Fact Checked By Leah Goebel, MS, RDN
August 25, 2021
Herbal medicines have been long used as a natural way to heal or alleviate certain ailments.
It is estimated that over 80 percent of people worldwide utilize them in some way to benefit their health (1).
One example of a medicinal herb that has gained recent popularity is Ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha is a small shrub that grows in South Asia, Central Asia, and Africa.
While its botanical name is Withania somnifera, it is often referred to by many other names, including winter cherry and Indian ginseng.
Ashwagandha is a medicinal herb that has been used for over 3,000 years and studied for its many potential health benefits (2).
It is classified as an adaptogen, meaning it may help our bodies to deal with different types of physical and mental stress (3).
This is associated with many potential health benefits.
This includes helping to control blood sugar levels, reduce anxiety, support heart health, and reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
This article will discuss each of these potential benefits and help you to find out if Ashwagandha is right for you.
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Ashwagandha has long been thought to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Studies have shown that Ashwagandha may help to reduce inflammation and promote activity in certain types of white blood cells (4).
White blood cells are one of our bodies defense mechanisms for fighting off infections and viruses.
In turn, Ashwagandha may help to support a healthy immune system.
Studies have shown that it may also help to treat certain inflammatory conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis (5).
Antioxidants are compounds that can help our body to deal with oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress can cause DNA damage and inflammation in our bodies, which can lead to many life-long diseases, including cancer.
Ashwagandha is thought to have antioxidant properties which can help alleviate oxidative stress and prevent or improve associated conditions.
For example, in numerous animal studies, Ashwagandha has shown to impede the growth of new cancer cells (6).
While these are only animal studies, they are promising.
Further research is needed to determine the relationship of Ashwagandha and cancer cell growth in humans.
Ashwagandha may also be helpful for supporting heart health.
It has shown to help improve many key numbers associated with heart health, including cholesterol and triglycerides.
For example, in one study, participants taking the highest dosage of Ashwagandha showed significant improvements in their cholesterol and triglyceride numbers (7).
Overall, they showed a 17 percent decrease in LDL cholesterol and 11 percent decrease in total triglycerides.
LDL cholesterol is often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, and higher numbers are associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
One study also found that Ashwagandha was associated with improvements in endurance during cardio exercise in adults (8).
Another area that is being studied is the effects of Ashwagandha on blood sugar.
While having some sugar in our blood is needed for our body to function properly, too high of blood sugar can lead to serious complications (9).
Individuals with diabetes have difficulties maintaining normal blood sugar levels and generally need medical intervention.
Studies have shown that Ashwagandha may help to reduce blood sugar levels in healthy individuals and those with diabetes (10).
Preliminary studies have also shown that it may help to improve insulin sensitivity in muscle cells (11).
Insulin sensitivity is a major problem in those with type two diabetes.
More human studies are needed to further determine Ashwagandha’s effect on insulin sensitivity.
Studies have shown that Ashwagandha can help to reduce cortisol levels in the body by up to 30 percent (12).
Cortisol is a hormone that acts as the body’s natural alarm system.
It is involved in regulating blood pressure, stress, blood sugar levels, and your sleep/wake cycle.
It is thought that helping to reduce chronically high cortisol levels can positively impact mood and stress.
Ashwagandha is possibly most well known for its possible effects on anxiety and depression.
Many studies have supported this hypothesis.
For example, in one study, participants taking Ashwagandha showed a 69 percent decrease in anxiety symptoms (13).
This was compared to an 11 percent decrease in the placebo group.
Many other studies have shown similar results, strengthening the thought that Ashwagandha can be a useful tool in treating anxiety (14).
Although depression has been studied less compared to anxiety, similar positive results have also been observed (15).
In one study, participants taking Ashwagandha showed a 79 percent decrease in depression symptoms.
This was compared to a 10 percent decrease in the placebo group.
More research is needed to fully understand the effects of Ashwagandha on depression.
Finding the right product and dosage
Ashwagandha is commonly found in a supplement form, as a pill or powder.
Since supplements are not regulated, it can be difficult to find a product that you can trust.
If buying ashwagandha supplements, look for ones that are manufactured in an FDA certified lab. This will ensure you get a quality product.
Studied doses of Ashwagandha can range from 125 milligrams to 5 grams per day.
This will vary depending on your size and the health benefits you are looking to accomplish.
Talk with your doctor or dietitian to determine the correct dosage.
They can also help you to ensure there are no drug interactions or contraindications for taking Ashwagandha.
As always, do not stop any current treatment plans that you have been prescribed before talking to your doctor or dietitian.
Ashwagandha is a medicinal herb that has been taken for centuries due to anecdotal evidence of its potential health benefits.
New research continues to support many of these findings.
Ashwagandha may be helpful for a variety of health ailments, including heart health, inflammation, and mental health (especially anxiety).
While some areas still need more research, the results are very promising.
Consult with your doctor or dietitian to find out if Ashwagandha is right for you, and start reaping the benefits!
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