Essence of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, fam. Solanaceae) is widely known as "Indian winter cherry" or "Indian ginseng". [ref. 1] Withania somnifera (Ashawagandha) is also a highly revered herb in the Indian Ayurvedic medical system as Rasayana (tonic). It is used in various types of disease processes, especially as a nerve soothing, but can also be used in other conditions. Ashwagandha contains chemicals that can help calm the brain, reduce swelling, lower blood pressure, and support the immune system. [ref. 2]
Since ashwagandha has traditionally been used as an adaptogen, it is suitable for use in many stress-related conditions. It is believed that adaptogens help the body resist physical and mental stress. Some of the conditions for which it is used include insomnia, aging, anxiety, and restlessness.
The biologically active chemical constituents of ashwagandha include alkaloids (isopelleterin, anaferin, cuseochigrin, anahigrin, etc.), steroidal lactones (vitanolides, vitaferrins) and saponins. [ref. 3]
5 Proven Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha to reduce stress and anxiety
Ashwagandha is perhaps best known for its ability to reduce stress, i.e. it has adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens are substances that help the body cope with stress.
Ashwagandha appears to help control stress mediators, including the Hsp70, cortisol, and JNK-1 proteins. 4 Ashwagandha also reduces the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a system in the body that regulates the stress response.
Several studies have shown that ashwagandha supplements can help relieve stress and anxiety. In a small study with 58 participants, those who took 250 or 600 mg. Ashwagandha extract for 8 weeks significantly reduced perceived stress and levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared to those who took a placebo. Additionally, participants who took the ashwagandha supplements experienced significant improvements in sleep quality compared to the placebo group.
Ashwagandha to improve athletic performance
Research shows that ashwagandha may have a beneficial effect on athletic performance and may be a useful supplement for athletes. One study analysis included 12 studies in men and women who took doses of ashwagandha between 120 mg. and 1250 mg. per day. The results suggest that the herb can improve physical performance, including strength and the body's use of oxygen during exercise. [ref. 4]
Another analysis of five studies found that taking ashwagandha significantly increased maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max) in healthy adults and athletes.
Ashwagandha to reduce symptoms of certain mental illnesses
Some current evidence suggests that ashwagandha may help reduce symptoms of other mental illnesses, including depression, in certain populations. In one study, researchers examined the effects of ashwagandha in 66 people with schizophrenia who experienced depression and anxiety.
They found that participants who took 1,000 mg. Ashwagandha extract daily for 12 weeks had a greater reduction in depression and anxiety than those who took a placebo. 6 Limited research from 2013 also suggested that ashwagandha may help improve cognitive impairment in people with bipolar disorder, but more research is needed to confirm these results.
Ashwagandha to Increase Testosterone and Increase Fertility in Men
Supplements containing ashwagandha have been shown in some studies to favor male fertility and increase testosterone levels. In one study, 43 overweight men aged 40-70 who had mild fatigue took tablets containing ashwagandha extract or a placebo every day for 8 weeks.
Ashwagandha treatment was associated with an 18% greater increase in DHEA-S, a sex hormone involved in testosterone production. Participants who took the herb also experienced a 14.7% greater increase in testosterone than those who took a placebo. 7
However, there are currently not enough studies to confirm the potential benefits of ashwagandha for male fertility, and therefore more high-quality studies are needed.
Ashwagandha to reduce inflammation
Ashwagandha contains compounds, including vitaferrin A, which can help reduce inflammation in the body. Researchers have found that vitaferrin A targets inflammatory pathways in the body, including signaling molecules called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) and nuclear factor erythroid 2-linked factor 2 (Nrf2).
Animal studies have shown that vitaferrin A may also help reduce levels of inflammatory proteins such as interleukin-10 (IL-10). There is some evidence that ashwagandha may help reduce inflammatory markers in humans as well. 8