As an integral part of ayurvedic tradition, ashwagandha has a long history of homoeopathic use. From its use as a refreshing tonic to preclinical studies focusing on a host of potential effects, there's plenty to love about this versatile shrub. To find out what you need to know, keep reading.
Ashwagandha is a widespread perennial shrub found in Spain, Greece, Sicily and Sardinia, the Arabian Peninsula and Middle East, South Asia, as well as China and most of Africa. However, what makes this plant unique is not its love of arid climates, but its extensive use in traditional holistic practices—continuing up to this day.
A core component of invigorating ayurvedic tonics (rasayana), preclinical studies and preliminary trials suggest the applications of ashwagandha could extend to physical endurance, inflammation, cognitive disorders, energy level, and much more.
The herb's versatile influence is posited to come from its adaptogenic nature, a term used to describe substances that impact how your body deals with stress. Specifically, these attributes come from the plant’s roots (rasayanas), which are believed to promote defence against disease by modulating dozens of cell functions.,
We'll cover more on the role of adaptogens shortly, but for now, let's take a closer look at ashwagandha's diverse history.
Also going by the names "Indian winter cherry" and "Indian ginseng", ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a short, inconspicuous evergreen shrub that thrives in dry, stony soil and partial shade.
Primarily cultivated in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and China, the plant is highly revered, playing a central role in traditional homoeopathic practices dating back over 3,000 years. Although its roots are the main therapeutic component, the fruit and seeds are also used, with the former harvested in late fall and the latter dried ready for planting the following spring.
The name "ashwagandha" actually gives us several clues about its possible uses. In Sanskrit, “ashva” means "horse", and “gandha” means "smell". The implication here is twofold. First, it points to the plant's horse-like aroma, and second, ashwagandha is traditionally thought to provide horse-like strength and vitality.
Ashwagandha owes its adaptogenic effects to its main bioactive compounds—withanolides. Predominately found in the plant's roots and leaves, withanolides are naturally occurring chemicals thought to mediate the activation of immune cells, the reproductive system, and the body’s response to stress.
Researchers believe this interaction could have several beneficial outcomes, but with extensive research still underway and roughly 900 withanolides identified so far, it could be some time before we have a definitive answer on the potential applications.
Now that we've covered the basics of ashwagandha, it's time to explore the plant's sophisticated relationship with mental and physical wellness.
Adaptogenic substances are characterised by their potential to bolster the body against stress. Unfortunately, prolonged exposure to stress unbalances mental and physiological health, leading to a greater risk of chronic conditions such as stress, cardiac disease and metabolic disorders.
Given the significant impact of stress on the human body, research into adaptogens is paramount. However, the challenge with adaptogens is not only recording discernible effects, but outlining possible mechanisms of action. Fortunately, a 2019 study could provide answers to both.
As part of a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, sixty healthy adults were randomly given 240mg of ashwagandha extract or a placebo. By asking participants to measure their anxiety and stress on self-rating scales, the researchers hoped to establish a notable impact.
First, "all participants completed the trial with no adverse effects reported", which is a significant point to note. Second, "rating scales indicated a significant or near-significant reduction in depression, anxiety and stress scores". These results, combined with a "greater reduction in morning cortisol", also point to ashwagandha's potential mechanism of action—the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis.
Of course, these findings are only preliminary, highlighting the need for further studies employing larger sample sizes, varying dosages, and a diverse population.
Sleep underpins virtually every aspect of our well-being, supporting human health by recycling energy, restoring cell function, and processing thoughts and emotions. Still, with an increasing number of adults reporting sleep dissatisfaction, the search for beneficial supplements continues.
In a 2017 animal study, researchers found that triethylene glycol (one of the active components found in ashwagandha leaves) "increased non-rapid eye movement sleep in mice". Moreover, the effect appears dose-dependent.
A 2019 paper from Indian researchers also showed similar potential. This time, sixty patients were randomly given 300mg of ashwagandha (twice daily). Using self-reported scores, the study points to an improvement in sleep quality and latency, while also finding that the 10-week double dose was well-tolerated.
Given ashwagandha's extensive history of use for memory and cognitive function, a placebo-controlled study sought to examine the effects of ashwagandha root extract in fifty adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
At the end of the 8-week trial, "results" indicated that ashwagandha "may be effective in enhancing both immediate and general memory", and that there were also improvements in "attention and information processing speed". However, as we've noted, studies with larger sample sizes are paramount to confirm these or any current findings.
