Benefits include improved sleep, better athletic performance, and reduced inflammation. It may also improve anxiety and depression.
Welcome to my blog post discussing the herbal supplement ashwagandha. It is one of my favourites which I have noticed significant changes to my health by supplementing, as have numerous clients (alongside a natural and well balanced lifestyle). But even with that personal and professional experience, I was still surprised when I did a deep dive in to the research on it.
You may also be interested in a section of my blog dedicated to supplements: the supplement spotlight series. Blogs include:
- Psychobiotics: Probiotics For Mood And Mental Health: click here.
- Have You Heard About PEA (Palmitoylethanolamide): click here. (will be of interest for those with histamine intolerance!)
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a herb used in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India. It is said to confer the strength and virility of a horse (perhaps due to the root apparently having a horsey smell).
Various parts of the plant are used, but the most common in supplements is an extract of its roots.
10 Benefits Of Ashwagandha
Research has shown benefit in:
- Reducing stress and anxiety levels.
- Subclinical hypothyroidism.
- Brain function including improvement in cognitive tasks, executive function, attention, and reaction time
- Mental health
- Hormonal health.
- Sleep quality.
- Exercise performance, muscle mass, and strength.
Let’s look at these in a little more detail.
1. Reduces Stress And Anxiety
Perhaps Ashwagandha is best known for its ability to help us handle stress. This is why it is known as an adaptogen, a substance that helps us do this.
In a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled clinical study the researchers found that ashwagandha significantly reduced perceived stress scores.
In this study it was also found that ashwagandha also reduced cortisol levels, one of our stress hormones.
Importantly to know this study was 8 weeks in duration.
In another study, supplementing ashwagandha for 60 days led to a significant reduction in anxiety. The authors also found that the participants had reduced cortisol levels, and increased testosterone levels (in males but not females).
2. Improves Subclinical Thyroid Function
In one study the researchers found that the supplementation with ashwagandha (600 mg daily) for 8 weeks may be beneficial for normalising thyroid function in subclinical hypothyroid patients (1). The markers being evaluated were thyroid stimulating hormone, T4 and T3.
3. Improves Brain Function
Research has demonstrated that ashwagandha may be effective in enhancing both immediate and general memory in people with mild cognitive impairment as well as improving executive function, attention, and information processing speed. The dose used in the study was 300 mg twice daily. (2)
Overall, there is some early clinical evidence, in the form of randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trials, to support the cognitive benefits of W. somnifera supplementation. (7)
It has also been shown to be useful in children with memory deficit (5).
It was also found useful in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzeimer’s diseases. It has GABA mimetic effect and was shown to promote formation of dendrites.
4. Ashwagandha Improves Some Mental Health Conditions
A review published in 2021 concluded that Ashwaghanda may help manage depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other mental health-related conditions (source).
One study demonstrated that 1,000 mg of standardized ashwagandha reduced depression and anxiety symptoms in schizophrenia (10).
Finally, another study found it may be beneficial as a safe and effective adjunct to SSRI medications in the treatment of OCD. The dose used in this study was 120mg/day. (13)
5. Ashwagandha And Cancer
Various in vitro and in vivo studies have suggested that Ashwagandha may possess a potential for treating breast cancer, especially ER/PR positive breast cancer and triple-negative breast cancer (source).
It has also been discussed in other research to have inhibitory properties against many cancers including breast, colon, prostate, colon, ovarian, lung, and brain. (3)
And quite remarkably another paper (source) concluded by saying:
Given the central role of Ashwagandha in Ayurveda and its promising actions in the realm of modern cancer research, it has potential to move forward as a cancer chemopreventive nutraceutical.
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6. Ashwaganda And Hormones
Inhibit lipid peroxidation, improve sperm count and motility, and regulate reproductive hormone levels (4)
Ashwagandha intake was associated with an 18% greater increase in DHEA-S, and 14.7% testosterone. 21 mg of withanolide glycosides a day for 16 weeks (9).
May improve sexual function in healthy women. Included arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and satisfaction (11).
Ashwagandha’s stress-relieving effects may occur via its moderating effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (6) 240 mg daily.
It has also been shown to prevent adrenal gland changes of ascorbic acid and cortisol content produce by swimming stress
7. Ashwagandha And Inflammation
It is an anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic agent and was found useful in clinical cases of Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis (5).
8. Ashwagandha Helps You Sleep
Supplementation with the standardised ashwagandha extract for six weeks improved the overall quality of sleep by significantly improving the non-restorative sleep condition in healthy subjects. The dose taken was 120 mg of standardised ashwagandha extract once daily for six weeks (8).
The level of improvement experienced seems to correlate with the severity of the problem – for example those with insomnia experienced greater benefit than those who just suffered with poor sleep.
In one study where participants took 600mg of Ashwagdnha result showed a significant increase in the quality of sleep, and mental alertness compared to the placebo group (source)
9. Ashwaganda And Exercise Performance
Ashwagandha supplementation is associated with significant increases in muscle mass and strength and suggests that ashwagandha supplementation may be useful in conjunction with a resistance training program. 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily. Compared to the placebo subjects, the subjects receiving ashwagandha also had significantly greater reduction of exercise-induced muscle damage as indicated by the stabilization of serum creatine kinase (12).
