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Ashwagandha’s health benefits

April 10, 2017 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Ashwagandha is one of the ancient world’s most versatile natural remedies. It was a staple of Indian Ayurvedic practices 3,000 years ago and still is today. Modern research shows that it can:

  • Relieve stress and anxiety
  • Manage blood sugar
  • Burn fat
  • Detoxify blood
  • Boost testosterone
  • Kill and suppress cancer cells

And that’s just a partial list. Ashwagandha is also emerging as an effective supplement for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Just as remarkable as ashwagandha’s diversity of talents is the special way that it works inside your body.

Let’s take a closer look.

Ashwagandha: Seek, Destroy, Balance

Ashwagandha is a plant in the nightshade family that grows in Central Asia. Also known as withania somnifera or winter cherry, ashwagandha is part of a special class of substances called adaptogens.

As the name would imply, adaptogens help your body adapt to stress in all of its many forms—mental, physical or emotional. It’s like the Swiss Army knife of wellness. When digested, adaptogens respond to different situations in your body in different ways. They send hormones here, a vasodilator there, a cancer cell killer where it’s needed…like a detector and dispatcher all in one. Balance, or homeostasis, is an adaptogen’s ultimate goal.

And when I say that Indian medicine practitioners used ashwagandha, they used all of it – roots, leaves, flowers, and seeds – because each part of the plant has its own health benefits.

A Stress Reliever and Body Healer

Everyone experiences stress. I do nearly every day. Stress isn’t entirely a bad thing because it teaches us to be resourceful and resilient. However, chronic stress is an entirely different beast–a beast that can slowly eat away at your long-term health. Heart disease, diabetes, depression, hypertension, weight gain, weaker immune system, shorter life expectancy, and more–all have chronic stress as a leading factor.

When you’re stressed your adrenal glands release cortisol, the “stress hormone.” Chronic stress turns your cortisol valves to full blast, leading to chronic inflammation, which is the root cause for nearly every disease.

Ashwagandha reduces cortisol levels remarkably. In one study, a group that supplemented with ashwagandha saw as much as a 30% reduction in cortisol compared to controls. In another, it reduced self-reported stress levels by 44% – versus 5.5% taking a placebo.

When stress and cortisol levels drop, so do the risks for:

  • Learning and memory problems
  • Reduced immune function and low bone density
  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Mental illness
  • Lower life expectancy

As the list shows, relieving chronic stress sets off a domino effect that changes your body’s chemistry. It greases the wheels of all of your body’s major systems, allowing them to fire on all cylinders.

Regenerate Your Brain with Ashwagandha

No, that isn’t a typo. And I’m not overhyping ashwagandha either. A major study isolated the active ingredient in ashwagandha, withanolide A, and put it to work against brain cell damage in mice.

Two remarkable takeaways from this study:

  1. Withanolide A induced “significant regeneration” of damaged cells. Specifically, it regenerated the parts of the cell that are vital for cell-to-cell communication–axons, dendrites, and synapses.
  2. Withanolide A recovered memory deficits in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus.

This is just Withanolide A at work in this study. Remember that ashwagandha as a whole is a detoxifier and anti-inflammatory, which also prevent brain cell damage. Also remember that ashwagandha’s stress relieving properties promote improved learning and memory retention.

Add it all up, ashwagandha protects your brain from the inside and outside. This makes it a valuable weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntingdon’s and other neurodegenerative diseases at any stage – prevention, initial diagnosis, ongoing treatment, and recovery if degeneration has already occurred.

Fight Cancer at its Root

Your cells are the perfect example of the life and death cycle. All cells contain a mechanism that tells old cells when to die, allowing new cells to take their place. This is a good thing–otherwise these old cells would be walking timebombs for disease.

Cancerous cells refuse to die on their own. They must be killed before the timebombs go off or you could develop cancer.

Ashwagandha can break down the cancer cell’s resistance. It weakens the cells to the point where they can be easily destroyed by external intervention, such as chemotherapy. Ashwagandha also slows growth of new cancer cells.

