Ashwagandha: The Ancient Super-Root You Should Know About
Ashwagandha, also known as Indian Ginseng or Withania Somnifera, is a plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family. It’s been used for over 3,000 years as a staple of Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic and natural system of medicine that originated in India. The root and berry are used to make medicine.
Ashwagandha has a broad range of potential health benefits, most of which are attributed to its high concentration of withanolides. These are naturally occurring steroidal lactones that are thought to account for the multiple medicinal applications of this herb. Here are a few areas where it might help:
Stress and Anxiety
Ashwagandha is perhaps best known for its ability to reduce stress. It is classified as an adaptogen, meaning it can help your body manage stress. Several scientific studies have shown that it can reduce cortisol levels, also known as the “stress hormone.”
- Adaptogenic properties: Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen, which means it helps the body adapt to stressors. It is believed to regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which plays a crucial role in the body’s stress response. By modulating the HPA axis, ashwagandha may help normalize cortisol levels and reduce the physiological response to stress.
- Anxiolytic effects: Ashwagandha may have anxiolytic properties, meaning it can help reduce anxiety symptoms. It is thought to enhance the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that helps regulate anxiety. By increasing GABA activity, ashwagandha may have a calming effect on the central nervous system, thereby promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety.
- Anti-inflammatory effects: Chronic stress and anxiety can lead to increased inflammation in the body. Increased inflammation can negatively impact overall health. This ayurvedic supplement has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties, which may help counteract the inflammatory response associated with stress and anxiety.
- Antioxidant activity: Ashwagandha contains compounds called withanolides, which have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect the body against oxidative stress caused by free radicals, which can contribute to anxiety and other mental health issues. By reducing oxidative stress, this super-root may help improve overall well-being and reduce anxiety symptoms.
Limited research suggests that ashwagandha might also help reduce symptoms of depression.
- Research on the effects of ashwagandha on depression is still limited. Most studies have been conducted on animals or small groups of human participants. While some studies have shown positive results, larger and more rigorous clinical trials are needed to establish the efficacy of it specifically for depression.
- That being said, ashwagandha may have certain properties that could potentially benefit individuals with depression. It is believed to have adaptogenic properties, meaning it may help the body cope with stress and anxiety. Chronic stress and anxiety are often associated with depression, so reducing stress levels could potentially have a positive impact on mood.
- Additionally, it is thought to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which may be relevant to depression. There is some evidence to suggest that inflammation and oxidative stress play a role in the development and progression of depression. By reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, ashwagandha could potentially have a positive impact on depressive symptoms, although more research is needed to confirm this.
- It’s important to note that if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it is crucial to seek professional help from a healthcare provider or mental health professional. They can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options, which may include therapy, medications, lifestyle changes, or a combination of these approaches. While natural remedies may have some potential benefits, they should not replace evidence-based treatments for depression.
Fertility and Testosterone
In men, ashwagandha has been shown to increase sperm count and motility and boost testosterone levels, which can aid in fertility.
- Regarding fertility, some animal studies have suggested that ashwagandha may have a positive effect on sperm quality and reproductive function. For example, a study published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal in 2013 found that ashwagandha improved sperm count, motility, and morphology in infertile male rats. However, it’s important to remember that animal studies may not directly translate to humans, and further research is necessary to determine ashwagandha’s effects on human fertility.
- When it comes to testosterone levels, a few human studies have indicated a potential positive effect of ashwagandha supplementation. One study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2015 found that men who took ashwagandha extract experienced a significant increase in testosterone levels compared to a placebo group. However, it’s worth noting that this study had a relatively small sample size, and more research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the mechanisms behind ashwagandha’s effects on testosterone.
- It’s important to remember that individual responses to supplements can vary, and this super-root may not have the same effects for everyone. If you’re considering using ashwagandha for fertility or testosterone-related concerns, it’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide personalized advice based on your specific situation. They can help you evaluate the potential benefits and risks and guide you in making an informed decision.
Cognition and Memory
Some studies have shown that ashwagandha promotes antioxidant activity that protects nerve cells from harmful free radicals. In some cases, this has resulted in improvements in memory and cognitive function.
