If you asked herbalists, nutritionists, or health food fanatics to tell you about an herb all Americans should take, you'd likely get an earful about ashwagandha's benefits. This has become a go-to remedy for people who use supplements to enhance health and wellness. And there are many of us who do rely on herbs.
In a study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an estimated 40.6 million American adults used herbs and supplements in 2012. This is a huge market, and not surprisingly, there has been a huge flurry of manufacturing activity to help meet that need.
At the moment, consumers have literally thousands of different herbal supplements to choose from. We believe ashwagandha's benefits set this particular herb apart from the crowd.
In this ashwagandha guide, we'll outline what the herb is designed to address, how it works, how to use it, and how to know if it's working.
Spotting ashwagandha in the wild might be tough to do. It grows as a plump shrub, with yellow flowers and oval leaves. Those leaves ripen into bright-red berries that are about the size of a raspberry. It looks like any other plant you might see growing in the wild.
Ashwagandha also known as Withania somnifera is in the nightshade family, so it's a distant cousin of the tomato. But unlike tomatoes, this isn't a plant that grows everywhere. It prefers mild climates, and while it can grow in the United States, it's more common in Africa and the Middle East.
Most ashwagandha supplements are distilled from the root of the plant, and it's this root that gives the plant its name. The root, when pulled and sniffed, has a distant scent of a horse. The name, when translated, means "smell of horse."
Ashwagandha has been used in traditional medicine for decades, or even longer. It's been baked, chewed, crushed, applied as a poultice, and dabbed on as a tincture. For many people who used it, the proof of its power was in the results. If they felt better, they gave credit to the herb. Now, modern science is meeting up with ancient practice. We're learning just how helpful this herb can be.
Ashwagandha has many benefits but is most commonly known for its ability to help people recover from the dangerous health issues sparked by stress. That makes this herb a perfect companion for modern life.
The American Psychological Association performed their annual "Stress in America" poll in 2017 and found that people with stress blamed the feeling on:
This is a very long list, and it contains many elements that average people simply have no control over. Regular Americans don't have the power to reverse the course of the economy overnight, and they may not be able to improve trust in government with the stroke of a pen. These are thorny issues that can take a long time to solve. Meanwhile, they cause us stress until they are resolved.
This is the kind of stress researchers label as "chronic," since it isn't sparked by something we can change or control, and it tends to persist for months or even years.
When we are stressed, cortisol levels rise in our bodies, shutting down our immune systems and sparking inflammation. That can leave us feeling sick and raw, and it can impede our ability to communicate, connect, and heal.
While lifestyle changes can help to support us during times of stress, supplements can help to support the body's own healing process. That supplement boost can help the body to do vital work, so the terrible impact of stress is softened.
This is what ashwagandha supplements are designed to do.
Researchers have performed several studies in order to determine whether or not the supplement actually works, or if people just think it works. The best of these studies are performed in a "double blind" manner.
In a double-blind study, people who participate are split into two groups. One group gets the therapy that's under study, and the other group does not. Neither the people who participate nor the people administering the study know who is in which group. Only at the end of the study is that information revealed. When the data is collected, researchers can feel comfortable that the changes they see between groups are due to the intervention in question, not an assumption or a placebo.
In one such study, published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine,researchers worked with a group of 64 people who had a history of chronic stress. This group of 64 was split in half. One set got a capsule of ashwagandha, and one group got a placebo pill.
At the end of the 60-day study, researchers found that those who got the supplement had low scores on stress-assessment scales, when compared to people who got placebo. Also, people who took the supplement had lower cortisol levels than the placebo group.
This is an important study, because it truly demonstrates effectiveness. Test scores were lower, and serum results were lower. Both indicate the power of the supplement, as that's the only intervention given in this study.
In a second study in the journal PLoS One, researchers worked with 75 people who had severe anxiety lasting for longer than six weeks. One group received nutrition counseling, relaxation training, and supplements with ashwagandha. The other received the same interventions, except for the ashwagandha. These people got a sugar pill instead.
At the end of the eight-week study, researchers report that those who took ashwagandha had significantly lower anxiety scores, and they also experienced improvements in mental health, concentration, and overall quality of life.
