Medically Reviewed By Elizabeth A. Swick, MS, RDN
Adaptogenic Benefits of Ashwagandha
Following the natural health and wellness scene, you've likely heard of ashwagandha. More people are using ashwagandha supplement products to support health and well-being. With all the hype, you may wonder, "what is ashwagandha good for and what is it exactly?" Read on to learn more about the herb and its potential benefits.
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is an extract from a small plant that produces orange fruits resembling tomatoes. It is naive to India, North Africa, and the Middle East. For thousands of years, practitioners of the natural healing tradition of Ayurveda have used ashwagandha as a remedy for various illnesses, ailments, and diseases.
The name of the herb comes from the Sanskrit phrase "smell of the horse," a reference to its earthy scent and traditional use for energy support. You'll sometimes see the herb called Indian winter cherry or Indian ginseng.
Benefits of Ashwagandha Supplements
Research into the benefits of ashwagandha is ongoing. Based on the current evidence gathered through previous studies, ashwagandha may offer all of the following benefits.
May Lower Stress Hormones
Ashwagandha belongs to a category of botanicals called adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens may help the body better adapt and respond to stress and could potentially reduce the harmful effects of stress on the body.
Substances in ashwagandha have been shown to interfere with the actions of stress hormones like cortisol. Your body releases cortisol in response to stress, and the chemical then activates the nervous system to prepare your body to fight or run from the threat. Cortisol levels can stay elevated when stress persists over long periods and cause health problems. Ashwagandha may benefit the body by supporting healthy cortisol levels during periods of stress.
May Reduce Stress and Anxiety
By helping the body maintain healthy cortisol levels, ashwagandha might alleviate some of the physical and mental signs of stress. One study found that people who took ashwagandha extract for eight weeks perceived their stress levels as lower than those who took a placebo.
Stress has also been shown to worsen anxiety, and some experts believe ashwagandha may ease anxiety symptoms. One study revealed lower rates of anxiety symptoms among people who took an ashwagandha supplement compared to a group given a placebo.
May Balance Mood Naturally
Research indicates that ashwagandha may help to support a more balanced mood. Studies have revealed that it may benefit people with depression or bipolar disorder. However, there is not enough evidence to show that it is a suitable replacement for medications prescribed to treat these conditions.
May Improve Brain Function
Stress can have a negative impact on how your mind works. By easing the effects of stress on the body, ashwagandha may enhance cognitive function and act as a memory-booster. In one small study, adults who took ashwagandha for eight weeks saw improvements in memory, attention span, and faster information processing speeds than a placebo group.
May Improve Sleep Quality
Taking ashwagandha may help you get a better night's sleep. A 12-week study found that people who took the herb instead of a placebo experienced improved sleep quality and felt more alert when they woke up in the morning. The herb's effects on the body's stress response are likely the source of its potential benefits as a natural sleep aid.
May Enhance Athletic Performance
Many athletes take adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha to support athletic performance. Research indicates that the herb may combat fatigue and enhance endurance during workouts and athletic competition. In addition, ashwagandha may increase maximum oxygen consumption during exercise. One study even found that people who took ashwagandha and completed a resistance training workout for eight weeks saw more significant gains in muscle strength and size than those who trained and took a placebo.
May Address Inflammation
A substance in ashwagandha called withaferin A or WA may help regulate the body's inflammatory response. Research indicates that WA interrupts the transmission of signals that trigger inflammation and reduces the presence of proteins that contribute to inflammation. This may be why ayurvedic practitioners report success using ashwagandha to address symptoms of inflammatory conditions.
May Aid in Blood Sugar Regulation
Another potential benefit of WA is blood sugar regulation. A systematic review of 24 studies found that people taking ashwagandha were likelier to have lower blood sugar levels and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) than those who didn't. Scientists speculate that WA may deliver these benefits by encouraging cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream.