Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that’s popular in Ayurvedic medicine and is valued for its thyroid-modulating, neuroprotective, anti-anxiety, antidepressant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is botanically known as Withania Somnifera and is a member of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family.
It’s been used for more than 3000 years and is actually the most commonly used and extensively researched adaptogen herb (1).
In India, ashwagandha is known as the “strength of the stallion” because it has traditionally been used to strengthen the immune system after an illness. Like all adaptogenic herbs, ashwagandha helps the body to maintain homeostasis, even in moments of emotional or physical stress. But the many ashwagandha benefits don’t stop there.
Ashwagandha can increase muscle and strength. A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Ayurveda Research showed that ashwagandha may increase strength and improve body composition (2).
Another 2012 study showed that healthy men who took 750–1,250 mg of ashwagandha per day gained muscle strength after 30 days (3).
Lastly, a 2015 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition demonstrated that participants who supplemented with ashwagandha had significantly greater gains in muscle size and strength (4).
Ashwagandha can help lower cortisol. A 2012 study was designed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha roots in reducing stress and anxiety and in improving the general well-being of adults who were under stress (5).
64 subjects with a history of chronic stress were enrolled into the study. They were randomized to either the placebo control group or the study drug treatment group, and were asked to take one capsule twice a day for a period of 60 days. In the study drug treatment group, each capsule contained 300 mg of high-concentration full-spectrum extract from the root of the Ashwagandha plant.
After 60 days the results showed that a high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.
Another 2009 study showed that ashwagandha supplementation improved semen quality in stress related infertility (6).
Lastly, a study done on chronically stressed adults showed a 30% reduction in cortisol (on average) for those who supplemented with ashwagandha (7).
Ashwagandha has been shown to lower blood sugar levels. A 2013 study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology demonstrated that people with schizophrenia who were treated with ashwagandha had an average reduction in fasting blood sugar levels of 13.5 mg/dL, compared to 4.5 mg/dL in those who received a placebo (8).
Another 2015 test-tube study found that ashwagandha supplementation increased insulin secretion and improved insulin sensitivity in muscle cells (9).
Ashwagandha fights depression. In one controlled 60-day study in 64 stressed adults, those who took 600 mg of ashwagandha per day reported a 79% reduction in severe depression, while the placebo group reported a 10% increase (10).
However, only one of the participants in this study had a history of depression. For this reason, the relevance of the results is unclear.
Ashwagandha can boost testosterone. One 2013 study with infertile men as subjects who supplemented with 675mg/day of ashwagandha for 90 days showed a ~17% boost in T, with a ~36% increase in luteinizing hormone (LH), suggesting that ashwagandha stimulates testosterone production at brain level (11).
Another 2015 study showed that 600mg per day of ashwagandha (using KSM-66 extract), showed a significant ~15% increase in testosterone levels (average rise from 630 ng/dL to 726 ng/dL (12).
Ashwagandha fights and protects against cancer. A 2014 animal study showed that ashwagandha cause cancer cell death (apoptosis) (13).
Not only that, but another 2015 study showed that it may cause cancer cells to become less resistant to apoptosis (14).
According to the first 2014 study, ashwagandha is believed to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are toxic to cancer cells but not normal cells (15).
In one study, mice with ovarian tumors treated with ashwagandha alone or in combination with an anti-cancer drug had a 70–80% reduction in tumor growth. The treatment also prevented the spread of cancer to other organs (20).
Ashwagandha helps calm you down. A 2015 study showed that ashwagandha blocked the stress pathway in the brains of rats by regulating chemical signaling in the nervous system (21).
A 2 month long study showed that those who supplemented with ashwagandha versus a placebo resulted in a 69% average reduction in anxiety and insomnia, compared to 11% in the placebo group (25).
In another six-week study (2000) published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry showed that 88% of people who took ashwagandha reported a reduction in anxiety, compared to 50% of those who took a placebo (26).
Ashwagandha can improve memory. An eight-week study done in 2017 involving 50 adults, showed that taking 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily significantly improved general memory, task performance and attention (27).
One 2012 study published in Neurochemical Research showed that epileptic rats treated with ashwagandha had nearly a complete reversal of spatial memory impairment (28).
Ashwagandha can increase fertility in men. In one 2009 study, men who received ashwagandha for stress experienced higher antioxidant levels and better sperm quality. After three months of treatment, 14% of the men’s partners had become pregnant (29).
Another study involving 75 infertile men, the group treated with ashwagandha showed increased sperm count and motility (30).
Ashwagandha can lower triglycerides. A 2007 study done with rats found that ashwagandha supplementation lowered triglycerides by nearly 45% and total cholesterol by as much as 53% (30).
Another 60-day study done with chronically stressed adults showed that the group taking the highest dosage of ashwagandha experienced a 17% decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol and an 11% decrease in triglycerides, on average (31).
