Ashwagandha is an herb at the heart of Ayurveda (an alternative, holistic form of medicine with roots in India). Also known as “Indian Ginseng” or “Indian Winter Cherry,” ashwagandha is often consumed for its many health benefits.
- Reducing stress
- Boosting energy levels
- Sharpening mental focus
- Improving fertility and sexual function
We’re going to go into more detail and run down 8 of the top benefits of ashwagandha. But first, a little background history on this powerful herb!
Background Story on Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is a shrub with soft leaves and what looks like small, orange tomatoes attached to the stem. When translating from Sanskrit (an ancient Indo-European language in India), "ashwa" equals horse and "gandha" means smell.
When put together, the word “ashwagandha” translates more or less to “smell of a horse.” This hints at its use for promoting life and energy. In powder form, people claimed the herb smelled like a horse. It was also deemed to be able to provide the power and liveliness of a horse to those who consumed it.
Its latin name, somnifera, translates to “sleep-inducing,” which makes sense because it’s often used before bed to calm the mind and get a good night’s sleep.
Primary Ashwagandha Benefits
1. Ease stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety can cause the body to do some crazy things. They can impact your sleep schedule, eating habits, weight loss/gain, and even your heart.
Fortunately, one of ashwagandha’s most well-documented traits is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety.
One study found that participants who took either 250 or 600 mg of an ashwagandha supplement saw reduced cortisol levels (a key hormone related to stress) when compared to the placebo group.
Another study took a look at ashwagandha’s impact on anxiety. Participants were separated out into two groups. Over the course of the two-month study, one group took 240 mg of an ashwagandha supplement daily, while the other group was given a placebo supplement. Participants in the ashwagandha group saw a tremendous decrease in anxiety compared to the group that was given a placebo supplement.
2. Better Sleep
Do you have trouble sleeping at night? Are you always tossing and turning and just never seem to get comfortable? Ashwagandha could be the key to catching some z’s and helping you get more quality shut-eye.
Research shows that consuming ashwagandha positively impacts the amount of quality sleep people receive each night. Their awareness when they first wake up is better and they’re mentally sharper to start the day, and their anxiety is decreased upon waking up.
In one study, people who took 600 mg of ashwagandha root per day for 12 weeks noted much better sleep quality and felt more alert when they got up than the group who didn’t take any supplements.
3. It’s good for your heart
Your cardiovascular fitness level has a big influence on heart health. And consistent exercise does the heart good.
VO2 max, also known as your maximal oxygen consumption, is how much oxygen your body takes in while working out or exercising. But why is this important? The more oxygen your body’s able to take in, the higher your fitness level will be. And being physically fit indicates a healthy heart.
Think about it like this: A higher VO2 max = a healthy heart. Research shows that ashwagandha can enhance your VO2 max, which not only boosts your athletic performance but can do wonders for your cardiovascular fitness and heart health.
4. Increases focus and cognitive skills
Do you want to sharpen your focus, improve cognitive skills, and have a better memory? Ashwagandha could be exactly what you need.
Research shows that ashwagandha can:
- Increase your ability to concentrate
- Improve Your memory
- Enhance your cognitive skills and psychomotor performance
In fact, in one study, participants saw significant improvement in cognitive and psychomotor performance on 5 out of 6 tests administered when compared to the placebo group.
5. More Muscle and Strength Gains
Does increased strength, muscle mass, and less body fat intrigue you? Try taking ashwagandha.
When combined with a strength training program, it demonstrated some pretty great results. A study published in the International Society of Sports Nutrition took a look at the effects of consuming ashwagandha on muscle mass, strength, body fat percentage, and testosterone levels.
Over 8 weeks, 57 male participants were separated out into two groups. Both groups underwent a resistance training regimen (testing bench press and leg extension exercises), but one of the groups consumed 600 mg of ashwagandha root daily.
When compared to the placebo group, the group that consumed ashwagandha root saw a significant increase in strength, muscle mass (specifically, in the chest and arms), a lower body fat percentage, and higher testosterone levels.
Ashwagandha may also be beneficial for athletes too. As we discussed earlier, research shows that ashwagandha can increase your VO2 max.
But it’s worth noting that VO2 max isn’t just a positive for athletes. Low VO2 max carries puts you in a higher mortality risk category, while a higher VO2 max decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
6. Reduces blood sugar
Withaferin A (WA), a special compound in ashwagandha, is thought to have anti-diabetic properties. If your body’s cells are primed to absorb glucose from the bloodstream, you’ll have an easier time maintaining normal blood glucose levels.
WA is thought to do exactly that. It has an effect that encourages your cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream, thus lowering your blood sugar. In fact, a meta-analysis of 24 studies concluded that consuming ashwagandha decreased blood sugar and other oxidative stress factors.
7. Improves fertility and sexual function
Ashwagandha has shown positive impacts for both women and men when it comes to fertility and improving sexual function.
For women, it’s been shown to increase desire for sex, arousal, lubrication, orgasms, and overall pleasure derived from their sexual encounters, among other things.
For men, the fertility and testosterone side of things is where ashwagandha really gets a chance to shine. Infertile men who took ashwagandha supplements have been able to add balance back to their hormones, boost their testosterone, and improve their sperm caliber.
For example, one study found that 14% of the male participants’ partners became pregnant after consuming five grams of ashwagandha root powder a day for three months.
8. Decrease inflammation
Inflammation is at the epicenter of many chronic diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s. That makes doing what you can to reduce inflammation in the body extremely important. The same WA compound mentioned earlier that’s thought to have anti-diabetic properties may also help with reducing inflammation as well.
One study took a look at the impact ashwagandha root has on inflammation and helping manage stress. Over the course of the two-month study, consuming ashwagandha root saw participants achieve a substantial decrease in C-reactive protein, which is an indicator of inflammation, when compared with those who did not take the extract.
How to Consume Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha typically comes in capsules or powders. For powders, you can mix it with ingredients like honey and milk to make a drink. Another tasty option that’s starting to make its way into the market is ashwagandha gummies.
Since one of its primary benefits is helping those who consume it get better sleep, many people will take it before bed. But you can also make it a part of your morning routine to kickstart your day.
Key Takeaways on Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is an ancient Indian herb at the heart of Ayurveda. Known primarily for its sleep-inducing capabilities, ashwagandha is also used by many to:
- Ease stress and anxiety
- Improve heart health
- Sharpen cognitive and psychomotor skills
- Build muscle and strength
- Reduce blood sugar
- Improve sexual function and fertility
- Reduce inflammation
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