Dr Jess says: Ashwagandha root, Latin name Withania somnifera, is a wonderful, rejuvenating Ayurvedic herb.
Safe, gentle and powerful, it is now one of the most commonly used herbs by medical herbalists. Why? Because, like us, they find that it works! I find it a wonderful restorative and strengthener and have seen its benefit in hypothyroid patients. In my experience it works slowly over weeks to months and is best taken daily.
ashwagandha is used as a strengthening tonic in Ayurvedic medicine for fatigue, fertility, debility and longevity
Dubbed the ‘Indian ginseng’, it is a powerful herb that supports your energy and health, especially when feeling burnt out and exhausted after illness. Its use for these symptoms has been supported in small trials, including a recent study on breast cancer patients who were suffering with fatigue during chemotherapy. Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha root) was given every eight hours throughout chemotherapy treatments, and significantly improved energy and reduced side effects.1 It is also an excellent supportive herb for an underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism (which causes fatigue) particularly if symptoms are in their early stages.2
it is traditionally used for nervous exhaustion and overstimulation
In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is considered a tonic for nourishing and strengthening and as a sedative to calm. It’s considered to be a herb which nourishes an exhausted nervous system (adrenal fatigue) and symptoms such as agitation, irritability or feeling stressed and over-emotional. Traditionally thought to be heating and sweet, nourishing the blood, muscle, bones, nerves and the reproductive organs, ashwagandha has been used in India as a traditional herb for pregnancy, to strengthen the uterus and stimulate milk production (using lower doses of <3g/day). It combines well with Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), for nervous system problems.
ashwagandha is very safe
It is widely used and well tolerated, with no known toxicity and very few side effects.3 That said, it is not recommended for anyone who suffers from hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid), as it can boost thyroid function. For patients taking digoxin, there is evidence it may interfere with the test that detects digoxin levels in the bloodstream, giving a false result.4 Animal studies show no signs of toxicity when used in pregnancy.5 (Always consult with your medical practitioner or herbalist before taking natural supports in pregnancy).
small studies show that ashwagandha may help memory function and cognition
Animal studies show ashwagandha tincture (the root extract, suspended in alcohol) significantly helped mice to recover from amnesia (memory loss).6 It has potential as a herb to help protect our brains from the effects of ageing and reduce the risk of neurological diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.7 A small study of patients with impaired thinking and memory with bipolar disorder, showed a significant improvement in memory and brain function when taking ashwagandha.8
ashwagandha is a good herb for calming anxiety, improving sleep quality, ADHD and OCD
Somifera, from the latin name for Ashwagandha translates as ‘sleep-inducing’ because of the calming, but not sedative (non-drowsy) effect of the herb. It has been traditionally used as a calming herb for centuries. Trials show that alongside dietary support and deep-breathing, it can significantly reduce anxiety over 12 weeks.9 It can be safely used alongside SSRI antidepressant medications and has been shown to significantly improve generalised anxiety disorder.10 Ashwagandha has become a popular support for people with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and trial results back this up, with a significant improvement in symptoms in patients with OCD taking it for six weeks.11 In a trial of children with ADHD, ashwagandha improved attention, brain function, focus and impulse control.12 A recent randomised controlled trial of ashwagandha showed it significantly improved sleep quality and restorative sleep in health adults.13
ashwagandha reduces the effects of stress, and herbalists find it to be an excellent adaptogen
Herbs which can help you cope with stress and the effects of it are called adaptogens. Ashwagandha may help improve the effects of stress and stress-related illnesses, including stress-related eating and obesity.14 It has been shown to significantly reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels and the feelings of stress.15,16
likely increases muscle mass and fitness when combined with exercise
In a study of young males starting weight training over eight weeks, there was a significantly bigger improvement in muscle mass and strength in those taking ashwagandha supplements, than those who were taking a placebo. They also had significantly less injuries, greater loss of body fat and a much greater increase in testosterone levels.17 This has been replicated in the larger STAR trial when men found an improvement in their ability to squat and bench press when taking ashwagandha.18 It has also been shown to improve cardiorespiratory fitness, exercise recovery and quality of life in athletes.19 A very impressive result and a good supplement to consider, if you are trying to get better results from your workouts!
ashwagandha has promising results for improving sexual function in both men and women.
A small study of women with issues of low libido, vaginal dryness and difficulty reaching orgasm found a significant improvement taking ashwagandha twice a day for eight weeks.20 A study showed significant improvement in the chemicals required for male fertility and sperm production and semen quality when taken at 5g/day for three months in infertile males.21, 22 These trials suggest that ashwagandha would be a good choice for men who are wishing to improve their fertility.
other benefits of ashwagandha:
- Animal studies show that ashwagandha may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, making it a good support for rheumatoid arthritis.23
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia; a disease of the adrenal gland, affecting cortisol and other hormone levels, showed significant improvement in both hormone levels and hair loss with six months of Ashwagandha treatment in one small case study.24
- Animal studies showed a significant improvement in all immune markers when fed a tincture of ashwagandha root for four weeks.25 A small human study also showed immune system improvement over 96 hours.26
- May help reduce the damage that phthalates (used in making plastics) do to our body.27
- Several of the natural compounds found in ashwagandha are being investigated for their promising ability to kill cancer cells.28,29,30,31,32
- Ashwagandha has been shown to significantly lower blood sugar and cholesterol when these markers are raised.33
how to use ashwagandha
As a tea: Add 1 tsp ashwagandha powder to one cup of hot water. Add honey to taste. Mix well and drink. If you have any underlying medical conditions, or are on any medications, check that ashwagandha is suitable for you with a medical herbalist or doctor.
