What is Ashwagandha? All You Need to Know About Ashwagandha

You may probably ask yourself “What is Ashwagandha?” Well, it is a renowned yellow Indian herb used in Ayurveda. The shrub, mostly found in India and Southeast Asia, is extracted and used for medicinal purposes. Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen and has been used as a stress reliever, boosting energy levels and improving concentration. This traditional medicine is also known as winter cherry and Indian ginseng. This article will walk you through the benefits, side effects, risks, safe shopping, and consumption schedule for ashwagandha.

Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

1. Used as a Stress Reliever and Reducing Anxiety

Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera is an adaptogen that is useful in reducing stress. How does it help your body cope with stress? The extracts or powders help to control stress mediators such as c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK-1), cortisol, and heat shock proteins. Additionally, ashwagandha subdues hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) which triggers stress in your body. Several studies have been conducted to determine the performance of ashwagandha as a stress reliever and reduce anxiety. In one study, 60 participants were introduced to a placebo treatment and the traditional herb. Those who took 240mg of ashwagandha extracts for 60 days were found to have reduced stress levels and anxiety compared to those subjected to the placebo treatment. Similar results were recorded in a study involving 58 people who took 250 or 600 mg of ashwagandha extract for 8 weeks. It is, however, worth stating that the right dosage of ashwagandha extract for people with stress and anxiety is yet to be determined.

2. Beneficial For Treating Some Mental Health Conditions

Researchers have also noted that ashwagandha extracts and powders may reduce symptoms of some mental health conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. A study involving 66 participants noted that those who took 1000 mg of ashwagandha extract daily for 12 weeks had significant reductions in anxiety and depression compared to those placed on placebo treatment.

In 2012, there was a research conducted on a group of stressed adults. Those who took 600 mg of ashwagandha extract per day for 60 days were found to have a 77% reduction in symptoms of depression compared to a 5% reduction recorded from those on placebo treatment.

Another study showed that ashwagandha extract helped to reduce stress among people diagnosed with schizophrenia while those with bipolar disorders experienced improved cognitive ability after taking the extracts. Despite the findings, it is advisable for people diagnosed with mental health conditions to reach out to professionals for appropriate treatment and medication.

3. Helps Boost Brain Function

Over the years there has been evidence showing that ashwagandha plays a crucial role in improving one’s cognitive function. This was proven in one review encompassing five clinical studies that showed that older adults with mild cognitive impairment and other populations including people with schizophrenia had improved cognitive functioning after taking Withania somnifera. It is worth noting that cognitive functions include enhancing attention, reaction time, executive functioning, and performance on cognitive tasks.

Further studies on 50 adults showed that taking 600mg of ashwagandha extract per day boosted general memory and information-processing speed compared with taking a placebo dosage. Additionally, there was an 8-week study whereby 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract was administered to participants twice daily. The outcome showed improvement in attention, general memory, and task performance compared with the placebo group. Nonetheless, there is room for more research to determine the most appropriate dosage required to achieve desired results.

4. May Boost Athletes’ Performance

Researchers have also identified the role of ashwagandha as a supplement for athletes. The conclusion was drawn following various studies. One of them involved 12 studies on men and women who took ashwagandha extracts between 120mg and 1250 mg per day. The deductions showed an increase in oxygen usage during exercise and overall muscle strength.

Another research focused on VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during intense activity. The results showed enhanced maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max) in athletes and healthy adults after taking ashwagandha doses. This was an important study given that low VO2 max is associated with heart-related diseases and increased mortality risk.

Subsequently, there was a study where male participants took 600 mg of ashwagandha per day and engaged in resistance training for 8 weeks. This group was found to have more muscle strength and gained in size compared with a placebo group.

5. Ashwagandha Improves Fertility and Testosterone In Men

In a quest to assess the health benefits of Withania somnifera, researchers embarked on developing supplements. The study comprised 43 overweight men aged between 40 and 70 years with mild fatigue. Some participants took tablets containing ashwagandha extract while others took a placebo daily for 8 weeks. The results showed that participants who took the ashwagandha doses had an 18% increase in DHEA-S and 14.7% increase in testosterone compared with those who took the placebo.

Aside from assessing testosterone levels in men taking ashwagandha extracts, the researchers looked into fertility. Under this, it was determined that the doses led to an increase in semen volume, sperm concentration, and sperm motility in men with low sperm count. Notably, more research is being conducted to collect more data to determine the effectiveness of ashwagandha doses on fertility in men.

