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Everything You Need To Know About Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha

The unfortunate truth about herbal supplements is…

Most of them don’t work!

Many of these supplements contain herbs which were traditionally used throughout ancient systems of medicine, but when placed under the scrutiny of scientific study, few have proven effective.

On the contrary, some have proven VERY effective.

On such herbal supplement which has been proven time and time again is Ashwagandha.

Yeah, it’s a mouth full.  But it’s not so bad when you sound it out…

Ash-wa-gan-duh

See, not so bad.  Okay moving on…

In this article, we’ll answer questions like

  • What Is Ashwagandha?
  • Why Do People Use It?
  • What Are The Proven Benefits?
  • Is It Safe?
  • What Are The Different Types?

Well also talk about dosing, how to choose a quality supplement, and more.  So if you’re ready to become immersed in the wonderful world of Ashwagandha, let’s start from the top!

What Is Ashwagandha

Withania somnifera, more commonly known as Ashwagandha, is a species of herb indigenous mostly to parts Central Asia.

Ashwagandha Plant

Commerically, most of it comes from India, but we’ll talk more about sourcing later…

Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen which basically just means it helps the body adapt to stress.  That could mean physical or mental.  This explains why it’s been used for thousands of years for a whole bunch of things.

History Of Use

Ashwagandha History Of Use

When we talk about the use of Ashwagandha in traditional medicine, we’re dealing mostly with Ayurvedic Medicine.  Ayurveda refers to a system of medicine practices in India for thousands of years.  It involved much more than herbal treatments, but that was certainly a large part of it.

After all, they had thousands of years to experiment with different herbs and find out what had which effect.

Although Ayurveda has been criticized by modern science and considered a kind of folk-medicine, it turns out it’s actually pretty scientific.  They weren’t just eaeting random plants and trying to remember what happened.  Very much of what we know now as the Scientific Method was involved in the practice of Ayurvedic Medicine.

Perhaps that explains why many of the traditional benefits of Ashwgandha have held true under the scrutiny of scientific study.

What Are The Active Components?

Components Of Ashwagandha

One thing ancient practitioners of Ayurveda weren’t really capable of doing, however, is figuring out the molecules within the plant which were responsible for the benefits.  Modern scientists have been able to identify several active components of Ashwagandha which are believed to be responsible for the majority of the benefits.

Withanolide A

Withanolide A

Withanoside IV

Withanoside IV

 

To be clear, there are plenty of other distinct molecules at present in Withania Somnifera and any Ashwagandha supplement.

It’s just that most (reliable) Ashwagandha supplements are standardized for Withanolides and Withanosides and these two molecules are the most notable.

But here’s the great thing…

It really doesn’t matter at all because we take Ashwgandha supplements, assuming they’re high quality, we’re getting all the active components.  We’ll discuss how to tell the good Ashwagandha supplements from the bad ones later though.

First, let’s talk about all of the things that this wonderful herb might be capable of…

What Are The Alleged Benefits Of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha Supplement Benefits

Well, here’s the thing.  Being that Ashwagandha has been used in one form or another for literally thousands of years, it has a long list of ALLEGED benefits.  The following are all of the things that Ashwagandha is BELIEVED to do or help with.

  • Stress Reduction
  • Performance Enhancement
  • Cognitive Enhancement
  • Treatment Anxiety
  • Treatment For Depression
  • Better Sleep
  • Cardiovascular Health
  • Fat Loss
  • Joint Health
  • Organ Protection
  • Sexual/Libido Enhancement

Now, it’s important that we draw the distinction with what are traditionally believed to be the benefits of Ashwagandha and the benefits that are actually scientifically proven.  That’s not to say years of Ayurvedic experimentation are wrong.  It’s just that if you’re going to take a supplement, you should be well aware of what it does and what is MIGHT do.

They’re not the same thing, but you as the consumer should decide for yourself how much proven research you need before you’ll take a certain supplement.  Everyone has a different threshold.

With that said let’s talk about the PROVEN benefits of Ashwagandha before discussing what it MIGHT do.

What Are The Clinically Proven Benefits

Proven Benefits Of Ashwagandha

As it turns out, many of the Ayurvedic uses for Ashwagandha have been investigated by modern science, so we’ve got plenty of scientific evidence to conclude that it’s useful for quite a few reasons.

Stress And Anxiety

Quite a few scientific studies have looked specifically at the effects of Ashwagandha supplementation on parameters of stress and anxiety.  This include both mental and physical parameters.  Self-reported and scientifically measured.

There are numerous instances of Ashwagandha and/or it’s individual components have anti-stress/anti-anxiety effects in rodents, but if you’re reading this article, it’s a safe bet you’re more interested in how it effects humans.

