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Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is one of the most valued medicinal plants in Indian medicine. Its roots have been used as medicine for millennia to support general well-being, increase lifespan, and relieve anxiety and stress. The earliest information on the use of ashwagandha can be traced back more than 8,000 years in history. (1)
What is Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)?
Ashwagandha is a highly valued herbal plant that has been used for a long time in a variety of ways in the treatment of various diseases and disorders. It is characterized by a small evergreen shrub whose root contains medicinal compounds, lactones and alkaloids (withanolides). It is also known as a natural aphrodisiac, which is believed to increase libido. In the wild, the plant is mostly found in India, Africa and Asia. (2)
The Sanskrit word ashwagandha means the smell of a horse, which refers to the strong scent of the plant and its empowering properties. It is also known as winter cherry and Indian ginseng. (2) The plant’s scientific species name “somnifera” refers to its sleep-enhancing properties.
Ashwagandha has been found to have many different health effects, the most well-known of which are its calming, sleep-improving and anxiety- and stress-relieving effects. In addition to them, it can e.g. improves performance, increases testosterone, reduces mental health problems, relieves inflammation and enhances brain functions such as memory. (3)
Next, we go through the health benefits of the plant in even more detail, topic by topic.
Can improve memory and brain function
Based on research, the use of ashwagandha can improve memory and cognitive functions of the brain, at least in certain parts of the population.
Studies have found that ashwagandha improves e.g. memory, attention and reaction time, information processing speed and performance in cognitive tasks. The plant’s compounds have antioxidant effects in the brain, which can contribute to cognitive abilities. (3)
Reduces anxiety and stress
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which means that according to research, it has e.g. the ability to reduce the load caused by anxiety and stress and support the body in challenging times. It affects the functioning of the body’s HPA axis, which regulates psychological and physiological stress reactions. (3)
An 8-week study (2019) in which one group was given ashwagandha extract and the other a placebo found that those who received ashwagandha had significantly lower levels of stress and cortisol compared to the placebo group. In addition, participants who received ashwagandha experienced a significant improvement in sleep quality. (4)
Another similar study in 2019 found that among those who received ashwagandha , anxiety was significantly reduced compared to those who received a placebo. (5)
Based on these and many other studies and experiences, ashwagandha is useful in the treatment of anxiety and stress . However, more studies are still needed regarding the optimal dosage of ashwagandha and in which form it is the most effective aid. (3)
Increases testosterone and male fertility
In studies, ashwagandha has been found to increase testosterone levels in men, as well as significantly improve fertility.
A study published in 2015 found testosterone levels in healthy young men increased by up to 15% over a two-month period when 300 milligrams of ashwagandha extract was taken twice daily. (6)
In another randomized study (2013) lasting 3 months, it was found that in men with reduced sperm production, ashwagandha increased their sperm count by 167% and increased testosterone levels by approx. 17 percent. In addition, the total amount and motility of semen improved by more than half, and the amount of lutenizing hormone increased by 34%. (6)
Lowers blood sugar
A review of a total of 24 studies has found that using ashwagandha lowers insulin, blood sugar, hemoglobin, markers of oxidative stress, and lipids. The compounds contained in Ashwagandha seem to have a diabetes-reducing effect, as it causes cells to use glucose from the bloodstream. (3)
Despite the research, ashwagandha is not always recommended for diabetics and its use for the treatment of diabetes should be discussed with a doctor first. Ashwagandha can reduce the effectiveness of diabetes medications and cause blood sugar to become too low.
Based on research, ashwagandha can have a positive effect on exercise-related performance. Based on the results, the herb improved physical performance by increasing muscle strength and oxygen uptake capacity (VO2 max). (3)
In a 2-month study, male participants received ashwagandha daily and did regular strength training. Muscle strength was noticed to increase significantly compared to the group that was given a placebo. (7)
May reduce symptoms associated with mental health problems
Ashwagandha’s effects have also been studied in relation to mental health challenges. Studies have been carried out e.g. for groups with schizophrenia who had anxiety and depression . In a study conducted in 2019, symptoms of anxiety and depression decreased significantly during the 3-month test period. (8)
Studies related to ashwagandha also suggest that it can also be helpful in alleviating common symptoms of schizophrenia, such as stress. (9)
Although research results suggest that ashwagandha may have antidepressant-like effects, its use should not replace antidepressants on its own. You should always discuss the matter first with an expert doctor.
Compounds found in ashwagandha have been found to reduce inflammation in the body. According to researchers, the contents of the plant withanolides (WA) affect the body’s inflammatory pathways and e.g. to cytokines that suppress inflammatory reactions. (3)
Improves sleep and sleep quality
Many sufferers of insomnia have found help from ashwagandha. New studies also support ashwagandha’s calming, healing quality of sleep and mental alertness. The researchers found that during the course of ashwagandha, the test subjects’ anxiety decreased and their alertness when waking up in the morning increased. (10)
New studies highlighted that the results were better in people who suffer from insomnia, as well as in those who took more than 600 mg of ashwagandha daily for at least 2 months. Based on the evidence, ashwagandha may be an effective natural remedy for treating insomnia and improving sleep quality. (11)
As a supplement, ashwagandha is a completely safe natural product for most people, e.g. for managing insomnia, anxiety and stress, at least in a therapeutic way. Recommendations related to dosage vary by product, being on average between 250 and 1250 milligrams per day. The health effects are often only visible after several weeks or months of use. The effects of long-term continuous use still need more research. (3)
Although ashwagandha is generally considered a safe adaptogen, it is not necessarily suitable for everyone and it would be good to discuss its use with a healthcare professional first.