Infertility is a delicate subject, typically defined as the inability to conceive after a year of unprotected sexual intercourse. Fortunately, ashwagandha may show promise in this area.
Two studies, one from 2009 and another from 2010, point to potential improvements in semen quality after consuming Withania somnifera powder. Both research papers examined the effect in healthy fertile men (control group) and men undergoing infertility screening.,
Outcomes indicate encouraging results, but fertility is a highly complex issue, with dozens of influencing factors that need to be accounted for.
One final area of interest for researchers is the impact of ashwagandha on factors such as muscle activity, muscle strength, and endurance.
In a 2012 study from the ICMR Advanced Centre for Reverse Pharmacology in Traditional Medicine, researchers administered ashwagandha extract to eighteen healthy volunteers, recording the impact on grip strength, quadriceps strength, and back extensor force. They also monitored exercise tolerance (endurance) using a stationary exercise bike.
The study concluded that an "increase of strength in muscle activity was significant", adding that "total body fat percentage showed a reduction trend". However, an outcome of particular interest was the participants' tolerance for ashwagandha. Only one participant experienced unwanted side effects, while others actually experienced benefits, reporting improvements in sleep, libido, and appetite.
Of course, these outcomes cannot be solely attributed to ashwagandha. Still, it certainly suggests there is a link worth exploring.
Fortunately, ashwagandha appears well-tolerated in humans, with only mild side effects (upset stomach, nausea, and drowsiness) reported so far. However, given the limitations of existing studies, you should discuss taking the herb with a doctor or physician for case-specific advice.
It's also worth highlighting that ashwagandha isn't advised for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, people with an autoimmune condition, and anyone currently prescribed thyroid medication. While the plant may not cause issues, we simply don't know enough about its mechanism of action, so a cautionary approach is best.
Finally, many herbal supplements are unregulated, so you should always buy ashwagandha products from a reputable supplier. As we'll discover shortly, ashwagandha often features alongside other natural compounds, so it's essential to know which ingredients are included in ashwagandha supplements.
Like many other natural extracts, we don't have clear dosing recommendations for ashwagandha. With that in mind, starting with a low dose is best, before gradually increasing your intake to meet the product manufacturer's guidelines.
When it comes to consuming ashwagandha, the good news is there are several options to explore. The most common is ashwagandha root powder, but you will also find:
• Ashwagandha tea
• Ashwagandha tablets/capsules
• Ashwagandha oil
• Ashwagandha paste (for hair)
Each option has unique advantages and disadvantages, so it's crucial to balance these factors against your particular wellness goals. For example, ashwagandha tea is suited to use before bed, as it usually contains a lower concentration of the herb. On the other hand, ashwagandha tablets or capsules typically contain concentrated extract, making them better for daily consumption as part of an existing supplement routine.
Thankfully, with few reported side effects, there's plenty of scope for you to experiment with the different options to find what works. Just remember to start low and slow, and if you have any concerns, consult a doctor for case-specific advice.
Another highly convenient way to consume ashwagandha is as part of complex supplement formulas. Fortunately, concentrated ashwagandha extract blends well with other botanicals, vitamins, and minerals.
At Cibdol, we've done exactly that with Stress Assist and Body Energizer. Both products utilise ashwagandha extract alongside a diverse selection of natural compounds, vitamins, and minerals to support the body from within and address specific wellness needs.
We've covered a lot of ground, so it's worth recapping what we know about ashwagandha. First and foremost, the herb is native to parts of India and plays a central role in their traditional system of medicine, Ayurveda.
The abundance of withanolides in its roots makes ashwagandha a crucial part of herbal tonics. These bioactive compounds act as adaptogens, potentially bolstering dozens of essential bodily functions.
Ashwagandha is widely available, with the most common forms being powder, capsules, and tea. It appears well-tolerated, with few reported side effects. However, it can disrupt certain medications, so discussing ashwagandha with your doctor is essential before starting use.
Finally, based on the research, ashwagandha shows a wealth of potential, with the main limitations being small sample sizes and a lack of clear dosing guidelines. Nonetheless, provided you buy ashwagandha supplements from a reputable supplier, there seems little reason not to give the herb a go, as long as it supports your wellness goals.
Ready to explore the vast potential of ashwagandha? Browse the Cibdol store for a complete selection of natural wellness supplements. Or, to learn more about adaptogens and the body's reaction to stress, visit our Education section.
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