Ashwagandha can help with arthritis. One 2015 study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research found the ashwagandha herb to have strong potential as a treatment option for rheumatoid arthritis (32).
Ashwagandha helps treat Alzheimer’s. A meta-analysis published in the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine, several studies have examined ashwagandha’s ability to slow or prevent loss of brain function in people with diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s (33).
Ashwagandha can reduce inflammation.
A 2010 study done with humans found that ashwagandha increases the activity of natural killer cells, which are immune cells that fight infection and help you stay healthy (34).
It has also been shown to decrease markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (CRP). This marker is linked to an increased risk of heart disease (35).
Ashwagandha doesn’t have any long term proof of safety in humans. Ashwagandha is generally considered well-tolerated in small to medium doses. However, there haven’t been enough long-term studies to examine possible side effects.
Ashwagandha can interact negatively with autoimmune diseases. 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.
Pregnant women should avoid using ashwagandha because it can cause early delivery.
Ashwagandha isn’t regulated by the FDA. Another potential concern for Ayurvedic herbs is that the manufacturers aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means they aren’t held to the same standards as pharmaceutical companies and food producers.
Ashwagandha products can be contaminated with heavy metals. One study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found that 21 percent of 193 products(made in both the United States and India) had levels of lead, mercury, and/or arsenic that were above what’s considered acceptable for human daily intake (36).
The dosage and the way ashwagandha is used depends on the condition you’re trying to treat. There isn’t a standard dosage that’s been studied by modern clinical trials.
Ashwagandha may be used in powdered form in dosages ranging from 450 milligrams to 2 grams. You can buy it in capsules, powders, or as a liquid extract from health food or supplement stores.
Ashwagandha dosages in studies typically ranged from 125–1,250 mg daily. In studies where different dosages were taken, the higher dosage usually produced the most dramatic improvements.
If you want to supplement with ashwagandha, look for root extract or powder in 450–500 mg capsules and take it once or twice per day.
Q: What does ashwagandha do for the body?
A: Ashwagandha is also used as an “adaptogen” to help the body cope with daily stress, and as a general tonic. Some people also use ashwagandha for improving thinking ability, decreasing pain and swelling (inflammation), and preventing the effects of aging.
Q: Is it safe to take ashwagandha daily?
A: Yes, it is 100% safe to take normal levels of ashwagandha daily (300-500mg/day).
Q: Is Ashwagandha good for testosterone?
A: Ashwagandha will not turn you into a super virile horse-man, but some of the benefits of ashwagandha do include improving sperm quality and boosting testosterone levels.
Q: Can you take ashwagandha at night?
A: Yes, you can take it any time of the day.
Q: Can Ashwagandha cause high blood pressure?
A: No, ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb, and it is one of the most popular Ayurvedic herbs not just for lowering blood pressure, but also for reducing inflammation and stress.
Q: Is Ashwagandha beneficial for the kidneys?
A: A rat study indicated that ashwagandha may be a protective agent for the liver and kidney damage that can be induced by carbendazim.
Q: How do you take ashwagandha?
A: The recommended dose of ashwagandha root or leaf powder for both short- and long-term use is 1–2 tsp twice daily, boiled in water or mixed with milk, buttermilk, ghee, or honey. You can also have ashwagandha root or leaf extract at a dose of 600–1200 mg.
Q: Is Ashwagandha good for hair growth?
A: The antioxidants in ashwagandha effectively prevent the corrosion of tissue, reducing the possibility of premature greying. Ashwagandha is also used to stimulate the hair follicles and maintain the health of the hair.
Q: Can Ashwagandha help individuals gain weight?
A: There are some natural ayurvedic remedies, including ashwagandha that can help you gain weight in a healthy way. The best formula is to mix a glass of hot whole milk, add two tablespoons of ashwagandha powder and a teaspoon of clarified butter (ghee). Drink it twice a day for a month to gain weight.
Q: Is Ashwagandha good for arthritis?
A: If applied topically in the form of a paste made from the roots and leaves with water, it effectively reduces inflammation at the joints. For relief of stubborn joint pain without facing other side effects, opt for Ashwagandha for arthritis, a natural anti-arthritis herb.
Q: Is Ashwagandha good for sleep?
A: The Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha supports healthy sleep by rejuvenating the body and addressing stress-related exhaustion. Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) has emerged as one of the world’s most powerful adaptogens, which means it helps the adrenal system regulate hormones and helps the body cope with stress.
Ashwagandha is a well researched herb that serves many purposes and benefits many systems in the human body including, but not limited to, the neurological, immune, reproductive and endocrine systems. The most popular form of ashwagandha is the root extract, known as KSM-66, but leaf extracts are also available.
These extracts can be found in capsule and powder forms. When supplementing with ashwagandha, it’s recommended to start with 300 to 500 milligrams per day.