This is yet another study that demonstrates quite clearly that the supplement seems to have the power to help people lower stress levels, so they can enjoy life more fully. It should be an exciting result for anyone who has been considering this supplement. Studies like this seem to suggest that it works quite well.
Athletes looking for a way to boost performance may appreciate ashwagandha supplements. The effect of the herb can make oxygen utilization a bit easier.
During intense moments of exercise, the body pulls in oxygen and passes it to muscles. The amount of oxygen someone can pull in and utilize is known as the VO2 level. Studies suggest that ashwagandha can improve VO2 levels in athletes.
In a study published in the International Journal of Ayurveda Research,researchers gave the herb to healthy athletes, while others got a placebo. They measured VO2 levels at the end of the study, and they found significant increases in levels in those who got a supplement.
Utilizing oxygen is one way to achieve great things in sport. But large muscle mass can also play role. Ashwagandha can also help with this.
In a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition,researchers gave ashwagandha to 28 subjects, while 29 subjects got a placebo drug. Those who got the supplement had much larger muscles, and their muscles were also able to recover more quickly after an exercise episode.
While this study was performed on athletes, the results apply to almost anyone. People looking for an edge to help them perform a little better in a sport might appreciate ashwagandha support.
A sense of energy can come under attack from many corners. A lack of sleep, lack of proper nutrition, and environmental triggers (like pollution) can all contribute to a sense of fatigue.
Energy levels can also be impacted by the amount of oxygen available to the muscles (a measurement known as VO2). The more saturation each muscle fiber has, the more that muscle can do without feeling too much exertion. Ashwagandha is a helpful ally.
In a study in the International Journal of Ayurveda Research, clinicians proved that giving the supplement to athletes improved their VO2 scores, and it allowed these runners to move quickly without increasing the workload of their hearts.
In a similar study in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, researchers found that the supplement helped to increase muscle strength. That could also translate into a feeling of increased energy.
There are two main types of cholesterol in the human body. The HDL type of cholesterol is considered helpful, as it helps to clear arteries. The LDL type of cholesterol is harmful, as it clogs arteries. Ashwagandha helps to reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
In a study in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, researchers gave healthy participants a scaling dose over 30 days and found a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol at the end of the study. This study is important, in that it was done with people who had no cholesterol problems to begin with. That seems to suggest the supplement could work on almost anyone.
Supporting this supplement with healthy foods, plenty of exercise, and stress reduction techniques can make the benefit even stronger.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that 439.2 men and women in 100,000 will develop cancer. Each year, researchers develop new ways to help detect new cancer cases, and they work hard to treat cancer when it arises. Research suggests that ashwagandha can help in that treatment fight.
Ashwagandha has proven useful in helping people to fight:
In some cases, the herb helps to reduce the size of the cancerous tumor. In others, the herb seems to reduce inflammation around the tumor.
Ashwagandha has also been proven helpful in treatment programs for people undergoing conventional cancer treatment. For example, in a study in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies, researchers found that the supplement helped to reduce fatigue and improve well-being in people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. That relief could keep these people in treatment longer, which could keep cancer from coming back.
Fertility issues can plague couples trying to conceive. If those issues have been tracked to the male side of the couple, ashwagandha could provide a form of relief.
Sperm cells are nourished with fluid as they make the move from one body to another. If that fluid nourishment is somehow degraded, the sperm cells can die before they have completed the journey. In a study in journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online,researchers found that ashwagandha helped to improve overall semen quality, which helped to keep vital cells alive.
The tiny thyroid gland plays a big role in overall health. The hormones produced in the thyroid can impact almost every organ inside the human body. When hormone levels are too high, a life-threatening rapid heartbeat can develop. When hormone levels are too low, fatigue, constipation and dry skin can set in.
In a study in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, researchers found that ashwagandha supplements could help to increase thyroid production, which could be a boon for people dealing with low levels on a regular basis.
Studies like this suggest, however, that people who already have high levels of thyroid hormone production should avoid ashwagandha supplements. Taking the pills could make their current issues a bit more severe.
Chronic stress can impede memory formation. People who feel under pressure every single day may struggle to lay down new memories, due to the symptoms of stress they feel, and the lack of concentration that comes with chronic stress.
