Ashwagandha is a plant belonging to the Solanaceae family and has over 4,000 years of traditional use in its native India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (1). It is sometimes referred to as “Indian Ginseng” which brings a lot of health benefits. It can also be called as Winter Cherry.In the Middle East, it is used to help promote normal sleep patterns and encourage a healthy inflammatory response (2). In addition, Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a revered herb of the Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine as a Rasayana (tonic). It is used for various kinds of disease processes and especially as a nervine tonic and many scientific studies were carried out and its adaptogenic or anti-stress activities are sure renowned (3). Ashwagandha supplements are unquestionably one of the most renowned supplements in the world.
5 Health Benefits of Ashwagandha Supplements
1. Improves cognitive health
According to Relief Jones, III, MD, founder, and director of Neurosportz Applied Neuroscience, some brain supplements are actually plants, like ashwagandha (4). Ashwagandha can directly impact neurotransmitters to boost brain function and decreases cortisol levels to reduce stress (5).
Studies have been conducted to establish the medicinal and therapeutic properties of ashwagandha especially on its effects on the human brain (6). In a study published in PLOS One, researchers found that ashwagandha was an effective and safe naturopathic option to help alleviate anxiety making it a perfect supplement for people who live and work in a high-stress environment (7).
An active component found in ashwagandha leaves can help in combating insomnia and can induce deep sleep without the side effects associated with many herbs and pharmaceutical medications, according to the researchers from the Sleep Institute at the University of Tsukuba, Japan (8).
Another study published in PLOS One reveals that ashwagandha compared to common pharmaceutical drugs lorazepam and imipramine possess no side effects. Ashwagandha can also suppress the production of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain (9). A compound found in ashwagandha called withanolides improves cognitive function as well (10). Hence, it supports a long life and helps the mind and mental capacity due to its neuroprotective qualities. In addition, supplementing ashwagandha helps improve memory, increase spatial and visual memory, decrease oxidative brain stress and helps prevent nerve cell degeneration (11).
2. Boosts immune system
Ashwagandha has a positive effect on white blood cell count and platelet counts in animals with suppressed immune systems. On animal studies, ashwagandha showed a positive effect on cancerous lung, colon, brain, mammary, prostate and ovarian tumors while human studies solidify the evidence (12). Ashwagandha’s immune-boosting properties help you throughout the day.
People with overactive thyroid, blood pressure issues, and cancer patients, however, should consult their functional medicine doctor before trying ashwagandha, as it can ramp up thyroid activity and interact with common blood pressure and cancer medications (13). You can get it as a single-ingredient capsule or extract, or you can sometimes find it in calming synergy supplements like Zen Mode (14). It indeed demonstrates excellent immune-boosting effects on our immune system and is shown to encourage anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting immune cells that help to ward off illnesses (15).
Ashwagandha capsules help nourish and restore optimal nervous and immune system health by normalizing mood, energy levels, and overall immune system function (16). As Ashwagandha has potent anti-inflammatory properties, it is very useful in painful conditions such as arthritis, too (17).
3. Combats stress and anxiety
One of the amazing effects of this supplement is its ability to get people to feel less stressed. A study from 2017 showed a 44% reduction in stress levels after taking Ashwagandha, as opposed to just a 5.5% decrease in the group taking a placebo (18).
A randomized 2012 clinical trial showed similarly impressive levels of stress reduction after just 60 days (19). It is very helpful to calm anxiety, and specifically, help agoraphobia – anxiety especially in open or crowded places. One 2012 study of 64 randomized volunteers, asked subjects to take either ashwagandha or a placebo twice a day for 60 days where the ashwagandha group’s capsule contained 300 mg of a concentrated extract made from the root (20).
During the treatment period, regular telephone call check-ins assured volunteers to comply with the research requirements (21). The treatment group given the ashwagandha root extract exhibited a significant reduction in anxiety scores after two months relative to the placebo group, without side effects. Serum cortisol levels were substantially reduced (22). Cortisol is the stress hormone that goes up when we are stressed out, which may result to longer-term fatigue and mental fogginess, and brain structures for emotion and memory are damaged when cortisol is too high.
Other case studies using ashwagandha also show benefit in stressed women with adrenal hyperplasia (enlarged adrenal glands) showing beneficial changes in cortisol, progesterone, and pregnenolone (a valuable precursor hormone), as well as a noticeable improvement in a difficult to treat hair loss known as alopecia (23).
Related: Top 10 Essential Oils for Anxiety
4. Helps improve sexual function and fertility
In addition to its ability to boost immune system and brain health, ashwagandha root extract is used to treat sexual weakness, erectile dysfunction, and performance anxiety in men and has been advocated to ameliorate diminished sexual desire in women and in all forms of sexual dysfunction, particularly where a depleted nervous system is playing a role (24).
Ashwagandha has been indicated as a potent sexual stimulant as it supports sexual health by enhancing blood flow and reducing tension. Supplementation with high concentrations of ashwagandha root extract (HCARE) was found to enhance sexual function and satisfaction in healthy women (25).
Several studies support the effect of ashwagandha in improving sexual function and fertility as well (26). In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study published by BioMed Research International in 2015, fifty participants were placed into one of two groups and followed for a period of 8 weeks (27). The HCARE group received 300 mg of ashwagandha twice daily and the placebo group received a placebo capsule twice daily (28). Results showed greater improvement in the total FSFI score among the HCARE group particularly in the arousal, lubrication, orgasm and satisfaction domains (29).
The HCARE group also had more successful sexual encounters and reduced sexual distress compared to the placebo group (30). When men start taking ashwagandha, the production of nitric oxide is stimulated in their bodies (31). As a result of this, the blood vessels that carry blood to the genitals are dilated and cause an increase in sexual desire and satisfaction (32).
5. Stabilizes blood sugar
In several studies, ashwagandha is shown to lower blood sugar levels. It increases insulin secretion and improves insulin sensitivity in muscle cells, according to one test-tube study (33). Also, several human studies have suggested that it can reduce blood sugar levels in both healthy people and those with diabetes (34). In addition, in a 4-week study in people with schizophrenia, those treated with ashwagandha had an average reduction in fasting blood sugar levels of 13.5 mg/dL, compared with 4.5 mg/dL in those who received a placebo (35).
Another small study in 6 people with type 2 diabetes, supplementing with ashwagandha for 30 days lowered fasting blood sugar levels (36). Ashwagandha can help increase insulin sensitivity in healthy people and in those with high blood sugar (37).
A 2015 Iranian study found its root help normalize blood sugar in hyperglycemic rats by reducing inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity, and an older study in humans with mild type 2 diabetes found ashwagandha lowered blood glucose similar to oral hypoglycemic medication (38).
Although ashwagandha root capsules are generally well-tolerated when taken short-term (weeks to a few months) in typical dosages, mild to moderate side effects such as headache, sleepiness, and stomach upset have been reported in clinical studies (39). Rarely, allergic reactions and rapid heartbeat have been reported.
Also, ashwagandha supplementation can potentially lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and increase thyroid hormone levels (40). Pregnant women should avoid using ashwagandha because it can cause early delivery. Ashwagandha supplements, however, shouldn’t replace any medical treatments recommended by your doctor. It is always important to talk to your health care practitioner prior to using ashwagandha, especially if you are someone taking other medications or supplements.