Any rational consumer or trustworthy nutrition expert ought to know that there aren’t any types of foods or supplements that can magically cure physical ailments or change your physique, but given how many health and performance benefits it’s been linked to, we’re starting to think that ashwagandha extract deserves consideration to be as close to “magic” as we’ve seen.
The ashwagandha shrub with its small yellow flowers grows natively throughout the country of India, as well as in areas of the African continent. It has been used in natural medicine for ages, and modern medical professionals are beginning to recognize its health (and even psychological) benefits. These benefits range from stress management and cognitive function improvement and support to boosting testosterone levels and muscle strengthening, particularly in those who exercise regularly with endurance efforts and weight lifting.
Here’s what science knows so far about the effects of the ashwagandha plant when taken internally as a nutritional supplement, and how it can help you achieve optimal health and wellness.
What is Ashwagandha and How Can it Help Improve Your Health?
The herb we know commonly as ashwagandha actually goes by quite a few names, depending on the region. Some call it Indian ginseng, while others know it as poison gooseberry (even though it’s truly not poisonous at all). It is also known as winter cherry, and its scientific name is Withania somnifera in some parts of the world. The term “ashwagandha” in the old Indian language of Sanskrit means “like a horse”. This is due to the ashwagandha plant’s potent, somewhat unpleasant odor along with the herb’s strength-boosting properties. However, don’t let the horsey aroma turn you off to ashwagandha supplements altogether, because they won’t smell up your cabinets (or your breath) like a horse stable at all. The strong smell is mostly processed out of the herb when it is transformed into a supplement form.
Because of its status as an adaptogen, ashwagandha is believed to facilitate the body’s ability to deal with the adverse effects of stress. Research suggests that ashwagandha may have an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The specific mechanism through which ashwagandha exerts its effects is not fully understood at this time.
Let’s get some perspective on this situation for a second.
The hypothalamus region of the brain has control of the body’s process of homeostasis by regulating temperature, thirst, appetite, and other physiological functions that keep the body in a balanced state. In addition to this, it has a role in the regulation of sleep patterns as well as in daily emotional responses to agitation and stress. Below the brain is an organ known as the pituitary gland, which is responsible for manufacturing the hormones that regulate body functions. After that, it has an effect on the production of cortisol, which is a hormone that is generated by the adrenal glands as a response to stressful situations and conditions, as well as when there is not enough sugar in the blood.
The HPA axis is a group of systems that work together to control how your body reacts physically to different kinds of stressful circumstances. Scientists believe that ashwagandha can help to moderate the body’s response to stress by having an effect on the HPA axis. This will relieve the pressure that is being placed on your system and will allow it to function more efficiently in a variety of different ways.
The Numerous Health Advantages of Ashwagandha
The use of ashwagandha may have a wide variety of beneficial effects, including alleviating mental stress and enhancing cognitive function in the brain, as well as enhancing physical performance in the gym or during sports activities.
Ashwagandha May Help People Who Are Struggling With Stress
Supplementation with ashwagandha helped both men and women reduce their cortisol levels and experience an improvement in the quality of their sleep, according to a study published in 2019. Another study of healthy adults who were experiencing elevated stress levels found that larger ashwagandha dosages resulted in better effects. Subjects partaking in the study who took the highest doses of ashwagandha supplements experienced the greatest decline in overall cortisol levels, which was about 30 percent on average. They also reported the most positive shifts in how they felt about their general emotional states and sense of well-being.
According to the findings of an Indian study, consumption of ashwagandha not only improved a person’s ability to cope with stress, but it was also associated with self-reported improvements in the general quality of their lives. These findings lend credence to the hypothesis that lower levels of cortisol are associated with more positive feelings. High levels of cortisol are believed to cause increased weight gain, particularly fatty deposits around the waist and belly, which in turn is thought to have a direct relation to heart and cardiovascular ailments. Thus, the reduction in cortisol from daily intake of ashwagandha supplements may have far-reaching health benefits for people who are prone to weight gain and subsequent heart conditions.
Ashwagandha Offers Protection of the Mental State and a Healthy Brain
Ashwagandha has been shown to help people feel more focused when they are working. A study that was conducted on healthy males and published in Pharmacognosy Research found that those healthy men who took ashwagandha herb did better in cognitive and psychomotor testing.
Ashwagandha may be able to help elderly people who are concerned about experiencing “senior moments” maintain their focus. According to a study that was conducted in 2017 on older people with mild cognitive impairments, after eight weeks of treatment, the participants’ memory improved to the point that they were able to recognize faces in family photographs. They were also able to grasp intellectual material better, perform more tasks at once without trouble, and it also helped them remain focused with attention directed on a single task longer and with more concentration without particular effort or strain.
Ashwagandha Helps Boost Endurance as Well as Muscle Strength
You’ve definitely heard of whey protein and creatine if you’re trying to better your body, but after reading this, you might want to think about adding ashwagandha to your workout supplement regimen.
In a study that was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, weight training was supplemented with ashwagandha for a period of eight weeks for male participants ranging in age from 18 to 50 years old. As they grew more chest and arm muscle, they saw a rise in their maxes for the bench press and leg extension exercise tolerance. Simultaneously, levels of body fat decreased by more than twice as much as they did in the placebo group, while levels of testosterone climbed.
Another study that was done a few years ago indicated that ashwagandha helped people enhance their strength while also reducing the amount of total body fat that they had. The total cholesterol level as well as the LDL cholesterol values both went down.