Since ashwagandha has the clinically proven (1, 2, 3) ability to help reduce symptoms of stress and the chemical markers that signal stress, it has an immediate and automatic benefit on memory. The herb may also help to protect brain cells against Alzheimer's disease(4), which can also impede memory.
In a study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology,performed with mice, researchers have found that ashwagandha can help to prevent cell death when mouse brains are exposed to toxins that mimic the damage caused by Alzheimer's.
Researchers quoted in Scientific Americansuggest that 20 percent to 40 percent of an adult's height can be attributed to environmental attributes, including the foods we eat. For those people who want to optimize those environmental factors so they can grow as tall as possible, ashwagandha is tempting. By popping a pill, these people think, they can get taller.
Unfortunately, ashwagandha and height aren't closely related. Taking supplements that contain ashwagandha just will not make you taller. But the supplements could help to keep your bones from breaking.
In studies performed with mice, all of which had genetic alterations that made them similar to women in menopause, ashwagandha helped to increase bone mass. That made the bones stronger, and that made the mice bones resistant to breaking.
Preserving bone strength often translates into preserving height. After all, bones that are strong have fewer air pockets, and they're less likely to collapse and reduce height. That means ashwagandha could help you to preserve the height you have. But it cannot make you taller than you are now.
The studies we mentioned may help you understand and believe that ashwagandha's benefits include stress reduction and a reduced risk of anxiety. But you may still wonder just how this little herb has the power to do all of that work.
In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen. Supplements in this class have the ability to help people move through times of stress. They're a bit like catchall supplements with a wide variety of effects, all of which add up to a smaller amount of stress.
The University of Michigan reports that ashwagandha works by stimulating immune cells. That's vital, as stress can block the action of these cells. Ashwagandha can also reduce inflammation, the University says. Put all of these effects together, and they support the idea that ashwagandha is an adaptogen, says the University. A variety of effects band together, all with the end result of making people feel a lot better.
Supplements containing ashwagandha are ingestible, meaning that they must move through the stomach in order to bring about their stress-relieving impact. Since these supplements are taken orally, it's vital to take them at the right time.
Experts writing in Better Nutrition Magazine point out that the fiber in food can impair the uptake of botanical supplements like ashwagandha. That's why taking them between meals is wise. It allows for the full power of the plant to shine through, without the muting effect of a meal.
While side effects are rare, people who feel queasy after taking ashwagandha on an empty stomach can pair the pill with a small snack. But the key is to keep that snack very small, so the power isn't blunted.
The University of Michigan reports that there are no known medication interactions with ashwagandha, so it should be possible to take this supplement at the same time as other medications. But it's always wise to speak with a medical professional, the University says, as there may be interactions that just haven't moved into wide public knowledge quite yet.
It's also important to note that ashwagandha in powdered form comes with an extremely bitter taste. People discuss masking that taste with butters and creams and nuts, but again, this could reduce the effectiveness of the plant.
The best way to ensure that the dose is correct and not blocked, without struggling through a horrible taste, is to take the supplement in pill form. That allows virtually no taste to shine through, and there is no need to take the pill with food.
People who take modern medications are accustomed to immediate results. Opioid painkillers, for example, deliver relief just minutes after they're taken. Some people who take opioids claim that they can even feel the moment that the drugs latch onto their receptors.
Modern drugs work this quickly because they have been engineered to do so. Chemists know just what receptors the drugs should work on, and they tinker with the chemical formula of the drugs until this exact effect comes to life in pill form.
Supplements like ashwagandha are different. These supplements have been created and optimized by professionals, but they are meant to be tonics that support the natural processes of the body. They're helpers, not invaders. That means their action is very gentle, and sometimes, that means people must keep taking the supplements for quite some time before changes are felt.
It isn't uncommon for herbalists to recommend a six- or eight-week trial of ashwagandha for people under stress. During that time, the person must keep taking the supplement each day, with no exceptions. That is the best way to determine whether or not this therapy is right for the person under stress.
Since ashwagandha is designed to support the body's natural processes, rather than hijacking them and forcing the body to go in a different direction, it's vital for people under stress to look closely at their lives and their habits. There could be things they are doing right now that could benefit from a shift. Each change could make the benefit of the ashwagandha supplement stronger.
