Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb naturally grown in India and other parts of the Indian subcontinent. This herb is classified as an adaptogen, which means it can help the body manage stress. It contains many useful medicinal chemicals that are used for treatment in Ayurvedic medicine and Western herbal medicine remedies.
For centuries, ashwagandha has been utilized for its healing benefits for the body and brain. Its botanical name is Withania somnifera, and it is also known as Indian ginseng and winter cherry. This plant is a small shrub with yellow flowers, and the powder from its root and leaves are used for different health conditions.
Many health benefits are attributed to the plant’s high concentration of withanolide or steroidal lactones, which are known for fighting inflammation and tumor growth.
Here are the different benefits and uses of ashwagandha:
Decreases stress and anxiety
Ashwagandha is best known for its ability to reduce stress. Cortisol is a stress hormone activated when you are “stressed.” When cortisol levels are high, it can impact delicate glucose and lipid balance, as well as vascular integrity, gastrointestinal membrane integrity, and nervous system function.
Ashwagandha has been shown to promote healthy levels of cortisol and normal inflammatory processes stimulated in response to stress. Research has reported that ashwagandha blocked the stress pathway in rats’ brains by regulating chemical signaling in the nervous system. Also, many controlled human studies have shown that the herb can reduce symptoms in people with stress and anxiety.
Reduces symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions
Any type of stress can cause serious damage to the brain, but ashwagandha is more than a stress reliever. It helps protect the brain from Alzheimer’s and degeneration of the brain. Also, it is able to relieve the symptoms of depression and improve overall well-being by reducing the cortisol levels in the body. There are a few studies that suggest that ashwagandha can help alleviate depression.
Besides depression, ashwagandha is also known to cause improvements in brain function for people treated for bipolar disorder. Also, the herb may improve attention and impulse control in children with ADHD. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder can also experience reduced symptoms when taken with prescribed medications for six weeks.
Supports the function and structure of the brain
Besides being an adaptogen, ashwagandha is also a neuro-supportive and nootropic herb. (By the way, nootropic herbs are herbs that promote healthy cognitive functioning). Ashwagandha supports the nervous system by stimulating the part of the brain that’s responsible for bringing calmness and for regulating muscle tone. It also supports a calm and stable mood that helps regulate natural cortisol rhythm.
Animal studies have shown that the herb can mitigate memory and brain function problems caused by disease or injury. Research has also proved that it promotes antioxidant activity, protecting the nerve cells from free radicals. Ashwagandha is also used traditionally to boost memory in Ayurvedic medicine. Ashwagandha supplements are meant to improve memory, brain function, reaction time, and the ability to perform tasks. The cognition-promoting effect of ashwagandha can be seen in people suffering from memory loss due to head injury, old age, or prolonged illness.
Improves reproductive health
Ashwagandha supplements bring powerful effects on testosterone levels and men’s reproductive health. One study involving 75 infertile men showed that ashwagandha increased sperm count and motility, as well as increase testosterone levels. In another study, men who received ashwagandha to relieve stress experienced having better sperm quality, thus increasing fertility. After three months of use, 14% of the men’s partners became pregnant.
Increase strength and muscle mass
Several research studies show that ashwagandha can help improve body composition and increase muscle strength. One study suggests that pulverized ashwagandha root can bring an improvement in muscle strength after taking every day for 30 days. Another study showed significant gains in muscle size and strength in people who took ashwagandha.
Testosterone is the primary hormone that drives muscle growth, and the more of it that you have in your body, the faster they grow and the better your muscles can recover. If you are looking to build your muscles, increasing testosterone is necessary, and it is where ashwagandha can do wonders.
Supports healthy weight
Metabolism can also benefit from ashwagandha. It seems to support weight gain during the natural growth phase in children. Milk fortified with ashwagandha helps support a child’s healthy weight, as well as healthy total hemoglobin levels and plasma proteins. For those taking ashwagandha along with exercise, it can help double reductions in body fat percentage as the muscles are built.
Ashwagandha works to reduce inflammation. Studies have found that this herb increases the activity of killer immune cells that fight infections. It can also decrease markers of inflammation like C-reactive proteins, which are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Helps lower cholesterol and triglycerides
To add to its anti-inflammatory effects, ashwagandha can also help improve heart health by reducing cholesterol levels. Supplementing with ashwagandha has shown to significantly decrease LDL cholesterol levels, which is referred to as bad cholesterol that causes a build-up of fats in the arteries.
Animal studies have shown that it significantly decreases levels of blood fats. Though the results of studies in controlled human experiments have reported less dramatic results, there were some impressive improvements in the decrease in bad cholesterol and triglycerides on average.
Also, ashwagandha has been shown to improve blood pressure, thus lowering your chances of developing stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Reduces blood sugar levels
Having elevated blood sugar levels at extended periods of time can lead to serious problems in the long run. Ashwagandha has been shown to lower blood glucose effectively. Several studies have shown that ashwagandha can help lower blood sugar levels in both healthy people and those with diabetes.
Helps prevent cancer
Studies in test tubes and animals have shown that withaferin, a bioactive compound found in ashwagandha, can promote the death of tumor cells and impede the growth of new cancer cells. Animal studies suggest that ashwagandha can help in treating several types of cancer, including lung, brain, colon, breast, and ovarian cancer. When used with cancer drugs, it can show a significant reduction in tumor growth (see more here).