Ashwagandha is a medicinal plant that’s been used for centuries among cultures in India, North Africa, and the Middle East. It’s a round, plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers bearing raisin-sized, orange-red fruit. Each part of the Ashwagandha plant offers specific purposes that heal and bring balance to the body. For example, the flowers are known for their detoxifying and purifying effects. Whereas, the root is known to reduce inflammation and swelling.
You may also have heard ashwagandha referred to as Indian ginseng, since India is where it originated, or winter cherry, due to its appearance. In Sanskrit, it’s translated as “smell of the horse,” due to its unique odor and strengthening capabilities.
Regardless of what part of the plant is used or how it’s referred to, ashwagandha offers a wide array of healing benefits for a range of conditions and ailments. In Ayurvedic medicine, using ashwagandha supplementation is part of holistic healing that focuses on the connection between the mind, body, and spirit.
#1: Lowers Stress and Anxiety
Everyone experiences a general level of daily stressors from our environment. However as those levels increase, it causes abnormalities and imbalances within the body, which leads to temporary and severe health conditions. One of ashwagandha root's benefits is its impact on lowering anxiety by supporting the body’s natural ability to handle oxidative stress. It’s known as an adaptogen, which is a select group of herbs that have the ability to adapt to the needs of the body and promote balance, making ashwagandha for anxiety a great natural remedy.
A study conducted by researchers from the Department of Neuropsychiatry, Asha Hospital in India has shown that a high concentration of ashwagandha root extract taken by capsule twice a day for a period of 60 days improved a person’s resistance toward oxidative stress in an effective and safe way. It also showed a reduction of cortisol levels by nearly 30 percent.
By consuming ashwagandha as part of your daily routine along with stress-reducing exercises and activities, such as yoga, meditation, and getting plenty of sleep, the adaptogenic herb can help decrease your risk of chronic stress and the effects that come with it. Actively treating stress helps to prevent associated diseases, such as anxiety, hypertension, premature aging, and arthritis.
#2: Reduces Blood Sugar Levels
Part of the ayurvedic herb's health benefits includes reducing blood sugar levels. Research has shown that it also has an impact in decreasing cholesterol and triglycerides. Depending on your diet and current health conditions, you may experience insulin sensitivity where blood sugar level spikes from eating high amounts of carbs, sugary foods and drinks, and not engaging in enough regular exercise. Too much sugar in the body over a long period of time can lead to serious health problems, if not treated, including hyperglycemia, diabetes, and heart problems, to name a few.
When you pair taking an ashwagandha supplement with improving your diet and exercise routine, you’ll help regulate blood sugar levels. It’s also advantageous to eat foods rich in magnesium and chromium since the presence of a high blood sugar level has been linked to deficiencies of these nutrients. Foods rich in chromium include egg yolks, high-bran cereals, nuts, green beans, and broccoli. Magnesium-rich foods include fish, bananas, avocados, dark leafy greens, and whole grains.
#3: Supports Reproductive and Sexual Health
In a collaborative study among several research departments at the University of Medical Sciences, Tabriz, Iran, it was found that ashwagandha benefits extended to reproductive health in both men and women in several ways. It showed decreased infertility among males, with extracts specifically from the roots enhancing sperm quality.
Additionally, sexual behavior in females improved significantly after administering ashwagandha. Research has shown its effectiveness for the treatment of female sexual dysfunction, which could affect a female’s level of sexual arousal, orgasms, and desire. These types of conditions can lead to reduced libido, vaginal dryness, and painful intercourse, among other side effects. The ashwagandha benefits for women is proposed to be associated with the antioxidative features and the improvement in hormonal imbalance provided in different parts of the plant.
#4: Improves Brain Functioning
The value of incorporating “brain foods” into your daily diet is nothing new. Fatty fish, dark chocolate, nuts, and leafy greens have long been touted as top foods to boost cognitive reactions. Research has shown this ayurvedic herb also benefits brain functioning by protecting nerve cells from free radicals.