Mindful meditation is one technique that's been proven to help people deal with stress caused by anxiety. For people like this, inner thoughts grow in power and they spark feelings of worry and despair. Those thoughts can start out small, such as:
These are common, simple sentences. For people with anxiety, they're the foundation for stress. A worry about lateness to work becomes a worry about losing a job. A fear about a forgotten kiss becomes fear about forgotten love. Teapots become burned-down houses. Bridges become fears of accidents.
Mindful meditation, as Harvard Medical School explains, involves acknowledging a thought when it arises, and then brushing it aside before anxiety creeps in.
People who use this technique may learn in a class setting, and they may practice the technique for an hour or so at a time. The ability to stay present in the moment, without the distraction of damaging thoughts, becomes stronger. In time, people can whisk away those negative thoughts and the stress they produce almost as soon as they appear.
Yoga also involves meditation, but deep thinking in yoga is combined with deep breathing and practiced movement. For people who can't bear the idea of sitting still with a thought, yoga can be a good alternative. The movements help to distract people from the hard mind work happening within.
The Mayo Clinic reports that there are many videos and at-home classes that offer people the ability to learn yoga privately. But since yoga stretches can be complicated, it is sometimes best to take formal yoga classes. They also provide a sense of community, which can help to lower stress levels.
One of the most important choice you can make, when it comes to supplements, doesn't involve the specific herb you try. The choice has to do with your retailer.
Most supplements like ashwagandha are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration unless the company is selling an organic version or meets other certain criteria. While a company that sells vaccines and prescription medication must demonstrate that the production facility is clean, that the medicine they are selling reaches a specific potency, and that it contains only an agreed-upon set of ingredients, supplement manufacturers face no such rules.
That means, unfortunately, some supplements simply don't come with the ingredients that they are supposed to. And others come with ingredients that consumers just don't know are included.
It's vital to work with a company that has a reputation for quality, and who is transparent about what is included in each dose and how those ingredients are sourced. When buying ashwagandha, even from large eCommerce retailers like Amazon and Walmart you need to make sure the product is safe and includes what the manufacturer claims.
(We may be a bit biased here )
There a variety of factors to consider when picking an ashwagandhasupplement. Here is what we recommended you look for
Physician's Choice Ashwagandha offers 1950mg per serving, and it has been laboratory tested for quality. That means we know just how much is in each dose, and we know just how potent each dose really is.
We also offer a completely transparent ingredient list, so you will know exactly what is in each ashwagandha capsule. Our organic ashwagandha supplement is made in a 100% veggie capsule with organic, non-GMO sustainably sourced ashwagandha, using no fillers, preservatives, or artificial ingredients.
Finally, our product is and manufactured in a cGMP, UL, and Organic certified facility. Physician's Choice ashwagandha is not only made to meet the FDA's good manufacturing practice guidelines and standards (GMP certified), but we also use NSF certified facilities. The NSF certification goes above and beyond what most manufacturers do and requires strict manufacturing and product examinations, comprehensive material inspections & reports along with spontaneous lab and factory inspections.
We would love to have you try our Organic Ashwagandha. If you don't absolutely love it, you can return it for a refund. Place your order here.
Supplements like Ashwagandha work best when taken on an empty stomach. That allows the entire power of the herb to hit the system at once, without the softening impact of food or drink. If any discomfort occurs, taking the herb with a small snack may be helpful.
Medline suggests that ashwagandha is not safe during pregnancy, as it has been associated with miscarriage. Women who are pregnant or who are trying to get pregnant should avoid this herb.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, meaning that it works on a variety of different systems at the same time, to bring about a remarkable result. It is unclear how the herb does the work that it does. Few studies have been performed on how the herb works at a cellular level.
Women who are pregnant should not take ashwagandha. Women who are breastfeeding should also avoid the herb, as it can move from the mother's body to the baby's body. Once pregnancy and breastfeeding is complete, women can start taking the supplement again.
Some people take this supplement every day for years, while others take it intermittently when they need a boost. How long you take the medication is really dependent on your goals.
Ashwagandha is often called "Indian ginseng," in that the two substances look the same and tend to work on the human body in much the same way. But these are very different substances that aren't related, in a botanical sense.