Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub that grows in India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. It has a long history of use in traditional medicine. For hundreds of years, people have used the roots and orange-red fruit of ashwagandha for medicinal purposes. The herb is also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry.
TRADITIONAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF ASHWAGANDHA
WHAT IS ASHWAGANDHA USED FOR?
Adaptogens support the ability of an organism to cope with stress and thereby conserve energy. Ashwagandha rejuvenates and tonifies the entire system, especially the endocrine and immune systems.
Adapting to stressful conditions
Supporting the nervous system and the endocrine system
Supporting cardiovascular and immune health
Let’s take a look at its traditional health benefits in more detail.
Stress and Anxiousness
Cortisol is a stress hormone released from the adrenals that has evolutionarily helped the body to mobilize a "fight or flight" response to a perceived imminent danger, freeing up resources for a vigorous fight against an intruder or flight from danger. Cortisol naturally follows a daily rhythm, rising in the morning to help mobilize the body's forces for the daily needs and lowering in the evening to allow the body to sleep and perform restorative processes. Between constant deadlines, financial pressures, and a steady stream of negative news, the chronic stress of modern human culture regularly activates the cortisol stress response, which can impact nervous system function. Ashwagandha has been shown to promote healthy levels of cortisol and the healthy inflammatory processes that are stimulated in the response to stress. Because stress is at the heart of many health conditions, helping the body adapt better benefits every bodily system including, healthy function of the immune, cardiovascular, and nervous systems, as well as the brain, muscles, and joints.* Healthy, normal cortisol output also supports the adrenal glands, which naturally allows the body to focus on reproductive health.
The nervous system impacts every breath, feeling, decision, and experience in our lives and is vital for overall health and well-being. Ashwagandha has been shown to support the structure and function of the nervous system, and it is also considered to be a neurosupportive and nootropic herb.* Nootropic herbs are those that promote healthy cognitive function. Ashwagandha supports healthy nervous system function by providing antioxidant support and naturally supporting the pathways in the brain for Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that's responsible for sustaining calmness and maintaining muscle tone. Ashwagandha also supports a calm and stable mood because it helps regulate natural cortisol rhythm, so it has traditionally been used as a supplement for people coping with adrenal fatigue.
In the endocrine system, the adrenals play a "starring" role; their functions are necessary for our survival while reproduction is not. As such, the HPA axis and the stress response are naturally connected to sperm production and fertility in men, and hormonal balance and fertility in women. The body produces cortisol from the same precursors used to make reproductive hormones, and, under stress, the body will preferably produce cortisol instead of testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. Ashwagandha can assist by helping to maintain already healthy cortisol levels, so the body can free up those resources to be used for reproductive hormones.*
In untrained healthy men performing resistance training for eight weeks, consuming Ashwagandha root showed that it supported healthy muscle strength and recovery. This may be because Ashwagandha promotes healthy levels of creatinine kinase, which reduces the natural muscle damage that happens from exercise and supports muscle recovery. In men, Ashwagandha has also been shown to support a healthy stress response, healthy sperm levels, and normal levels of testosterone.
Metabolically, Ashwagandha seems to have an overall anabolic action, supporting weight gain during the natural growth phase.
Ashwagandha-fortified milk given to children has been shown to support a healthy weight, as well as healthy total plasma proteins and hemoglobin levels.
It has also been shown to support normal lean body weight and fat-to-muscle ratios. Ashwagandha may also support healthy fat oxidation and support healthy blood glucose and blood lipid levels within already normal, healthy ranges.
Ashwagandha root has been studied for its support of a healthy inflammatory response and joint health.* It has been shown in some studies to support occasional joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and discomfort in healthy men and women due to normal wear and tear. This may be because, as shown in human studies, it seems to naturally mitigate levels of C-reactive protein, which is a systemic marker for the body's inflammatory response.
A good night's sleep is a key part of living a healthy life. Known for its grounding and recuperative properties, several studies have shown that Ashwagandha supports healthy sleep.
Ayurvedic practitioners have long believed that Ashwagandha is one of the most powerful herbs for immune-system support for young and old alike.* One animal study found that Ashwagandha strengthened the immune systems of mice by promoting an increase in white blood cells.* While more studies are needed to substantiate Ashwagandha’s role in immune support in humans, an increase in white blood cells of this type could, theoretically, help humans maintain their health longer.*
Heart health is one of the most-asked-about wellness concerns of the 21st century and many people are looking for natural ways to support their heart. One study noted that Ashwagandha offered antioxidant support to the heart, which could potentially help protect it against free radicals in the blood. In addition, Ashwagandha may potentially provide anti-inflammatory benefits that make it easier for the heart to work efficiently. The same study also noted that Ashwagandha supported healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels — two major factors in stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular problems. In fact, the group taking the highest dosage of standardized Ashwagandha extract experienced — on average — a 17% decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol and an 11% decrease in triglycerides. While more studies are needed to substantiate these heart health benefits, the results from these initial studies are promising.