Thought so…

A 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine found that Ashwagandha supplementation reduced both self-reported stress levels as well as serum Cortisol (the stress hormone), a physical indication of reduced stress.

Ashwagandha has addition been shown, in a double-blind placebo controlled study, to improve symptoms in patients with clinically diagnosed anxiety disorders.

A comprehensive review of several studies which met certain quality standards concluded that Ashwagandha supplementation does appears to be effective for treating stress and anxiety.

It appears to work via the same basic mechanism as drugs like Alprozolam and Etizolam, meaning it increase the activity of GABA in the brain.

Increased GABA means less brain activity in general, so anything that increases GABA can potentially be useful for anxiety and stress.

But you don’t have to have an anxiety disorder to derive benefit from Ashwagandha.  You just need to be stressed.  And who isn’t stressed at least some of the time?

Numerous studies have concluded the same thing: Ashwagandha is a worthwhile supplement when it comes to managing stress and anxiety.  Will it suddenly make all your problems disappear?  No, of course not.  But it certainly may help…

Exercise Performance Enhancement

Since ancient cultures used Ashwagandha as an anti-fatigue agent (they sure had their reasons for needing to stay alert and perform well), it makes sense that a few studies have actually focused on Ashwagandha and physical performance.

A 2012 study published in The Journal Of Ayurveda And Integrative Medicine found some pretty remarkable results with Ashwagandha supplementation.  Despite not actually exercising, supplementation actually increased physical strength and decreased fat mass.

Another study, this one published in The Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition, found similar results.  Subjects supplementing Ashwagandha significantly increased their 1-rep maxes (bench press and leg press) more than subjects taking a placebo.

While these are currently the only two studies we have directly investigating the impact of Ashwagandha on exercise performance, you have to admit…The results are pretty encouraging!

It definitely appears as though Ashwagandha makes for a worthwhile, all-natural performance enhancing supplement.

Optimizing Testosterone And Sexual Function

Throughout traditional medicine (Ayurveda), Ashwagandha has been used as an aphrodisiac and sexual health enhancer.  Naturally, a few curious minds have investigated these alleged benefits.

A 2010 study found that Ashwagandha supplementation improved various parameters of sexual health in infertile men.  This included a slight boost in Testosterone and Luteinizing Hormone.

Similar results were obtained in another study as well.

Now, obviously a key aspect of both of those studies was that the men had initially low levels of Testosterone and were suffering some fertility issues.  But how does Ashwagandha effect healthy people?

Well, a 2015 study published in the Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition found that Ashwagandha supplementation boosted Testosterone slightly (around 14%) when paired with resistance training in normal, healthy male subjects.

Of course, further studies would help elucidate, but based on the current evidence it looks like Ashwagandha definitely has some sexual-health benefits, perhaps related to (slightly) boosting Testosterone.

Whether you’re suffering from some sort of sexual dysfunction or just want to optimize your Testosterone levels, Ashwagandha is worth considering.  It’s definitely a promising hormonal health agent, generally speaking.

What Else Is Ashwagandha Potentially Capable Of?

Possibly Benefits Of Ashwagandha

There are more than enough scientifically-validated benefits to justify supplementing with Ashwagandha, but what else is it capable of?  Surely it hasn’t been used for thousands of years for just stress reduction, performance enhancement, and sexual health!

Well, as it turns out there are a lot more uses for Ashwagandha that just haven’t been studied as extensively, especially in humans.  So, what else might Ashwagandha be useful for?

Ashwagandha And Sleep

Given its well established anti-stress benefits, it makes sense that some studies would look specifically at how Ashwagandha can impact sleep.  In mice, it has been shown to improve aspects of sleep.

Similar effects have been observed in other rodent studies but, for whatever reason, human studies just haven’t really focused on this area of benefit.

Slight improvements in sleep quality have been noted in some studies, but some of them are confounded with the addition of other nutrients which may also impact sleeep quality.

However,  in one study which wasn’t even designed to measure sleep parameters, some of the subjects reported experiencing better sleep while supplementing with Ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha is known to interact with GABA receptors which offers a potential mechanism of action by which it may promote deeper, more restful sleep.  This is the same way drugs like Xanax work except Ashwagandha is obviously weaker and non-addictive.

It’s also the same mechanism underlying the stress-related benefits, so it all just kind of fits together.  If you’re stressed and having trouble sleeping, Ashwagandha may just be worth a try.

Ashwagandha And Weight-Loss

Ashwagandha is sometimes promoted as a weight-loss agent.  While there isn’t a ton of research to back up the claims that it can help you burn fat or lose weight, one study found some interesting results.

A 2015 study published in The Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition–the same study which noted performance enhancement and increased Testosterone–found that subjects who consumed an Ashwagandha supplement daily for 8 weeks experienced a greater decrease in body fat than subjects on the same exercise program but taking a placebo.

