12 Proven Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
It's classified as an "adaptogen," meaning that it can help your body manage stress.
Ashwagandha also provides all sorts of other benefits for your body and brain.
For example, it can lower blood sugar levels, reduce cortisol, boost brain function and help fight symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Here are 12 benefits of ashwagandha that are supported by science.
1. It's an Ancient Medicinal Herb
Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, a form of alternative medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing.
It has been used for over 3,000 years to relieve stress, increase energy levels and improve concentration (1).
"Ashwagandha" is Sanskrit for "smell of the horse," which refers to both its unique smell and ability to increase strength.
Its botanical name is Withania somnifera, and it's also known by several other names, including Indian ginseng and winter cherry.
The ashwagandha plant is a small shrub with yellow flowers that's native to India and North Africa. Extracts or powder from the plant's root or leaves are used to treat a variety of conditions.
Many of its health benefits are attributed to its high concentration of withanolides, which have been shown to fight inflammation and tumor growth (1).
Ashwagandha is a prominent herb in Indian Ayurvedic medicine and has become a popular supplement due to its health benefits.
2. It Can Reduce Blood Sugar Levels
In several studies, ashwagandha has been shown to lower blood sugar levels.
One test-tube study found that it increased insulin secretion and improved insulin sensitivity in muscle cells (2).
Additionally, in one four-week study in people with schizophrenia, those treated with ashwagandha had an average reduction in fasting blood sugar levels of 13.5 mg/dL, compared to 4.5 mg/dL in those who received a placebo (5).
What's more, in a small study in six people with type 2 diabetes, supplementing with ashwagandha for 30 days lowered fasting blood sugar levels as effectively as an oral diabetes medication (6).
Ashwagandha may reduce blood sugar levels through its effects on insulin secretion and sensitivity.
3. It Has Anti-Cancer Properties
Animal and test-tube studies have found that ashwagandha helps induce apoptosis, which is the programmed death of cancer cells (7).
It also impedes the growth of new cancer cells in several ways (7).
First, ashwagandha is believed to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are toxic to cancer cells but not normal cells. Second, it may cause cancer cells to become less resistant to apoptosis (8).
In one study, mice with ovarian tumors treated with ashwagandha alone or in combination with an anti-cancer drug had a 70–80% reduction in tumor growth. The treatment also prevented the spread of cancer to other organs (13).
Although there are no studies to confirm these results in humans yet, the research to date is encouraging.
Animal and test-tube studies have shown that ashwagandha promotes the death of tumor cells and may be effective against several types of cancer.
4. It Can Reduce Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is known as a "stress hormone" because your adrenal glands release it in response to stress, as well as when your blood sugar levels get too low.
Unfortunately, in some cases, cortisol levels may become chronically elevated, which can lead to high blood sugar levels and increased fat storage in the abdomen.
In one study in chronically stressed adults, those who supplemented with ashwagandha had significantly greater reductions in cortisol, compared to the control group. Those taking the highest dose had a 30% reduction, on average (3).
Ashwagandha supplements may help lower cortisol levels in chronically stressed individuals.
5. It May Help Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Ashwagandha is perhaps best known for its ability to reduce stress.
Researchers reported that it blocked the stress pathway in the brains of rats by regulating chemical signaling in the nervous system (16).
In a 60-day study in 64 people with chronic stress, those in the supplemental group reported a 69% average reduction in anxiety and insomnia, compared to 11% in the placebo group (14).
In another six-week study, 88% of people who took ashwagandha reported a reduction in anxiety, compared to 50% of those who took a placebo (18).
Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in both animal and human studies.
6. It May Reduce Symptoms of Depression
In one controlled 60-day study in 64 stressed adults, those who took 600 mg of high-concentration ashwagandha extract per day reported a 79% reduction in severe depression, while the placebo group reported a 10% increase (14).
However, only one of the participants in this study had a history of depression. For this reason, the relevance of the results is unclear.
The limited research available suggests that ashwagandha may help reduce depression.
7. It Can Boost Testosterone and Increase Fertility in Men
In one study in 75 infertile men, the group treated with ashwagandha showed increased sperm count and motility.
The researchers also reported that the group who took the herb had increased antioxidant levels in their blood.
In another study, men who received ashwagandha for stress experienced higher antioxidant levels and better sperm quality. After three months of treatment, 14% of the men's partners had become pregnant (15).
Ashwagandha helps increase testosterone levels and significantly boosts sperm quality and fertility in men.
8. It May Increase Muscle Mass and Strength
In a study to determine a safe and effective dosage for ashwagandha, healthy men who took 750–1,250 mg per day of pulverized ashwagandha root per day gained muscle strength after 30 days (4).