Ashwagandha milk. Many Ayurvedic herbs are traditionally taken with milk (or coconut milk) as for some herbs, it has been shown to help absorption. Ashwagandha milk is made by adding one or two teaspoons of powder to two cups of milk, with 1/8th tsp of cardamom and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon. Heat the milk gently in a pan for 15, before adding honey to taste. This can be drunk daily.
Ashwagandha hot chocolate: To make ashwagandha taste more pleasant for children (and adults!), add 3-5tsp of organic cocoa powder to the ashwagandha milk above. You could add cream or coconut cream, to make it even more indulgent.
Add it to soup. Add 1tsp of dried sliced ashwagandha root to immune-boosting chicken soup (it’s good with ginger, goji berries and astragalus), or into bone broth when slow cooking, for extra benefit.
Take as a supplement. Ashwagandha can be taken as a supplement – It is the main ingredient in plant+, The Natural Doctors’ organic adaptogen complex. However if you prefer to take it on it’s own, Cytoplan does a good organic supplement.
- Effect of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on the development of chemotherapy-induced fatigue and quality of life in breast cancer patients
- Sharma AK, Basu I, Singh S. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2018 Mar;24(3):243-248. doi: 10.1089/acm.2017.0183. Epub 2017 Aug 22. PMID: 28829155.
- Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review
- Effect of Indian Ayurvedic medicine Ashwagandha on measurement of serum digoxin and 11 commonly monitored drugs using immunoassays: study of protein binding and interaction with Digibind
- Prenatal developmental toxicity evaluation of Withania somnifera root extract in Wistar rats
- Involvement of hippocampal Arc in amnesia and its recovery by alcoholic extract of Ashwagandha leaves
- Neuropharmacological Properties of Withania somnifera – Indian Ginseng: An Overview on Experimental Evidence with Emphasis on Clinical Trials and Patents
- Randomized placebo-controlled adjunctive study of an extract of withania somnifera for cognitive dysfunction in bipolar disorder
- Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974
- Fuladi S, Emami SA, Mohammadpour AH, Karimani A, Manteghi AA, Sahebkar A. Assessment of the Efficacy of Withania somnifera Root Extract in Patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Double-blind Placebo- Controlled Trial. Curr Rev Clin Exp Pharmacol. 2021;16(2):191-196. doi: 10.2174/1574884715666200413120413. PMID: 32282308.
- Evaluation of the efficacy of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) root extract in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial
- A compound herbal preparation (CHP) in the treatment of children with ADHD: a randomized controlled trial
- Deshpande A, Irani N, Balkrishnan R, Benny IR. A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study to evaluate the effects of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep quality in healthy adults. Sleep Med. 2020 Aug;72:28-36. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2020.03.012. Epub 2020 Mar 21. PMID: 32540634.
- Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial
- 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.
- Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Sep;98(37):e17186. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000017186. PMID: 31517876; PMCID: PMC6750292.
- Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial
- Ziegenfuss TN, Kedia AW, Sandrock JE, Raub BJ, Kerksick CM, Lopez HL. Effects of an Aqueous Extract of Withania somnifera on Strength Training Adaptations and Recovery: The STAR Trial. Nutrients. 2018 Nov 20;10(11):1807. doi: 10.3390/nu10111807. PMID: 30463324; PMCID: PMC6266766.
- 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 May 23;272:113929. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2021.113929. Epub 2021 Feb 15. PMID: 33600918.
- Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Improving Sexual Function in Women: A Pilot Study
- Efficacy of Withania somnifera on seminal plasma metabolites of infertile males: a proton NMR study at 800 MHz
- Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males
- Effect of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) root extract on amelioration of oxidative stress and autoantibodies production in collagen-induced arthritic rats
- Ashwagandha root in the treatment of non-classical adrenal hyperplasia
- A comparison of the immunostimulatory effects of the medicinal herbs Echinacea, Ashwagandha and Brahmi
- In vivo effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on the activation of lymphocytes
- Ashwagandha leaf derived withanone protects normal human cells against the toxicity of methoxyacetic acid, a major industrial metabolite
- Selective killing of cancer cells by Ashwagandha leaf extract and its component Withanone involves ROS signaling
- Withania somnifera water extract as a potential candidate for differentiation based therapy of human neuroblastomas
- Molecular targets and mechanisms of cancer prevention and treatment by withaferin a, a naturally occurring steroidal lactone
- Anti-cancer activity of withaferin A in B-cell lymphoma
- Selective killing of cancer cells by leaf extract of Ashwagandha: identification of a tumor-inhibitory factor and the first molecular insights to its effect
- Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root