Ashwagandha is an ayurvedic herb well-known for its anti-aging and stress relieving qualities.
Since time immemorial, Indian medicine has used various parts of ashwagandha: roots, leaves, berries to increase energy, vitality and overall health.
Ashwagandha literally means ‘horse’s smell’ in Sanskrit (Ashwa – horse and gandha means smell). But the term refers not just to the smell, but also to horse-like attributes of physical strength and endurance.
This herb is so potent and has so many benefits that ayurveda considers it to be a Rasayana therapy on its own.
Rasayana is described as an herbal or metallic preparation that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and expands happiness.
This humble herb enhances the function of the brain and nervous system and improves learning and memory function. It’s also said to be a powerful adaptogen meaning ashwagandha enhances body’s resilience to stress and promotes a stable mind.
With excellent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, ashwagandha protects body against free radicals —a major cause of early aging and illness. It also improves hair growth, reduces grey hair, gets rid of fine lines and keeps your skin looking young and healthy.
There’s so much more to this Indian herb, here are it’s numerous benefits….
Ashwagandha has remarkable stress-relieving properties.
When the body is stressed, the immune and endocrine systems are in a wreck, leaving a person feeling depleted and exhausted. Adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha work to restore the balance of your hormones and help reduce anxiety. It also blocks stress pathways by altering the chemical signalling in the brain (1).
In traditional Indian medicine, ashwagandha is widely used to treat anxiety, depression, nervous exhaustion, adrenaline fatigue, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Due to ashwagandha’s anti-anxiety and nerve-calming effects, it promotes sound, restful sleep. It also helps to stop the mental chatter that goes round and round in your head.
Ashwagandha is excellent for balancing overactive adrenal gland. When you are stressed, adrenal glands release cortisol or stress hormone in your body. So you get symptoms like dry mouth, fast heartbeats, tense muscles, low energy and racing thought.
Research shows that ashwagandha supplements can help reduce cortisol in people with anxiety and chronic stress (2).
There are multiple ways ashwagandha promotes thicker, stronger hair.
Firstly, by reducing stress. As you may know, stress can increase hair fall by up to 10 times. It puts the hair follicles from growing phase to the resting phase, leading to more hair falling out. Plus, stress also increases androgen levels which shrink the hair follicles and cause male and female pattern baldness.
Many a time, there’s underlying inflammation in the hair follicles. The reasons can be stress, fungal or other microbial infection or harsh products. And this can affect hair growth. Ashwagandha reduces inflammation, boosts immune function and improves blood flow to the scalp – which brings more oxygen and nutrients to the hair follicles.
Ashwagandha also rejuvenates hair follicles. Research shows that ashwagandha can increase the production of two powerful antioxidant enzymes in the body: superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT) (3). These not only promotes stronger and healthier hair, but they also help preserve hair color by getting rid of hair whiting free radicals.
If you are looking for a natural herb to control diabetes, ashwagandha can help. In traditional Indian medicine, ashwagandha has been used alone or in combination with other plants to stabilise blood sugar levels.
Studies show that ashwagandha can improve insulin sensitivity of cells as well as increase insulin secretion (4). And this can translate into reduced blood sugar levels in both healthy people and those with diabetes (5).
Ashwagandha is an effective natural treatment for rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
It’s naturally occurring steroid compounds help to reduce inflammation and pain as effectively as phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory medication, but without the side effects that those drugs cause (6). Plus, it also aids in reducing swelling and redness in the arthritic joints.
Ashwagandha is often given to weak, emaciated person to help him/her build up muscle mass, strength, and stamina. Since it is anabolic*, this herb provides an excellent, safe alternative to steroids for increasing muscle mass.
*Anabolism is the phase of metabolism in which complex molecules, such as the proteins that make up body tissue, are formed from simpler one.
It appears that regular use of ashwagandha can boost haemoglobin levels and red blood cell count (6). What this means is more oxygen is delivered to each and every cell of your body. So you will have more energy and stamina and glowing, rosy skin.
Ashwagandha is used widely in Indian medicine to enhance memory and learning.
Ashwagandha has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help protect brain cells from the degenerative effects of free radicals and inflammatory proteins. People with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have decreased blood levels of antioxidants and increased numbers of free radicals.
Also, in Alzheimer’s, acetylcholine (ACh) levels start to fall. ACh is a chemical messenger in the brain which allows the brain cells to communicate with each other. If ACh levels are low, the brain acquires it by destroying its own cells. Ashwagandha decreases the likelihood that the brain will destroy its own cells.
A study published in Phytotherapy Research explains these benefits:
“Several studies have revealed that natural antioxidants, such as vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene, may help in scavenging free radicals generated during the initiation and progression of this [Alzheimer’s] disease. Therefore, there has been considerable interest in plant phytochemicals with the antioxidant property as potential agents to prevent the progression of the AD. We found ashwagandha afforded lipid peroxidation inhibitory effects more potent than commercial antioxidants.”
Ayurvedic practitioners often prescribe ashwagandha to stimulate the sluggish thyroid gland (6).
Ashwagandha supplements are made from the root, although leaves too are used in the commercial preparations. You can either take ashwagandha powder or its extract in capsule form.
Ashwagandha powder: Typical recommended dose for powder is between 1 to 2 grams (1/2 teaspoon) per day. Start at a low dose, say 1/4 tsp and then build up gradually. You can have it with warm milk, ghee (clarified butter), or honey. You can also add it to your soups, smoothies, etc. If you are a woman, it would help taking ashwagandha with another ayurvedic herb, Shatavari, it seems to have a beneficial effect when taken together.
Ashwagandha capsules: Because of its strong taste, ashwagandha capsules are usually preferred. General recommended dose is between 500mg once a day.
How long can you take it: Like all other supplements it is advised that you give a gap in between and not take it continually. So take it for 3 to 4 months every day then give a gap of one month. This gives your body time to readjust itself.
Along with ashwagandha, follow a diet high in fresh vegetables, fruits, healthy fats (nuts & seeds), lentils and beans, organic eggs and meat. Remove sugars, refined flour, and packaged foods and drinks from your diet. These food changes along with ashwagandha can help you see great results in reducing stress, boosting energy, improving neurological health, balancing hormones, and looking youthful.
Do you use ashwagandha? What has been your experience?
Phyllis AB. “Prescription for Herbal Healing” Avery, (2002)
Ed. Mishra LC. Scientific Basis for Ayurvedic Therapies. Boca Raton: CRC Press LLC, (2004)
Mishra LC and Singh BB. Alternative Medicine Review 5(4): Scientific Basis for the Therapeutic Use of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha): A Review. A Natural Healing Center. 2000, 5(4), 334-346.
Kuboyama T, Tohda C, Komatsu K. Neuritic regeneration and synaptic reconstruction induced by withanolide. A. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2005, 144(7), 961-71.
Tohda C, Kuboyama T, Komatsu K. Dendrite extension by methanol extract of Ashwagandha (roots of Withania somnifera) in SK-N-SH cells. Neuroreport. 2000, 26;11(9), 1981-5.
Tohda C, Kuboyama T, Komatsu K. Search for natural products related to regeneration of the neuronal network. Neurosignals. 2005, 14(1-2), 34-45.
Jayaprakasam B, Padmanabhan K, Nair MG. Withanamides in Withania somnifera fruit protect PC-12 cells from beta-amyloid responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. Phytotherapy Research. 2010, 24(6):859-63