. It greatly varies from person to person when the effects manifest, because it also depends on personal lifestyle habits as well as the potency of the ashwagandha you’re taking.”
In other words, be patient and accept the fact that adaptogens are powerful, yet slow-acting. Also, be sure to talk to a healthcare professional and/or herb expert before beginning a regimen of ashwagandha, so you know which form and dosage will work best for you.