Have you tried ashwagandha? It’s considered one of the most effective nervine tonics in Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of natural medicine. A nervine tonic is a medicine that can calm your nerves and help you feel relaxed. But ashwagandha can do so much more.
Below are the top 5 benefits of ashwagandha. But first, let’s go over what ashwagandha actually is.
What is ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is an ancient Ayurvedic herb. It belongs to a class of medicinal herbs known as adaptogens and has been used for more than 3,000 years to help lower stress, improve endurance and boost concentration levels.
In Sanskrit, ashwagandha means “smell of the horse,” which may be applied to its unique smell and/or its ability to increase strength.
Many of ashwagandha’s health benefits are believed to come from its high levels of withanolides, hormone precursors that can convert into human physiological hormones to help bring balance to the body.
In one study, published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, the authors write:
“Ideally, an adaptogen should:
- a) decrease stress-induced damage
- b) be safe and produce a beneficial effect even if the number of administrations is more than required
- c) be devoid of any negative effects such as withdrawal syndromes and
- d) not influence the normal body functions more than necessary. Ashwagandha is one adaptogen that possesses all of the characteristics listed above.”
If you can get past its rather earthy taste, you can reap the herb’s enormous benefits.
- Reduces anxiety and stress
Ashwagandha has powerful anti-anxiety and anti-stress properties. If you were to ask ashwagandha consumers why they use the herb, this would likely be the top reason.
Long term stress results in overactivity of the brain’s HPA axis (hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands).
When the HPA becomes overactive, it leads to the release of too much epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol (chemicals involved in the fight-or-flight response). This can result in a variety of health problems, including mental health disorders, insomnia, diabetes and heart disease.
Ashwagandha effects how much cortisol and adrenaline is released, which can help combat adrenal fatigue.
In one review, ashwagandha was shown to outperform psychotherapy in reducing anxiety in a group of participants by 56.5% compared to only 30.5% in the psychotherapy group.
In another study, a research team looked at the safety and effectiveness of a high-concentration extract of ashwagandha to see whether it could reduce stress and anxiety and improve the general well-being of 64 adults with chronic stress.
The findings show that participants who were given the high-concentration full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract had a significant reduction in scores on all the stress-assessment scales on Day 60, compared to the placebo group.
In another study, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of an ashwagandha extract in participants with anxiety disorders. The study involved 39 people, 20 of whom received the extract and 19 who received placebo.
At 6 weeks, 88.2% of the ashwagandha group experienced reduced anxiety, compared to 50% of the placebo group.
- Improves memory
Ashwagandha may also help improve your cognition. An 8-week study of 50 participants with mild cognitive impairment found that consuming 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice per day significantly enhanced general memory, attention, and task performance.
Ashwagandha may also help people with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by the progressive breakdown of the structure and function of the central nervous system.
According to one review of ashwagandha, the authors write, “There are dozens of studies that show that Ashwagandha slows, stops, reverses or removes neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss.”
“Therefore Ashwagandha can be used to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other neurodegenerative diseases at any stage of the disease, even before a person has been diagnosed and is still in the state of mild forgetfulness, etc.”
- Increases endurance/ stamina
In a rat study, a research team looked at the ability of ashwagandha to increase stamina among swimming rats.
The authors write, “Ashwagandha was shown to increase swimming performance in rats as judged by [an] increase in swimming time during [the] physical endurance test.”
“Ashwagandha treated animals showed a significant increase in the duration of swimming time as compared to control. The control group of mice swam for a mean time of 385 minutes, whereas the drug-treated animals continued to swim for a mean duration of 740 minutes. Thus, the swimming time was approximately doubled after Withania somnifera (WS) treatment.”
- Boosts Immunity/ lowers inflammation
Ashwagandha is a potent immune system stimulator. The herb raises levels of white blood cells as well as two extremely powerful antioxidants: superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase.
In an overview of ashwagandha in the African Journal of Traditional. Complementary and Alternative Medicines, the authors write, “Ashwagandha improves the body’s defense against disease by improving the cell-mediated immunity. It also possesses potent antioxidant properties that help protect against cellular damage caused by free radicals.”
Research also shows that ashwagandha reduces inflammation in rats with rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory autoimmune disorder.
In another study, participants who took 250 mg of ashwagandha extract had a 36% decrease in C-reactive protein (a marker tied to an increased risk of heart disease), compared to a 6% decrease in the placebo group.
- Anti-cancer properties
Research shows that withaferin (compound in ashwagandha) can kill cancer cells and even hinder the growth of new cancer cells.
Animal studies show it may be effective for various types of cancer, including lung, brain, colon, breast, and ovarian cancer.
In one study, mice with ovarian tumors that were given withaferin alone or in combination with cisplatin (an anti-cancer drug) showed a 70–80% reduction in tumor growth. The treatment also prevented the spread of cancer to other organs.
Who should not take ashwagandha?
It’s recommended that pregnant and nursing women, as well as those with hyperthyroidism, not take ashwagandha. There is some evidence that ashwagandha can cause miscarriage. The herb may also interact with sedatives or certain medications.
How to take ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is not known for its pleasant taste, so it’s a good idea to mix the powdered root with fruit juice or another strong drink to help it go down. Traditionally, it’s mixed with milk and honey.