Ash-wah-gan-da. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that this is something straight out of a Harry Potter book. You probably won’t be wrong since Harry Potter is all about magic, and ashwagandha is one of the most “magical” roots of the 21st century.

Here, we dive into every detail on this super root, exploring its benefits, side effects and best way to take it.

Ashwagandha plant

What is Ashwagandha

Known scientifically as Withania Somnifera and as Indian ginseng and Winter cherry, ashwagandha is a highly revered herb in Ayurveda, an Indian traditional system of medicine dating over 5000 years. The name ashwagandha is derived from Sanskrit terms Ashva, meaning horse and gandha, meaning smell. This etymology is a reference to the characteristic horse smell of the plant.

Ashwagandha is a small perennial evergreen shrub native to India, Africa and parts of the Middle East. While it may seem uncommon, this plant is a member of the Solanaceae family that includes crops like potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant.

Ashwagandha is described as a medical miracle, with its roots, fruits, leaves and seeds being used to treat various ailments. However, the roots are the most commonly used part.

Ashwagandha is primarily touted as an adaptogen, a natural substance with stress-relieving properties. Different parts of the Ashwagandha shrub are rich in phytoconstituents (or bioactive compounds) that exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory actions when consumed. These activities are vital to relieving stress, helping to elevate mood and cure many physiologic ailments.

Benefits of Ashwagandha

If you’re wondering why this ancient herb is gaining much popularity in the modern age, look no further than the numerous benefits that it holds. Primarily, ashwagandha is an adaptogen. Adaptogens are herbs that contain bioactive molecules that help to maintain or restore balance in normal physiologic processes when ingested. By this action, these herbal medicines can combat stress and anxiety and promote normal circadian functioning.

Currently, there are nine well-researched adaptogens, of which ashwagandha is one. While Ayurveda medicine ascribes multiple benefits to this herb, science has researched and established some.

Ashwagandha relieves stress and improves mood: Indian ginseng’s effect of stress and anxiety has been heavily researched by scientists. Several controlled trials have found this herb superior to placebos in relieving stress.

One study found that adults who maintained a daily intake of ashwagandha for 8 weeks had lower stress and anxiety scores and higher concentration scores than adults who received psychotherapy in the same period. In addition, the intake of ashwagandha is associated with reduced levels of stress-related biomarkers like cortisol. 

Ashwagandha has also shown benefits in helping boost sleep quality. For example, one study found that adults who took this herb had a faster onset of sleep and better sleep quality than those who received a placebo.

Aids in Improving Sexual Function and Treating Infertility: Ashwagandha is considered an aphrodisiac in Ayurvedic medicine. One pilot study has demonstrated that ashwagandha benefits women’s sexual health drive.

The study found that Ashwagandha root extract administered to women significantly improved female sexual metrics like arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and satisfaction compared to placebo.

Studies also show that Ashwagandha extract benefits male sexual dysfunction and infertility. For example, in one study, men who had oligospermia (low sperm count) showed an almost 2-fold increase in sperm count following a 90-day administration of Ashwagandha extract. There was also improvement in semen volume and sperm motility amongst the men that consumed ashwagandha.

Another study displayed the potency of Indian ginseng in curing stress-related male infertility, discovering increases in levels of antioxidants and reduction in metrics of fatigue following Ashwagandha administration.

Aids in Cancer Treatment: While this area of research is still young, some studies indicate that ashwagandha has phytochemicals that show promise in fighting cancer. Studies indicate that withanolides in ashwagandha selectively kill tumor cells, prevent angiogenesis (formation of blood vessels that feed cancer cells) and induce stress responses that help the body fight developing tumor cells.

Benefits the Brain: Scientific research has shown ashwagandha to be highly beneficial to the brain. A review of several clinical trials found that Ashwagandha supplementation improved performance on cognitive tasks, executive function, attention, and reaction time.

As shown by several studies, ashwagandha’s antioxidative property is responsible for its ability to limit age-related cognitive decline. In addition, animal studies show that Ashwagandha administration can slow or even reverse the progression of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Assists Weight Loss: Ashwagandha is effective in managing weight-related disorders like obesity. One study found that after being administered ashwagandha for 8 weeks, participants who previously suffered from stress-related obesity had better measures in weight indices.

Ashwagandha weight loss effect is due to its richness in antioxidants. These antioxidants hasten metabolism, helping to burn fat quickly and reduce weight.

Safety and Side Effects

Ashwagandha is a non-toxic plant which makes it typically safe to consume. Robust studies evaluating its safety in the short term have not been conducted, and many studies have found it safe when consumed at normal doses in the short term.

Consuming large doses of ashwagandha may cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and stomach irritation. Ashwagandha intake may also lead to hypotension (severe lowering in blood pressure) and increases in thyroid function.

The presence of certain diseases or intake of certain other medications may compromise the safety of ashwagandha. Thus, it is essential that you speak with a doctor or pharmacist about your condition and medications before taking ashwagandha.

