Ashwagandha is getting a lot of attention as a stress relief herb. It’s quickly becoming a trendy ingredient in mainstream formulas. But what is ashwagandha, really?
Ashwagandha is Indian winter cherry and also known as Indian ginseng. But ashwagandha literally means horse smell. It’s because its tender wet root smells like horse. But there’s more! When you take it internally, it’s said to give you the “power of a horse”.
It’s a light, oily herb with bitter, astringent and sweet tastes. It’s hot, or heating in nature, with a sweet post-digestive effect on your body.
How ashwagandha works—and doesn’t work
It’s an adaptogenic herb, which means that it works the way your body needs it to work—if you use it right. It affects all 7 tissues as defined by ayurveda. These tissues are plasma, blood, muscle, fat/adipose, bone, bone marrow/nervous system, and reproductive. It’s a sattwic (“pure”) herb that’s good for the body and the mind. And as such, it makes a good rasayana, or rejuvenative herb.
Now here’s the kicker. You have to have strong digestive power before using ashwagandha, otherwise it won’t work. If you have too much toxicity (ama) in your body or severe congestion, address that first. You’ll hear ayurvedic health practitioners recommend ashwagandha with other herbs—and diet and lifestyle changes—to help you.
The more is not better. You’ve heard the phrase “everything in moderation”. One of my beloved ayurveda teachers would always say: “Nothing is good, nothing is bad. Everything is good, everything is bad.” So work with a practitioner to understand how herbs work, what they can do—good and bad; how and when to use them and not use them.
What ashwagandha can do for you
1. Tissue nutrition and performance
Ashwagandha is classified as an herb that helps nourish, build and tone tissues, and promote strength. It’s often paired with bala to help build strength and muscle. In fact, 8 weeks of 300mg ashwagandha consumption twice a day resulted in better muscle strength during bench press.
For all the ayurvedic buffs out there: ashwagandha is a favorite for high vata conditions, weakness and tissue deficiency. Several studies find that ashwagandha supplements may help improve physical performance, cardiorespiratory endurance, speed, neuro-muscular coordination, and upper and lower body strength.
2. Anti-aging and rejuvenation
The Sanksrit term “rasayana” roughly translates into rejuvenation, life-promoting and anti-aging. Ashwagandha is one of the beloved rasayana herbs used by people of all ages because it works on all 7 tissues. In a study with elderly population, it proved to be an effective tool for joint pain, sleep and general well-being.
3. Stress and sleep
Ashwagadha is sedative so it helps soothe and support your nervous system, relieve stress and anxiety, and ease insomnia. In one of the studies, participants took 125mg and 300mg of ashwagandha capsules twice a day for 8 weeks. Both groups experienced lower cortisol levels and better sleep quality.
An 8-week study showed promising results for using ashwagandha to treat mild cognitive impairment, a condition often associated with aging. The research noted improvements in both immediate and general memory, executive function, attention and information processing speed. Additional research suggests that it could help prevent and manage neurodegenerative diseases; Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s.
5. Joint pain, RA and bone health
In another study, 12 weeks of 250mg ashwagandha helped relieve joint pain. It’s also beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
6. Heart support
Ashwagandha helps lower resting systolic blood pressure and increase maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max)—all good for the heart. It’s often used with arjuna, an ayurvedic “heart herb” for cardiovascular conditions.
And because prolonged exposure to stress is often linked to heart disease, using ashwagandha responsibly—with lifestyle and diet changes—to manage stress can help protect your heart.
7. Thyroid support
Subclinical thyroid is a condition of thyroid deficiency without obvious symptoms. A trial study concluded that 600mg ashwagandha root daily for 8 weeks “improved serum TSH, T3 and T4 levels significantly compared to placebo.”
Several studies on rats suggest that ashwagandha helps normalize hyperglycemia by lowering inflammatory markers and improving insulin sensitivity.
9. Sexual function
It’s an aphrodisiac that “gives you the power of a horse”. A pilot study with 50 women who took ashwagandha 300mg twice a day for 8 weeks benefited from better “arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction” and more. Several studies with men show good improvements in semen quality.
Ashwagandha combines well with shatavari for low libido in both men and women, and is also used to treat infertility.
Ashwagandha has many more applications we didn’t cover here so feel free to research it more. Just keep in mind—the more is not better so be sure to talk to a qualified practitioner.
Image by Bankim Desai, Unsplash
Disclaimer: this blog is not intended as medical advice. Consult your physician before taking any herbal supplements especially if you have any health conditions.