What is Ashwagandha?
Withania somnifera, known as Ashwagandha, is a healing plant in the Solanaceae, or nightshade family. Its leaves and roots have been used for centuries for improved thinking, sleep, arthritis, cancer, anxiety, and more.
Ashwagandha root is popular in Ayurvedic medicine (Indian medicine) and has been used for over 3,000 years. It offers countless benefits to the body and mind. Ayurveda commonly uses it as a sleep aid and to balance various conditions that arise from ‘vata dosha’ imbalances. It encourages youth and vitality and is a grounding and nourishing herb to support well-being.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, a substance that helps the body cope with environmental challenges such as stress. Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants that help balance, protect, and restore the body. These plants are loved by the herbalist community for their ability to correct imbalances in the body and mind.
Ashwagandha offers numerous benefits to the body and mind. Balancing blood sugar, improving depression and anxiety, and improving thyroid function are just the start of Ashwagandha’s studied benefits. Studies on both animals and humans have helped us identify the wide spectrum of Ashwagandha benefits.
- Reduces stress & anxiety
- Improves thyroid function
- Reduce blood sugar levels
- Anti-cancer properties
- Reduce depression
- Increase testosterone and fertility in men
- Boosts immune system
- Improved memory and brain function
Reduces Stress & Anxiety
Just relax. This is most studied and known benefit of Ashwagandha. The measured improvements to stress and anxiety are impressive, without any notable side effects.
One study with 64 people who struggled with stress showed significant improvement in stress levels over a 60 day period. These results were from taking 300mg of high concentration extract per day. 
In a different study, 88% of participants with anxiety disorders reported a reduction in anxiety after taking Ashwagandha for six weeks, compared to 50% who took a placebo. 
In another double-blind randomized study, Ashwagandha reduced experiential and biochemical indicators of stress without any adverse effects. Specifically, it reduced serum cortisol, serum C-reactive protein, pulse rate, and blood pressure. 
- reduces stress and anxiety
- decreases c-reactive protein levels
- decreases cortisol
- improves memory formation
- may help with neurodegenerative diseases
Given the results from a range of studies over the past two decades, there is a good chance Ashwagandha can help with nervousness, anxiety, and stress.
Improves Thyroid Function
Ashwagandha has been shown to support thyroid regulation. This type of balance is natural for an adaptogen with the ability to realign and regulate the body. Rather than overcompensating one way or another, adaptogens tend to help return balance to the body. That is why this herb can be helpful for those with hypothyroid or hyperthyroid disorders.
The following double-blind randomized study showed significant results normalizing the serum thyroid stimulating hormone over the 8-week study. 
It Can Reduce Blood Sugar Levels
Ashwagandha has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels in humans with type 2 diabetes. Once again, this comes down to the balance and regulation of the body.
Several human studies have confirmed its ability to reduce blood sugar levels in healthy and diabetic people.
A test-tube study found that it increased insulin secretion and improved insulin sensitivity in muscle cells. 
In one study in people with schizophrenia, those treated with Ashwagandha for 4 weeks had an average reduction in fasting blood sugar levels of 13.5 mg/dL, compared to a 4.5 mg/dL reduction in those who received a placebo. 
It has Anti Cancer Properties
Avoid the “C” word. Crystalline steroidal (a property of Ashwagandha) was found to protect against chemically-induced cancers in rodents and stop tumor growth in mice. There is little human data on Ashwagandha’s ability to fight cancer, although the animal studies are notable.
Ashwagandha root and leaf extracts are shown to confer protection against chemically-induced cancers in experimental rodents and retard tumor xenograft growth in athymic mice. 
Another compound in Ashwagandha induces cell death in certain tumor cells. One study found this property successful in killing prostate cancer tumor cells. 
Additional studies have shown to support treatment breast, lung, colon, brain and ovarian cancer in animals.
Reduce Symptoms of Depression
Don’t worry, be happy. With Ashwagandha’s ability to fight stress, studies have shown deeper improvements to enjoyment and quality of life. Stress and hormonal balances are known causes of depression, so it’s not surprising the benefits of Ashwagandha act as a natural remedy for depression.
In a 2000 experimental study on rats, Ashwagandha efficacy was compared to the antidepressant medication imipramine. Researchers found that Ashwagandha exhibited antidepressant effects that were comparable to imipramine when rats were exposed to “behavioral despair” and “learned helplessness” tests. It was concluded that Ashwagandha can be used as a mood stabilizer in clinical conditions of depression. 
Perhaps a side-effect of balanced mood and less stress, this magical herb may also help those who are battling depression.
Increase Testosterone, Fertility, and Muscle Strength in Men
Great for pumping iron. With Ashwagandha’s strong ability to fight stress, it also creates a better environment for male fertility. The following study led to an increase in anti-oxidants and improved overall semen quality. Not only can it help your little swimmers, Ashwagandha can improve physical strength and stamina. 
Another study found that Withania somnifera not only reboots enzymatic activity of metabolic pathways and metabolism but it also invigorates the balance of reproductive hormones in infertile men. 
Another study in 2015 found out that 600mg of Ashwagandha significantly increased muscle strength and recovery in young male subjects. 
Improve Brain Function and Memory
Get more done. For focus, memory, and concentration, Ashwagandha has been proven to show benefits without over stimulation. In other words, you can enjoy the brain benefits without the jitters from stimulants such as caffeine. This herb is popular in nootropic stacks for its ability to improve focus, concentration, and mental stamina.
In a controlled study, healthy men were given 500 mg daily reported significant improvements in their reaction time and task performance, compared to those who took the placebo.
Contrary to pharmaceutical anti-anxiety drugs on the market, this herb can keep you calm and improve your mental performance.
Boosts Immune Function
Stay healthy and fit. The healing herb can help boost immune function and reduce inflammation in the body. In (mostly) animal studies, it’s been shown to modulate and boost the immune system in the following ways.  
- Increase white blood cell count – attack pathogens
- Increase platelet count – helps regulate immune responses
- Increases antibodies produced by the body
- Increases Interferon gamma levels
Stress has a negative impact on the immune system, so it’s not surprising to see immunity benefits from Ashwagandha as well.
Ashwagandha Types and Doses – Where to Find
Ashwagandha supplements are available in most vitamin and health food stores. Capsules are the most common option, but you can also find in powder form. The root extract is the most common, but leaf extracts are also available for different benefits.
Like many supplements, not all Ashwagandha products are created equal. The best sources use good manufacturing processes to avoid heavy metal concerns. Many Ayurvedic medicines include lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury. Look for certified organic supplements that are manufactured in GMP compliant facilities.
They also vary in efficacy. Supplements using an extract should be full-spectrum to maintain the balance of the various constituents as in the original herb, without over-representing any one constituent. The herb’s efficacy is believed to be derived from a complex blend of active constituents such as withanine, somniferine, tropine, and steroidal lactones called withanolides.
One of the most common questions regarding Ashwagandha is “what is the right dose to take?” The majority of studies tested ranges from 50mg – 3,000mg of Ashwagandha per day. There haven’t been major side-effects for even the higher doses, but it’s always best to start with a low intake to see how your body reacts. Given what we know from testing, you’ll likely need to consume at least 300mg – 500mg per day to experience its therapeutic benefits. It’s often recommended to take Ashwagandha with food to avoid an upset stomach.
NOW Ashwagandha Extract
These capsules are an extract, the whole roots are grounded and then, using a production process, the end product is standardized to contain 2.5% of withanolides. 90 capsules of 450 mg Ashwagandha extract.
- GMO Free
- Made in GMP facility
- Made without Gluten (by doesn’t claim to be Gluten-free)
- Nut & Soy Free
Recommended dosage: Take one capsule 2-3 times a day.
ORGANIC INDIA Ashwagandha
These capsules are synthesized from organic Ashwagandha root, not an extract. 90 capsules of 400 mg Aswagandha extract.
- USDA Certified Organic
- GMO Free
- Gluten Free
Recommended dosage: Take two capsules twice a day.
Unlike the pharmaceutic world, there is no magic dose to take. Keep a record of when you start taking Ashwagandha and record any changes you notice to your body or mind. If you are interested in taking a higher dose, start slow and gradually build up. Many of the study results were over 6 weeks or longer, so you’ll need to give it time.
How Does Ashwagandha Work?
The exact mechanisms that cause Ashwagandha to work are not entirely understood. One of the known mechanisms is the modulation of circulating levels monoamine oxidase and GABA in the brain. GABA is an amino acid that acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, to help regulate over stimulation or over-excitement in the brain (A.K.A anxiety). Animal studies demonstrate that Ashwagandha exhibits GABA-like properties to enhance calmness without sleepiness or a decrease in cognitive abilities.
Ashwagandha is believed to promote the formation of dendrites, branching neuronal extensions that convey and propagate electrochemical stimulation from cell to cell. Increased dendrite formation is considered to be a marker of increased connectivity in the brain.
Where Can I Find Ashwagandha?
Supplements with Ashwagandha root powder are easy to find. They often use 200 mg to 1,000 mg of ashwagandha root per serving.
There are many options on Amazon. Here is one of the top rated (better known) Ashwagandha supplements.
You can also buy the root powder by the ounce from companies such as Mountain Rose Herb. You can save some money with options like Mountain Rose Herb, where you can get an ounce for $2.50, which is just about a month supply if you are taking 1,000 mg per day.
Other supplements such as Calm Now, mix Ashwagandha with B-vitamins and other calming herbs to reduce stress and anxiety.
Is Ashwagandha Safe?
With the studies on both humans and animals, it appears Ashwagandha is safe to consume long-term without adverse side-effects. The herb has been tolerated well in many scenarios with benefits to muscle mass, sleep quality, stress levels, and more.
One thing to watch out for is a “Heavy Metal Warning.” If you see this on the packaging, find a different solution. This is much less common over the last decade, but some of those products are still floating around. In short, the products with loose manufacturing may include arsenic or lead and mercury. Opt for U.S. manufactured products when possible and avoid products that show a heavy metal warning on the label.
Depending on your state, there are additional precautions to consider:
Pregnancy concerns: Ashwagandha is not safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. It has abortifacient properties which may lead to miscarriage.
Hyperthyroidism: According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Ashwagandha may intensify hyperthyroidism. Many have differing viewpoints, but it’s fair to say, be careful if you have hyperthyroidism.
Medications: Ashwagandha is a mild central nervous system depressant, so it may interact with alcohol, anti-anxiety drugs or sedatives. If you are under treatment for any medical or psychiatric problems or take any prescription medications, talk with your doctor before taking Ashwagandha.
When in doubt, always listen to your body.