An eight-week study conducted by the Indian Red Cross Society and Department of Pharmaceutical Technology, Kolkata, India showed taking 300 mg of ashwagandha twice a day vastly improved the participants’ general memory, attention span, and information processing. There’s also been research showing improvement of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s after taking a recommended ashwagandha dosage. Studies show evidence of how it may slow, stop, or reduce neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss.
#5: Prevents Insomnia
Due to its anti-stress capabilities, ashwagandha is often used to prevent insomnia and improve the quality of sleep. When taken in powder form, the adaptogen can be mixed with warm milk or water before bed to promote a restful night. Research from Patil University School of Medicine, Vedantaa Institute of Medical Sciences, and Prakruti Hospital show that when ashwagandha is taken in this way, with a dose of 300 mg twice a day, it improved sleep onset latency and sleep quality for patients with insomnia. Plus, consuming ashwagandha resulted in the average total sleep time significantly increasing for the group post-treatment.
The amount and quality of sleep you receive every night play a huge part in your mental and physical health. A lack of sleep leads to daytime fogginess, problems concentrating, irritability, and a range of other side effects that can cause problems to your state of mind and ability to function. Many times chronic insomnia or a lack of sleep is aligned with anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges that require your brain and body a chance to fully rest.
#6: Relieves Arthritis Pain
Ashwagandha has been used as a pain reliever to prevent inflammation and strain on the body caused by arthritis. It is an analgesic that soothes the nervous system’s response to pain. Researchers from the All India Institute of Medical Science studying the efficacy of ashwagandha treatment for rheumatoid arthritis found a significant positive change in swollen joint counts and pain assessment in a study group of eighty-six participants (both male and female) over a seven-week treatment period.
Arthritis usually sets in as a person ages as joints become stiffer. However, it can creep up at any stage of life for those who work primarily with their hands. Repetitive movements can lead to soreness and conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome which makes it painful to make a fist or perform everyday functions with the hands. Although more research is required due to the small sample size, the study presents the potential for ashwagandha as an effective and safe treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. To ease pain and keep the fingers more nimble, ashwagandha supplementation may be a remedy that works.
#7: Aids in Cancer Treatment
Preliminary research shows evidence that ashwagandha’s health benefits include inhibiting cell growth of certain types of cancers. In a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, PA, it was recognized that the adaptogenic herb had anti-tumorigenic properties as researchers explored modern cancer prevention and therapies. The study points out the ashwagandha dosage administered as a treatment for cancer is different from the general supplement promoting good health.
The study also references evidence that demonstrated ashwagandha root extract lowered cancer incidences, although research has found bioactive compounds that may potentially interrupt the formation of carcinogens present in the leaf and stem parts of the plant as well.
Ashwagandha has also been used as a remedy to help fight infection and improve muscle strength and growth. It’s proven beneficial for both men and women in numerous ways as a safe and effective herbal dietary supplement to general healthcare. However, consult with your physician if you are currently taking blood pressure or thyroid medication, as ashwagandha may interact and interfere with these.
How to Take Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is known as a regenerative tonic with multiple pharmacological actions that make it useful for various diseases. It’s a natural therapy that alleviates several common ailments and conditions that can take away from your overall quality of life. Although available in many forms, including capsule, powder, and liquid, the most common use is Ashwagandha powder form mixed with water, honey, or ghee. Refer to the dietary supplement label for the recommended dosage and how often you should take it as a remedy for your ailment or condition.
Maintaining good health requires consistency. Following a balanced diet a few days out of the week or exercising irregularly offers benefits but doesn’t sustain your health, the way a daily regimen does. The same goes for reaping the benefits of the ashwagandha plant. It’s most helpful when incorporating it as part of your regular routine rather than on an as-needed basis.
When you’re not feeling your best physically, this wears on your mind and affects your mood. Alternatively, when you are in a negative mental slump, this affects your motivation to eat healthfully and follow an exercise routine. Ashwagandha works to bring balance to your body, mind, and spirit so that you don’t have to continuously rotate between health and illness, but rather preserve your good health instead.