In one study, mice with tumors were treated with ashwagandha alone or in combination with an anti-cancer drug. Result? Ashwagandha (with or without the drug) showed a 70 to 80% reduction in tumor growth and the prevention of metastasis, the spread of cancer to other organs.

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Chronic Inflammation Decoded

To date, research indicates that ashwagandha can be effective against breast, lung, colon, brain, and ovarian cancer. I’m confident the list will grow.

Increase Strength and Endurance

Ashwagandha can help you get off to the races by actually making you stronger. Not only has it been shown to boost testosterone levels by up to 137% in just a few weeks. But, amazingly, in one study, when taken with an exercise regimen it increased muscle strength 54% compared to a placebo and exercise. In another, it increased arm muscle size 51% compared to a placebo and exercise.

Along with increased strength comes a bonus — shedding excess pounds. One study showed that along with gaining muscle mass, the ashwagandha helped shed twice as much body fat compared to placebo.

Ashwagandha for Men’s Health

When a man hits his 30s or early 40s, his testosterone level begins to decline by 1 to 2 percent a year. It’s so gradual that most men don’t notice until their 50s. Then seemingly out of nowhere, they sound the alarms when they are hit with the symptoms of what’s sometimes called “andropause” or “male menopause:”

  • Reduced energy
  • Loss of libido
  • Weaker erections
  • Increased belly fat

As if that’s not challenging enough, low testosterone has been linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity. And there’s evidence that men with lower testosterone levels are at greater risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • High blood pressure

One study looked at 2,100 men over age 45. Those who were obese, diabetic, or had high blood pressure were twice as likely to have low testosterone levels.

Enter ashwagandha again, for its legendary testosterone-boosting and antioxidant powers.

In a study of 75 infertile men, the group treated with ashwagandha had an increase in sperm count and motility. Just as valuable, the treatment led to a significant increase in testosterone levels.

The group who took the herb also experienced increased antioxidant levels in the blood, a key defensive shield against dangerous free radicals that accelerate aging and weaken our immune systems.

Ashwagandha for Women’s Health

Ashwagandha has a special package of women’s benefits, too.

It relieves menopausal symptoms by stimulating the glands that release hormones into the bloodstream. Menopausal women using ashwagandha showed a significant reduction in symptoms such as hot flashes, mood fluctuations, and anxiety.

Ashwagandha can also improve fertility, albeit through an indirect route. Stress, hormonal imbalance, poor diet, and illness can cause infertility in women. By promoting relaxation and decreasing stress, ashwagandha plays a leading role in maintaining hormonal balance, which is known to improve fertility.

Ashwagandha for Lovebirds

For as long as it’s been known as a magic medicine, ashwagandha has also been treasured as an aphrodisiac that increases desire and satisfaction in men and women alike.

Increasing testosterone in men plays its role, of course, as does the stress-relieving effect of dilating blood vessels to allow richer blood flow to the genitals for both men and women. Men with erectile dysfunction report positive results after only a few days of taking ashwagandha.

How to Use Ashwagandha

As with most herbal remedies, your choices range from a single capsule to a powder that you can add to drinks or smoothies. I like to brew tea using dried ashwagandha root.

If you opt for the convenience of a supplement, I recommend 675 mg daily. The only side effects of ashwagandha–stomach irritation, vomiting, and diarrhea–were reported as a result of taking too much of it. A daily dose of 675 mg is well below that.

Here’s an extra tip: find a formulation that contains vitamin D3 as well. Research has found that men with higher levels of vitamin D3 tend to have higher levels of testosterone. And women need extra vitamin D3 for overall health as well.

An Ancient Remedy for Modern Ailments

If medicine cabinets existed 3,000 years ago, I’m confident that they would have been stocked with ashwagandha. Modern medicine is finally paying more attention to its long list (and growing!) of health benefits.

Like curcumin, ginger and other ancient remedies, ashwagandha is extremely effective, versatile and safe. It’s time that you make some space for it in your medicine cabinet.


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