There isn’t even a whole lot of in vitro evidence which indicates a mechanism of action for why Ashwagandha would facilitate fat-loss, but it may have something to do with the increase in Testosterone also seen in that one study.

Unfortunately, until more studies are carried out, we can’t really conclude with any certainty that “Ashwagandha burns fat”.  Any supplement company that claims that is just speculating based on one study.

Ashwagandha And Blood Sugar

The impact of Ashwagandha supplementation on blood sugar hasn’t been studied too much in humans, but rodent studies have shown some modest benefits so there may be something to it.

One study published in the Indian Journal Of Pharmacology found that subjects with Metabolic Syndrome (overweight but not diabetic just yet) who supplemented with 400mg of Ashwagandha daily experienced lower fasting blood glucose and triglyceride levels after just 30 days.

So, while the evidence for Ashwagandha as a blood-glucose management supplement is certainly not overwhelming, it does appear promising.

We just need to see some more studies (in humans)…

Is Ashwagandha Safe?

Ashwagandha is EXTREMELY safe.  In mice, the LD50 (the amount it takes to kill half a population) is around 450mg/kg.

Throughout hundreds of studies involving Ashwagandha, there haven’t been any major adverse effects recorded, except one which used a massive 5g dose.

Considering that the clinically effective range for Ashwagandha is much, much lower than that, there’s really nothing to worry about with Ashwagandha supplementation.

If you’re taking some kind of psychoactive medication, however, you need to be careful.  As we discussed earlier, Ashwagandha acts upon GABA receptors so it can potentially impact (perhaps amplify) the effects of other drugs (like benzos or alcohol) that interact with these same receptors.

Assuming you keep your dose within the clinically effective range for Ashwaganda, there’s nothing unsafe about it.

Whats The Clinically Effective Dose Of Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha Dosing

The clinically effective dose of any supplement is the dose (or range of doses) at which it has been proven to be effective.  For a supplement like Ashwagandha, which has many uses, this range is 300-600mg daily.  That’s assuming you’re using a reliable extract that’s standardized for the active components we talked about earlier.

Like most herbal supplements, you’ll want to take Ashwagandha with meals to aid absorption.  Given that most of the benefits of Ashwagandha take time to develop, timing isn’t particularly important.  What’s important is that you take it consistently (daily) and use an Ashwagandha supplement you can actually trust.

What Kind Of Ashwagandha Is Best?

Now, here’s the honest truth about most herbal supplements…

They don’t work because most of them are poor quality.  The average consumer doesn’t know how to tell a high quality Ashwagandha supplement from a low quality one, or any other herbal supplement for that matter.

Every supplement company says you can trust them, but the reality is most of them are using inferior, low quality extracts to keep costs low and maximize profits.

That’s why branded herbal ingredients are actually important.  The companies that produce them have their methods down pat and the quality is going to be more consistent.

When you go shopping for Ashwagandha supplements, you’ll find two kinds in particular:

  1. KSM-66
  2. Sensoril

Both of these are standardized for a guaranteed level of active components like Withanolides, so you can be certain you’re getting what you pay for.

KSM-66 VS Sensoril

Both are proven.  Both are reliable.  The only real difference is that Sensoril is standardized for a higher percentage of active components.  That means you could potentially take less Sensoril and derive the same benefits as a higher dose of KSM-66, but there’s absolutely no research comparing the two.

In fact, some anecedotal evidence suggests that Sensoril is more likely to cause minor side effects (such as headaches), but again, that’s just anecdotal.

At this point, they’ve both been proven to reduce stress and lower Cortisol, but KSM-66 has been shown to improve exercise performance and encourage higher testosterone levels.

So, the smart thing to do would be try both of them and see how you feel.

Me personally, I like KSM-66.  I’ve never had kind of negative sides from it.

I’ve tried Sensoril too, but I can’t say that I noticed a clear difference.  KSM-66 just seems to be more affordable and just as effective for my purposes.  So that’s what I go with…

The Bottom Line

Ashwagandha is one of the more scientifically-validated herbal supplements in many regards.  Some of the proposed benefits have a lot more research behind them than others, but on the whole there are a ton of reasons to consider taking Ashwagandha.

Whether you’re an athlete, stressed out CEO, or a Buddhist monk, you can derive some benefit from this unique, wonderful herb.

Unfortunately, not all Ashwagandha supplements are created equal.  You must be able to tell the difference between one that is actually going to be effective and the other 95% of the garbage that supplement companies are pushing these days.

My advice?

Go with a branded form such as KSM-66.  Take 600mg/day.  See how you feel.

Do You Have Any Experience With Ashwagandha, or any other herbal adaptogen for that matter?  Let’s talk about it in the comments below…

Ashwagandha Infographic

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