Ashwagandha, a herb used in traditional Indian medicine known as Ayurvedic, is thought to have many physical and mental benefits. The parts of the plant found in India and Southeast Asia that provide the body with anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects are its roots and berries. The plant has offered relief from anxiety and stress, pain, and arthritis for thousands of years. It also appears to increase concentration and energy levels.
Andrea Fossati M.D. is a Vermont integrative healthcare specialist. Speaking to Forbes Health, she said, “Ashwagandha’s physiologic effects are interrelated, meaning that lowering stress equals lower cortisol levels. Therefore, this equals better blood sugar control and better health.”
Known Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
Ongoing studies worldwide have set out to prove the herb’s efficacy. Since stress and inflammation are the root cause of many conditions, evidence from some studies indicates that this Ayurvedic herb is effective against the following:
1. Reduced Stress and Anxiety
Ashwagandha falls into the group of substances known as adaptogens because they help people cope with anxiety and stress. So far, studies indicate that it can control stress mediators like cortisol, heat shock proteins, and kinase (a stress-activated protein). It also reduces activity within the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the part of the brainstem regulating the stress response. These all help with stress and anxiety, helping improve sleep quality. Still, researchers have not formed a consensus on the correct dosage required to treat some disorders, particularly neuropsychiatric disorders like anxiety.
2. Improved Athletic Performance
Often, nootropic medicines that boost athletic performance include Ashwagandha, and studies indicate that it can enhance physical performance by maximizing oxygen consumption (VO2 max) and muscle size and strength. Maximum oxygen consumption or VO2 max is the measurement used for fitness of the heart and lungs, and it’s not only necessary for athletes – the higher it is, the lower our risk for heart disease, and low levels indicate an increased risk of mortality.
3. Benefits for Mental Health Conditions
Ashwagandha may reduce the symptoms of other mental health conditions like depression. Patients with schizophrenia in one study had reduced levels of depression and anxiety associated with their disease. Another study showed that perceived stress levels in sufferers improved. Ongoing research also indicates that it helps with cognitive impairment in bipolar sufferers.
Findings suggest that Ashwagandha does have antidepressant effects, but patients need to take it in conjunction with antidepressant medication.
4. Enhanced Brain Function, Focus, and Memory
Ashwagandha supplements seem to benefit cognitive function in older people with neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease that cause cognitive impairment. When taken as a tea, powder form, or supplement, the herb can improve memory, attention, mental task performance, and reaction and information processing times. In addition, researchers have found that some compounds in Ashwagandha have antioxidant effects on the brain.
5. Reduced Inflammation
Some compounds in Ashwagandha seem to reduce inflammation by targeting inflammatory pathways and proteins. Researchers say that patients experiencing stress had a significant drop in C-reactive protein, IL-6, and TNF-α, all inflammatory markers. Levels remained higher in the groups taking a placebo.
6. Other Benefits Seen in Studies
Sleep issues and sleep quality are vital to better brain function and alertness. Research on Ashwagandha indicates improved sleep quality, particularly in people with insomnia and anxiety.
Ongoing studies aim to prove how the herb lowers cholesterol, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure, all vital for preventing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Finally, women with sexual dysfunction and men with reproductive issues both seem to benefit, according to indications from some clinical studies.
Ashwagandha is a nontoxic herb that is safe to take. However, everyone should consider the following precautions before deciding on using the herb:
- Anyone taking other medications should first consult with their doctor.
- Other conditions that prevent people from using Ashwagandha include pregnancy, breastfeeding, people with some allergies, mainly grass, and anyone with a thyroid condition. Additionally, anyone about to undergo surgery or who has an immunocompromised should also not take the herb.
- The recommended doses vary from 250 – 1,250 mg daily. Ashwagandha in supplements can be taken once a day but in powder form; it is recommended in smaller amounts more frequently. The side effects of a larger dose include vomiting and diarrhea.
- Natural food supplements from companies with high production standards and quality control are best to avoid tainted products from unknown sources.
Ashwagandha supplements are the most effective way to take this Ayurvedic herb known for its health benefits like improved cognitive function, better sleep, and stress relief. Researchers indicate that it takes several months to notice the effects, but it may be worth the wait.