What You Need to Know About the Adaptogen Ashwagandha

Web MD hates the title of this article. Their website claims that there’s “little evidence” that Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. Still, the following sentence says it “contains chemicals that may calm the brain, reduce inflammation, lower inflammation, lower blood pressure, and alter the immune system.” This statement seems contradictory since an adaptogen is a substance that helps your body manage stress and return to homeostasis. Isn’t calming the brain, reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and altering the immune system a long-winded way of saying that Ashwagandha contains chemicals that have an adaptogenic effect on the body? More research is needed, but there’s plenty of evidence that Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. Evidence like this study and the others linked to this article later. So why the shade, Web MD?

What is the Adaptogen Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is a flowering evergreen shrub native to parts of Asia and Africa. It’s common in the ancient tradition of Ayurveda, a medical practice that’s been around for thousands of years. Ayurvedic practitioners believe it to be one of the essential herbs. Typical uses include managing stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia and supporting cognitive function.

Image of the adaptogen Ashwagandha as a plant, the roots being ground into powder, and the powder in a bowl and a pile of capsules.
Pictures of the adaptogen Ashwagandha as a plant, grinding the roots into a powder, and the final result, sometimes taken in capsule form.

Possible Benefits of Taking Ashwagandha

Adaptogens do your body and mind good, which is why they’re one of the nine simple shifts to create a life you don’t need to escape from that I wrote about last year. Each adaptogen offers unique benefits. Since the spotlight for this article is on Ashwagandha, let’s dive into the strengths of this adaptogenic herb.

Managing Stress and Anxiety

At least one scientific study shows that using the adaptogen Ashwagandha controls levels of cortisol, heat shock proteins, and specific stress-activated proteins. Another study shows that it regulates your response to stress by reducing the adrenal-hypothalamic-pituitary axis. So, to put all that into plain English, it regulates various hormones, chemicals, and proteins that control how your body responds to stress. Since life gets more stressful every day, and our bodies spend far too much time in fight-or-flight mode, this can be highly beneficial. However, while studies indicate the potential effectiveness of the adaptogen Ashwagandha at managing stress, there is no consensus on the appropriate dose or form. So, scientists, get on that, will you?

The Adaptogen Ashwagandha Improves Sleep

Studies show that taking the adaptogen Ashwagandha improves sleep, but not necessarily for everyone. Those who have insomnia may have better results than those who don’t. This might be because it promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety enough for sleep to be possible. Those who take Ashwagandha also report feeling more alert when they first wake up.

Supports Mental Health

Let me start this paragraph by stating that I do not recommend taking Ashwagandha instead of using antidepressants if you and your doctor decide that antidepressants are right for you. You should also work carefully with your doctor if taking any mental health medication because herbs like Ashwagandha can cause negative interactions. Now that that’s out of the way, studies show that people who suffer from depression, schizophrenia, and even bipolar disorder may benefit from this adaptogenic herb. More research is needed, but Big Pharma probably doesn’t want that to happen.

It Helps Your Brain Function

Possibly because of its antioxidant effects on the brain, according to this and other studies, the adaptogen Ashwagandha helps with:

  • Planning
  • Focus
  • Attention-span
  • Memory
  • Multi-tasking
  • Processing information
  • Decision making and
  • Reaction times

The Adaptogen Ashwagandha Reduces Inflammation

At least three separate studies show that Ashwagandha contains compounds that reduce inflammation in the body, including one known as “WA.” Inflammation is a natural defense response. But it’s also linked to heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, and even immune disorders like HIV/Aids. So it seems that reducing inflammation in the body is a worthwhile goal, yes?

It Regulates Blood Sugar

Once again, more studies are necessary to confirm the data, but this study and this one indicate that this adaptogen could have anti-diabetic properties. Compounds found in Ashwagandha may help your cells take in glucose from the blood. According to diabetesresearch.org, 34.2 million people, or 10.5% of the U.S. population, have diabetes.

Ashwagandha Makes You Stronger

No joke. This adaptogen can help strengthen muscles and increase maximum oxygen use in healthy adults and athletes. This study shows a correlation between Ashwagandha, increased muscular strength, and increased oxygen use. Then there’s this meta-analysis of five studies that back up the claims of significant improvements in oxygen consumption and a link between the herb and lowered risk of heart disease. Finally, another study reiterates the benefits of Ashwagandha on muscle strength and indicates that it also helps with muscle recovery.

It Can Help You Get Pregnant

Or, more accurately, it helps him get you pregnant. Ashwagandha helps increase testosterone levels and positively impacts sperm production, viability, motility, and virility, all the components needed for strong, fast swimmers. This study found that male participants had an 18% increase in DHEA-S (a hormone involved in testosterone production) and a 14.7% increase in total testosterone. Testosterone production decreases as men age, so supplementing with Ashwagandha could benefit men even when procreation is not your goal.

With all this research, isn’t it crazy that Web MD says there’s insufficient evidence to say Ashwagandha is an adaptogen? It might not cure any of the above, but the evidence that it helps your body manage stress and return to homeostasis is plentiful.

The Possible Risks of Taking the Adaptogen Ashwagandha

As with any medication or supplement, there are potential risks and side effects associated with using Ashwagandha. However, most studies show that side effects, including upset stomach, diarrhea, and drowsiness, are mild and that Ashwagandha is generally safe. But better safe than sorry.

Those who should avoid or work with their doctor closely before taking this adaptogen are:

  • Pregnant women – this herb can result in miscarriage if taken in high doses.
  • Those with hormone-sensitive prostate cancer. This is due to the potential increase in testosterone.
  • Anyone diagnosed with thyroid disease.
  • Recipients of organ transplants. One study found an increased risk of rejection for Ashwagandha users.
  • Those with compromised liver function. Although rare, there is a small chance of liver damage, so if your liver is already compromised, this herb might not be great for you.
  • Users of prescribed medications like benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and barbiturates.
A mug of Moon Milk made with the adaptogen Ashwagandha, turmeric, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Get your fix of the adaptogen Ashwagandha mixed with cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric in this moon milk recipe.

Adding Ashwagandha to Your Diet

If supplement capsules aren’t your thing, but you don’t know what to do with Ashwagandha powder, try this recipe for a turmeric-nutmeg-cinnamon moon milk drink. I recommend drinking it before bed. Or you can try energy-balancing truffles, adaptogenic almond butter, grounding trail mix, or another comforting nighttime beverage using one of the recipes you can find here.

Stay Tuned for More!

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9 thoughts on “What You Need to Know About the Adaptogen Ashwagandha

  1. I’ve heard a lot about Ashwagandha but nothing this detailed! I’ll definitely have to give that drink recipe a try. Great post!

  2. I had never heard of Ashwagandha. Very interesting. Personally I believe our mind and bodies function better when we nourish from nature.

    1. Ashwagandha is nature! I agree that nature holds the source of our healing and ideal nourishment. The more natural one can eat (and drink), the better off they are physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually!

  3. I hadn’t heard about Ashwagandha but found this so informative! As a lady thinking of conceiving again in the future, I was fascinated that it can help increase testosterone levels. Thank you for such great detailed information. 🙂

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