Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a natural herb from the nightshade family, which traditionally had medicinal uses for treating various ailments in India and the Middle East. Today, ashwagandha is more commonly known as an adaptogen (which we should note is a controversial term) that improves the body’s tolerance to stress.
When the body is under stress for a long time, the balance between health and stress is disrupted, and the body suffers from ill health as a consequence. Some examples of the negative effects of stress include sleep issues, low libido, and increased fatigue. The benefits ashwagandha offers can help recover this balance.
Ashwagandha For Stress And Anxiety
One of the ashwagandha powder benefits is that it has anxiolytic and adaptogenic potential. Suffering from stress over a long period increases your susceptibility to disease. For people who fall into this category, a study found that ashwagandha extract benefits their overall well-being following supplementation.
In the US, up to 11% of people are diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in their lifetime. Clinicians prescribe pharmaceutical drugs to treat GAD, but the side effects, including both addiction and tolerance, often cause more harm than good. Another option is ashwagandha which has shown a significant improvement in GAD symptoms compared to the placebo.
Ashwagandha benefits those experiencing both stress and anxiety. One double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study showed that after 8 weeks of twice daily ashwagandha supplementation, both stress and anxiety measurements improved significantly in the groups who received ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha For Sleep
Stress and anxiety go hand in hand when it comes to ruining a good night’s sleep. Stress reduction is one step towards sleeping better. The study we discuss above also demonstrated that one ashwagandha benefit is improved sleep quality.
Lowering stress levels isn’t the only way ashwagandha improves sleep quality. A rodent study showed that ashwagandha extract has a protective effect in sleep-disturbed mice ー bodyweight reduction slowed, reduced locomotor activity improved, and anxiety levels reduced. Ashwagandha use may also protect your body from further harm if you’re suffering from sleep loss.
If you’re undergoing clinical treatment that zaps your energy, such as chemotherapy for cancer, ashwagandha may also reduce fatigue. Though one supporting study used a small cohort, the findings were statistically significant and showed great potential for ashwagandha uses in a clinical setting.
Human studies exploring the link between ashwagandha and sleep remain low in number and are mostly low-quality. Most studies also have their subjects take the herb throughout the day rather than mainly at night. Some non-blinded studies do note improvements in sleep quality, though these results must be treated with caution. To ascertain whether organic ashwagandha benefits sleep and reduces fatigue, we need better studies.
Ashwagandha For Testosterone, Sexual Function & Fertility
Psychological stress has a damaging effect on spermatogenesis, reducing male fertility. A small study explored whether ashwagandha root powder benefits semen quality (motility and count) in males whose infertility was caused by stress. Stress decreased, semen quality improved, anti-oxidant levels rose, and consequently, the researchers saw a 14% increase in pregnancy from these patients.
Reproductive hormones control fertility. For example, if luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone levels are low, the testes fail to produce sperm and testosterone , which are both key players in fertility and libido. Ashwagandha can restore LH and FSH, which concurrently boosts testosterone levels for treating infertile males.
This delicate balance in the hormonal control of fertility may explain the relationship between stress and fertility and why ashwagandha supplementation is so beneficial. Reductions in cortisol often occur in the same studies as increases in testosterone. Stress can reduce testosterone, and testosterone and cortisol are derived from the same precursor hormone, pregnenolone. So, one would expect testosterone benefits mostly in stressed-out men.
Ashwagandha’s uses for fertility and libido have not been reflected so clearly in women. Theoretically, stress reduction should raise libido in women. One study showed a marked improvement in sexual satisfaction in a small cohort of women with sexual dysfunction after taking ashwagandha extract. More studies are needed to explore these results.
Ashwagandha For Athletic Performance
Ashwagandha may enhance athletic performance. In a small study of 10 healthy subjects, ashwagandha extract improved speed, power, and oxygen consumption. These results suggest ashwagandha’s potential to protect against muscle weakness and fatigue in athletes.
A randomized, placebo-controlled trial in elite cyclists further demonstrated the health benefits of ashwagandha. Using a treadmill test as a measure of endurance, the cyclists who took ashwagandha in capsule form showed a significant improvement in the time required for exhaustion on the treadmill.
The improvements observed in athletes may be connected to an increase in testosterone levels. This was shown in healthy young men who achieved greater muscle mass and strength while supplementing with ashwagandha root extract. Serum testosterone levels increased, suggesting the link between improved testosterone via ashwagandha supplementation and athletic performance.
Ashwagandha For Mood And Quality Of Life
Many studies exploring the benefits of ashwagandha as an anxiolytic also noted an improvement in mood, motivation and general well-being. These factors culminate into a higher quality of life. One cohort received a high-concentration, full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract. Across the cohort, they found an increased resilience to anxiety and stress which resulted in a higher quality of life.
Anxiety is detrimental to an individual’s confidence and motivation to interact in a social setting. Ashwagandha may provide a solution. Alongside vitamin supplementation, taking ashwagandha was shown to improve social functioning for one group of study participants suffering from severe anxiety.
Ashwagandha For Weight Loss, Blood Sugar Management & Cholesterol
Ashwagandha may aid in weight loss and healthy dietary choices as it reduces stress-eating. Chronic stress especially makes the individual more susceptible to becoming obese. A study confirmed that ashwagandha supplementation prevents food cravings, lowers serum cortisol, and reduces body weight in chronically stressed adults.
Stress management may not be the only way ashwagandha affects weight management. Healthy volunteers who took ashwagandha capsules experienced reductions in LDL (bad) cholesterol and body fat percentage. Clinically in 6 patients, ashwagandha root extract lowered blood sugar levels and cholesterol. Neither cohort experienced any adverse effects.
So What Is Ashwagandha Good For?
The health benefits ashwagandha offers are primarily as an anti-stress supplement. Ashwagandha’s benefits are secondary to its ability to reduce stress. In other words, you’re more likely to see health improvements such as weight loss, cholesterol reduction, or improved athletic performance, if you suffer from stress/anxiety, and are supplementing with ashwagandha.
Since you’ve made it this far, maybe you’re thinking about buying ashwagandha supplements. If this is the case, you’re in luck, because we’ve published a fair amount of content on ashwagandha. Check out our:
- recommendations for the best ashwagandha tea
- discussion of the best ashwagandha supplements that contain high amounts of withanolides