To be on the safe side, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using ashwagandha. Ashwagandha may also interact with certain medications. Such drugs include e.g. benzodiazepines, barbiturates and anticonvulsants. Ashwagandha is also not recommended for those struggling with thyroid problems. (3)
Ashwagandha can be taken on an empty stomach or with meals, either once or several times a day. When buying products containing Ashwagandha, you should pay attention to the concentrations of active substances, the quality of the raw materials and the manufacturing methods. Strong root extracts are often many times stronger than traditional root powder. The recommended product-specific dosage should not be exceeded, as it may involve unwanted effects.
Ashwagandha can also have side effects. Possible adverse effects or side effects are usually related to the combined use of certain drugs, diseases and life situations such as pregnancy and breastfeeding. (2) Adverse effects such as drowsiness, diarrhea and discomfort in the upper gastrointestinal tract have been observed in some. (3)
Blood pressure and blood pressure medication
The use of Ashwagandha is not recommended for those suffering from high or lower than average blood pressure, as the effectiveness of blood pressure medications may decrease and, in the worst case, the blood pressure may drop too low due to joint use. (2)
The use of Ashwagandha may reduce the blood sugar balance of diabetics or the effectiveness of diabetes medications. The combined use of diabetes medications is therefore not recommended, because the blood sugar may drop too much. (2)
Ashwagandha is not recommended for those suffering from intestinal diseases (2). Intestinal diseases include e.g. irritable bowel syndrome or IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) .
Thyroid problems and thyroid drugs
Ashwagandha is not recommended for people with thyroid problems, as it can significantly reduce the effect of thyroid medication. Thyroid-related symptoms may worsen due to ashwagandha use. (2)
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Ashwagandha use is not recommended during pregnancy, as it may increase the risk of premature birth and miscarriage. It is not yet known with certainty whether the active substances pass into the child with breast milk during breastfeeding and whether it could be harmful to the child. For this reason, the use of ashwagandha is not recommended for breastfeeding women either. (2)
Autoimmune diseases (MS and rheumatoid arthritis)
Experiences with ashwagandha
PAras ashwagandha is made from high quality and pure ashwagandha roots. Products containing ashwagandha are sold as powder, capsules, tinctures, and it is also added to CBD oils and natural products to improve the synergistic effects of the active ingredients. The root extract is usually used as a cure in small amounts at a time. The recommended dosage should not be exceeded, because excessive dosages can cause side effects and imbalance in the body.
There are many different experiences of shwagandha on the internet and in magazines. People have said that they got help with insomnia and thus raised their own energy levels. The stress-induced overdrives and overactivity of the nervous system have also been significantly smoothed out with use, which in itself has helped to fall asleep faster and sleep better.
Morning or evening?
When is the best time to dose ashwagandha? Morning or evening? Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, so it has an adaptive effect on the body’s situation and needs. Ashwagandha can therefore be dosed either in the morning or in the evening. If you find the effect tiring, then it is recommended to schedule the dosage in the evening. Consuming ashwagandha in the evening also helps the body to recover from the day’s load, such as stress. In the morning or during the day, ashwagandha improves alertness and helps you cope better.
However, it is good to note that there are also special products made from ashwagandha on the market, such as the patented KSM-66 Ashwagandha, whose effects are more calming and therefore generally better suited to be taken in the evening. The product is advertised as helping to fall asleep and improving the quality of sleep.
- D. Spencer. History Central. Historycentral.com. The History of Ashwagandha. Referred on 30/03/2023
- Dr. M. Chhaya. 2023. Euroclinix. Euroclinix.net. Ashwagandha – a natural remedy for erectile dysfunction. Referred on 03/29/2023
- K. Chin et al. 2022. Healthline. healthline.com. Referred on 03/29/2023
- J. Salve et al. 2019. Curerus. Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6979308/. Referred on 30/03/2023
- AL Lopresti et al. 2019. Medicine (Baltimore). An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6750292/
- 2017. Vitamin Recommendations.com. Ashwagandha experiences – From Anxiety to Erection. Referred on 30/03/2023
- S. Wankhede et al. 2015. J int Soc Sports Nutr. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26609282/
- JM Gannon et al. 2019. Ann Clin Psychiatry. Effects of a standardized extract of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on depression and anxiety symptoms in persons with schizophrenia participating in a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31046033/. Referred on 30/03/2023
- K. Chengappa. 2018. J Clin Psychiatry. Adjunctive Use of a Standardized Extract of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) to Treat Symptom Exacerbation in Schizophrenia: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study . https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29995356/. Referred on 30/03/2023
- S. B. Kelgane et al. 2020. Cureus. Efficacy and Tolerability of Ashwagandha Root Extract in the Elderly for Improvement of General Well-being and Sleep: A Prospective, Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7096075/. Referred on 30/03/2023
- KL Cheah. 2021. PLoS One. Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8462692/. Referred on 30/03/2023