Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), aka Indian ginseng, is a plant that is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine thanks to the myriad therapeutic/adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens are a class of substances that help you ‘adapt’ to stresses placed on the body (e.g. illness, adverse chemical reactions, physical stress and psychological stress etc.).
In the past decade a large amount of clinical research has focused on the benefits of using Ashwagandha root extract supplements. The roots of the plant are rich in medicinal compounds such as alkaloids, choline, saponins, and steroidal lactones like withanolides.
The Science behind Ashwagandha
Scientific findings provide compelling evidence that ashwagandha supplementation may reduce inflammation, decrease risk of chronic disease, lower stress, increase antioxidant capacity, support sex hormone production, boost cognition and enhance immunity. It appears that the main components responsible for these benefits are withanolides; this class of micronutrients work to alter expression of endogenous proteins and enzymes which have downstream benefits on nearly every bodily system.
Moreover, withanolides in ashwagandha may regulate cortisol production, enhance thyroid function and boost acetylcholine activity (which may enhance cognition).
In fact, one study demonstrated that ashwagandha supplementation can reduce perceived stress scores by as much 33% and serum cortisol levels by 22%.
Why Managing Cortisol Levels is Crucial
Cortisol belongs to a class of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, which are made in the adrenal glands. Cortisol is the primary glucocorticoid in humans, regulating metabolic rate, bodily development, immunity, and cognitive function. As such, cortisol is an essential hormone for health and longevity, but producing too much (or too little) of it can have significant ramifications.
In general, cortisol levels increase when you are experiencing stress. Thus, it is referred to as a “stress hormone.” It’s important to note, though, that stress isn’t inherently bad, as some forms of stress are completely healthy (like that adrenaline rush after you hit a personal record in the gym). However, distress is usually the feeling that arises from a rush of cortisol flooding your body after something bad happens. This is precisely what we want to avoid, and where ashwagandha can help.
In healthy individuals, cortisol levels rise promptly after waking up, and then steadily decrease throughout the day (assuming external stressors aren’t constantly occurring). When natural cortisol rhythms are disrupted, or distressful situations become routine, then you will likely feel uneasy, anxious, lethargic and just unmotivated to do much.
Furthermore, when excessive cortisol secretion is left unmanaged, you become much more susceptible to deleterious health conditions such as insulin resistance, osteoporosis, depression, even cardiovascular disease.,,
All this makes cortisol seem pretty terrible, doesn’t it? It’s key to remember that some cortisol is healthy and necessary for proper function and energy, but when the adrenal glands are overworked, that’s when issues arise. Ashwagandha works to help balance cortisol rhythms.
The Many Other Benefits of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha’s benefits go far beyond just regulating cortisol rhythms. Researchers at Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University in India carried out a 3-month study in 75 males supplementing with Ashwagandha root extract. After the study period testosterone levels had increased by upwards of 40% compared to baseline values.
Producing healthy amounts of testosterone is crucial for mood and vitality. Contrarily, low testosterone production is associated with depression and lack of motivation. It’s worth noting that Ashwagandha helps to regulate sex hormones in men and women. It will not cause individuals testosterone to increase if their levels are not already low for their body. Therefore, women can use Ashwagandha without concern.
And there’s plenty more research-backed evidence behind Ashwagandha use, including:
- Increases telomerase activity (i.e. acts as an anti-aging supplement)
- May reduce inflammatory diseases
- Promotes calmness and tranquillity
- Supports immune function
- Improves sexual drive and libido
- May enhance the fat loss process
The tricky part is finding the best Ashwagandha to supplement with.
Read on as this article details which Ashwagandha supplement is best in terms of efficacy and potency, and how it can help reduce your stress and anxiety.
You want an extract that is standardised to withanolides. Therefore, a smaller total dose is needed to achieve therapeutic effects than weaker, generic Ashwagandha extracts.
Most studies have been conducted on around 15 mg of withanolides. Eg: A plant extract of 335 mg of Ashwagandha, providing 4.5% withanolides would result in 15.08 mg.
Compare that to the majority of Ashwagandha root extract supplements on the market which typically only provide 2% withanolides (or even less) at around only 500 mg. This would provide only 10 mg of withanolides (approx. 50% less).
What else works well with Ashwagandha?
If lowering stress, reducing anxiety, improving recovery and getting a better night sleep are your main goals of using Ashwagandha then you may want to pair it with the following ingredients...
- Magnesium Citrate
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
Hopefully this give you insight as to why this Ayurvedic herb is considered the King Of Herbs.
Disclaimer: The above article is merely a guide and is in no way a recommendation or a treatment protocol for any health conditions or diseases. You should always consult with a qualified health care provider before changing your supplement, training or nutritional strategy. Supplementation should not be attempted by pregnant or breastfeeding women, anyone on prescription medication or children under the age of 15 unless advised by your qualified health care provider.