Ashwagandha, the herb name that just rolls off your tongue, offers a little something for many varieties of health issues. Sleep improvement and anxiety reduction may be the best-known uses. Thyroid support, male infertility, athletic enhancement, cortisol lowering effects, and cognitive improvement should not be forgotten however.
Sleep and anxiety: So many are searching for refreshing sleep these days. Ashwagandha can provide a calm, relaxed state for many who can’t “turn their brain off” in the evening. The only thing more prevalent than insomnia might be anxiety. We live in an age of anxiety and ashwagandha takes the edge off anxious times without the impairment of many pharmaceuticals.
Thyroid: Several studies support the widespread practice of using ashwagandha for thyroid support. Along with other nutrients like zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin D, or others, ashwagandha augments the thyroid function. Increases in T4 and/or T3 have been documented in several studies.
Male Infertility: Oddly enough, ashwagandha appears to increase sperm count. This may be related to increased testosterone demonstrated in other studies.
Athletic Performance: Several studies indicate muscle strength and body composition can improve with long term ashwagandha use. You won’t grow a muscle without exercise, but the benefits of exercise appear augmented.
Cortisol Reduction: Again, in an anxious age, higher cortisol runs rampant and ashwagandha serves to lower this hormone which needs to be in balance for optimal health.
Concentration and Cognition: While being studied by Cooley et al, this herb both reduced anxiety and improved motivation/concentration. In a study by Choudary in 2017, the herb improved measures of memory, executive function, attention and other measures of cognitive performance after 8 weeks ot therapy.
How to Get the Benefits of Ashwagandha:
This herb comes only in a supplement form. Special considerations: Ashwagandha may lower blood sugar and thus diabetics may need to modify their medication dosing. Since it is a nightshade, if you have an allergy to the nightshade family, you should probably avoid it.
Potential Side Effects of Ashwagandha:
Generally found to be safe in studies, but minor GI effects or allergic reactions may occur in some patients as is the case for most herbs. As a nightshade, patients with nightshade sensitivities or allergies should have caution or avoid.
Ashwagandha should not be given during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Given its effects on blood sugar, blood pressure, thyroid and caution should be taken for patients with these health conditions:
- Low Blood pressure
- Hypo or Hyperthyroidism
Given its mild sedative effects, care should be taken when patients are using other sedating medications.
From Consumer Labs Reports:
This is one instance in which Jarrow Brand is not the best. It has the lowest concentration of active ingredient. The top three brands were Nature’s Way, Sundown Naturals Stress Support, and Nature’s Answer. Several other brands were reasonable as well. Seeking Health is a brand we like that has good concentrations.
Kaushik, Mahesh K et al. “Triethylene glycol, an active component of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) leaves, is responsible for sleep induction” PloS one vol. 12,2 e0172508. 16 Feb. 2017, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172508
Andrade, C et al. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy ff an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera” Indian journal of psychiatry vol. 42,3 (2000): 295-301.
Bhattacharya S, MuruganandamA. Adaptogenicactivity of Withaniasomnifera: an experimental study using a rat model of chronic stress.Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 2003;75(3):547-555.
Gannon, Jessica M et al. “Subtle changes in thyroid indices during a placebo-controlled study of an extract of Withania somnifera in persons with bipolar disorder” Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine vol. 5,4 (2014): 241-5.
Sharma AK et al., “Efficacy and safety of ashwagandha root extract in subclinical hypothyroid patients: A double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Published online ahead of print August 2017.
J Altern Complement Med. 2018 Mar;24(3):243-248. doi: 10.1089/acm.2017.0183. Epub 2017 Aug 22. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Sharma AK1, Basu I1, Singh S1.
Ambiye, Vijay R et al. “Clinical Evaluation of the Spermatogenic Activity of the Root Extract of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Oligospermic Males: A Pilot Study” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2013 (2013): 571420.
Athletic performance recovery:
Choudhary, Bakhtiar et al. “Efficacy of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera [L.] Dunal) in improving cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy athletic adults” Ayu vol. 36,1 (2015): 63-8.
J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2012 Jul;3(3):111-4. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.100168. Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers. Raut AA, Rege NN, Tadvi FM, Solanki PV, Kene KR, Shirolkar SG, Pandey SN, Vaidya RA, Vaidya AB
J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Nov 25;12:43. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9. eCollection 2015. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. Wankhede S1, Langade D2, Joshi K3, Sinha SR4, Bhattacharyya S5.
Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62. doi: 10.4103/0253-7176.106022. 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. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S.
Concentration and Cognitive Benefits:
Cooley, Kieran et al. “Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974.” PloS one vol. 4,8 e6628. 31 Aug. 2009, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006628
Dnyanraj Choudhary, Sauvik Bhattacharyya & Sekhar Bose (2017) Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions, Journal of Dietary Supplements, 14:6, 599-612, DOI: 10.1080/19390211.2017.1284970
VisavadiyaNP, NarasimhacharyaA. Hypocholesteremicand antioxidant effects of Withani somnifera Dunai) in hypercholesteremic rats. Phytomedicine. 2007; 14(2-3):13-142.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.