Ashwagandha is a revered herb in India, and it’s a workhorse of traditional Indian medicine known as Ayurveda. Indeed, its name means “smell of horse,” both for its aroma and its ability to make one as strong as a stallion. Ashwagandha can be given to emaciated children to restart growth and to adults to increase longevity. It is especially known as a tonic for the nervous system, which allows people to adapt to stress and regain vigor.
Ashwagandha is a member of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers, but its constituents are similar to ginseng, another root used to heal a variety of illnesses. You may find ashwagandha and ginseng in herbal formulas aimed at supporting healthy adrenal function and combating stress since they work well together. In addition to improving self-assessed quality of life, ashwagandha reduces anxiety and cortisol, a hormone released by the adrenal glands when under stress.1
Ashwagandha contains compounds called steroidal saponins, which have anti-tumor, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory effects. Due to its steroid-like effects, as well as its antioxidant activity, ashwagandha can improve testosterone levels in men and improve their sperm quality.2 It also helps healthy men improve muscle strength and size after only 30 days.3
Ashwagandha has an affinity for the nervous system. It can also improve memory, attention and information processing speed in adults with mild cognitive impairment, making it useful in slowing the mental decline that occurs with age.4 Animal experiments have shown promise in protecting the brain against plaques that occur in Alzheimer’s disease and the degeneration characteristic of Parkinsonism, but human studies have yet to be performed.
Ashwagandha root extract is commonly taken in 450 or 500 mg capsules twice daily, but as little as 250 mg per day was effective in lowering inflammation as measured on the C-reactive protein (CRP) test.5
Because ashwagandha is potent, it should be used with caution if you are taking medication to lower your cholesterol or blood pressure, control diabetes, or treat thyroid dysfunction. You may need less medication since ashwagandha can affect the same body systems and produce synergistic effects with pharmaceuticals. Ashwagandha should not be mixed with benzodiazepines such as Klonopin, Valium and Ativan. It is contraindicated in pregnancy and breastfeeding. A health care professional knowledgeable in herbal medicine can guide you in using this herb safely to reap its many benefits.
Dr. Jessica Needle is a licensed naturopathic doctor with Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 568.2598.
1) A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. 2012;34(3):255-262.;
2) Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidate stress in seminal plasma of infertile males. MK Ahmad et al. Fertility and Sterility. August 2010; 94(3):989-96.;
3) Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. S. Wankhede et al. Journal of the International Society for Sports Nutrition. November 25, 2015;12:43.;
4) Efficacy and safety of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) dunal) root extract in improving memory and cognitive functions. Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, Bose S. Journal of Dietary Supplements. November 2, 2017;14(6):599-612.;
5) A standardized Withania somnifera extract significantly reduces stress-related parameters in chronically stressed humans: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. B. Auddy et al. Journal for the Anthropology of North America. 2008; 11(1):50-56.