We have noticed over the years that ashwagandha is getting tons of attention within multiple wellness communities, and for good reason. In particular, ashwagandha continues to be a subject of interest in both alternative and mainstream medicine. However, you might still be wondering what exactly it is, how’s it even used, does it have any benefits, etc.? Well, luckily for you, we’ll highlight all your questions here today.
What Exactly is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha, also known as “Withania somnifera”, is a prominent herb in Indian Ayurvedic medicine and has become increasingly popular as a dietary supplement in the West. Ashwagandha is often referred to as “Indian ginseng” due to its rejuvenating properties, though it’s botanically unrelated to true ginseng. The name “ashwagandha” itself is Sanskrit, meaning “smell of the horse”, which refers to its unique smell and the belief that it imparts the vigor and strength of a stallion. Its roots are the most commonly used part of the plant in traditional medicine.
Renowned for its adaptogenic properties, not only does ashwagandha contain several bioactive compounds, including withanolides, alkaloids, and saponins, it’s also available in various forms, including capsules, powders, extracts and now MINTS. The root and leaf extracts are the most commonly used parts of the plant. Keep in mind, the appropriate dosage can vary depending on the form and concentration of the product.
When Was Ashwagandha Discovered and How Was It Discovered?
Ashwagandha has been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, so pinpointing an exact date of “discovery” in the modern sense isn’t straightforward. The use of ashwagandha is well-documented in ancient Indian texts, including the “Charaka Samhita” and the “Sushruta Samhita”, which date back to around 600 BC and 200 BC, respectively.
These texts, among the oldest known Ayurvedic scriptures, indicate that ashwagandha was already a well-known and widely used medicinal plant by that time. In fact, in Ayurveda, ashwagandha is classified as a “Rasayana”, which means it’s considered an herb that helps maintain youth, both mentally and physically. Its history is deeply intertwined with the cultural and spiritual practices of India.
The use of ashwagandha was likely discovered through a combination of close observation of nature, trial & error, and the passing down of knowledge through oral traditions. Healers and practitioners of Ayurveda observed the effects of various plants and herbs on the human body, and ashwagandha was found to have several beneficial properties. Therefore, it’s likely that the knowledge of ashwagandha’s properties was passed down through those said oral traditions long before these texts were written.
Now, in terms of Western recognition and scientific study, ashwagandha began to gain more attention in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries as researchers began exploring its benefits and active compounds more thoroughly. This has played a significant role in popularizing it globally.
What are the Potential Benefits of Ashwagandha?
Scientific research on ashwagandha is ongoing, and while some studies have shown promising results, more data is needed to fully understand its effects and potential benefits.
Potential Benefit #1: Stress & Anxiety Reduction
Ashwagandha is best known for its stress-reducing effects. You see, as an adaptogen, ashwagandha helps the body to adapt to and manage stress more effectively. Not only that, but it’s believed to lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Also, it appears to regulate the body’s response to stress by balancing the functioning of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is central to the body’s stress response. Some studies even suggest that ashwagandha has anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects, which can help in calming the mind and reducing anxiety, a common component of stress.
Potential Benefit #2: Cognitive Health
There is growing interest in its potential to support cognitive function, including memory and brain health. Basically, ashwagandha is believed to have neuroprotective properties, potentially helping to protect the brain against various types of cognitive decline. Some studies suggest that ashwagandha may improve memory, brain function, and reaction times. It’s thought to promote antioxidant activity that protects nerve cells from harmful free radicals.
Potential Benefit #3: Physical Performance
There is a bit of evidence suggesting that ashwagandha may improve physical performance, coupled with reducing one’s body fat percentage. Some studies suggest that ashwagandha may help increase energy levels and improve stamina – vital for physical performance, especially in endurance sports or intense physical activities.
There is also evidence to suggest that ashwagandha may contribute to muscle strength and recovery. Specifically, it may aid in muscle growth and reduce the recovery time after exercise. This is crucial for athletes and individuals engaged in regular physical training.
Plus, some research indicates that ashwagandha may improve cardiovascular endurance, potentially enhancing an individual’s ability to perform intense physical activities for longer periods. And, by also combating fatigue, ashwagandha can help individuals perform better in physical activities, especially those that require sustained effort over a period of time.
Potential Benefit #4: Reduced Inflammation and Pain
The anti-inflammatory effects of ashwagandha are primarily attributed to its bioactive compounds, such as withanolides, which’re thought to help reduce inflammation in the body. Here’s how ashwagandha may exhibit anti-inflammatory properties:
- Inhibition of Inflammatory Markers: Ashwagandha may suppress the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are signaling molecules that promote inflammation. By reducing these cytokines, ashwagandha can help lessen inflammation.
- Oxidative Stress Reduction: It has antioxidant properties that may help in reducing oxidative stress, which is often linked to inflammation. This action can indirectly contribute to its anti-inflammatory effects.
- Modulating Immune Response: Ashwagandha can influence the immune system, potentially aiding in the regulation of immune responses that can lead to inflammation.
- Inhibiting NF-kB Activation: NF-kB is a protein complex that plays a crucial role in regulating immune response to infection. Ashwagandha may inhibit the activation of NF-kB, thereby reducing inflammation.
Note: While these properties are promising, more research, especially human clinical trials, is needed to fully understand the extent of ashwagandha’s anti-inflammatory effects and its practical applications in treating inflammatory conditions..
Potential Benefit #5: Sleep and Energy
Ashwagandha may have a calming effect and help improve sleep quality. Stress often affects sleep patterns. Hence, it can improve sleep quality, thereby indirectly helping in stress management. And, by reducing anxiety and improving sleep, ashwagandha can enhance overall mental well-being, making it easier to manage stress as we touched upon earlier. Also, some users also report increased energy levels.
Potential Benefit #6: Immune System Support
Ashwagandha is also thought to bolster the immune system, as we have covered the other benefits that contribute to this, although more research is needed to confirm this.
Does Ashwagandha Cause Any Side Effects?
Yes, ashwagandha can cause side effects in some individuals. These side effects are generally mild but can include:
- Gastrointestinal Issues: Some people may experience stomach upset, diarrhea, or vomiting when taking ashwagandha.
- Drowsiness: Ashwagandha is known for its calming effects, which can sometimes lead to drowsiness. This can be beneficial for people with insomnia, but it might be problematic during activities that require alertness.
- Thyroid Hormone Interaction: Ashwagandha might increase thyroid hormone levels, so it should be used cautiously in people with thyroid conditions.
- Allergic Reactions: Though rare, some individuals might have allergic reactions to ashwagandha, such as rashes, itching, or breathing difficulties.
- Blood Sugar and Blood Pressure: It may lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels, which could be an issue for people with diabetes or hypotension, or those taking medications for these conditions.
Ashwagandha Continues to Grow in Popularity Due to Its Remarkable Effects
As you can see, ashwagandha has a lot to offer. However, it’s important to note that individual responses to it may vary, and its effects can be influenced by factors such as dosage, personal tolerance, and one’s overall health.