Ashwagandha is a staple of ancient Indian medicine, sometimes referred to as "Indian Ginseng" or the "Indian winter cherry." Its origins date back more than 3,000 years, where its potent healing properties have been recognized for centuries.
Modern medicine has classified ashwagandha as an adaptogen for its stress-busting qualities, but it's also known to boost immunity and enhance sexual wellness. In Ayurveda, the herb is considered a Rasayana, meaning it helps with longevity.
While the benefits of ashwagandha apply to everybody, this article will focus on its benefits for women.
Ashwagandha is rich in phytochemicals—biochemical compounds that lend the herb its healing properties. Every plant has phytochemicals that perform unique tasks. Some act as an immune system for flora, while others release toxins that prevent insects from eating them.
When you ingest ashwagandha, those phytochemicals get to work in your body to benefit your well-being.
Ashwagandha root is most commonly consumed as a powder to treat a host of conditions, from insomnia to stress.* Some also apply the herb topically on joints in the form of a paste to reduce pain and inflammation. Finally, ashwagandha leaves are rich in iron and may be consumed in an herbal tea.
Many women experience a wide range of physical symptoms that can develop years before or after the onset of menopause. These symptoms include vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, insomnia, and menstrual irregularities.
Ashwagandha works on the endocrine system to help balance hormonal flow, reduce cortisol levels, and boost blood circulation, thereby relieving some unwanted symptoms of menopause.*
One study conducted in 2012 found that women who took Ashwagandha supplements experienced relief from menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, sleep problems, and inflammation.
While it's known that ashwagandha can boost sexual function in men, the same applies to women. It's not uncommon for women to experience sexual barriers like reduced libido, difficulty reaching orgasm, vaginal dryness, and reduced arousal.
A 2015 study revealed that women who took 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract two times a day for eight weeks experienced notable improvements in their sexual health. They had better orgasms, lubrication, satisfaction, and arousal.
Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, is a common problem women face. It can affect every system of the body and lead to symptoms like weight gain, fatigue, irregular periods, hair loss, and constipation.
Ashwagandha helps to balance the hormones in the thyroid gland, preventing under-secretion of the thyroid hormone.*
In one study, hypothyroid patients who took 600 mg of ashwagandha root extract every day for eight weeks showed significantly higher thyroid-stimulating hormone levels (TSH) and T3.
The challenges of modern life can get to the best of us, especially for women who have to balance the ever-growing demands of their personal and professional lives. Studies conducted by The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reveal that women are prone to anxiety and stress disorders twice as often as men, leading to increased health risks.
Ashwagandha has been shown to lower stress levels by reducing the amount of cortisol produced in the body. When cortisol levels are balanced, it directly impacts anxiety, mood, and overall well-being.
Clinical trials have shown that ashwagandha can reduce cortisol levels by as much as 27.9% to 30.5%, with significant improvements in emotional and mental wellness.
These benefits can be explained, in part, by GABA. GABA is a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain. Low levels of GABA are associated with those suffering from anxiety and mood disorders. Ashwagandha exhibits GABA-like effects in the brain, calming over-excited neurons and promoting relaxation and better mood.*
As you get older, you may notice a dip in memory. Similarly, if you've just had a baby, you may find yourself experiencing the brain fogginess brought on by "Mom Brain."
Fortunately, supplementing with ashwagandha may help to improve cognition and memory.* In a placebo-controlled study conducted on 50 participants with mild cognitive impairment, those given ashwagandha showed an increase in immediate and general memory.
They also experienced increased attention spans and were able to process information faster. While more research is needed on the topic, it's a promising start to the brain-boosting benefits of ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties, all of which make it great for the skin.*
Ashwagandha's antioxidant properties help protect your skin from free radicals, while its anti-inflammatory properties help maintain a smooth and healthy complexion. Finally, its antimicrobial properties work to combat acne and infections.
To experience the benefits of ashwagandha on the skin, you can either use it topically mixed into your favorite face mask or take it as a supplement.
The powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of ashwagandha can also help keep your scalp healthy. The herb is a rich source of flavonoids that contain glucose, potassium, fatty acids, tannins, and nitrate.
Ashwagandha may also prevent premature greying of the hair as it has tyrosine, an amino acid that stimulates melanin production.*
And finally, according to Ayurveda, ashwagandha can help stop postpartum hair loss. When used in shampoo, it helps improve scalp circulation and strengthens the hair. This promotes healthy hair growth through the stimulation of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), an androgen hormone.
Weight gain is a common effect of chronic stress. By reducing stress and balancing cortisol levels, ashwagandha can be used as a weight management tool.
One study found that continuous use of the herb improved stress scores and positively affected serum cortisol levels, body mass index (BMI), and body weight.
Building and maintaining muscle mass grows more difficult with age, but ashwagandha can help.*
Ashwagandha increases the levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by reducing the enzyme that breaks it down. This increases energy production in the muscles by boosting mitochondrial function. Thus, ashwagandha enhances muscle mass and strength while decreasing body fat when combined with resistance training.*
In one study, researchers recruited 57 untrained individuals to participate in resistance training. Half of the participants were given an ashwagandha supplement, while the other half engaged in exercise without supplementation.
Those who received the ashwagandha saw a substantial increase in muscle strength and size, along with a decrease in exercise-induced muscle damage.
Another study showed that ashwagandha improved general muscle weakness, enhancing power and neuromuscular coordination.
Stress, caffeine, and busy schedules contribute to poor sleep quality, which translates to low performance, irritability, and brain fog.
For centuries, ashwagandha has been recommended for improving sleep, owing to its sleep-inducing potential.
A randomized, double-blind study conducted with insomniac subjects demonstrated that supplementing with ashwagandha root extract for ten weeks resulted in increased sleep quality, stabilized sleep efficiency, and decreased anxiety.
Another study conducted with elderly subjects demonstrated that ashwagandha supplementation resulted in improved sleep quality, mental alertness, and quality of life.
Because ashwagandha can help boost testosterone levels in men, women may hesitate to consume the herb for fear of similar effects. However, there's no need to worry.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. This means it works differently for different people, depending on what their body's requirements are.
The herb acts on your endocrine system to balance hormones that may be imbalanced in your body. So while it works in men to increase depleted testosterone levels, it can help regulate estrogen levels in women.*
While ashwagandha is safe and natural, it may not be for everyone. The following groups of women should only consume ashwagandha under direct medical supervision:
Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, has been used as a healing herb by Ayurvedic practitioners for centuries. While there are countless health benefits of this wondrous herb, recent studies point to numerous ashwagandha benefits for women in particular.
When consumed regularly, ashwagandha can help relieve stress, boost memory and cognition, and regulate sleep patterns.* Its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties also promote skin and hair health, making it a natural addition to your beauty shelf.
With all these benefits, it is generally safe for consumption by all. However, pregnant and lactating women, women with autoimmune conditions, and women with low blood sugar and blood pressure should consult their physician before trying it out.
Ramya Satheesh - Contributing Writer, Physician's Choice
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