9 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

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Ashwagandha is the common name for Withania somnifera and is also sometimes referred to as Indian ginseng or winter cherry. It’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years and offers many health benefits. Modern science has started to chip away at the mysterious ways by which this herbal remedy can help our health, and the results are nothing short of astounding!

Overview

Ashwagandha has many proven health benefits ranging from killing cancer cells to regenerating damaged brain cells. It’s been well-studied in by researchers, and there is some exciting science to help describe why it’s such a powerful herbal remedy! It’s no miracle, and you shouldn’t expect it to cure anything overnight, or maybe not even at all. There’s no shame in working with a licensed professional to better understand how this powerful herbal remedy may serve you well both as a stand-alone therapy or as one complementary to your existing therapy. After all, most of us need all the help we can get!

Ashwagandha Leaves and Berries
Ashwagandha is characterized by its bright red berries, though the root is the common source of supplements.

Health Benefits

Ashwagandha is a powerful herbal compound that has been used over the past 3,000 years to help with issues such as stress, low energy, and even poor concentration (R). It’s commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogen to help the body be more resilient to stress.

With the help of modern science, this herbal remedy may one day be considered an effective treatment for many health conditions. Below you’ll find some brief discussion on some of the science-backed health benefits of Ashwagandha.

Natural Nootropic

Nootropics are a class of compounds that demonstrate some ability to affect our cognitive performance. Some nootropics help brain performance while others help protect it from damage. Ashwagandha has been studied as a powerful neuroprotective nootropic that helps protect and repair damaged brain cells (R).

It has also demonstrated the ability to help lower levels of amyloid plaques in the brain which is attributed to a lowered risk of Alzheimer’s (R). Many nootropic supplements are formulated to provide both stimulating and protective action in a synergistic blend. For example, Sophrosyne Brain by Jonescientific features Ashwagandha, Curcumin, Bacopa, and Lion’s Mane—all of which all have been scientifically proven to support memory and/or cognitive health (R)(R)(R).

Lowers & Stabilizes Blood Sugar

Ashwagandha has been studied in human and clinical trials for its impact on diabetic patients (yes, animals can be diabetic too!) Most of the health benefits attributed to Ashwagandha have been traced to the presence of compounds known as withanolides.

In one study, researchers found that leaf-extracted withanolides produced a more significant increase in glucose uptake (R). In other words, Ashwagandha helps lower blood sugar but the leaf extracts do so more than the root. Researchers also noted that the withaferin A compound (a specific withanolide) is likely responsible for the majority of Ashwagandha’s anti-diabetic activity.

Kills Cancer Cells

Cells go through a process called apoptosis—meaning cell death. This process is a part of natural bodily functions and helps regulate a wide range of processes in our bodies. A disruption in normal apoptosis processes is one aspect that makes tumor growth possible.

Being able to re-establish apoptosis signaling is thought to be one of the most promising approaches to cancer treatment. Ashwagandha has demonstrated such ability to signal cancer cell death in animal studies (R)(R)(R). There have been countless others though, to our knowledge, there have been no in-vitro human studies of such nature. Some in-vivo (using tissue samples mostly) have shown promise for Ashwagandha to be an effective cancer therapy for prostate (R), breast (R), and likely other types of cancers in humans.

Reduces Stress & Anxiety Levels

First, let’s start by agreeing that science’s understanding of stress and anxiety aren’t complete. Both manifest in many ways and have many causes. One way that researchers and doctors attempt to put a number on stress levels is by measuring levels of a hormone named Cortisol—often referred to as the Stress Hormone. It’s widely accepted that lowering circulating cortisol levels is akin to lowering stress, though that’s not always the case (R).

One study found that Ashwagandha was able to significantly lower cortisol levels over a 60-day observation period (R). This study also found that participants scored lower on stress assessment tests which is an important re-enforcing factor in concluding Ashwagandha can lower stress.

Increases Sperm Count

Male infertility has been linked, at least partially, to increased levels of stress. It’s conceivable that any mechanism able to lower stress may also be able to address issues of infertility. That’s just a guess mind you.

In one study, researchers found that the cortisol-lowering effects of Ashwagandha decrease levels of cortisol, increased levels of circulating anti-oxidants, and improved the overall sperm counts or participants (R)! Not only was this study another enforcer of the idea that Ashwagandha is effective at lowering stress, but it was also a powerful argument for more research on Ashwagandha for male infertility!

