Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Ashwagandha's health benefits have been hailed for thousands of years, but if you've never heard of this ancient herbal extract, you may be wondering what all the buzz is about.

Where do we even start? Suffice to say, the buzz is well-earned—if anything, that copious praise is an understatement! Ashwagandha is a whole-body health superstar, potentially supporting everything from already-healthy blood sugar levels, to hormone balance, to a positive mood.

Here is everything you need to know about ashwagandha—and why this powerful adaptogenic herb deserves a spot in your wellness routine.

The history of ashwagandha

Healthy man arranging herbs on a wall

Ashwagandha comes from a small, short, stubby plant with orange berries that are reminiscent of tomatoes. While all parts of the plant have their own distinct benefits, the roots are often used for their botanical properties and are the reason why ashwagandha has earned such rave reviews for so many generations.

This ancient ayurvedic herb is native to Asia, specifically India and Sri Lanka. It also thrives in the warmer, drier climates of Africa. The name ashwagandha comes from Sanskrit. Ashva means "horse," and gandha means "smell." Its botanical properties are believed to provide the strength and energy of a horse.

Ashwagandha's health benefits have been long recognized in holistic health practices, particularly Ayurvedic regimens. The herb has a centuries-old reputation for supporting the body, the mind and mood.

Most recently, health practitioners have classified the powerful properties of ashwagandha as an adaptogen, which means it helps the body adapt to stressors. In order to be classified as an adaptogen, an herb must meet specific criteria: it must be non-toxic, support a healthy stress response in the body, and benefit overall health. Fortunately, the health benefits of the ashwagandha plant check all those benefits and plenty more. That is why this powerful shrub has been a go-to herbal support option that has been touted for centuries for its health benefits.

In recent years, ashwagandha's benefits have been championed in the media, making it a relevant and popular dietary supplement even in the 21st century.

Ashwagandha's health benefits: What are they?

Healthy couple using Ashwagandha's health benefits jogging outside

While our understanding of ashwagandha has evolved over the years, one thing has always been a constant: this herb has been seen as beneficial to overall body health. Some of its potential benefits include supporting:

  • Memory
  • Vitality
  • Hormone balance
  • Healthy body weight
  • Nervous system health
  • Immune system function

Ashwagandha also offers benefits for when your head hits the pillow, providing you with calming effects to promote better sleep quality. And that's not all! Here are some of the more widely studied benefits of ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha's benefits on cortisol levels

Man sitting at his computer looking frazzled

We've known for centuries that ashwagandha and a calmer mood are linked. More recent studies give us the reason why: this herb promotes already-healthy cortisol levels—and, in turn, a healthy response to stress. What is cortisol? It's the hormone your adrenal gland secretes when your body has a "fight or flight" response to immediate or perceived threats of danger.

Cortisol isn't unhealthy—we all have varying amounts throughout the day. Cortisol levels usually peak a little after you wake up, and fluctuate throughout the day in response to stressors. When it is time to hit the hay again, your levels drop, and the cycle continues day in and day out.

Everyday stressors can cause cortisol spikes—which is also normal. From a tough commute to a spat with a family member, our already-cortisol levels are at the mercy of these daily ups and downs, and influence how our nervous system functions with the rest of our body.

The problem occurs when too much cortisol is produced; even when you've arrived safely at your destination or resolved your conflict with your partner, your levels may remain elevated…leaving you and your nervous system out of sorts.

Here's where ashwagandha comes in—this herb has been shown to promote healthy levels of cortisol—which may specifically help when faced with "fight or flight" situations. And this is key; managing stressors and cortisol provides support to your overall nervous system's health—and that of your immune system.

How does ashwagandha benefit already-healthy blood sugar levels?

Woman with healthy blood sugar levels from ashwagandha standing with a glass of water

If you think of ashwagandha as an herb that keeps your body in harmony—keeping an even keel as you deal with stress, and calming you down so you can get better sleep—perhaps you're wondering where already-healthy blood sugar comes in?

Indeed, the powder form the ashwagandha root has been clinically studied to support already-healthy blood sugar levels, possibly because it appears to promote healthy insulin metabolism. This is key to overall metabolic health—and with metabolic health, your heart and cardiovascular system benefit, too.

Ashwagandha promotes healthy testosterone levels

Mature man with healthy testosterone levels enjoying time together with his significant other

Ashwagandha also helps keep hormones in balance. Men's testosterone levels decrease over time—this is a normal part of the aging process. Studies indicate that testosterone drops in men by about 1% each year, beginning around the age of 30. Having a low testosterone level can speed up the signs of aging and impact sexual stamina and performance.

Ashwagandha may help keep those testosterone levels youthful. Incorporating this adaptogenic herb into your wellness routine may also help support your overall sexual and reproductive health and fertility. Plus, ashwagandha has been linked to better exercise performance and endurance.

The benefits of ashwagandha on brain health

Woman enjoying benefits of ashwagandha on brain health reading in the park

It's smart to supplement with ashwagandha if you're seeking optimal cognitive health! This highly researched ayurvedic herb has been shown to help promote antioxidant activity that protects nerve cells—including those in the brain—from oxidative stress.

What does it mean to support healthy brain cells? Ashwagandha usage has been shown to promote overall memory, task performance and attention. Talk about brilliant!

How to take ashwagandha

Woman taking an ashwagandha supplement

To enjoy all the health benefits of ashwagandha, like maintaining already-healthy cortisol levels to keeping stress at bay and your heart pumping at optimal levels, your body needs to absorb this ancient herb properly.

There are multiple forms of ashwagandha root available for consumption. You can ingest ashwagandha root extract, ashwagandha powder, or an ashwagandha capsule. The power and benefits come from the source, but first need to pass through the intestinal walls and be absorbed by the bloodstream for you to reap all the benefits that ashwagandha has to offer. That's why you should seek out a high-quality form of this botanical.

Should I talk to my doctor about ashwagandha?

Woman speaking with her doctor about the benefits of ashwagandha

Whether you're thinking about taking a new multivitamin or a powerful herb like ashwagandha, your doctor is your partner in good health, and it's always a good idea to run any tweaks to your wellness routine by an expert. If you're pregnant, don't use ashwagandha without an OK from your midwife or obstetrician.

While ashwagandha is an ancient herb, its long-term benefits have not been studied in research—nor have side effects been identified clinically. To stay on the safe side, stick to the dosage on the bottle, and if you do believe you've experienced any adverse reactions, stop using it.

 

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