Ashwagandha is a shrub that has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries. This shrub grows in India, Middle East and parts of Africa and has been used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine to treat many ailments. Ashwagandha benefits your health in several ways such as it reduces anxiety levels, controls blood sugar level, improves thyroid function, boosts immunity, etc.
It is an adaptogen as it can help the body manage stress. Its botanical name is Withania Somnifera, though it is also known as winter cherry and the Indian ginseng. It is used as a remedy for infertility.
Ashwagandha also helps fight cancer, reduces inflammation, and prevents arthritis, asthma, hypertension, and rheumatism.
Let us learn more in detail on how ashwagandha benefits your health in different ways.
Ashwagandha benefits on health
Ashwagandha is known for its ability to reduce anxiety levels. According to an animal study, ashwagandha blocks the stress pathways in the brain by regulating the chemical signals in the nervous system (1).
Ashwagandha benefits and can treat people with stress and anxiety disorders. When 64 people with chronic stress were given 300 mg capsule of ashwagandha plant extract over a period of 60 days, researchers observed a significant improvement in their stress levels (2).
Ashwagandha also helps the lower the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone in the body.
While anxiety medicines and antidepressants have numerous side effects like drowsiness, insomnia and increased appetite, ashwagandha is relatively safe and has no severe side effects.
Ashwagandha contains phenolic compounds, including flavonoids, which help give this plant its anti-cancer properties. In a study involving rodents, ashwagandha roots and leaves helped achieve normal blood sugar levels in diabetic rats (3).
This shrub also helps in increased insulin secretion and improved insulin sensitivity.
In another small study, when six people with type 2 diabetes were given ashwagandha for 30 days, the decrease in their fasting blood sugar levels was comparable to that of an oral hypoglycemic drug (4).
3. Helps fight cancer
According to research ashwagandha has numerous anti-cancer properties. It helps in reducing the growth of tumors, prevents cancer cells from growing, and it can also reduce the side effects of chemotherapy without interfering with the treatment.
Ashwagandha helps induce apoptosis, which helps kill cancer cells and also impede the growth of new cancer cells (5). Various studies on animals also suggest that ashwagandha can be used to treat different cancers like breast, colon, lung, brain and ovarian cancer(6, 7, 8).
According to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, ashwagandha also helps in increasing the white blood cells in the body.
Chemotherapy leads to a decrease in the white blood cells in the body, which makes a person vulnerable to various infections. So, taking ashwagandha along with chemotherapy can be an effective way to improve immunity (9).
4. Improves thyroid function
Ashwagandha benefits people suffering from hypothyroidism since it can be used to stimulate the thyroid gland.
During an 8-week study on 50 participants with a thyroid disorder, researchers discovered that ashwagandha root extract improved serum thyroid stimulating hormone and thyroxine levels significantly (10).
Since ashwagandha helps in increasing thyroid function, it may not be suitable for people with a hyperactive thyroid.
5. Reduces symptoms of depression
Ashwagandha can also be helpful for people with depression. Since ashwagandha improves our resistance to stress, it can play an essential role in reducing depression (11).
Stress causes hormonal imbalances which can lead to depression. Ashwagandha can help by reducing anxiety.
During a comparative study on the effects of ashwagandha and antidepressant medication imipramine on rats, scientists found ashwagandha to be as useful as the traditional anti-depressant medication.
6. Can improve brain function and memory
It also protects the brain from degeneration which can lead to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Ashwagandha contains powerful antioxidants that destroy free radicals that can cause degenerative diseases.
According to one study on epileptic rats, ashwagandha helped in restoring spatial memory deficits by enhancing the antioxidant system and restoring altered NDMA receptor density (14).
In 2014 another study was done to check the cognitive and psychometric effects of ashwagandha on 20 healthy men. The study found that 500 mg of ashwagandha extract helped improve their reaction time and task performance (15).
7. Boosts immunity
Ashwagandha is also helpful in boosting immunity. According to animal research, this adaptogen can enhance immune function by increasing immunoglobin production (16).
Some studies have also shown that ashwagandha leads to modulation of the immune system reactivity and prevents myelosuppression in mice induced by immunosuppressive drugs (17).
