The Healing Powers of Ashwagandha, and How To Use It

The Healing Powers of Ashwagandha, and How To Use It

Ashwagandha is a well-known herb native to India and Africa that has garnered significant attention in recent years for its purported health benefits. Known scientifically as Withania somnifera, this stress-relieving adaptogenic herb has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to promote overall well-being and vitality. Modern scientific research has begun to unravel the mechanisms behind its effects, shedding light on its potential benefits and safety profile.

The word Ashwagandha is alternately translated as the “strength,” “sweat,” and “smell” of ten horses. This is sometimes said to refer to the smell of the root, and is likely also linked to its building and strengthening properties. It could also be linked to its reputation for building the nervous system and sexual vitality. The root is also used to support athletic performance, endurance, and exercise recovery.

Ashwagandha is one of Ayurveda’s few natural ojas builders, which means it supports vitality, immunity, radiant health, and longevity. It is also considered to have herbal intelligence, as it can increase or decrease stress hormones like cortisol depending on the needs of the body.

With its herbal intelligence, ashwagandha supports the nervous, reproductive, immune and respiratory systems.

It is also a rasayana, or rejuvenative, specifically for the mamsa dhatu (muscle tissues). As such, it is useful for promoting the optimal strength and vitality of the heart, uterus, and the muscles of the respiratory system that bolster and support the lungs, making it useful in the support of breathing issues.

See also Ayurvedic Immunity-Boosters and the Role of Rasayana and Your Lymphatic System

In This Article

1. Ashwagandha for Stress and Worry Reduction 

One of the most well-known benefits of ashwagandha is its ability to combat stress and anxiety. Research suggests that ashwagandha can reduce cortisol levels, the body’s primary stress hormone. Let’s look to a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. The researchers found that participants who received ashwagandha experienced significant reductions in stress and anxiety levels compared to the placebo group. 

2. Ashwagandha to Improve Cognitive Function

Ashwagandha may also support cognitive function and memory. Studies have shown that it possesses neuroprotective properties, which may support folks with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Additionally, ashwagandha has been found to enhance memory and cognitive performance in both animal and human studies. A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements demonstrated that ashwagandha supplementation improved cognitive function, attention, and information processing speed in healthy adults. 

See also Your Brain on Ashwagandha: 10 Reasons Your Mind + Mood Will Benefit

3. Ashwagandha to Enhance Physical Performance

Athletes are turning to ashwagandha to boost their performance and endurance. Research indicates that ashwagandha supplementation may increase strength, muscle mass, and exercise capacity. A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that individuals who took ashwagandha extract experienced significant improvements in muscle strength, power output, and muscle recovery compared to the placebo group. These effects are thought to be linked to the herb’s ability to increase energy production within muscle cells, and to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage. 

4.  Ashwagandha to Boost Immunity

Ashwagandha has been shown to possess immunomodulatory properties, meaning it can help regulate the immune system. In a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, researchers found that ashwagandha significantly improved the immune profile of healthy subjects. It did this by modulating both the innate and adaptive immune systems. In addition, there were no adverse reactions to ashwagandha in the study. 

5. Safety Considerations

Recently, some social media posts have been suggesting that ashwagandha may be harmful. I have yet to see a study showing any known safety risks. That said, in America, often people think “more is better”, such as the herb companies who have created super-potent extracts that act more like medicines than nutritional support. The more you concentrate just one or two of an herb’s constituents, the more side effects you will see.

These herbal extracts are also sterile, which means they are devoid of the microbial intelligence that naturally occurs with the organic foods and herbs we should be consuming. Combining the whole plant along with its natural microbiome aims to support the body’s ability to heal itself. Studies have shown that taking the whole plant and its ‘bugs’ is more effective in the body than a super-potent, sterile extract that aims to overrule the body’s intelligence.

See also 1,000x More Microbes in LifeSpa Whole Herbs

In a study entitled Mutagenicity and Safety of Ashwagandha, they looked at the safety at very high doses. Ashwagandha root extract failed to show any mortality in doses up to 2,000 mg/kg oral dosage. It also did not show any mutagenic (genotoxic) effects in high concentrations.

In a randomized, placebo-controlled safety study, researchers recognized that ashwagandha has been consumed since time immemorial following the Ayurvedic practices. However, modern science requires evidence of the safety and efficacy of the ashwagandha before mass consumption as a supplement. This study concluded “the consumption of ashwagandha root extract for 8 weeks was safe in both male and female volunteers.” 

Thyroid Safety

You may have heard concerns about ashwagandha’s relationship to thyroid issues. First, ashwagandha is only indicated for a low-functioning thyroid. It is not to be used with a hyper or high thyroid condition. Typically, issues arise when an extract is used. While extract concentrations vary, one study compared the whole plant vs. the extract of ashwagandha for their content of withaferin A (the constituent linked to raising T hormone). They found that a whole-herb sample had just 8.4% withaferin A compared to the extract, which contained 95.98% withaferin A.

A 500 mg capsule of whole-herb ashwagandha would deliver just 47 mg of withaferin A, compared to 480 mg of withaferin A in a capsule of the extract (~10x more potent). With a low dose of the crude herb having a minimal dose of Withaferin A, the other constituents that support thyroid health can be potentially useful. Ashwagandha’s withanolides, for example, are studied to boost apoptosis and shown to support treatment of thyroid cancer.

Energetics of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha decreases excess vata and kapha, though caution is advised in the case of excess pitta.

  • Taste (Rasa): Bitter, astringent, sweet
  • Energy (Virya): Heating
  • Post-digestive quality (Vipaka): Sweet
  • Quality (Guna): Light, unctuous
  • Tissue (Dhatu): Blood, muscle, fat, bone, nerve, reproductive
  • Channel (Srotas): Reproductive, nervous, respiratory

PLEASE NOTE: Ashwagandha is a heavy, warm, and sweet root that can be hard to digest. It is also a nightshade, which some people have difficulties digesting. At LifeSpa we use the organic whole root, carrying the naturally-occurring microbiome. To make it lighter and easier to digest, we combine it with a small amount of ginger powder. This is a traditional and time-tested way to formulate and consume ashwagandha.

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Dosing Suggestion for LifeSpa’s Ashwagandha 

Take 1-2 capsules (500 mg each) of whole-root, organic ashwagandha twice daily after meals (or before bed if needed for sleep).

Ayurvedic Supplements with Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha: This whole herb is a favorite adaptogen with many Western herbalists because of its unique nourishing and stabilizing properties. An adaptogen is an herb with overall nervine tonic benefits. It energizes the body when needed during the day, and calms overactive nerves for easy and restful sleep at night. In the daytime, it helps support healthy weight loss, detoxification, cognitive function, hormone balance, sexual health, and the immune system, all of which can be negatively impacted by stress.

Ojas Nightly Tonic: This sumptuous blend of ojas-building foods and herbs (Ashwagandha and Shatavari) makes it easy to replenish your reserves. Add a heaping teaspoon to a cup of any milk, add a bit of ghee or coconut oil, and bring to a simmer for an ojas-building nightcap.

See also What is Ojas?

Chyawanprash: This is a classic Ayurvedic superfood with a supporting cast of over 40 organic herbs for anyone who needs support to avoid vata imbalances during seasonal changes and stressful life transitions. The base (and key ingredient) of this formula is Amalaki, or Indian Gooseberry. Amalaki is a powerful antioxidant fruit that is considered a superfood in India for its potent free-radical-scavenging properties. Chyawanprash helps support the body’s natural ability to remove toxins and boost ojas.

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Dr. John

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