Written By: Kristen Boye
Curious about how to take Ashwagandha and its potential health benefits?
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about this ancient herb, including its history and traditional uses in Ayurveda, how it works, its potential benefits based on scientific research, and how to take it for optimal results.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha, also known as “Indian Ginseng,” “Winter Cherry,” or Withania somnifera (WS), is a staple herb in Ayurveda, the traditional wellness practice of India, where it has been used for over 6000 years.
Ashwagandha is considered a Rasayana or rejuvenating tonic, which supports a youthful state of physical and mental health while promoting happiness*.
It is also classified as an adaptogen, which supports the body’s stress response, and nervine, which supports nervous system function*.
Traditional uses of Ashwagandha are vast and include supporting:
- Adrenal function
- Age-related complaints
- Cognitive function
- Emotional health
- Hair health
- Hormonal function
- Joint function
- Urinary/bladder system
- Reproductive health
- Skin health
- Stress response
- Thyroid function
We’ll explore the science behind some of these traditional uses coming up.
How Does Ashwagandha Work?
As previously mentioned, Ashwagandha is an adaptogen and a nervine.
Adaptogens are a category of traditional herbs that promote a resilient stress response via their supportive effects on the output and function of stress hormones via the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis.
Nervines are a class of herbs that support various aspects of the nervous system, which helps promote calmness, clarity, sleep, cognitive function, and stress response.*
Various studies of Ashwagandha have revealed a family of 50 active plant compounds known as withanolides.
These plant compounds, which act as antioxidants, are believed to be responsible for much of Ashwagandha’s Rasayana, adaptogenic, and nervine properties.
7 Benefits of Ashwagandha
1: Ashwagandha May Promote Normal Sleep
Did you know 1 in 3 Americans do not get enough sleep per the Centers for Disease Control?
Fortunately, there are natural options to support a good night’s rest.
Although widespread sleep deprivation is a relatively modern phenomenon, Ashwagandha has been used to help people sleep for centuries.*
Several studies, including double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, have found Ashwagandha may help support:
- Sleep duration
- Sleep quality
- Wake after sleep onset
- Sleep efficiency
- Mental alertness upon waking
- Sleep latency
How does Ashwagandha support sleep for those dealing with occasional sleeplessness?
Research has shown the active plant compound Triethylene glycol may be responsible for its positive effects on sleep, in addition to its adaptogenic/stress-quelling properties.
2. Ashwagandha Can Help Promote A Resilient Stress Response
One of Ashwagandha's best-known properties is its supportive effects on stress response.
As an adaptogen, Ashwagandha provides support and nourishment for the HPA (hypothalamus pituitary adrenal) Axis, which acts as the body’s hormonal response system to stress.
A key player in the HPA axis are the adrenal glands, which are responsible for housing the majority of the body’s stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Research has shown Ashwagandha supports normal cortisol levels and stress resistance.
Animal research also suggests Ashwagandha may provide neuroprotective benefits during stressful times via its supportive effects on normal nitric oxide production (another player in the stress-hormone symphony), although more research is needed.
3: Ashwagandha May Support Reproductive Function In Men & Women
Rasayanas, like Ashwagandha, have been traditionally used to support reproductive health and sexual function in men and women for centuries*.
Emerging research suggests validity in this traditional use, with research showing Ashwagandha may support sexual function in women and men, including promoting normal testosterone and DHEA levels in men.
More research is needed to explain how Ashwagandha may promote reproductive health.
4: Ashwagandha May Support Thyroid Function In Women
Ashwagandha has long been used to support thyroid function in women*.
Its use has also become popular among integrative health professionals, based on research showing it may support normal production of thyroid hormone levels.
More research is needed to determine how Ashwagandha may support the thyroid. However, it could be related to its adaptogen effects on stress hormones, which impact thyroid hormones and function.
5: Ashwagandha May Support Cognitive Function
Adaptogens and nervines, like Ashwagandha, have been traditionally used to help support cognitive function for centuries*.
Research has shown Ashwagandha’s plant compounds, including withanolides, may support various aspects of cognitive function, including:
- Executive function*
- Immediate and general memory*
- Information processing speed*
- Neurological functions
More research is needed to make a recommendation.
6. Ashwagandha May Support Metabolic Health
Several studies have shown Ashwagandha may provide support for many aspects of normal metabolic function, including:
- Blood sugar
- Blood lipids
- Cell health
- Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c)
Research suggests the plant compound, withaferin A (WA), may be responsible for some of Ashwagandha’s metabolic support properties. More research is needed.
If you’re concerned about blood sugar, talk to your healthcare practitioner about whether ashwagandha is appropriate for you.
7: Ashwagandha May Provide Exercise Benefits
Whether you’re an athlete or just like to stay active, Ashwagandha may provide an extra boost to your training or workout.
Several studies have shown the withanolides in Ashwagandha may promote cardiorespiratory fitness, strength and power, and fatigue and recovery in healthy men and women.
Once again, withanolides are likely responsible for Ashwagandha’s beneficial actions.
How To Take Ashwagandha
The right amount and time of day to take Ashwagandha will vary based on the individual, their health goals, and the quality and strength of the supplement.
Note: Ashwagandha is in the nightshade family and is, therefore, not appropriate for those with nightshade allergies or sensitivities.
There is no “standard dose” of Ashwagandha in traditional Ayurveda.
However, most studies cited in this article used 250–600 mg of Ashwagandha root extract daily. With the most common being 300 mg twice daily (once in the morning and once in the evening) for a total of 600 mg.
Talk to your healthcare practitioner about how to take Ashwagandha to meet your health goals and honor your body’s unique needs.
How To Find The Best Ashwagandha Supplements
If you’re interested in trying Ashwagandha for sleep, cognitive function, exercise support, and more, choosing a high-quality supplement is essential.
Unfortunately, the growing popularity of Ashwagandha has led some manufacturers to cut corners.
You can avoid low-quality or fake products by looking for Ashwagandha from established supplement companies who offers:
- Transparent labeling, including the amount of Ashwagandha in the product
- No artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, or fillers
- Non-GMO ingredients
- Pharmaceutical-quality standards for production of raw materials and finished product
Ready to Experience The Rejuvenating Power of Ashwagandha?
This article contains only a sample of the research on the potential benefits of this ancient herb.
For more information, talk to your herbalist Ayurvedic practitioner or integrative healthcare practitioner about how to take Ashwagandha as a rejuvenating Rasayana tonic.