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What Is Ashwagandha? - Benefits & More!

04/07/2022 | 6 min. read

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As more people have been looking for natural solutions to health problems and ailments, many herbs and supplements have grown in popularity. 

One of those herbs, ashwagandha, has been in the spotlight for the last couple of years, and it is a member of the nightshade family. 

Ashwagandha, also known as Withania somnifera, is an evergreen shrub used for thousands of years to treat different conditions, and it is native to Africa and the Middle East. While it cannot cure illness on its own, it can have many benefits when coupled with a healthy and balanced lifestyle. 

Learning more about what ashwagandha is and what benefits it can have for you can help you decide whether you may want to begin supplementing it. 

What Is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha originated in India and is one of the most important herbs used in Ayurveda, which is the Indian traditional system of medicine.

Also commonly known as the Indian winter cherry or Indian ginseng, ashwagandha was commonly used as a Rasayana, or tonic, to promote physical youth and feelings of happiness. 

All parts of the plant are used in traditional medicine. The leaves, flowers, and seeds are all thought to have individual benefits, and ashwagandha root extract is particularly common. 

Benefits of Ashwagandha

While ashwagandha has been known as beneficial since ancient times and Ayurvedic medicine, modern scientific research has further validated its use. 

Here are some of the reasons why you should incorporate the herb into your daily routine. 

Swelling and Pain Reduction

Inflammation occurs as part of an immune response to help heal and protect damaged or at-risk cells in the body. While immune responses are beneficial to our health, swelling can cause pain and discomfort.  It can result from certain illnesses or conditions in the body and lead to further complications. 

Many different herbs can help reduce swelling in the body, and ashwagandha is one of them. Consuming a dose of ashwagandha may help reduce irritation and symptoms that are linked to inflammation. 

Studies have shown that ashwagandha can help individuals who suffer from joint pain increase their physical mobility and reduce stiffness in the affected areas. 

Cognitive Improvement

According to research, ashwagandha use can be linked to improved memory and brain function. 

While researchers are not exactly sure how ashwagandha has this effect, animal studies have shown that the herb has antioxidant properties in the brain. It protects brain cells from damage caused by free radicals or harmful compounds in the body. 

This can protect brain cells from degeneration and allow them to work more efficiently, thus contributing to your longevity. 

Stress Management

Perhaps one of the most crucial health benefits of ashwagandha use is its effect on stress and mood because it is considered an adaptogen. As a part of Indian traditional medicine, it was believed to promote positive feelings, which is a benefit it is still well known for today. 

Stress and low mood are caused by chemicals and hormones in the body that influence our brain and nervous system. Ashwagandha can help balance these chemicals as well as the brain’s response to them, thus working to lift mood, ease feelings of anxiety, and decrease stress. It can also help lower cortisol levels, which is the main stress hormone.

Because stress response very often manifests itself in physical responses, ashwagandha can help reduce physical symptoms of stress. These symptoms include indigestion, fatigue, and lack of restful sleep. Ashwagandha may be sleep-inducing, thus supporting a night of restful sleep.

Precautions

While ashwagandha can be very beneficial when used regularly, like any supplement, it is not suitable for everyone and can cause adverse side effects if not consumed safely. The effectiveness of ashwagandha can vary, and the mg of ashwagandha appropriate for you may not be appropriate for someone else.

Here is what you should keep in mind before you decide to use ashwagandha. 

Impact on Pre-Existing Conditions

Ashwagandha is not recommended for individuals who suffer from auto-immune diseases or thyroid disorders. 

Although the extent of impact ashwagandha can have on pre-existing conditions is unclear, the herb has been associated with aggravated symptoms in auto-immune diseases and thyroid disorders. 

This is likely because it can impact hormone levels in the body and slow down the central nervous system.  

Medication Interactions

Ashwagandha can have adverse interactions with different medications and supplements, namely those for blood sugar and blood pressure, sedatives, and immunosuppressants. 

Because ashwagandha can lower blood pressure, you should not use it with other herbs or supplements that have a similar effect. These include Andrographis, casein peptides, and niacin. 

Similarly, because the herb can have sedating effects, be cautious about mixing it with other supplements that can also cause sedation. They include kava, melatonin, and valerian. 

It is best to consult with a doctor before using a new herb or supplement. 

Dosage

While there are no clear dosage guidelines for ashwagandha as it is sold in varying strengths, it is best not to exceed 1,000 milligrams per day. We recommend you start with a low dosage to see how you feel before increasing your intake. 

Ashwagandha has not been tested in children and should not be consumed by pregnant women. 

Sourcing

Because the FDA does not regulate ashwagandha, you must do your research before purchasing the supplement. 

Pay close attention to ingredients, quality, and brand reputation before buying and consuming. Additionally, if you are allergic to any other plants belonging to the nightshade family, such as eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, or potatoes, you should avoid ashwagandha.

How To Use Ashwagandha  

While ashwagandha was initially used as a tonic, there are many different ways to consume it today. Here are a few of the most popular: 

  • Powder 

This typically results from grinding down dried ashwagandha into a fine powder. It is a very common and versatile way to consume the herb, as it allows for mixing into milkshakes, smoothies, and even baked goods. This powder is often also mixed with water, ghee, or honey to improve the taste.

  • Tablets and Capsules

Ashwagandha is also available in capsules or tablets. While they provide quick and easy consumption, they may not allow individuals to control their dosage. 

  • Tea

Like most herbs, ashwagandha can be steeped in hot water and consumed as a tea.

No matter how you choose to consume the herb, it is most important you do so safely and make a note of any adverse effects it may have. 

Conclusion

Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub native to Africa and the Middle East, and it has long been used in traditional medicine because of the variety of potential health benefits it offers. 

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, and its most profound benefit has to do with its ability to help the body cope with stress and feelings of stress and tension. Ashwagandha may also support cognitive function and ease discomfort when used properly, but you should avoid it if you have allergies to any other plants in the nightshade family. 

Like any supplement, ashwagandha can have the most benefits if coupled with a healthy diet and balanced lifestyle, but it is important to use it carefully to avoid adverse effects.

Sources: 

An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda | AJTCAM

Ashwagandha | MedlinePlus

Ashwagandha | Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Healthy Directions Staff Editor