WTF is Ashwagandha?

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Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 2,500 years. If you’re not sure what a bunch of words in that last sentence mean, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with all you need to know about the herb that seems to be taking the world of holistic medicine by storm.

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Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medical system, and amazingly it’s the oldest medical practice that still lives today. Ayurveda takes a holistic (whole-body) approach to medicine, and stands on the concept that each cell in the body is an expression of intelligence, and with the right herbs can self-heal.

That might all sound a little out there, especially compared to traditional western medicine, but the practice which comes from the Indian words Ayur for life and Veda for knowledge or science has been used to promote health, boost immunity, and implement resistance and cures for diseases for at least 5,000 years.

Even today, about 70-80% of the world relies on alternative medicine, mainly consisting of herbal remedies.

One of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, that’s growing in popularity in the western world, is Ashwagandha. So what is it?

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha’s botanical name is Withania somnifera, and it belongs to the Solanaceae family of plants. Other familiar plants in the Solanaceae or nightshade family are tomatoes, bell and chili peppers, eggplant, and potatoes.

Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub with oval leaves, yellow flowers, and red fruit. And it’s also often referred to as Indian ginseng or white cherry.

Its name translates to “smell of horse” because it’s said to give those who take it the stamina, strength, and vitality of a horse. Oh yeah…and it’s supposed to smell like horse sweat.

I’ve personally tried Ashwagandha, and I’m not here to tell you how I feel about it but share with you the facts and research to help you decide if you want to give it a try. But what I can tell you is that while Ashwagandha definitely smells and tastes pretty earthy, I wouldn’t go as far as saying it smells like horse sweat.

Ashwagandha is also considered a royal herb, because of all that it encompasses. It’s known to work on the immune system, neurological system, the energy production system, the endocrine system, and the reproductive system.

While Ashwagandha used to be a pretty unknown herb, reserved primarily for experts and avid ayurvedic healers, today it’s starting to be more commonplace.

In areas like LA or Boulder, you can walk into a local coffee shop that has Ashwagandha on their menu, as an option to boost energy levels without the jitters.

So why is this “royal herb” becoming so popular? It might have something to do with these benefits:

The Benefits of Ashwagandha

Here are some of the most popular benefits of Ashwagandha:

1. Stress Busting Adaptogenic Properties

Perhaps one of the most interesting benefits of Ashwagandha is that it’s an adaptogen. Adaptogens are phytonutrient rich herbs that regulate the body when it’s exposed to mental or physical stress.

Basically, adaptogens help the body adapt by balancing out system functions, building resistance to future stress, and enabling the body to function at a higher level.

2. Anti-Cancer Properties

Research shows that not only does Ashwagandha have anti-tumorigenic properties with which it acts to counteract tumors, but it also has cancer-preventing properties.

Ashwagandha works to prevent the growth of cancer cells mostly through its immune boosting and antioxidant properties.

3. Reduces Anxiety

While there’s not a ton of high-quality recent modern research on the benefits of Ashwagandha for anxiety, anxiety reduction is one of its ancient uses. And reviews find that in the studies that have been done, Ashwagandha does deliver consistently significant improvements in anxiety levels.

And this study found that Ashwagandha helped obese individuals who suffered from anxiety-induced overeating. Results showed that Ashwagandha could effectively and safely be used for body weight management in adults suffering from chronic stress and anxiety.

4. Increases Stamina and Endurance

Remember that whole part about Ashwagandha meaning smell of horse in part because it’s said to produce the stamina and vitality of a horse?

Well, research backs up that Ashwagandha does improve stamina and endurance.

This double-blind, randomized, and placebo-controlled study analyzed the endurance level of healthy individuals while they were at peak physical exertion during a 20 m shuttle run test.

Over a 12 week period, the group that was given Ashwagandha had increased stamina and endurance compared to the placebo group.

5. Helps Increase Muscle Mass

A study published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition compared treatment subjects who were given Ashwagandha root twice a day with placebo subjects.

Both groups were monitored over an eight week period of resistance training and had equal experience with resistance training before joining the study.

The study found that the male subjects aged 18-50 who consumed Ashwagandha had significantly higher increases in muscle strength and greater muscle mass increase than those who did not consume Ashwagandha.

6. Boosts Sexual Function and Fertility

Ancient cultures renowned Ashwagandha for its ability to help almost all bodily systems, and that includes sex and fertility.

Researchers have found that Ashwagandha effectively improves female sexual function. And these improvements were especially significant in the categories of arousal, lubrication, and orgasms.

And it’s not all about the ladies either. In a study of males with fertility issues related to low sperm counts, subjects that were treated with Ashwagandha over 90 days showed a 167% increase in sperm count and a 53% increase in semen volume.

7. Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation has been found to lead to many diseases and illnesses; some even say it’s the root of all disease. So reducing inflation comes with all-around benefits.

This animal study of arthritic rats found that Ashwagandha reduced inflammation on top of also producing antioxidant and anti-arthritic properties.

And another 2018 Japanese study found that the topical application of boiled Ashwagandha can reduce skin inflammation in humans.

8. Improves Brain Function and Memory

A decrease in cognitive function often comes hand in hand with aging, and to test a natural treatment for this decline researchers studied 50 adults with mild cognitive impairment.

The subjects were either given an extract of Ashwagandha or a placebo. After eight weeks, the Ashwagandha group showed significant improvements in both immediate and general memory, compared to the placebo group.

Not only does Ashwagandha improve brain function and memory, but research shows that it also acts as a neuroprotector and can reduce cell death and have therapeutic effects on sufferers of mild traumatic brain injury.

9. Improves Underactive Thyroid Function

Ashwagandha increases the production of serum thyroid stimulating hormone and thyroxine levels, leading to improvements in individuals who suffer from hypothyroidism.

Since Ashwagandha has been proven to increase thyroid function, it’s not a good option for those who suffer from hyperactive thyroid.

10. Enhances Immune Function

Stress weakens the immune system, and since Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that helps the body respond to stress, it, in turn, boosts immune function.

Interested in Giving Ashwagandha a Try?

As the body of research on Ashwagandha grows, more and more of the benefits that ancient cultures used for thousands of years are slowly being proven. While Ashwagandha research is in many ways still in it’s beginning phases, there’s enough information out there to see if you want to give Ashwagandha a try.

And if you do, make sure to find high-quality Ashwagandha and take it as recommended.

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About the author

Neda Shamsdiba
Neda Shamsdiba is a freelance writer with a background in environmental science. She uses her words to support the personal growth and elevation in consciousness in herself and others. As an avid explorer and citizen of the world, she’s always looking for the next adventure.

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