What are the benefits of Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha, is it the gateway to less stress and increased performance?
Our head of nutrition, Sheridan Skye breaks it down for you in detail.
Ashwagandha is a herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It is an adaptogenic herb that has become a popular way to promote natural health and well-being. But what exactly are adaptogens? Simply put, adaptogens are herbs that help the body to better cope with stress. When taken regularly, adaptogens can help improve energy levels, mental clarity, and overall resistance to stress. While there is still much research to be done on the exact mechanisms of action, it is believed that adaptogens work by helping to regulate the adrenal system. This, in turn, helps the body better deal with physical, emotional, and mental stressors. Many different adaptogenic herbs are available, each with its unique benefits. Some of the most popular include Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, and holy basil. Today we will be focusing our attention on Ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha is a versatile herb that can be used to treat a variety of conditions. In recent years, Ashwagandha has gained popularity as a natural treatment for anxiety and stress. Preliminary research suggests that Ashwagandha may help reduce stress hormone cortisol levels, potentially providing relief from symptoms of anxiety and stress. Ashwagandha is also sometimes used as a natural sleep aid, as it may help reduce anxiety levels and promote relaxation.
Other potential benefits of Ashwagandha
- Increased Testosterone
- Increase in muscle size
- Increased strength
Stress and anxiety
Ashwagandha is a herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Proponents of this herb claim that it can help to reduce cortisol levels and promote feelings of calm. A study by K. Chandrasekhar et al reported that Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.
Most people know that getting a good night’s sleep is essential for their health. But many don’t realise that sleep is crucial for recovery from illness or injury. When we sleep, our bodies can repair damaged cells and tissues, and we also experience a release of hormones that help to reduce inflammation. In addition, sleep helps to boost our immune system, making us less likely to get sick in the first place. For all these reasons, it’s essential to ensure that we get enough rest after any type of physical activity, particularly if we’ve been injured. Research suggests that Ashwagandha improves sleep quality, but it’s unclear if the supplement directly affects sleep or if sleep is enhanced by decreasing stress. Either way, it’s a win.
Muscle Growth and Strength Gains
The research on strength training and Ashwagandha supplementation is quite impressive. Some might say even too impressive (but I am a sceptic by nature ha!). However, a systematic review by Bonilla et al. (2021) reported the following:
The findings of this comprehensive systematic review and Bayesian meta-analysis revealed that Ashwagandha supplementation was more efficacious than placebo for improving variables related to strength/power, cardiorespiratory fitness and fatigue/recovery in healthy men and female. In fact, the probability of at least a small effect size on physical performance favoring subjects supplemented with Ashwagandha is very high (<95%). However, more comparable studies in exercisers/athletes are needed to derive a more stable estimate of the true underlying effect of the consumption of this aqueous herbal extract in trained individuals.
The same review went on to say that limited evidence was available that showed an increase in trained lifters was less likely to offer the same results.
Testosterone is one of the essential hormones in muscle growth and recovery. This hormone is produced by the testes in men and the ovaries in women. It plays a critical role in several different bodily functions. In terms of muscle growth, testosterone helps to stimulate protein synthesis, which can lead to increased muscle mass. It also promotes the release of stored energy from fat cells, providing a source of fuel for working muscles. In terms of recovery, testosterone helps to reduce inflammation and promote tissue repair. It also encourages the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to muscles and help to reduce fatigue. As a result, testosterone plays a vital role in muscle growth and recovery. Several studies have looked at the effects of Ashwagandha supplementation on testosterone levels. One study reported that testosterone levels were increased by 14.3% compared to the placebo group (the group that didn’t take the supplement). Again, it would be interesting to determine if the supplement has a direct correlation with testosterone levels or if by improving stress and sleep quality, testosterone increases (it wouldn’t be surprising if this were the case).
Limitations in the research
While there is some evidence worth considering regarding Ashwagandha supplementation, the research has some limitations. For example, one study that reported on the benefits ashwagandha supplementation had on anxiety excluded participants if they had existing anxiety. Another example includes a published study that did not include a placebo-controlled study (which means they did not have one group who supplemented and another group who did not), so the results in this study should be considered with caution. With that said, while more research is needed to confirm the purported health benefits of Ashwagandha, this versatile herb may be worth trying for those looking for a natural way to improve their health and well-being.
How much should you take?
Higher doses were preferred for trained individuals and athletes; therefore, 300–500 mg twice daily (morning and before sleep) might be a safe supplementation protocol. However, we are aware that further research is needed to individualise accordingly.
Yours in health,
Adrian L. Lopresti,1,2 Peter D. Drummond,1 and Stephen J. Smith. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study Examining the Hormonal and Vitality Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Aging, Overweight Males
Diego A. Bonilla, Yurany Moreno, Camila Gho, Jorge L. Petro, Adrián Odriozola-Martínez and Richard B. Kreider. Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) on Physical Performance: Systematic Review and Bayesian Meta-Analysis
Bonilla DA, Moreno Y, Gho C, Petro JL, Odriozola-Martínez A, Kreider RB. Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) on Physical Performance: Systematic Review and Bayesian Meta-Analysis. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2021 Feb 11;6(1):20. doi: 10.3390/jfmk6010020. PMID: 33670194; PMCID: PMC8006238.
Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S., & Joshi, K. (2017). Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment with Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 22(1), 96–106.
Jaysing S, Sucheta P, Khokan D, Deepak L. Adaptogenic and anxiolytic effects of ashwagandha root extract in healthy adults: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study. Cureus. 2019;11(12).
K. Chandrasekhar, Jyoti Kapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty. A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults