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All About Ashwagandha—From Benefits to Uses

ashwagandha benefits for health, fitness, and more
Freelance journalist
Carina is a freelance journalist. She writes about food and for our "healthy lifestyle" column.

Ashwagandha is an important part of Ayurveda, and slowly but surely it’s also getting a reputation as a superfood beyond Indian traditional medicine. This herb may help treat a broad range of ailments and improve everything from stress management to fertility. Let’s find out how ashwagandha benefits everyone! 

What Is Ashwagandha?

If you haven’t heard of ashwagandha by now, it’s definitely time to check it out! Due to its many health benefits, this remedy has several uses beyond Ayurveda, so it’s attracting quite a bit of attention in alternative medicine.

The Sanskrit term for it is ashwagandha, which literally means “horse smell.” Apparently, the root has a very special scent! In English it’s also known as poison gooseberry, Indian ginseng, and winter cherry, but its botanical name is withania somnifera. This shrub belongs to the nightshade family, and it’s often classified as a natural adaptogen, which means it helps manage stress and reduce cortisol levels.

A stem, leaf, and half-uncovered berry of ashwagandha, ripe for picking and reaping ashwagandha benefits

What Does Ashwagandha Look Like?

Ashwagandha berry shrubs grow about one to two meters high and bear bright red fruit. Don’t get distracted by the berries though, because the medicinal parts are the leaves and the root. Ashwagandha extract has developed a reputation as an all-round remedy that can manage everything from stress to blood sugar.

One of the special things about this supplement is its long history. Ayurvedic medicine has used this plant for more than 3000 years, even though it’s only now beginning to see widespread use in Europe.

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How Can I Use Ashwagandha?

Over 200 different preparations make use of the benefits of ashwagandha in Ayurvedic medicine alone. Some use it as a sedative for its calming properties, while others use it as a tonic to strengthen body and mind and improve antioxidant levels. It may also have anti-inflammatory, life-prolonging, and rejuvenating effects, while reducing stress and anxiety.

But wait, there’s more! Indian ginseng is also often recommended for the elderly, because it may help promote their general health long term. A specific preparation of ashwagandha can also support female fertility: Boil ashwagandha powder in water, reducing it to a 4th of its original volume before mixing it with milk, reducing further, and then taking it with ghee (clarified butter).

And if that wasn’t enough, ashwagandha fans also turn to this special remedy for constipation, chronic stress, anxiety, memory loss, rheumatism, exhaustion, blood sugar problems, reduced muscle strength, senility, Alzheimer’s disease, and even for low testosterone levels.

In summary, ashwagandha is a popular remedy for taking care of your body and mind. It may help strengthen the nervous and immune systems, manage thyroid function, reduce stress and anxiety, improve brain function and energy levels, and much more.

Does Ashwagandha Help Improve Athletic Performance?

This herb may play a role in workout performance, and it’s been the focus of recent research. In one study, one group of beginner athletes was given ashwagandha along with a new training program, while the other only received a placebo. After eight weeks, the ashwagandha group had significantly better training results.

Other studies suggest that withania somnifera can increase muscle mass, as well as improve strength and endurance performance.

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Where Can I Find Ashwagandha?

It’s relatively easy to buy ashwagandha on the Internet, where you can find preparations in tablet form or as a liquid extract, as well as powder made from ground-up ashwagandha root. The powder can be prepared as tea, but you can also just sprinkle a little bit of it in your smoothie or on various dishes of your choice.

How Much Ashwagandha Should I Take?

Supplier’s recommendations for dosing withania somnifera preparations vary greatly. For example, some recommend one capsule daily, others two to three. The powder is more standardized: The recommended dose is a teaspoon once or twice a day.

Due to these different recommendations, it’s difficult to figure out a maximum daily intake of ashwagandha’s active ingredients: withanolides. They don’t appear to have adverse effects at high doses; a toxicity study in rats showed that there were no adverse effects at daily dosages of 2000 mg of ashwagandha/kg of body weight.

What Are the Side Effects of Ashwagandha?

Now we come to a difficult but important topic in the process of shedding some light on the mystery of ashwagandha. So far we’ve only talked about its positive effects, but what about possible side effects?

According to a 2009 study from the World Health Organization, taking ashwagandha may lead to diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Caution is advisable with all medicinal herbs, as the available safety advice is often insufficient. Whether or not withanolides have a negative effect on blood pressure and hormone metabolism remains an open question.

A review study suggests it’s also possible that herbs like ashwagandha could interact with other medicines. So if you currently take any medicines, it’s advisable to get an expert opinion from a doctor or pharmacist before you start taking any herbal remedies.

Everyone should refrain completely from using ashwagandha root extract, powder, capsules, or any other form during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Also exercise caution when using preparations containing Indian ginseng to treat chronic conditions.

Our Conclusion

  • Ashwagandha is used as a remedy for its health benefits and is part of Ayurvedic medicine.
  • Other names for the plant in English include poison gooseberry and Indian ginseng.
  • There are many different applications for ashwagandha, and it can be used to strengthen both the mind and the body, improve brain function, reduce blood sugar, and manage stress hormone levels.
  • This superfood may also have the potential to improve training results.
  • Currently there isn’t enough scientific research to draw any definite conclusions about the effects and health risks of ashwagandha.

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