In experimental models it increases the stamina of rats during swimming endurance test (5).
A 500 mg dose of an aqueous extract of Ashwagandha improves upper and lower-body strength, supports a favorable distribution of body mass, and was well tolerated (15).
10. Ashwagandha And Fertility
Systematically reviewed data demonstrated statistical increase in sperm concentration, semen volume, and sperm motility in oligospermic males after 90 days of ashwagandha supplementation, as well, serum testosterone and luteinising hormone levels (14).
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Frequently Asked Questions
What are the main benefits of Ashwagandha?
Research has shown that the main benefits of Ashwagandha include:
- Improved hormonal health including DHEA-S and testosterone.
- General memory in people with mild cognitive impairment.
- Improved mood.
- Improved fertility and sexual function.
- Reduced stress and anxiety levels.
- Reduced inflammation.
- Improved sleep quality.
Is it good to take Ashwagandha every day?
Yes all the benefits cited above have been from supplementing Ashwagnadha on a daily basis, often for approximately 2-4 months.
What happens when you take Ashwagandha daily?
This will vary person to person and potentially depend on your reasons for taking it. For example you are more likely to see improvement in energy if you experience a degree of fatigue. Having said that I have seen numerous clients who were in relatively good health notice improvement in their energy and overall wellbeing when staking Ashwagandha.
When Should I Take It?
Often it is recommended to take with food. Often the dose will be split so it may taken with breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Always follow the advice of your healthcare practitioner, or the advice on the product.
Is It Safe To Take Ashwagandha Daily?
This question is difficult to answer because we currently lack a lot of long-term information from clinical trials. Because of its possible drug-like effects on neurotransmission, it’s difficult to rule out unintended side-effects or a loss of potency in the long-term.
What studies we do have though generally suggest that the effects of Ashwagandha on stress/anxiety continually improve for at least two months after the beginning of daily supplementation.
Are there any negative benefits to Ashwagandha?
Side effects of taking Ashwagandha are very uncommon. Large doses (much higher than what is typically recommended, or used in the research studies) can cause gastrointestinal upset, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. It has been theorised that this might be due to the herb causing some irritation to the intestinal mucosa (gut lining).
In the research studies, such as those cited above, there have been no reports of serum enzyme elevations occurring during the studies, and no mention of serious adverse events or liver toxicity.
How Long Can I Take It For?
The studies that have investigated Ashwagandha range in length but it appears safe to supplement daily for at least 2-4 months.
The best way to get the same effect as has been found in the studies is obviously is to mimic the dose and dosing schedule in the study.
Safety And Side Effects
It seems to be safe and well-tolerated at the doses used in the research (60mg-1000mg), but it needs more long-term research that’s specifically designed to evaluate its safety
Ashwagandha may not be safe if a person:
- Is pregnant or breastfeeding
- Has hormone-sensitive prostate cancer
- Is taking medication – I would recommend speaking with your primary healthcare practitioner as there will be contraindications with some medications.
The dosing recommendations seem to vary for Ashwagandha. The research has shown that doses from as low as 60mg per day up to 1000mg per day of standardised ashwagandha may be helpful, depending on the condition you are trying to treat.
Is Ashwagandha legal in the U.K?
Yes Ashwagandha is legal in the U.K and easily available from most health food stores and online supplement dispensaries.
How should I feel after taking Ashawagandha?
This will depend on the reasons for taking it, and how you were feeling before taking it. Ultimately you can expect to feel any of the above benefits! The most common feedback I hear is that people feel like they have more energy and stamina, sleep better, and feel calmer.
- Efficacy and Safety of Ash. Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial: click here.
- Efficacy and Safety of Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions: click here.
- Withania Somnifera and Withaferin A: Potential in Integrative Oncology: click here.
- Role of Withania somnifera in the management of male infertility: click here.
- An overview on ash: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda (click here)
- An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an Withania somnifera)extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study: click here.
- A systematic review of the clinical use of Withania somnifera to ameliorate cognitive dysfunction: click here.
- A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study to evaluate the effects of Withania somnifera extract on sleep quality in healthy adults: click here.
- A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study Examining the Hormonal and Vitality Effects of Withania somnifera in Aging, Overweight Males: click here.
- Effects of a standardized extract of Withania somnifera on depression and anxiety symptoms in persons with schizophrenia participating in a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial: click here.
- Efficacy and Safety of Withania somnifera Root Extract in Improving Sexual Function in Women: A Pilot Study: click here.
- Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial: click here.
- Evaluation of the efficacy of Withania somnifera root extract in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial: click here.
- Withania somnifera (Indian ginseng) in male infertility: An evidence-based systematic review and meta-analysis: click here.
- Effects of an Aqueous Extract of Withania somnifera on Strength Training Adaptations and Recovery: The STAR Trial: click here.
- Ashwagandha: LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury: click here.