Ashwagandha is a powerful plant and herb that is a part of the Withania somnifera family. Ashwagandha dates all the way back to 6,000 BC. This herb has several different names as well. These names include Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry, or winter cherry. The health benefits of Ashwagandha have become extremely popular in the wellness world over the last several years in the Western World.
This plant is actually an evergreen shrub that grows in the Middle East, parts of Africa, and India. It has been a staple medicinal herb in the Eastern world for centuries. The meaning of the name “ashwagandha” is “the smell of a horse.” Ashwa directly translates to the horse, which thankfully is not a literal translation. The smell of the horse is meant to say that taking Ashwagandha gives you the strength of a stallion. So no need to worry, the smell is more like a dried herb than a horse.
This potent herb, which is also known as an adaptogen, has long been in the toolbox of Ayurvedic medicine practitioners around the world. The term adaptogen is like an herbal pharmaceutical and Ashwagandha is not the first of its kind. Adaptogens may help to stimulate neurological function, endocrine health, and even immune system regulation.
This plant is now sold in many different forms for ease of use as well. You can buy it as a powder, capsule, or pill. It is even sometimes added to certain foods.
Table of Contents
- Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
- Potential Health Risks of Ashwagandha
Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha may be the next supplemental herb that can help to strengthen many areas of your health and life. Check out all the health benefits of Ashwagandha and see how this potent herb can help you.
1. Ashwagandha May Help to Minimize Stress and Depression Symptoms
This is one of the most commonly known health benefits of Ashwagandha today, especially in the Western world. Ashwagandha helps to relax the central nervous system by decreasing cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone and is necessary to an extent for many hormonal functions. But, too much cortisol over an extended period of time creates a state of chronic stress. Chronic stress can then turn into depression, anxiety, and much more.
Taking Ashwagandha may help to stabilize cortisol levels throughout the day, promoting a sense of calm and tranquility. Several studies show that this herb can improve overall wellbeing along with lowered stress levels. One study shows participants who took Ashwagandha over eight weeks displayed a significant reduction of stress levels. Plus, these same participants even showed an improved quality of life (1).
That is why many promote the alternative option of Ashwagandha as a relaxant, especially when other medications are not an option. More and more people are looking for natural alternatives in the Western world, and the research behind this herb is what makes it such a popular choice. More research is necessary to continue to test a more diverse population. But if you suffer from anxiety or depression, there are many factors to consider, but a natural approach like this may be a help to you.
2. Ashwagandha May Improve Cognitive Function
Because Ashwagandha may help to minimize stress and depressive symptoms, it does those things partly through the brain. That means there are maybe even further benefits to what Ashwagandha can do for cognitive function as well.
This potent herb enhances brain functioning and the nervous system, improving memory and concentration. In fact, there may even be some promising evidence showing that Ashwagandha can decrease the chance of developing many common brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Dementia. Many studies in the National Institutes of Health show taking this herb slows, stops, and reverses neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss in those with these diseases (2).
Evidence like this shows that Ashwagandha can be utilized as a treatment option, even in the early stages of forgetfulness among these neurodegenerative diseases. For this reason, many Ayurvedic practitioners add Ashwagandha to tonics as a neuroprotective agent.
3. Ashwagandha May Boost Testosterone in Men
It turns out, Ashwagandha may not only be effective at reducing stress levels and improving brain health, but much more. This powerful adaptogen may even help to boost testosterone levels in men. Testosterone is one of the crucial sex hormones in connection with estrogen and progesterone. It is necessary to regulate sex drive, fat distribution, muscle mass, as well as the production of red blood cells and sperm.
Several studies suggest that taking Ashwagandha may increase testosterone levels in males significantly. In fact, one study shows that participants who took Ashwagandha increased their testosterone levels by 14.7 percent compared to the placebo group (3).