You should not take ashwagandha when taking:

  • Blood-thinning medications like warfarin: The fault may not be from your trusted herb. Warfarin just doesn’t play well with others
  • Sedatives: Ashwa makes you sleep already. The cumulative effects of both medications may be catastrophic.
  • Thyroid supplements: Ashwa interferes with thyroid function, which makes it impossible to gauge the effect of the thyroid medication
  • Antihypertensive medications
  • Antidiabetic medications
  • Immunosuppressants

You should also avoid ashwagandha in the presence of autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus erythematosus.

Is ashwagandha safe for pregnancy?

Though studies on the use of ashwagandha in pregnancy are limited, the studies available indicate that Ashwa can cause miscarriages when used by pregnant. Thus, it is recommended that pregnant women in all trimesters avoid ashwagandha totally since the risks outweigh any benefits it may hold.

Breastfeeding moms are also advised to avoid ashwagandha.  

Ashwagandha supplement forms

Available Forms

Ashwagandha root extracts are majorly used in formulating Ashwagandha supplements. The extracts are usually concentrated before formulating into suitable forms.

Some of the commonly available forms of ashwagandha include

  • Ashwagandha root extract tablets/caplets
  • Ashwagandha root extract capsules
  • Ashwagandha root powder
  • Ashwagandha gummies:
  • Ashwagandha root extract liquid drops

Which Ashwagandha Formulation is Best?

There are many excellent Aswagandha formulations that you can buy. Some of the best Ashwagandha supplements include;

Where to Buy Ashwagandha

You can easily buy Aswagandha over-the-counter from most pharmacies around you. Alternatively, you can order ashwagandha from online stores like bulk supplements and amazon.

When to Take Ashwagandha

There are no strict rules on when to take ashwagandha or how you should take it. This adaptogen may be taken at any time of the day depending on your preference, schedule and directions indicated by the formulation.

If you take ashwagandha with other supplements, taking it in the daytime as you take those other supplements may be best. Also, if you tend to have busy nights or have medications that you take at night that may interact with ashwagandha, taking it in the daytime may be best for you.

Alternatively, if you take some medication in the morning and they interact with ashwagandha, then it is best to switch to nighttime dosing. Furthermore, taking it at bedtime will be best if you take ashwagandha to aid sleep.

Based on the formulation, ashwagandha may be prescribed to be taken once or twice daily. If you take it once daily, you may adjust your dosing as required. However, if you take it twice a day, the best way to take ashwagandha would be to give a two-hour gap between your other drugs and ashwagandha.

Taking Ashwagandha with Food

You may take ashwagandha with or without food since food does not aid or deter its absorption. However, if you experience stomach upsets when taking ashwagandha, taking it after a meal may help quell the upsets.

You can consume ashwagandha as a smoothie blend or dissolve the powder in fruit juices rather than taking it whole.

How long does it take ashwagandha to work?

When you start taking ashwagandha, it may take a while before you start to notice any effects. Many studies noticed effects after 8 weeks of use, while others showed observable outcomes after 90 days of use.

So when you start taking it, be patient and wait for about 10 weeks for the effects to manifest fully.

Ashwagandha plant

Effects on Body Building

Ashwagandha’s effects on exercise, fitness and bodybuilding are scientifically proven. Studies show that athletes who consumed ashwagandha had increased strength, speed and muscle power. In addition, reduced cholesterol and body fat levels have also been observed in athletes consuming ashwagandha.

In a study on men, Ashwagandha consuming men showed significantly higher gains in muscle strength and muscle size when compared to men who consumed a placebo. Ashwagandha consumption is also associated with faster muscle repair after exercise.

The exact mechanism of Ashwagandha bodybuilding action is currently unknown. However, the link between the intake of ashwagandha and testosterone increase in males is well established. Testosterone is an androgen (a type of endogenous steroid) that regulates bone mass, fat distribution, muscle mass and muscle strength.

Ashwagandha’s anti-inflammatory action is responsible for promoting quick muscle repair post-workout.

How Much Ashwagandha should you take?

The recommended daily intake of ashwagandha is dependent on the purpose for which it is taken. Doses of ashwagandha typically range from 150mg to about 2g per day. Higher doses above 300mg are typically administered in divided doses.

PurposeRecommended daily intake
Relief Stress500 - 600 mg
Improve sleep600 mg
Weight loss600 mg (given twice daily)
Improve sexual function500 - 600 mg
Increase testosterone600 mg (capsules), 3 g (powder)
Build muscles600 - 6000 mg

Bottom Line

The modern age is so fast-paced that fatigue/burn-out, anxiety and insomnia have become common. So finding a natural, safe and inexpensive way to tackle these challenges is on the top of many to-do lists, and ashwagandha provides an easy way out.

Starting on Ashwagandha supplements may be the Harry-Potteresque magic herb to cure your many ails. If you’re a bodybuilder, getting ashwagandha for bodybuilding is a no-brainer. Its effects are all too clear, and what’s best, backed by science. Whatever you do, however, ensure to speak with a doctor first.

Sporty Women Relief from Ashwagandha

References

When Is the Best Time to Take Ashwagandha?

9 Proven Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

What are the benefits of ashwagandha?

What Is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha

6 possible ashwagandha side effects

Ashwgandha dosage: how much to take per day