These days, reading an ingredient list on a “superfood” product can be more than a little daunting. I feel like I need a specialized dictionary to understand all the magic mushrooms and healing herbs in the health foods and drinks on the market now. But don’t fret, we will tell you all you want to know about one of the most popular and prevalent health food additions, Ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha is a herb that comes from the Withania somnifera plant and is lauded in Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional, holistic approach with roots in India. Ashwagandha was and still is an integral in Ayurvedic remedies and tonics to promote longevity and a “youthful state of physical and mental health” [i]. This super-herb is now in everything from vitamins to coffee and skincare, but sounds more like it should be the name of a country than a supplement. So, what do we need to know? Here’s 5 things to know about ashwagandha…
(1) IT’S AN ADAPTOGEN
Adaptogens are phytochemicals, from plants, that improve homeostasis within the body. In doing so, they enhance the body’s resistance to stress. Ashwagandha has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine to counteract the effects of stress on the body, namely by reducing cortisol levels [ii] and decreasing inflammation. This is thought to be related to the withanolide compounds within the plant [iii].
(2) IT HAS AN ANTI-ANXIETY EFFECT
Studies have shown that Ashwagandha supplementation is significantly effective compared to placebo in lowering levels of anxiety [iv]. Additionally, these studies have shown improvements in sleep quality and stress reduction. These results were also correlated with lower serum cortisol levels, an important stress hormone that is associated with anxiety levels and sleep [v].
(3) IT HAS BEEN SHOWN TO INCREASE ENERGY LEVELS AND ATHLETIC ENDURANCE
Several studies have shown increased endurance and energy levels in athletes supplementing with Ashwagandha. These athletes had significant increases in aerobic capacity, blood flow, and time to exhaustion. The athletes were able to get more oxygen throughout exercise, likely contributing to their ability to exercise for longer [vi].
(4) COULD HELP CONTROL BLOOD SUGAR AND LIPID PROFILES
In one animal study, Ashwagandha supplementation improved diabetes markers in rats, either due to improvement in insulin secretion or potential mimicking of insulin. The same study showed a significant improvement in blood lipid levels like triglyceride and LDL, as well a significant increase in HDL in rats treated with Ashwagandha compared to diabetic rats [vii].
(5) COULD IMPROVE MEMORY AND BRAIN FUNCTION
In one study looking at effects of Ashwagandha on memory, subjects taking 600 mg/day of Ashwagandha-root extract demonstrated significant improvements in immediate recall and general memory compared to placebo. The experimental group also exhibited improvements in sustained attention and information processing speed [viii].
Think Ashwagandha is something you might want to try? Don’t pull the trigger just yet. As with any supplement, it is important to recognize that more large-scale testing must be done before we can safely recommend it. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, have an autoimmune disease, are on thyroid hormone medication, or have diabetes, Ashwagandha is not an appropriate supplement for you. If none of those apply, remember to be a conscious consumer and only purchase from brands you trust.
- [i] Singh, Narendra et al. “An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda.” African journal of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicines : AJTCAM vol. 8,5 Suppl (2011). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/
- [ii] Redmer, Jacqueline. “Adaptogen- an overview” Integrative Medicine. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/adaptogen
- [iii] Mirjalili Mohammed Hossein et al. Steroidal lactones from Withania somnifera, an ancient plant for novel medicine. Molecules. (2009) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19633611/
- [iv] Pratte, Morgan A et al. “An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine. vol. 20,12 (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270108/
- [v] Salve, Jaysing et al. “Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study.” Cureus vol. 11,12 e6466. (2019) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32021735
- [vi] Shenoy, Shweta et al. “Effects of eight-week supplementation of Ashwagandha on cardiorespiratory endurance in elite Indian cyclists.” Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine vol. 3,4 (2012). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3545242/
- [vii] Udayakumar, Rajangam et al. “Hypoglycaemic and hypolipidaemic effects of Withania somnifera root and leaf extracts on alloxan-induced diabetic rats.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 10,5 (2009). ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695282/
- [viii] Choudhary, et al Dnyanraj. “Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions.” Journal of Dietary Supplements, vol 14, 6. (2017). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19390211.2017.1284970?scroll=top&needAccess=true