Ashwagandha
7 Science Backed Benefits of Ashwagandha
Author

Fact Checked by Brett Melanson, PhD

Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub that is commonly used as a medicinal herb (1,2).

The root and berry portion of this herb are traditionally used as Ayurvedic medicine in India (3).

It is primarily grown in Asia and Africa and is referred to as an adaptogen—it helps the body adapt and handle stress (4).

Here are some of the benefits of ashwagandha that are backed by science.

1. Stress relief

As mentioned, ashwagandha has been used in traditional Indian medicine for several millennia.

Traditionally, it is used to relieve stress, aid concentration, and boost energy levels (5).

Moreover, a recent review of several published studies found that ashwagandha produces significant anti-stress and anti-anxiety effects in both animals and humans, possibly by changing the way the stress response system reacts to stressors in the environment, or by changing neurochemistry in the brain (6).

Main point: Ashwagandha has traditionally been used as herbal medicine to fight and prevent the effects of stress for several millennia. It may do this by changing physiological mechanisms in the body that are required to handle stress.

2. Helps regulate blood sugar

The body requires insulin to use up the sugar we eat every day.

Insulin is a small peptide that signals cells to allow sugar to enter, which allows the cell to then break down and process the sugar for energy.

In test-tube studies, it was found that ashwagandha increased the amount of insulin released and greatly improved the ability of muscle cells to use sugar (i.e., glucose) (7).

Many human studies have also shown that ashwagandha reduces blood sugar levels in healthy (8) and chronically stressed people (9) as well as in people diagnosed with diabetes (10) or schizophrenia (11).

Main point: Ashwagandha appears to be capable of regulating blood sugar, demonstrating effectiveness in healthy people and in people diagnosed with various medical conditions.

3. Boost mental health

Although evidence for ashwagandha benefits on mental health are still under investigation, some preliminary evidence suggests that this herb can improve symptoms of depression (12,13).

A large recent review of several studies found that ashwagandha was highly effective at reducing symptoms of depression and the effects of stress.

Some of the suggested mechanisms by which it achieves these effects were proposed to involve changes in the stress response and neurotransmitter pathways that use GABA and serotonin (14).

Main point: There is some preliminary evidence that ashwagandha can help alleviate symptoms of depression, possibly by changes the way the body reacts to stress and transmits signals in the brain.

4. May enhance gains in muscle mass and increase strength

There are several studies which indicate that ashwagandha effectively improves muscle mass and increases muscle strength.

In one study, nearly 30 male participants consumed 300 mg of ashwagandha twice a day for 8 weeks while they engaged in resistance training.

Importantly, all participants had little to no experience with resistance training.

The researchers found that participants who took ashwagandha supplements while training had significantly greater muscle strength on the bench-press and leg-extension exercises, and significantly enhanced gains in arm and chest muscle size.

Importantly, they also found that ashwagandha reduced the amount of damage caused by exercise, suggesting this compound can significantly improve muscle recovery (15).

Another study found that ashwagandha supplementation (500 mg/day) significantly increased cardiovascular performance, improved feelings of weakness, and lower limb muscle strength (16).

Finally, another study reported that ashwagandha supplementation of up to 1250 mg/day for 10 days significantly improved sleep quality, reduced total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (i.e., the bad cholesterol), and increased muscle strength (17).

Main point: There are several supporting studies indicating that ashwagandha is effective at improving muscle strength and recovery.

5. Improve male fertility and increase testosterone levels

Testosterone is a primary male sex hormone responsible for regulating fertility, the production of sperm, guiding the development of sex characteristics (i.e., genitalia, etc.), and many other physiological activities (18).

It was shown that ashwagandha can increase testosterone levels in males, which was associated with significant increases in muscle strength and size (19).

Another study found that ashwagandha improved the quality of semen produced by the testes, as indicated by increased levels of testosterone and luteinizing hormone in the blood (20).

Similarly, authors of another study reported fertility-boosting effects of ashwagandha, and even suggested that this compound could be used for the clinical management and treatment of disorders involving male fertility (21).

Main point: Several lines of evidence suggest that ashwagandha improves fertility and testosterone, which may be useful in cases of infertility and in individuals trying to enhance muscle mass/strength.

6. Helps with inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury and helps promote recovery processes.

However, sometimes inflammation can worsen conditions or simply cause negative effects if unregulated (22).

Arthritis is a condition that involves chronic (long-term) inflammation, which is thought to contribute to the painful symptoms of this disorder.

Fortunately, studies in rats have shown that ashwagandha can reduce inflammation and has anti-arthritis activity, suggesting its potential use as a natural anti-arthritic treatment (23).

A similar study found that ashwagandha reduced the effects of a high-sugar diet in rats, which included a reduction in inflammatory proteins and an improved ability of cells to use and process sugar (24).

This suggests that ashwagandha may improve the inflammation often experienced in individuals with metabolic disorders (25).

As suggested, inflammation is thought to contribute to pain, and the sensation of pain is often called nociception in science.

One study found that the induction of pain in mice was associated with high levels of inflammation.

However, when these mice were treated with ashwagandha, their nociception improved (i.e., pain sensitivity was reduced) and inflammation decreased (26).

Main point: There are several studies which indicate that ashwagandha effectively reduces inflammation and improves pain sensitivity—albeit in rodents. These findings suggest that ashwagandha may be helpful for regulating inflammation in humans.

7. May improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels

Cholesterol is required for many bodily processes and triglycerides provide the body with energy under circumstances when dietary sugar is not available.

However, too much of the bad cholesterol (i.e., LDL-cholesterol) or persistently high levels of triglycerides can be detrimental and cause cardiovascular and/or metabolic issues.

Fortunately, ashwagandha was found to significantly decrease total cholesterol and triglycerides levels by 53% and 44%, respectively, in rodents with pre-existing high cholesterol levels in the blood (27).

This suggests that ashwagandha may be useful in humans to naturally regulate high levels of blood cholesterol.

Similarly cholesterol-lowering effects were also observed in several human studies (28,29,30)

Main point: Ashwagandha has been shown to improve bad cholesterol levels in both rodents and humans and reduces triglycerides. Together, these findings suggest that ashwagandha may help reduce the risk for cardiovascular issues associated with high cholesterol.

To summarize…

Ashwagandha is a natural herb typically used in traditional Indian medicine to provide anti-stress and anti-anxiety effects.

Several studies demonstrate positive effects of ashwagandha in several health domains without causing serious adverse effects.

Try adding ashwagandha to your diet with supplementary capsules and see how this powerful herb can help you combat the effects of stress and enhance your exercise performance!

As always, you should discuss any changes to your diet or lifestyle with a healthcare professional. There is limited evidence demonstrating the safety profile of ashwagandha with other drugs, and should thus be taken only when discussed with your family physician.

Author

Fact Checked by Brett Melanson, PhDc

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