According to studies, ashwagandha increases red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelet counts.
8. Boosts testosterone and improves fertility
Ashwagandha is useful in raising testosterone levels and enhancing fertility in men. According to studies, ashwagandha is very useful in treating stress-related infertility. When men were given 5 grams of ashwagandha per day for three months, it resulted in the decrease in stress, improved levels of antioxidants and semen quality (18).
The treatment also resulted in pregnancy in the partners of 14 percent of the patients.
During another study on 75 infertile men, treatment with ashwagandha led to an increase in sperm count, motility and testosterone (19).
9. Increases muscle strength
Ashwagandha is known for its ability to increase muscle mass and strength. It is highly beneficial for people who do resistance training and other exercises that can strain muscles.
During a 2012 study, when healthy men took 750 to 1250 mg of ashwagandha per day for 30 days, it helped improve their muscle strength (20).
According to another eight-week trial, when 57 young male subjects were given 300 mg of ashwagandha, they saw a significant increase in their muscle strength and size (21).
10. May lower cholesterol and triglycerides
Ashwagandha also helps to lower total, LDL, and VLDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and increase HDL levels.
According to a study on rats, when root powder of ashwagandha was added to their diet, the rats registered a significant decrease in total lipids, cholesterol, and triglycerides in plasma (22).
Though the changes in human studies are not as dramatic as they are in animal studies, they are still impressive. During a 60 day study, the group taking the highest dosage of ashwagandha experiences a 17 percent decrease in bad cholesterol, and an 11 percent decrease in triglycerides (23).
11. Can prevent seizures
Ashwagandha has been used in traditional ayurvedic medicines as a cure for seizures and convulsions. According to a 2012 study on rats, treatment with ashwagandha and flax seed oils significantly decreased the duration of convulsions.
However, further research should be done to study the exact mechanism involved (24).
12. Improves bone health
Ashwagandha benefits are also seen in improving bone health. It prevents loss of bone mineral density and reduces bone reabsorption.
When estrogen levels drop in the body after menopause, there is more bone absorption, and this leads to osteoporosis. Ashwagandha contains chemicals called withanolides, which function like estrogen and improves bone calcification (25).
Ashwagandha also contains withaferin A which promote healing after injury and increase bone mineral density.
13. Protects eye health
Ashwagandha can protect your eyes from age-related degeneration and cataracts. Its cytoprotective properties help prevent chronic eye diseases.
Specific studies have shown that regular consumption of ashwagandha tea can improve the condition of your eyes and improve dry eyes.
14. Improves stamina
Ashwagandha has an energizing effect on the brain, and it lowers stress hormone cortisol, due to which it leads to an improvement in stamina and endurance.
During a 2012 trial, researchers noticed that ashwagandha extracts improved cardiorespiratory endurance at 8 and 12 weeks of treatment and quality of life scores in healthy athletic adults (26).
Researchers have found similar improvement in stamina in animal studies as well. During a study on rats, ashwagandha was able to improve swimming performance by doubling their timing.
Scientists believe it is the anti-stress properties of this plant that help improve stamina.
How to use Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha supplements are available in powder and capsule forms in many health stores. Experts recommend that you should not take more than 300 to 600 mg of this supplement per day. Purchase a high-quality ashwagandha supplement with gold star standards.
Since ashwagandha does not have a pleasant smell, you can also mix it with other foods and drinks.
Side effects of Ashwagandha
So far we saw numerous ashwagandha benefits on health. Also, it is considered safe for consumption when taken in recommended does. However, some people may notice side effects like diarrhea and nausea. Stop use immediately in such cases.
Women who are pregnant or are lactating should also avoid ashwagandha.
If you are taking medication for diabetes, blood pressure and thyroid, consult with your doctor before you start taking this supplement. Stop taking ashwagandha supplements at least two weeks before you have to go for a surgery.
Over to you on ashwagandha benefits
Ashwagandha is an essential supplement in Ayurvedic medicine. Its numerous health benefits include its ability to lower stress, reduce symptoms of depression and improve brain function and muscle strength.
These supplements are readily available in health stores but if you are taking medication for diabetes, thyroid or blood pressure, make sure you consult with your doctor first.