This happens because taking Ashwagandha increased levels of DHEA-S as well as testosterone. DHEA-S is known as dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, and it is a marker taken with testosterone to evaluate if adrenal glands are working efficiently. Although more research is necessary to fully support the claim that Ashwagandha can increase testosterone levels, there is some promising research that suggests it may do just that.
4. Ashwagandha May Enhance the Immune System
Ashwagandha may be a powerful source of calm for women and men alike, but did you know it may even help to promote a healthier immune response? This theory is based on the fact that Ashwagandha contains peptides, amino acids, lipids, antioxidants, and nucleic acids, which are all necessary to maintain a healthy immune system.
One study shows that it may potentially improve cell-mediated immunity by reducing stress levels. It may also be effective at improving immunity through antioxidants (4). Many don’t understand the connection between stress and the immune system. When the body is in a chronic stress state, several negative health effects can ensue. These may include muscle pain, peptic ulcers, and even common chronic diseases.
Antioxidants are a necessary addition to keep the body healthy by eliminating the production of free radicals. Free radicals are harmful agents that eventually make more room for disease. Supplements and powders like Ashwagandha may act as a boosting agent for the immune system, but they can never act as a replacement for a healthy lifestyle.
5. Ashwagandha May Improve Heart Health
Since Ashwagandha decreases oxidative stress in the body, it may also improve cardiovascular health. When tested with another Ayurvedic herb, one study shows that Ashwagandha may have the potential to improve heart function. It was useful to enhance cardiovascular endurance, as well as lowering blood pressure (5).
The study originally tested these herbs on several heart conditions and ailments like coronary artery disease, hypercholesterolemia, anginal pain, and heart failure. Although Ashwagandha may prove to be effective at supporting heart health, heart function is a complex health issue that has many factors.
Always consider the fact that lifestyle in combination with genetics are the key components when it comes to heart health.
6. Ashwagandha May Improve Thyroid Function
Although thyroid function is also a complex health topic, some research also suggests this herb may be useful at maintaining thyroid health as well. This all goes back to the fact that Ashwagandha may be extremely powerful at reducing oxidative stress in the body. Thyroid hormones are deeply connected to cortisol, the body’s stress hormone.
One study shows that Ashwagandha extract treatment improved thyroid function by enhancing thyroid hormones. It also shows reducing oxidative stress was crucial to the enhancement of thyroid hormones (6). Because thyroid function shows possible improvements, it would also mean common symptoms would decrease such as fatigue, weight gain, and even migraines.
Always consult your doctor to test your thyroid hormones if you suspect you have a common imbalance like hypothyroidism or Hashimotos. And, don’t forget that some herbs like Ashwagandha may improve thyroid-related symptoms.
Potential Health Risks of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is generally considered safe in small doses, but there may be some counterindications in some people or larger doses. Some potential health risks or side effects of Ashwagandha include, but are not limited to the below.
If you do not exceed the recommended dosage of around 450 mg a day, it is unlikely you will experience harmful side effects of health risks in most cases. But everyone reacts to certain medications and even herbal supplements differently. Always listen to your body and how certain supplements work for you.
Health Risks of Ashwagandha:
1. Pregnant women should avoid taking Ashwagandha: It may cause distress for the fetus
2. It may decrease blood pressure levels
3. It may irritate digestive pathways for some.
4. It may decrease blood pressure
5. It may contain excess heavy metals: Always buy from a reputable source.
When buying any type of supplement or herb, always keep in mind that they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it is best to do your research about the company to be sure it is sourced and produced responsibly safely.
Ashwagandha is a part of a widely known traditional medicine in the Ayurvedic community and it has been for several decades. Generally, it is considered safe for most in small doses, but always do what works best for your body and speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.
The health benefits of Ashwagandha are long and plentiful, and there may even be more than the ones listed above.
Ashwagandha may be an excellent option for those who would like a more natural approach to extremely common symptoms like high-stress levels, heart-healthy herbs, and more. Be sure to do your research to see if this herb is a good choice for you, especially if you suffer from any of the above conditions.