An adaptogenic herb frequently used in Ayurveda healing, ashwagandha counts natural stress management properties among its claims to fame. Native to India and Northern Africa, it has long been relied on to support stamina, and in India’s traditional Ayurvedic health system, acts as a restorative tonic.
What Is Ashwagandha?
Traditionally, ashwagandha roots and berries have been used to make medicine for a variety of ailments. The Indian Ayurvedic medicine system has been using the herb for thousands of years, and today, we have research-backed benefits to support these ashwagandha uses.
You can buy ashwagandha supplements in capsule form or as an extract taken orally or applied topically.
Benefits of Ashwagandha
Medical and health benefits of ashwagandha include being a natural stress-reliever, hormone-regulator and energy-booster.
One of the most well-known ashwagandha benefits is its stress-relieving effects. One study of 64 chronically stressed volunteers showed that a high-concentration extract improved their resistance to stress. Ashwagandha for anxiety also has shown to be more effective than psychotherapy.
Researchers also found that a five-day daily dose of ashwagandha produced comparable results to common anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines) and antidepressants. In fact, the benefits were so similar that authors concluded that ashwagandha could be a mood stabilizer for anxiety and depression.
Like pharmaceutical drugs, ashwagandha produces calming effects by reducing tribulin levels in the brain—a marker for anxiety and PTSD. It’s also considered an adaptogen—herbs that help the body adjust to and fight off stress.
Since the plant’s most researched benefit is its anti-stress effect, there are clearer recommendations when it comes to dosing. Taking 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice a day for 60 days improved symptoms across several studies.
Regulates Cortisol Levels
Benefits of ashwagandha for anxiety and stress also come from its effect on cortisol levels—a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. In one study, compared to those who just took a placebo, the ashwagandha group’s cortisol levels dropped significantly. Other studies mirrored these findings. When researchers conducted blood tests on volunteers, they noticed their cortisol levels decreased after taking the herb daily.
This effect of ashwagandha on cortisol is important since high levels of stress hormones are tied to negative moods. But cortisol can also be responsible for headaches, fatigue, intestinal problems and increased blood pressure. Interestingly, cortisol also plays a role in weight gain. A 2017 study found that ashwagandha for weight loss could be effective if you're also under chronic stress. According to the research, the herb appeared to significantly improve food cravings, body weight and body mass index.
These hormone-stabilizing effects are a reason some people take ashwagandha for thyroid concerns, as supported by a 2018 study involving patients with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). However, more research needs to be conducted to better understand these effects.
Given the herb’s adaptogenic benefits, when you’re in a difficult situation, taking ashwagandha can help your body better manage stress by lowering cortisol levels.
Ashwagandha is good for athletes or anyone who wants to make the most out of their workouts. In a 2010 study, volunteers took 500 mg of ashwagandha for eight weeks, resulting in increased speed, decreased resting blood pressure and better oxygen intake during exercise.
Another study using the same dose found that ashwagandha improved aerobic stamina in elite cyclists. Research using a dose of 100 mg higher also concluded that it enhanced cardiorespiratory endurance.
The effects of ashwagandha on increased stamina are also due to its adaptogenic qualities. Whether you’re on an intense run or doing heavy lifting, the herb can help your body adjust to physical stress.
Studies on Ashwagandha
Researchers have also studied ashwagandha uses for psychological disorders, cognitive enhancement and cardiovascular health.
Research suggests that ashwagandha might help improve cognitive function in people with bipolar disorder. The calming effect could be promising for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) too. One study found it was significantly more effective than a placebo at treating symptoms.
Memory and Cognitive Performance
Taking ashwagandha for sleep or before bed may also have benefits. When we lose sleep, our learning and memory suffer. One study showed that the herb seemed to suppress negative effects of sleep deprivation. Other research shows that ashwagandha might improve memory by reducing the effects of oxidative stress on the brain. Some experts also say it could be a treatment option for cognitive impairment.
Ashwagandha also shows potential benefits for heart health. A 2000 study found that after 30 days of taking ashwagandha, the participants had reduced cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Similar findings were supported by a 2007 study in rats and a 2012 study in healthy adults, where volunteers had reduced bad cholesterol levels after 30 days of taking ashwagandha daily.
Ashwagandha in Summary
Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb backed by modern-day science. It works by stabilizing the body’s natural stress hormones, reducing the physical effects of chronic stress and anxiety. Because ashwagandha helps the body adapt to stress, it also promotes physical endurance.
For those who tend to feel an anxiety spike in the mornings or notice acute stress throughout the day, ashwagandha is a safe, natural way to ease tension and optimize energy levels.