Ashwagandha is an effective herbal medicine. It’s an adaptogen, which means it can help the body cope with stress. Ashwagandha also provides the body and brain with many other benefits. It can, for example, lower blood sugar levels, decrease cortisol, improve brain function and help combat anxiety and depression symptoms. It can also prevent cancer cells from spreading. Here are the health benefits of ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha Has Anti-Cancer Properties
Test-tubes and animal studies have found that ashwagandha helps induce apoptosis, eliminates pre-cancerous and virus-infected cells (1).
It also prevents multiple ways in which new cancer cells expand. However, ashwagandha facilitates the reactive oxygen species (ROS) within cancer cells, by disrupting their function (2).
In one animal study with ovarian, tumors treated with ashwagandha alone or in combination with an anti-cancer drug. Ashwagandha decreased tumor growth by 70–80 percent. The treatment also prevented cancer from spreading into other organs (8).
Animal studies are promising, while there are no studies available to validate such findings in humans. Therefore, we need human studies.
Can Help Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Ashwagandha is perhaps best known for its stress reduction capability. Researchers reported that by controlling chemical signaling in the nervous system, it blocked the stress pathway in animals (9).
In a 60-day study in 64 chronically stressed individuals recorded an average 69 percent reduction in anxiety and insomnia, compared to 11 percent in the placebo group (12).
88 percent of people taking ashwagandha reported a reduction in anxiety in another six-week test, compared to 50 percent of those taking placebo (13).
Can Decrease Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is a stress hormone, the adrenal glands release it in response to stress and when your blood sugar levels get too low.
However, cortisol levels get high sometimes, which can lead to high levels of blood sugar and may increase fat storage in the abdomen. Studies have shown that ashwagandha can help reduce cortisol levels (14, 15).
In one study in adults with chronic stress, those who supplemented with ashwagandha had higher cortisol reductions compared to the control group. Those who took the highest dose had a reduction of 30 percent on average (16).
May Lower Triglycerides Level
Ashwagandha can help improve heart health by reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels. One research in rats showed that total cholesterol was reduced by as much as 53 percent, and triglycerides by almost 45 percent (17).
The group taking the highest dose of ashwagandha extract reported an average 17 percent decrease in LDL cholesterol and an 11 percent decrease in triglycerides in a 60-day study in chronically stressed adults (21).
Can Improve Brain Functions
Research has shown that it promotes antioxidant activity which protects nerve cells against harmful free radicals. In one study, ashwagandha-treated epileptic rats. It had an almost complete reversal of impairment in spatial memory. However, this was caused by reducing oxidative stress (25).
While ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic practice to improve memory, there are fewer human studies in this regard.
Healthy men who took 500 mg of ashwagandha extract daily showed significant improvements in their reaction time and task performance compared to men who received a placebo in one controlled study (26).
Another eight-week study of 50 adults found that taking 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily improved overall memory, task efficiency and attention (27).
Can Decrease Symptoms of Depression
Those who took 600 mg of ashwagandha extract per day reported a 79 percent reduction in severe depression in one controlled 60-day study in 64 adults (30).
Nevertheless, only one of the study participants had a history of depression. The significance of the findings, for this reason, is uncertain.
Can Reduce Inflammation
It can decrease inflammation markers such as the C-reactive protein (CRP). This marker can increase the risk of heart disease.
The group that took 250 mg of ashwagandha extract daily in one controlled study had on average a 36 percent decrease in CRP compared to a 6 percent decrease in the placebo group (35).
Can Increase Muscle Mass and Strength
In a study to determine a safe and effective dose for ashwagandha, after 30 days, healthy men who took 750–1,250 mg of ashwagandha root daily gained muscle strength (39).
Can Increase Fertility in Men
The researchers also reported an increase in antioxidant levels in their blood from the group that took the herb.
In another report, men receiving ashwagandha for stress reported higher levels of antioxidants and better quality of the sperm. 14 percent of men’s partners had become pregnant after three months of treatment (45).
May Reduce Blood Sugar Levels
In addition, in a four-week study in people with schizophrenia, those treated with ashwagandha had an average reduction of 13.5 mg / dL of fasting blood sugar levels compared to 4.5 mg / dL in those treated with placebo (50).
Moreover, in a small study in six people with type 2 diabetes, supplementing with ashwagandha lowered the fasting blood sugar levels as effectively as an oral diabetes medication for 30 days (51).
Frequently Asked Questions
Ashwagandha is Sanskrit (scent of the horse) referring to both its distinctive smell and strength-enhancing power. It has been used to relieve stress, increase energy levels and boost focus for over 3,000 years. Withania somnifera is its botanical name, and it is also known by several other names, including Indian ginseng and winter cherry. Extracts or powder from the root or leaves of the plant is used for treating a range of conditions.
Ashwagandha is safe almost for everyone. However, it should not be taken by certain individuals like pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding. Individuals with autoimmune diseases should also stop ashwagandha unless a doctor permits. This involves people with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroiditis of Hashimoto and types 1 diabetes. Furthermore, those on thyroid disease medicine should be careful when taking ashwagandha, as it might increase certain people’s thyroid hormone levels. It may also decrease blood sugar and blood pressure levels, so you may need to change drug dosages if you are taking it.
The suggested ashwagandha dosage is based upon the form of the supplement. Extracts are more effective than root ashwagandha or leaf powder. Try to follow label directions. The standardized root extract is taken once to twice daily in 500 mg capsules.
Ashwagandha leaf extract helps manage your weight by reducing the stress hormone level Cortisol. High levels of cortisol boost hunger and cravings for candy, fried food, and soft drinks. Such cravings contribute to increased calorie consumption, which contributes to weight gain. Ashwagandha lowers cortisol levels and reduces the stress-induced cravings. It helps to control weight better.
The Bottom Line
Ashwagandha is a common herb with multiple benefits for the body. It can ease anxiety and stress, help combat depression, improve men’s fertility and testosterone and can even enhance brain function. Ashwagandha supplementation may be an easy and effective way of improving your health and quality of life.