Testosterone & Sex Drive

Sperm counts, sex hormones, and sexual drive are all pretty interrelated aspects of male physiology. An increase in one is likely to be shadowed by similar increases in others. In one study among 68 infertile men, Ashwagandha was seen to improve sperm count, sex drive, and testosterone (R). This study used a full-spectrum root extract that was given at dosages of 225mg twice daily. This type of response has been observed in several other studies as well (R)(R)(R).

Improved Muscle Mass & Strength

The building of new muscles is driven by a dynamic process that has many variables. Nutrition, workout frequency, sleep patterns, and genetics all place pivotal roles in determining how quickly and effectively one may build new muscle. Increased levels of sex hormones and certain antioxidants are attributed to improved results after resistance training (R)(R).

Ashwagandha has been shown to increase levels of testosterone as well as many anti-oxidant compounds attributed to anabolic muscle growth. One study found that people taking Ashwagandha during a weeks-long resistance training program were significantly stronger afterward than those not taking Ashwagandha (R). This study also supported the ability of Ashwagandha to increase testosterone levels. Other studies have found similar effects of Ashwagandha in increasing strength as well (R).

Lowers Cholesterol

One study investigating many potential benefits of Ashwagandha found that it was able to lower total cholesterol levels significantly (R). This study was limited to only 18 volunteers but produced some very interesting results. In addition to lowering cholesterol, researchers found Ashwagandha able to increase serum creatine and urea nitrogen—both considered favorable in the context of strength training. Ashwagandha’s cholesterol-lowering traits have been supported by other studies as well (R).

May Help Treat Depression

Depression is often diagnosed alongside anxiety in many patients (R). The co-occurrence of these two conditions is appreciated and respected but not still fully-understood. This gap in scientific understanding affords extra attention to any compound that can treat either concern for its ability to potentially treat the other concern. In other words, if someone stumbles upon something that can treat anxiety they often follow up by testing its ability to treat depression.

Ashwagandha’s known ability to lower stress makes it a no-brainer as a potential anti-depressant therapy as well. There aren’t nearly the number of studies focusing on this characteristic as with Ashwagandha’s ability to lower stress—but there is still promising data. One such study on mice found that Ashwagandha can produce antidepressant effects similar to pharmaceuticals like Lorazepam (R). More research is needed, but it’s an exciting start!

Ashwagandha root and root powder
Ashwagandha supplements common feature powdered root ingredients

Recommended Dosage

Natural compounds don’t often have a rigorously-supported recommendation for dosages. Depending on how Ashwagandha is prepared, levels of active bio-alkaloids such as the withanolides may be found in much higher concentration, thus providing stronger benefits at lower doses. Concentrated extracts are likely to be more potent than powdered root forms or herbal tea preparations. Keeping this in mind is important.

Research characterizes the Ashwagandha as providing dose-dependent effects in most cases. This means the more Ashwagandha one takes, the stronger the effects will be. Doses administered in research tend to range from the 150mg to 1.5 gram per day range.

Side Effects

When considering the toxicity of a compound, a number known as the LD-50 is calculated which represents the amount of a compound required to kill half of all people (animals) that take it. This measure is used to indicate how toxic a compound may be to humans. A higher LD-50 means lower toxicity. The LD-50 of Ashwagandha is 400mg/kg which would equate (roughly) to a dose of 33.5 grams for a 185-pound person (R). LD-50 may sound scary, but it’s calculated for all types of compounds including alcohol, caffeine, and even water! All things considered, Ashwagandha seems very safe and would only be toxic in very large doses. Ashwagandha showed little to no side effects in nearly all the studies that were considered for this article.

Review

Ashwagandha has been used for centuries to help address a wide range of health concerns. As an adaptogen, it’s used in Ayurvedic medicine to help the body deal with stress—including mental, physical, and emotional kinds.

Modern science has described many of the powerful compounds found in Ashwagandha, such as the withanolides. These compounds, as well as others found in Ashwagandha, have demonstrated many remarkable benefits for the human body. These benefits range from reducing tumor growth and lowering cholesterol all the way to increase strength and helping manage stress. Ashwagandha’s powerful neuroprotective properties also make it a popular natural nootropic.

All things considered, Ashwagandha shows great promise as a beneficial natural compound and has few side effects reported. We would recommend anyone seeking to help manage their stress levels naturally give it serious consideration.

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Ashwagandha is a powerful herbal compound we feel shows strong potential in supporting human health. If you enjoyed this article and found it useful please let us know by using the rating box below.

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