Ashwagandha is an herb that’s been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient Indian medical system that many still practice today. In Ayurveda, ashwagandha has long been hailed as an aid to recover from stress, boost cognitive function, and support the immune system. The herb is native to India, Africa, and the Middle East and is now cultivated in many other parts of the world.
What is ashwagandha?
Ashwaganha has become more popular in western cultures in recent years, popping up as an ingredient in all kinds of wellness products. Before it ends up there, it starts like any other herb — in the ground.
Known scientifically as Withania somnifera, ashwagandha is typically ingested in a powder form made from the roots and leaves of the plant. You can mix the powder with water, milk, or tea, or add it to smoothies or other foods.
Recent studies have confirmed ashwagandha’s efficacy as a medicine for chronic stress, anxiety, insomnia, and other health conditions, which is why you’ll find it in many trendy green powders and superfood products. Ashwagandha supplements are also widely available in capsule or tablet form.
What are the health benefits of ashwagandha?
Below are some of the top health benefits of ashwagandha.
It can reduce stress and anxiety
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, a natural substance that helps the body deal with stress. In a randomized, double-blind study, ashwagandha was found to biologically reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels and other stress symptoms in the participants’ self-assessments.
In a study of people with schizophrenia who also experienced depression and anxiety, taking ashwagandha alleviated depression and anxiety at a higher rate than the placebo group. It may be a useful aid for depression in the general population, but more studies need to be done to say so conclusively.
It can improve sleep quality
In the same study that measured anxiety levels following ashwagandha administration, participants who received ashwagandha reported significant improvements in sleep quality. The sleep-promoting effects go hand-in-hand with the stress-relieving qualities.
It can ameliorate cognitive function
In multiple studies, ashwagandha has been found to enhance cognitive function. It may also reverse age-related cognitive decline. Several studies found that taking ashwagandha helped older adults with mild cognitive decline symptoms improve cognitive task performance, executive function, attention, and reaction time.
It may enhance athletic performance
Ashwagandha has been found to increase muscle strength and endurance, making it popular among athletes and bodybuilders. One study found that participants who took ashwagandha supplements had greater increases in muscle strength and size compared to those who took a placebo.
It may provide immune system support
Ashwagandha may help support the immune system by stimulating antibody cell production. Antibodies are responsible for fighting off infections and diseases. In a 2021 study, participants who took Ashwagandha supplements had a significant increase in antibody cell counts in just 30 days compared to those who took a placebo.
It may reduce inflammation
Many of the most common life-threatening diseases, from heart disease to asthma to cancer, stem from chronic inflammation. Ashwagandha has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce and prevent symptoms of inflammation. However, there’s currently no evidence to indicate that ashwagandha is an effective treatment for diseases like cancer.
It may lower blood sugar and cholesterol
Ashwagandha has been found to positively affect cholesterol and blood sugar levels, which could help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
One study found that participants who took ashwagandha supplements for 30 days had lower levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol. Another study found that ashwagandha-treated participants experienced reduced insulin and blood sugar levels.
It may boost men’s fertility
Ashwagandha has been traditionally used as an aphrodisiac, and some recent studies have found that it may improve sexual function in men.
In one study, men who received ashwagandha doses experienced an increase in a hormone responsible for testosterone production as well as increased levels of testosterone. Other studies have found ashwagandha to be successful in increasing sperm count and motility.
The Swiss army knife of herbal medicine
From cognitive function to fertility to athletic performance, the health benefits of the Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha are numerous and wide-reaching. The most common use of ashwagandha is for stress relief due to its adaptogenic qualities.
Ashwagandha is sold in supplement stores and is generally considered safe for most people to ingest, but you should always talk to your healthcare provider before you add this supplement (or any others) to your wellness routine. You never know what you may have an allergy or sensitivity to.