Dr Jess says: Ashwagandha aka Withania somnifera root is a wonderful rejuvenating Ayurvedic herb.
Safe, gentle and powerful it is now one of the most commonly used Ayurvedic herbs by medical herbalists – because, like us they find it works!
Dubbed as the Indian ‘Ginseng’, it is a powerful herb that supports your energy and health, especially when burnt out and exhausted after illness. This use is supported in small trials including a recent study on breast cancer patients with fatigue during chemotherapy. Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha root) was given every 8 hours throughout chemotherapy treatments and significantly improved energy and reduced side effects (1). It is also an excellent herb for an underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism (which causes fatigue) particularly when subclinical (2). Read more about good supports for hypothyroidism here.
It is traditionally used for nervous exhaustion and overstimulation…
In Ayurvedic medicine Ashwagandha is considered a tonic (nourishing and strengthening) and also a sedative (calming). It is considered to be a herb which nourishes an exhausted nervous system (adrenal fatigue) and signs like agitation, irritability or feeling stressed and over-emotional. It is traditionally thought to be heating and sweet, nourishing the blood, muscle, bones, nerves and the reproductive organs. It has been used in India as a traditional herb for pregnancy to strengthen the uterus and stimulate milk production (lower doses of <3g/day). It combines well with Brahmi (Bacopa monneiri) for nervous system problems.
Research shows it is very safe…
Ashwagandha is widely used and well tolerated with no known toxicity and very few side effects (3). It is not recommended for anyone who suffers from hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid) as it can boost thyroid function. If taking digoxin there is evidence it may interfere with the test that detects digoxin levels in the blood stream giving a false result (4). Animal studies show no toxicity in pregnancy (5).
Small studies show Ashwagandha may help memory and cognition…
Animal studies show Ashwagandha tincture (alcoholic extract of the root) significantly helped mice recover from amnesia (memory loss) (6). It has potential as a herb to help protect our brains from the effect of ageing and reduce the risk of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (7). A small study of patients with impaired thinking and memory with bipolar disorder showed a significant improvement in memory and brain function when taking Ashwagandha (8).
It is a good herb to calm anxiety, ADHD and OCD…
Somifera from the latin name for Ashwagandha translates as ‘sleep-inducing’ because of the calming, but not sedative (it does not make you drowsy) effect of the herb. It is traditionally used as a calming herb. Trials show alongside dietary support and deep-breathing it can significantly reduced anxiety over 12 weeks (9). Ashwagandha has become popular for OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder) and trial results back this up with a significant improvement in symptoms in patients with OCD taking it for 6 weeks (10). In a trial of children with ADHD, Ashwagandha improved attention, brain function, focus and impulse control (11).
Ashwaganda is a herb to reduce the effects of stress, well known as an excellent adaptogen by herbalists…
Herbs which can help you cope with stress and the effects of it are called adaptogens. Ashwaghanda can help improve the effects of stress and stress-related illnesses including stress-related eating and obesity (12). It can significantly reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels and feelings of stress (13).
It can increase muscle mass with exercise…
In a study of young males starting weight training over 8 weeks, there was a significantly bigger improvement in muscle mass and strength in those taking ashwagandha supplements, than placebo. They also had significantly less injuries, greater loss of body fat and a much greater increase in testosterone levels (14). A very impressive result and a good supplement to consider if wanting to get better results from your workouts!
Ashwaghanda has promising results for improving sexual function in men and women…
A small study of women with issues of low libido, vaginal dryness and difficulty reaching orgasm found a significant improvement taking Ashwagandha twice a day for 8 weeks (15). A study showed significant improvement in the chemicals required for male fertility and sperm production and semen quality when taken at 5g/day for 3 months in infertile males (16), (17). These trials suggest Ashwagandha would be a good choice for men wishing to improve their fertility.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – Animal studies show Ashwagandha may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity (17).
- Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia – A disease of the adrenal gland affecting cortisol and other hormone levels, a monitored rare case study showed significant improvement in both hormone levels and hair loss with 6 months of Ashwagandha treatment (18).
- Immune boosting – Animal studies showed a significant improvement in all immune markers when fed a tincture of Ashwagandha root for 4 weeks (19). A small human study also showed immune system improvement over 96 hours (20).
- Pthalate toxicity – May help reduce the damage that phthalates (used in making plastics) do to our body, read more about the dangers of common chemicals and toxins on our site (21).
- Anti-cancer – Several of the natural compounds found in Ashwagandha are being investigated for their promising ability to kill cancer cells (22), (23), (24), (25), (26).
- Anti-diabetic and cholesterol lowering – Ashwaghanda has been shown to significantly lower blood sugar and cholesterol when raised (27).
WAYS TO USE ASHWAGANDHA
Take it as a tea – Add 1 tsp Ashwagandha powder to 1 cup of hot water and honey to taste. Mix well and drink. If you have any underlying medical conditions or are on any medications check Ashwagandha is suitable for you with a medical herbalist or doctor.
Ashwagandha milk – Many Ayurvedic herbs are traditionally taken with milk, it has been shown in some cases e.g. turmeric that this aids absorption. Ashwagandha milk is made by adding 1-2 tsp of powder to 2 cups of milk, 1/8th tsp of cardamon and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and heating gently in a pan for 15 minutes then adding honey to taste. This can be drunk daily.
Ashwagandha hot chocolate – To make it taste better for children (and adults!) add 3-5 tsp of organic cocoa powder to the Ashwagandha milk and cream or coconut milk to make it more indulgent.
Add it to soup – Add 1 tsp of dried sliced root to immune boosting chicken soups (good with ginger, goji berries and astragalus) or into bone broth when slow cooking for extra benefit.
Take it as a supplement – Ashwagandha can be taken as a supplement – Cytoplan is a great brand and organic. Take as directed by your healthcare practitioner.