Ashwagandha, also known as Indian Ginseng, is an evergreen shrub that’s found in India, Africa and parts of the Middle East that been used in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years to increase energy, improve overall health and reduce inflammation, pain and anxiety.
In this article, we’ll unpack the health benefits of ashwagandha along with potential risks, safety considerations, and tips for choosing an ashwagandha supplement.
Ashwagandha Health Benefits
Ashwagandha is best known for its anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects, probably due to its ability to reduce cortisol levels (a common “stress hormone”).
Here’s a deeper dive into some of the health benefits of ashwagandha.
Reduce Anxiety and Stress Levels
Another randomized, double blind clinical study found that 600 mg of ashwagandha for 60 days in people with chronic mental stress improved perceived stress levels and reduced serum cortisol by 27.9%.
One study showed that ashwagandha may benefit sleep quality as well—researchers found that study participants slept much better with 250 mg / day or 600 mg /day doses of the herb compared to placebo doses.
Another randomized, double-blind clinical trial showed that ashwagandha root extract can improve sleep quality and can help in managing insomnia.
Lower Blood Sugar and Fat
A couple of small clinical trials found ashwagandha to be helpful in reducing blood glucose levels and triglycerides (the most common type of fat in the blood).
One study compared ashwagandha’s blood sugar-lowering effects to those of medications commonly prescribed for type 2 diabetes. More research is needed in this area.
Increase Muscle Strength and Power Output
One study found participants who took 500 mg / day of ashwagandha experienced increased speed and strength.
Another study showed that taking 750 mg of ashwagandha each day results in increased muscle power, lower body fat percentage and reduced cholesterol levels in study participants. Some participants also experienced better sleep, but this study did not compare ashwagandha consumption against a placebo.
Another study compared men who took 600 mg daily to a placebo group and found that the men who received ashwagandha saw significant gains in muscle strength (measured using bench press and leg extension exercises) and muscle size in their arms and chests, as well as a significant reduction in body fat percentage and post-workout muscle damage.
Sharpen Focus and Memory
Ashwagandha may also help improve cognition and memory.
Small studies have found that, compared to a placebo, ashwagandha significantly improved participants’ reaction times during cognition and psychomotor tests.
One study also found that ashwagandha significantly improved participants’ attention spans, as well as their “executive function, attention, and information processing speed”.
Long story short, many clinical trials have tested the herbal substance on a relatively small number of participants. Larger studies are needed to establish ashwagandha’s benefits and risks, especially over the long term.
Boost Immune Function
Ashwagandha has long been known in Ayurvedic medicine for its immunomodulatory effects.
One study found that the herb’s immunomodulatory properties helped to improve phagocytosis, a process where the body’s white blood cells attack and remove harmful foreign particles, bacteria, and dead or dying cells.
Regular intake of ashwagandha can support the immune system and bolster the body’s natural defense mechanisms.
Enhance Sexual and Reproductive Health
Traditional Ayurvedic practices have also long valued ashwagandha for its aphrodisiac properties.
The root is considered a tonic for enhancing sexual and reproductive health, with small studies showing promising results in improving semen parameters in infertile men when consumed regularly.
Additionally, it’s been suggested that the herb may enhance sexual function and satisfaction in women, further contributing to its reputation (no clinical studies to support this one though).
Support Cardiovascular Health
Ashwagandha may also offer heart health benefits.
Studies have indicated its potential in enhancing cardiorespiratory endurance, making it beneficial for athletes and those with physically demanding lifestyles.
Moreover, it has been shown to have a protective effect against heart damage, reducing the risks associated with heart disease.
May Provide Neuroprotection
Emerging research suggests that ashwagandha could have a neuroprotective role too.
Its antioxidant properties may help protect against neural oxidative stress.
Also, some studies have found it may help delay or prevent the onset of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. More research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the mechanisms involved.
Ashwagandha Safety and Risks
Ashwagandha is generally safe. According to Dr. Yufang Lin, integrative medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic,
“Most people can take this supplement, although it is always best to discuss it with your healthcare provider first. Ashwagandha is generally tolerated well. However, the most common side effects are diarrhea, gastrointestinal upset, vomiting and nausea.”
Avoid ashwagandha or talk to your doctor if any of the following apply to you:
- If you have any issues with your thyroid, check with your healthcare provider before taking ashwagandha.
- Don’t use ashwagandha if you’re pregnant because it may cause abortion (end your pregnancy).
- Talk with your doctor if you have hormone-sensitive prostate cancer because ashwagandha may increase testosterone levels. This can interfere with your treatments.
- Ashwagandha may increase the drowsiness effects of some prescription medications so talk with your healthcare provider before taking it.
Ashwagandha Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the Optimal Dose?
As a dietary supplement, research shows that 300–700 mg of ashwagandha root extract daily can help you achieve the most benefit. Take it with a meal if you experience any GI discomfort.
What’s the Best Time to Take Ashwagandha?
”Do I take ashwagandha in the morning or night?” is one of the most common questions we get.
The best time to take ashwagandha depends on what you’re using it for. Ashwagandha can be used in the morning to sharpen your mental focus and memory or in the evening to reduce anxiety and wind down for a better night’s sleep.
How Long Does Ashwagandha Take to Work?
Ashwagandha generally takes 30-60 minutes to take effect.
Is Ashwagandha Better with Black Pepper?
Black pepper extra is often added to adaptogenic supplements like ashwagandha and turmeric to increase their bioavailability. In other words, black pepper helps your body better absorb the beneficial compounds from these adaptogens.
Ashwagandha Capsules vs. Powder: Which Is Better?
Ashwagandha means “smell of the horse” in Sanskrit, and it does have a bit of a pungent smell to it. That’s why we recommend capsules vs. taking it in a powder, which doesn’t taste very good.
How to Find the Best Ashwagandha Supplement
Long story short, there are a few things to look for to find the best ashwagandha supplement for you.
- Supplements with organic ingredients means less pesticides/chemicals.
- Ashwagandha with black pepper extract because the black pepper extract makes the ashwagandha more bioavailable (easier for your body to absorb).
- Choose a product with the optimal dose of 300–700 mg of ashwagandha per capsule.
- Look for an ashwagandha supplement made in the USA in a GMP-compliant, FDA-approved facility that’s been third party lab tested for purity and safety.