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Ashwagandha: Uses and Benefits


Ashwagandha root, powder, and capsule

Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that helps us manage life’s stressors.  It helps the body modulate stress by allowing it to adapt to various environmental factors while avoiding damage or injury.  This defines flexibility - the more flexible an organism can be in changing circumstances, the more successful it will become.  And isn’t that how we find ourselves these days?  With increasing speed, it seems our circumstances  are changing all the time.  For this and many other reasons, it has become so important to continually support our bodies, so that our body can help us not only survive, but to thrive under these new and constantly changing pressures.  


I was recently asked to discuss the benefits and uses of ashwagandha, specifically, for treating anxiety in an article by Rebecca Strong of Askmen.com.  Ashwagandha has been shown to support the body in a variety of different ways, from boosting energy levels to supporting insomnia, aiding neurological function and exercise recovery.  Ashwagandha contains withanolides, which are naturally occurring steroidal lactones that have been shown to boost the immune system by upregulating antioxidants and dampening its inflammatory effects.  Studies have shown that using ashwagandha can help alleviate anxiety through HPA axis interactions, and has even been shown to support reproductive and sexual health.


askmen.com article by Rebecca Strong

In a double-blind placebo-controlled study, high concentrations of full spectrum ashwagandha root was shown to improve stress resistance, and also improved an individual’s perceived stress levels.  The same study also demonstrated statistically significant lower levels of serum cortisol after 60 days of use.  


In a 10-week study designed to assess the effects of ashwagandha on insomnia and sleep quality, subjects were instructed to use 300 mg twice daily.  They were compared against a placebo group and assessed on various sleep parameters including total sleep time, wake after sleep onset, and sleep efficiency.  Sleep quality was assessed using the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index (PSQI).  Mental alertness and anxiety were also measured.  Findings suggested that ashwagandha use was well tolerated, and showed improvements in every category measured, indicating the use of ashwagandha for supporting sleep quality and sleep onset latency as well as anxiety.  With so many known side effects of medically based sleep aids, as well as the poor sleep architecture that they provide, ashwagandha can be a great alternative solution for those with sleep struggles. Limitations of the study included the need for longer term studies, as well as varying methods for measuring sleep parameters.  


Though research is still in its infancy, there is some that supports the use of ashwagandha in sports, exercise, and performance. In the 8-week long study, ashwagandha was tested in athletes and shown to improve  both endurance and exercise recovery in a meaningful way. Because the plant harbors the ability to provide the organism with protection against the harmful physical, chemical, biological, and psychological effects of a variety of stressors, the body can maintain its homeostasis more effectively.  This may, with longer term study, prove to show a decline in the effects of aging, ultimately promoting longevity.  


Ashwagandha is a shrub found in India, Africa, and the Middle East.  The root is what is used medicinally for supplementation, so it is not something that is readily found in our daily diets, and therefore requires the use of supplementation.   Because supplements are not regulated by the FDA, it is important to ensure your supplement is GMP certified.  This certification indicates that the products are consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards.  Generally, a well tolerated dose is anywhere from 300-500 mg twice daily, though higher doses can be tolerated when monitored by your healthcare provider.  


In my clinical experience, I have not seen any side effects of long term use, however, long term use studies are lacking.  A few side effects to watch out for include loose stools or diarrhea, drowsiness, and stomach pains.  Though ashwagandha has been shown to improve thyroid levels of those with hypothyroid, take caution if you are known to have a hyperactive thyroid, as it can induce thyroid storm.  Those with autoimmune, or advanced liver disease should also avoid ashwagandha as it can activate the immune system and stimulate glutathione production to the point of toxicity.  Less common side effects include hallucinations, drowsiness, nasal drip, dry mouth, decreased appetite, hyperacidity, skin rash, blurred vision, nighttime cramps and weight gain.  If you experience any of these, discontinue use, and contact your healthcare provider.  


I typically use ashwagandha in patients who display fatigue acutely or chronically. I encourage people to add it into their regimen, (or increase its dosage if already on it) when they are going through a particularly stressful time. We usually qualify this as an emotional stress, such as work or relationship related. Remember though, that the body defines stress as anything that takes it out of homeostasis. Therefore, if you are having a tough week of sleep, a deadline at work, an upcoming sports event requiring more training, or you are getting over a cold - these are all opportunities to support your body as it depletes its resources to keep you going. Additional ways to support yourself include making sure you eat healthy, whole foods, and fats, support yourself with early bedtimes, magnesium, rhodiola, l-theanine, vitamin C, and zinc to name a few - and schedule an appointment for more help.


To read more about ashwagandha, make sure to check out Askmen.com.  For more on Soul Minded Living, or to learn about how Functional Medicine can help you discover the healthiest, strongest, most optimized version of yourself, visit our website. If you are interested in becoming a Soul Minded Patient, schedule a Free Discovery Call anytime.


Here are a few of my favorite Ashwagandha Supplements:






References:

  1. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62. doi: 10.4103/0253-7176.106022. PMID: 23439798; PMCID: PMC3573577.

  2. Langade D, Kanchi S, Salve J, Debnath K, Ambegaokar D. Efficacy and safety of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root extract in insomnia and anxiety: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Cureus. 2019;11(9):e5797. doi:10.7759/cureus.5797

  3. Tiwari S, Gupta SK, Pathak AK. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial on the effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera dunal.) root extract in improving cardiorespiratory endurance and recovery in healthy athletic adults. J Ethnopharmacol. 2021;272:113929. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2021.113929

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