In another study, those who took ashwagandha had significantly greater gains in muscle strength and size. It also more than doubled the reduction in body fat percentage, compared to the placebo group (20).
Ashwagandha has been shown to increase muscle mass, reduce body fat and increase strength in men.
9. It May Reduce Inflammation
It has also been shown to decrease markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (CRP). This marker is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
In one controlled study, the group who took 250 mg of standardized ashwagandha extract daily had a 36% decrease in CRP, on average, compared to a 6% decrease in the placebo group (3).
Ashwagandha has been shown to increase natural killer cell activity and decrease markers of inflammation.
10. It May Lower Cholesterol and Triglycerides
In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, ashwagandha may help improve heart health by reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Animal studies have found that it significantly decreases these blood fats.
One study in rats found that it lowered total cholesterol by as much as 53% and triglycerides by nearly 45% (28).
In a 60-day study in chronically stressed adults, the group taking the highest dosage of standardized ashwagandha extract experienced a 17% decrease in "bad" LDL cholesterol and an 11% decrease in triglycerides, on average (3).
Ashwagandha may help reduce the risk of heart disease by decreasing cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
11. It May Improve Brain Function, Including Memory
Research has shown that it promotes antioxidant activity that protects nerve cells from harmful free radicals.
In one study, epileptic rats treated with ashwagandha had nearly a complete reversal of spatial memory impairment. This was likely caused by a reduction in oxidative stress (32).
Although ashwagandha has traditionally been used to boost memory in Ayurvedic practice, there is only a small amount of human research in this area.
In one controlled study, healthy men who took 500 mg of standardized extract daily reported significant improvements in their reaction time and task performance, compared to men who received a placebo (33).
Another eight-week study in 50 adults showed that taking 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily significantly improved general memory, task performance and attention (34).
Ashwagandha supplements may improve brain function, memory, reaction times and the ability to perform tasks.
12. Ashwagandha Is Safe for Most People and Widely Available
Ashwagandha is a safe supplement for most people.
However, certain individuals should not take it, including pregnant and breastfeeding women.
People with autoimmune diseases should also avoid ashwagandha unless authorized by a doctor. This includes people with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Hashimoto's thyroiditis and type 1 diabetes.
Additionally, those on medication for thyroid disease should be careful when taking ashwagandha, as it may potentially increase thyroid hormone levels in some people.
It may also decrease blood sugar and blood pressure levels, so medication dosages may need to be adjusted if you take it.
The recommended dosage of ashwagandha depends on the type of supplement. Extracts are more effective than crude ashwagandha root or leaf powder. Remember to follow instructions on labels.
Standardized root extract is commonly taken in 450–500 mg capsules once or twice daily.
It's offered by several supplement manufacturers and available from various retailers, including health food stores and vitamin shops.
There's also a great selection of high-quality supplements available on Amazon.
Although ashwagandha is safe for most people, certain individuals shouldn't use it unless authorized by their doctor. Standardized root extract is commonly taken in 450–500 mg capsules once or twice per day.
The Bottom Line
Ashwagandha is a traditional medicinal herb with multiple health benefits.
It can reduce anxiety and stress, help fight depression, boost fertility and testosterone in men and may even boost brain function.
Supplementing with ashwagandha may be an easy and effective way to improve your health and quality of life.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
A grim new assessment of the world's flora and fungi has found that two-fifths of its species are at risk of extinction as humans encroach on the natural world, as The Guardian reported. That puts the number of species at risk near 140,000.
- Climate Crisis Could Cause a Third of Plant and Animal Species to ... ›
- World Leaders Urged to 'Act Now' to Save Biodiversity - EcoWatch ›
- Bumblebees Face Extinction From the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Plant Extinction Is Happening 500x Faster Than Before the Industrial ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
As human activity transforms the atmosphere, flowers are changing their colors.
- The Best Plants to Attract Pollinators, by Region - EcoWatch ›
- Corals Turn Bright Neon in Last-Ditch Effort to Survive - EcoWatch ›
- Hummingbirds Live in a More Colorful World, Study Confirms ... ›
By Sharon Zhang
Back in March, when the pandemic had just planted its roots in the U.S., President Donald Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do something devastating: The agency was to indefinitely and cruelly suspend environmental rule enforcement. The EPA complied, and for just under half a year, it provided over 3,000 waivers that granted facilities clemency from state-level environmental rule compliance.
A rare celestial event was caught on camera last week when a meteoroid "bounced" off Earth's atmosphere and veered back into space.
- Asteroid Could Strike Earth Before Election Day But Won't Cause ... ›
- Water May Have Originated on Earth, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>