The word Ashwagandha is Sanskrit in origin. “Smell of a horse” is the literal meaning– referring to the distinct smell of the fresh root, as well as the traditional belief that ingesting this Ayurvedic herb provides the strength and vitality of a horse. Given its wide range of health benefits, it has also earned the title “King of Ayurvedic medicine”. In this article, we examine this ancient herb through the lens of modern medicine.
Ashwagandha has been classified as an adaptogen, meaning a class of herbs that support your adrenal system and help you adapt to stress. The term was first defined in 1947 by the Russian pharmacologist Nicolai Lazarev.
What are the Science-backed benefits of Ashwagandha?
Numerous studies have assessed the effects Ashwagandha has on the body, and the findings have been promising. Here are 5 aspects of your overall well-being that are positively affected by a regular dose of this ancient Ayurvedic herb.
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The level of Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, increases in anxious or stressful situations. Elevated cortisol levels can lead to various health issues over the long term, such as an impaired immune system, high blood sugar levels, and weight gain. Some studies suggest that Ashwagandha can help lower cortisol levels and thus reduce chronic stress.
A systematic review of 5 randomized controlled trials published in the Journal of Complementary Medicine suggested that Ashwagandha substantially reduces stress and anxiety scores compared to a placebo and in one study, psychotherapy. While this research is promising, we still have much to learn about the effect of this adaptogenic herb on stress and anxiety symptoms.
The stress-relieving properties of Ashwagandha may produce a secondary effect– weight loss. A small study evaluating 52 chronically stressed people showed that Ashwagandha not only improved stress markers but also reduced food cravings and body weight in comparison to the placebo. Although compelling, this research is still in its infancy, and Ashwagandha should not be used as a standalone strategy for weight management.
Preliminary evidence suggests that Ashwagandha may be beneficial for muscle building and strength development. This was seen in an eight-week, double-blind, randomized control trial, published in the International Society of Sports Nutrition. In the study, 57 participants were split into two groups. One group was given a 300 mg dose of Ashwagandha extract twice a day, while the other group received a placebo. After eight weeks, the researchers found that the subjects who took Ashwagandha supplements significantly increased the number of times they could perform an exercise routine when compared to the control group.
Ashwagandha might be useful for men who struggle with fertility. Evidence to-date suggests that Ashwagandha may boost sperm concentration by more than 150%, as well as improve sperm motility and testosterone levels in men with low sperm count. That said, this is an emerging area of research and larger studies are needed to validate these findings.
Cognition is another area where Ashwagandha holds promise. An eight-week study of 50 individuals with mild cognitive impairment showed that a 300 mg dose taken twice a day resulted in a marked improvement in memory, attention, and information-processing speed. In addition, several cellular and animal studies suggest that Ashwagandha has neuroprotective properties.
A word of caution
Ashwagandha is not recommended for pregnant women as it may lead to miscarriages. Breastfeeding mothers are also advised to avoid this herb. In addition, those with autoimmune diseases, diabetes, high or low blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and thyroid issues should consult their physician before starting Ashwagandha.
The bottom line
Ashwagandha has long been referred to as the “King of Ayurvedic Medicine” and is supported by a growing body of human research. Although it holds much promise, we still have much to learn about the benefits of Ashwagandha, how it works, and who it’s right for. At the moment, it appears to be most helpful for stress reduction, but this may change over the coming years.
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