Ashwagandha is an incredibly powerful medicinal herb which is important in Ayurvedic medicine, where it has been used for around 3,000 years.
It’s classified as an “adaptogen,” meaning that it can help your body manage stress.
For example, it has been shown to lower blood sugar levels, reduce cortisol, boost brain function and help fight symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The botanical name for ashwagandha is Withania somnifera, and the herb is a member of the nightshade family of plants.
It is sometimes known as Indian ginseng and many of its health benefits are due to its high concentration of saponins, steroidal lactones (such as withanolides and withaferins), and alkaloids (such as isopelletierine and anaferine).
However, ashwagandha not only helps us manage stress but it helps promote balance in some important systems of the body, including the endocrine and reproductive systems, immune function, and overall energy metabolism.
Here are 5 benefits of ashwagandha that are supported by science.
1. Ashwagandha is a stress-busting herbal adaptogen
Leigh Mathews at Genefood writes that chronic stress is a disease of modern society, with more than two thirds of all visits to primary care physicians related to stress and its negative effects on health. (2) Unchecked, stress can contribute to depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal ulcers, impaired immunity, and even heart disease and other cardiometabolic conditions.
Ashwagandha is known to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone associated with the physiological effects of stress. While we need some cortisol to stay alive, chronic stress can lead to persistent or extreme elevations in cortisol, with adverse effects on blood glucose regulation, blood lipids, body composition, hormone balance, digestion, sleep, immune function, and cognitive health.
In a 2005–06 multi-phase, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, people who took ashwagandha had a 30.5% reduction in serum cortisol compared to those who took placebo. (3) They also had a 32.5% increase in levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), the hormone that counterbalances the activity of cortisol.
Ashwagandha was also associated with:
- Increased energy and reduced fatigue
- Improvements in sleep
- Less irritability
- Enhanced cognition
- Enhanced overall feeling of wellbeing
Other studies have observed similar benefits for ashwagandha, including one placebo-controlled clinical trial involving 64 volunteers with a history of chronic stress. Those who took 300mg of ashwagandha twice a day had significant reductions in stress and a 27.9% decrease in serum cortisol levels after 60 days. (4)
As an adaptogen, ashwagandha helps to support the health of the adrenal glands, combating fatigue and enhancing energy levels. It also helps to reduce anxiety related to stress, and may enhance memory and cognitive function in general, while aiding relaxation. The anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects of ashwagandha may be due, in part, to the ability of its constituent withanolides to mimic the activity of the calming neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). As such, the herb appears to wind down overactivity in neurons, acting as a nerve tonic that can help lessen anxiety, promote good sleep, and elevate mood. (5)
2. Ashwagandha supports sexual function and fertility
Not only does ashwagandha help you feel more energized in general, it may also have positive effects on your libido, sexual performance, and fertility! Ashwagandha has been indicated as a potent sexual stimulant as it supports sexual health by enhancing blood flow and reducing tension. In part, this is because of the antioxidant effects of the herb. Moreover, the herb also helps to regulate hormones, including enhancing testosterone levels in men. (6)
In addition, the effect of ashwagandha in improving sexual function and fertility in men has been established in several studies. In one study in 75 infertile men, the group treated with ashwagandha showed increased sperm count and motility. What’s more, the treatment led to a significant increase in testosterone levels (7).
Women can also benefit from ashwagandha, in a study published by BioMed Research International in 2015. Fifty participants were placed into one of two groups and followed for a period of 8 weeks. One group received 300 mg of ashwagandha twice daily and the placebo group received a placebo capsule twice daily.
Results showed greater improvement in arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and the number of successful sexual encounters and improvements on two psychometric scales, the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) Questionnaire and the Female Sexual Distress Scale (FSDS). (8)
3. Ashwagandha may have anti-tumor effects
Animal and test-tube studies have found that ashwagandha helps induce apoptosis, which is the programmed death of cancer cells (9). It also impedes the growth of new cancer cells in several ways (10).
One study looked at the effect of giving Ashwagandha to mice that were fed a chemical (urethane) that causes lung cancer. Of the mice fed only the carcinogen, 100% developed cancer. Of those fed Ashwagandha along with the carcinogen only 25% developed cancer. Those mice who were fed Ashwagandha and who didn’t develop cancer had normal healthy looking lungs. 
In another experiment tumor cells were transplanted into mice. Administration of Ashwagandha to these mice at 400 mg/Kg produced complete regression of the tumor growth. 
Much of the research is preliminary, using animal models although there are no studies to confirm these results in humans yet, the research to date is encouraging.
4. Ashwagandha may help with brain health
Studies are also exploring the effect of this ancient herb on neurodegenerative diseases – such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases. Research shows that ashwagandha slows, stops, and even reverses neurological decline. This includes defending against the neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss that is a part of each of these diseases. One major study reports that Withanolide A (the active ingredient in ashwagandha) successfully “recovered both neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss.” (14)
The fact that ashwagandha can reverse or remove such atrophy and loss is especially interesting. This means that it can treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other neurodegenerative diseases at any stage of the disease. That ranges from pretreatment, before an official diagnosis is made, to ongoing treatment, after degeneration has occurred.
In addition, the antioxidant qualities of ashwagandha help to prevent brain cell damage. This supports and maintains our brains throughout life and particularly as we age.
5. Ashwagandha may help with energy levels
Ashwagandha, as an adaptogen works some real magic with stress hormones. It acts on the adrenals to signal an increase in cortisol which stabilises low blood sugar (15). When balanced, cortisol also enables the efficient burning of fat as fuel – another means of providing energy. It does this by offsetting the action of insulin, our fat storage hormone.
Ashwagandha has been used for millennia as a Rasayana for its wide ranging health benefits. Rasayana is described as an herbal or metallic preparation that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and expands happiness. These types of remedies are given to small children as tonics, and are also taken by the middle-aged and elderly to increase longevity. Among the Ayurvedic Rasayana herbs, Ashwagandha holds the most prominent place in this group of powerful fatigue fighters. Rasayana herbs are adaptogen / anti-stress agents that promote vitality.
Ashwagandha is a safe supplement for most people!
However, certain individuals should not take it, including pregnant and breastfeeding women. People with autoimmune diseases should also avoid ashwagandha unless authorized by a doctor. This includes people with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and type 1 diabetes. Additionally, those on medication for thyroid disease should be careful when taking ashwagandha, as it may potentially increase thyroid hormone levels in some people. It may also decrease blood sugar and blood pressure levels, so medication dosages may need to be adjusted if you take it.
I particularly like VPK’s Ashwagandha – as it is organic and sustainable sourced. So feel free to use this link to hop onto their site and check them out. Ashwagandha is not right for everyone though – so if you are unsure as to whether Ashwagandha is good for you, then let’s talk. Schedule your complimentary 30 minute consultation below!