In a 3-month study, 75 men with fertility issues took 5 grams of ashwagandha root extracts per day. It was established that the participants had an increased sperm count and motility. The sperm quality of highly stressed people introduced to the same prescription was found to have improved at the end of the study.

6. Resourceful In Reducing Inflammation

To understand the contribution of ashwagandha extract in healthcare, researchers have been assessing its impact on inflammation. Some studies showed that the traditional herb helps to lower inflammation and boost your immunity.

In one case, five participants consumed 6ml of Ashwagandha root extract twice daily for 96 hours. The dose was administered with Anupama (whole milk). It was determined that 12ml of ashwagandha root extract administered daily may boost immunity by increasing the number of immune cells. This plays a crucial role in helping your body fight infection.

Additionally, daily consumption of 250 to 500mg of ashwagandha over 60 days subdues C-reactive protein levels by up to 30%. This implies that there is reduced inflammation over time.

7. Helps To Lower Blood Sugar Levels

Withania somnifera, a second-generation antipsychotic, has been found to decrease blood glucose while increasing urine sodium and urine volume. How does WA reduce inflammation in your body?

Research carried out on ashwagandha showed that it contains compounds that target inflammatory pathways in your body. The pathways include nuclear factor kappa B (NF kB) and nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2). It is worth noting that initial studies were done on animals. The results deduced that WA played a part in reducing levels of inflammatory proteins such as interleukin-10 (1L-10).

In one study, 30 patients were divided into two groups with one group being introduced to doses containing 400 mg of WSE per capsule administered thrice daily for one month. The other group of participants took placebo drugs. The results showed that ashwagandha extract had an antioxidant effect which led to a reduction in blood sugar levels.

Another study was carried out on people with Covid-19. The patients consumed an Ayurvedic drug containing 0.5 grams of ashwagandha twice per day for seven days. Other compounds in the drug include;

  • 2 grams of swasari ras (a traditional herb-mineral formulation)
  • 1 gram of giloy ghanvati (Tinospora cordifolia)
  • 0.5 grams of tulsi ghanvati (Ocimum sanctum)

It was established that the inflammatory markers TNF-a, CRP, and IL-6 levels were reduced in the participants compared with the placebo group. Further research is expected to be undertaken to ascertain the potential effects of using WA to reduce inflammation.

8. May Help Induce Sleep

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of people taking ashwagandha to induce sleep. This pattern prompted researchers to assess whether Withania somnifera helps with sleep issues.

One study involving 50 adults aged between 65 and 80 found that consuming 600 mg of ashwagandha root daily for 12 weeks significantly improved sleep quality. Additionally, participants were found to have increased mental alertness upon waking compared with the placebo group.

9. Easily Available and Safe Usage

The ninth and final health benefit of ashwagandha is that it is a safe supplement for people to use. This was determined after 69 studies were conducted to assess the benefits and effects on people. It was established that WA is resourceful in treating various conditions including but not limited to anxiety, stress, and insomnia.

One research study, conducted on 80 people, showed that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha per day for eight weeks was safe and did not have adverse effects on participants.

Does Ashwagandha have Side Effects?

Despite being approved to be taken by people, studies have shown that ashwagandha has side effects on some people. For this reason, health experts give precautions on certain groups that should not use this treatment. They include;

  • Pregnant women
  • Hormone-sensitive prostate cancer patients
  • Diabetic people
  • Patients with hyperthyroidism
  • People take certain medications such as anticonvulsants, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines.

Some of the side effects associated with ashwagandha treatment include;

  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Skin rash
  • Upper gastrointestinal discomfort

Other less common side effects include; stuffy nose, cough, constipation, giddiness or hyperactivity, and dry mouth.

It is worth mentioning that side effects may be experienced over some time. Therefore, it is important to consult your health professional before taking the medication. Withania somnifera can be administered in either a single dose or multiple doses. Dosage also ranges from 250 to 1250 mg per day depending on the condition and recommendation by your healthcare professional.

Can Ashwagandha Treat Erectile Dysfunction?

As you have read above, ashwagandha roots extract helps in boosting fertility and testosterone in men. That said, it is easy to assume that traditional herbs can be used to treat erectile dysfunction. Before going into details, it is crucial to define erectile dysfunction (ED).

ED refers to the inability to get or keep an erection firm during sexual intercourse. It is estimated that there are 30 million in the United States with erectile dysfunction. Some patients have, thus, opted to use herbs instead of manufactured medication for ED. One of the herbs used is ashwagandha since it is an ayurvedic medicine. Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient remedy that uses natural therapies.

Despite being perceived as an aphrodisiac by some people, there is no scientific evidence supporting its role in dealing with erectile dysfunction. Therefore, you should not turn to ashwagandha in anticipation of better erectile functionality.

There was a study conducted in 2011 which sought to investigate the use of ashwagandha for psychogenic ED. Out of the 86 men with psychogenic ED used in the study, none of them showed improvement compared with the placebo group. However, researchers are conducting further studies to determine whether the remedy can be used to treat erectile dysfunction given its effects on animals.

Role of Ashwagandha in treating Thyroid Disorders

The thyroid is a small organ found at the back of the neck that performs various functions including bone health, metabolism, growth, and metabolism. There are three crucial hormones involved in thyroid health namely; thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), triiodothyronine (T3), and thyroxine (T4). Given the functionality of the hormones, it is crucial to have a balance. An imbalance in the hormone can result in either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

Hypothyroidism is associated with the underproduction of thyroid hormones whereas hyperthyroidism is characterized by the overproduction of thyroid hormones.

Some of the symptoms of thyroid disorders include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Dry skin
  • Constipation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat

Given the compounds contained in ashwagandha, there have been reports of using the supplements to treat thyroid-related conditions. There is, however, no sufficient scientific data showing the effectiveness of this form of treatment. Therefore, it is important to reach out to your doctor for more info.

Most Appropriate time to take Ashwagandha

Now that we discussed the health benefits of ashwagandha, it is important to know the best time to take your dosage. Generally, healthcare professionals say that the natural remedy can be taken either during the day or at night. In this section, we are going to walk you through the benefits and risks of taking Withania somnifera at different hours.

Consumption During the Day

Studies have shown that taking ashwagandha roots extract in the morning has no effect as it depends on your preference. This is because the effects of the drug are not immediate and may take days to weeks before you begin to notice its effects. For instance, you may take it in the morning with your other supplements if you intend to improve your general health.

However, it is not advisable to take ashwagandha on an empty stomach as it may lead to discomfort. That said, you should consider taking your supplements after breakfast or after eating a snack. You may also opt to mix your supplement with a smoothie or drink.

Consumption at Night

If you are taking the ashwagandha dose to improve your sleep, you should consider taking it at night. This makes it easy to achieve the desired goal. Healthcare professionals recommend that ashwagandha should be hand in hand with moon milk. Moreover, it is recommended to adapt the night schedule especially if you prefer taking your dose on an empty stomach.

Best Practice When Shopping for Ashwagandha

With the growing popularity of ashwagandha and the lack of oversight by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there has been an increase in the number of counterfeit supplements in the market. Therefore, it is important to be cautious when shopping for ashwagandha capsules or powder. Below are tips on safe shopping.

First and foremost, you are expected to scrutinize the name on the product label. In this case, you must ensure that the name Withania somnifera or Indian ginseng appears on the package. Then, you must go through the list of ingredients indicated on the supplement. You should cross-check the list with that provided on the Dietary Supplement Label Database. You may also inquire with your pharmacist or doctor.

Thirdly, you need to be cautious about supplements with product claims. This is because some manufacturers provide fake information to entice consumers to purchase their products. subsequently, it is prudent to undertake your research from certified sources such as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Finally, you should check the seals and certificates. Despite not requiring approvals from FDAs, supplements can be taken to independent labs to verify the contents. Third-party organizations can help you look for a seal.

Parting Shot

Conventionally, ashwagandha was used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and constipation among other conditions. Its medicinal properties have prompted researchers to conduct further studies to better understand the compounds and their uses. Studies have shown that Withania somnifera or Indian Ginseng acts as a stress reliever and reduces anxiety. It also helps to improve memory and cognitive brain functions. You may also use it to boost fertility in men and increase muscle strength. However, it is fundamental to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking ayurvedic medicine.

ALSO READ:Best Ashwagandha Supplements 2022: Compare Top Product Brands

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