- Stress Reduction: Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen, which means it may help the body better adapt to stress. Chronic stress can have negative effects on cognitive function and memory. By reducing stress levels, ashwagandha may indirectly support cognitive performance.
- Antioxidant Properties: Ashwagandha contains compounds with antioxidant properties, such as withanolides. Oxidative stress can contribute to cognitive decline and memory impairment. Ashwagandha’s antioxidants may help protect the brain from oxidative damage and support cognitive function.
- Neuroprotective Effects: Studies on animals have suggested that ashwagandha may have neuroprotective effects, meaning it may help preserve and protect brain cells. This could potentially slow down age-related cognitive decline and support memory function.
- Cholinergic Activity: Ashwagandha has been found to increase acetylcholine levels in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning. By modulating cholinergic activity, ashwagandha may have a positive impact on memory and cognitive function.
- Human Studies: Some human studies have investigated the cognitive effects of ashwagandha. For example, a randomized controlled trial found that ashwagandha supplementation improved cognitive function, attention, and information processing speed in healthy individuals. Another study showed that ashwagandha supplementation improved memory, attention, and information processing in people with mild cognitive impairment.
- While these findings are promising, it’s important to note that more research is needed to establish the full extent of ashwagandha’s cognitive and memory-enhancing effects. The optimal dosage and long-term safety of ashwagandha supplementation are also areas that require further investigation.
Some evidence suggests that ashwagandha can improve physical performance in both sedentary people and athletes, as well as increase muscle mass and reduce body fat percentage.
- Strength and muscle mass: Some studies have suggested that ashwagandha supplementation may help increase muscle strength and size. For example, a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2015 found that participants who took ashwagandha extract experienced greater gains in muscle strength compared to a placebo group.
- Endurance and stamina: Ashwagandha may also have positive effects on endurance and stamina. A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2012 reported that athletes who took ashwagandha extract had improved aerobic capacity (measured by VO2 max) compared to a placebo group. Another study published in the same journal in 2015 found that ashwagandha supplementation improved endurance in cycling and treadmill tests.
- Stress reduction and recovery: The adaptogenic properties of this super-root may benefit physical performance indirectly by reducing stress and enhancing recovery. Chronic stress can negatively impact performance and recovery, and ashwagandha has been shown to not only help reduce stress levels but also improve sleep quality. Both of these factors are important for optimal physical performance.
Inflammation and Immune System
Ashwagandha can boost immune function and has anti-inflammatory effects. It increases the activity of natural killer cells, which are immune cells that fight infection and help you stay healthy.
- Inflammation is a natural response by the body to injury or infection. However, chronic inflammation can contribute to the development of various health conditions, including autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and certain cancers. Some studies suggest that ashwagandha may help reduce inflammation markers in the body.
- Ashwagandha contains compounds called withanolides, which have been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds may inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory molecules, such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB). By reducing the production of these molecules, ashwagandha may help modulate the inflammatory response in the body.
- Additionally, ashwagandha may support the immune system, which plays a crucial role in defending the body against pathogens and maintaining overall health. Studies have shown that the supplement may enhance the activity of natural killer (NK) cells (immune cells that help identify and destroy infected or cancerous cells). Ashwagandha may also stimulate the production of antibodies, which are proteins that recognize and neutralize foreign invaders.
Blood Sugar Levels
Some studies suggest that ashwagandha might help reduce blood sugar levels.
- Several small-scale studies have found that ashwagandha may help reduce blood glucose levels. In both human and animal studies, ashwagandha has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels through its effects on insulin secretion and sensitivity.
- For example, one study published in the International Journal of Ayurveda Research in 2010 found that ashwagandha improved insulin sensitivity in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients. Another study, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2000, found that ashwagandha increased insulin secretion and improved insulin sensitivity in rats.
While ashwagandha is generally safe for most people, it can interact with certain medications. It is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women. As with any supplement, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new health regimen.
It’s also worth noting that while many of these benefits are supported by scientific research, more studies are needed to fully understand its potential health benefits and side effects, particularly in long-term use.