What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a shrub that is found in Asia and Africa and is commonly used for stress. While it is traditionally used as an adaptogen, there is limited scientific evidence to support this claim.
Ashwagandha contains compounds that may have calming effects on the brain, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and modulate the immune system. However, there is little good scientific evidence to support many of the claims regarding its use as an adaptogen, including for conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, aging, and others. Additionally, there is no evidence to support using ashwagandha for COVID-19.
It is important to note that ashwagandha should not be confused with Physalis alkekengi, which is also known as winter cherry. It should also not be confused with other types of ginseng, such as American ginseng, Panax ginseng, or eleuthero.
Here are 9 potential benefits of ashwagandha, based on research.
May help reduce stress and anxiety
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen known for its stress-reducing abilities. It helps regulate stress mediators like heat shock proteins, cortisol, and stress-activated c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase. Ashwagandha also decreases the activity of the HPA axis, which regulates the stress response.
Studies have shown that ashwagandha supplements can significantly relieve stress and anxiety, as well as improve sleep quality. However, a recent review of studies suggests that there is insufficient evidence to determine the most effective dosage and form of ashwagandha for treating stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders like anxiety.
May benefit athletic performance
Studies suggest that ashwagandha can benefit athletic performance and may be a valuable supplement for athletes. An analysis of 12 studies found that ashwagandha can improve physical performance, including strength and oxygen utilization during exercise.
Another analysis of five studies showed that taking ashwagandha significantly increased maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max) in both healthy adults and athletes. VO2 max is an important measure of heart and lung fitness, and higher VO2 max is linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
Additionally, ashwagandha may increase muscle strength, as demonstrated in a study where male participants who took 600 mg of ashwagandha per day and engaged in resistance training for 8 weeks showed significantly greater gains in muscle strength and size compared to a placebo group.
May reduce symptoms of some mental health conditions
Research suggests that ashwagandha may help alleviate symptoms of depression in specific populations. In one study, participants with schizophrenia who were experiencing depression and anxiety showed significant reductions in these symptoms after taking 1,000 mg of ashwagandha extract daily for 12 weeks.
Another study showed that ashwagandha may improve overall symptoms and perceived stress in people with schizophrenia. Limited research also suggests that ashwagandha may improve cognitive impairment in individuals with bipolar disorder. In a study of stressed adults, those who took ashwagandha extract reported a significant reduction in symptoms of depression.
However, it’s important to note that ashwagandha should not be used as a substitute for antidepressant medication, and anyone experiencing symptoms of depression should speak with a healthcare professional to receive appropriate help and treatment.
May help boost testosterone and increase fertility in men
Studies have indicated that ashwagandha supplements may have positive effects on male fertility and testosterone levels.
In one study, 43 overweight men between the ages of 40 and 70 with mild fatigue took ashwagandha extract tablets or a placebo daily for 8 weeks. Those who received the ashwagandha treatment showed an 18% greater increase in DHEA-S, a sex hormone involved in testosterone production, and a 14.7% greater increase in testosterone than those who took the placebo (14Trusted Source).
Moreover, a review of four studies revealed that ashwagandha treatment significantly increased sperm concentration, semen volume, and sperm motility in men with low sperm count. In men with normal sperm count, it also increased sperm concentration and motility (15Trusted Source).
However, the researchers concluded that more high-quality studies are necessary to validate the potential benefits of ashwagandha for male fertility
May reduce blood sugar levels
According to limited evidence, ashwagandha may have potential benefits for individuals with diabetes or high blood sugar levels.
A review of 24 studies, including 5 clinical studies in people with diabetes, showed that ashwagandha treatment significantly reduced blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), insulin, blood lipids, and oxidative stress markers (16Trusted Source).
Withaferin A (WA), a compound present in ashwagandha, is thought to have potent antidiabetic activity that may help stimulate cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream.
However, the available research is limited, and more well-designed studies are necessary to confirm the potential benefits of ashwagandha for diabetes management.
May reduce inflammation
Compounds found in ashwagandha, including withaferin A (WA), may have anti-inflammatory properties (18Trusted Source). Studies have shown that WA targets pathways involved in inflammation, such as nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) and nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2), and may decrease levels of inflammatory proteins (18Trusted Source).
Research on humans has also shown potential benefits. In one study, adults experiencing stress who took ashwagandha extract for 60 days had significant reductions in C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker (19). Another study found that an Ayurvedic drug containing ashwagandha and other herbs reduced levels of inflammatory markers in people with COVID-19 compared to a placebo (20Trusted Source).
While these findings are promising, more research is needed to confirm ashwagandha’s potential as an anti-inflammatory agent.
May improve brain function, including memory
Ashwagandha has the potential to benefit cognitive function, according to a review of five clinical studies. The review found that ashwagandha may improve cognitive functioning in certain populations, including older adults with mild cognitive impairment and people with schizophrenia.
It may improve executive functioning, attention, reaction time, and performance on cognitive tasks. In a study of 50 adults, taking 600 mg of ashwagandha extract per day for 8 weeks resulted in significant improvements in immediate and general memory, attention, and information-processing speed compared to taking a placebo. Researchers believe that ashwagandha’s antioxidant effects in the brain, including the compound WA, may be responsible for these cognitive benefits.
May help improve sleep
Some evidence suggests that ashwagandha may help with sleep issues, and many people take it to promote restful sleep.
For instance, a study of 50 adults between the ages of 65 and 80 showed that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha root per day for 12 weeks significantly improved sleep quality and mental alertness upon waking compared to a placebo treatment.
Furthermore, a review of five high-quality studies found that ashwagandha had a small but significant positive effect on overall sleep quality. Taking ashwagandha reduced people’s anxiety levels and helped them feel more alert when they woke up.
The researchers noted that results were more pronounced in people with insomnia and in those who took more than 600 mg daily for 8 weeks or longer.
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