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Ashwagandha is an important part of Ayurvedic medicine, which is one of the oldest holistic healing systems. Ayurveda was developed more than 3000 years ago in India. Primarily considered an adaptogenic herb, ashwagandha is valued for a number of health benefits. These include neuroprotective, thyroid-modulating, anti-anxiety, and anti-inflammatory properties.
When translated into English, the herb is also known as the “strength of the stallion.” This implies that it holds the potential to yield the vigor and strength of a stallion. Oddly enough, the root of the plant is also known to have a smell similar to that of horse sweat. Yummy.
As for its strength-building properties, ashwagandha has been seen to help individuals strengthen their immune system after an illness. It has also shown promise as a cancer treatment.
This article will take a closer look at ashwagandha and how it can benefit you. Jump to Our 10 Best Ashwagandha Supplements List
Ashwagandha belongs to the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family. It grows as a plump shrub that has oval-shaped leaves and yellow flowers. There is also a red-colored fruit, which is roughly the size of a raisin. However, it is the root and leaves of the plant that are used for their medicinal value. In Western medicine, this use is more confined to extracts from the plant’s root alone.
Ashwagandha supplements are available in capsule, powder, or liquid extract form. You can get these from health or supplement stores, and is very commonly found as a tea.
Research published in The International Journal of Home Science shows that 1000 mg of dried ashwagandha root powder contains 2.5 calories. Of these, 0.04 come from proteins, 0.032 from fiber and 0.05 from carbohydrates. In addition, ashwagandha also contains 0.03 mg iron, 0.02 mg calcium, 0.08 mg carotene and 0.06 mg vitamin C.
Its pharmacological value is also attributed to its flavonoid and antioxidant content. Plus, it contains amino acids, alkaloids, sterols, tannins, lignans, and neurotransmitters. The highest concentration of active compounds is found in the plant’s root.
How It Works
To date, over 60 studies have been conducted to identify the active compounds in ashwagandha. The root of the plant contains steroidal lactones and alkaloids collectively known as withanolides. These are naturally-occurring compounds, and there are over 300 different compounds in the group. But not all of them are created equal. The most bioavailable of these is the glycowithanolide molecule, which also offers the greatest health benefits.
These compounds are more active in some parts of the plant than others. This makes it important to know where the extract is coming from. The source of the extract also dictates the concentrations of the various withanolide compounds. The leaf extract has a different composition than the root.
Ashwagandha has been shown to have health benefits in a variety of areas. Here are a few that may benefit you.
BOOSTS THYROID FUNCTION
Supplements that work as adaptogens are often helpful in improving thyroid function. As such, you can use it for hypothyroidism or for Hashimoto’s disease.
Adaptogen herbs are particularly helpful in handling hormonal imbalances. In this case, they work by helping the body adapt to changes brought on by a struggling thyroid. Ashwagandha stimulates the production of the T4 hormone. This hormone regulates digestion, heart and muscle function, brain development, and bone maintenance. A regulation of this hormonal imbalance will help prevent fatigue. It will also regulate weight gain, reduced appetite, poor memory, and muscle stiffness. All of these are associated with hypothyroidism.
RELIEVES ADRENAL FATIGUE
Adrenal fatigue commonly refers to a collection of non-specific symptoms. These can include aches and pains, sleep disturbances, digestive issues, and overall weakness. Once again, the cause behind these symptoms seems to be an imbalance in the production of hormones.
Adrenal glands produce the hormones cortisol and adrenaline in response to stress. When the glands get taxed due to an overabundance of physical, emotional, or mental stress, they become exhausted. In this scenario, ashwagandha plays a role in regulating the stress hormone cortisol and improves recovery from stress.
FIGHTS STRESS AND ANXIETY
Another of its adaptogenic properties is that it works as a natural remedy to lower stress levels. Studies reveal that ashwagandha root extract works on all three stages of the stress response. For instance, when you’re in the first stage (fight or flight) you experience a surge of stress hormones. Here, an adaptogen increases your threshold for what triggers the stress response. In other words, it saves the fight or flight impulse for when you actually need it and not fire off every time someone sneezes.
The second stage of stress response is the state of resistance. Here, the stressor is no longer present, and your body excretes stress hormones it no longer needs. It tries to recover, but is still running on high alert. In this state, adaptogens like ashwagandha help the body break down those extra stress hormones and excrete them quickly.
The third stage of stress response is known as the exhaustion phase. This is when you feel intensely exhausted after a bout of high stress. This affects other systems of the body. For instance, this can cause digestive discomfort or bring on headaches. Here, adaptogens can help restore energy levels to bring your systems out of exhaustion and keep you going where you would otherwise crash.
BALANCES BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
Some evidence also suggests that ashwagandha has anti-diabetic effects. This effectiveness is due to the presence of phenolic compounds including flavonoids. These flavonoids have hypoglycemic activities.
Closely connected to the stress factor, adrenal glands will respond by secreting cortisol. This can pump up insulin levels in the body, creating fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.
Periods of long-term stress result in associated high levels of insulin, and can result in insulin resistance by the body. Ashwagandha can help counter this with its mind-calming properties. It does so by regulating neurotransmitters to control stress and lower stress-inducing hormone levels.
On another level, oral intake of ashwagandha combined with shilajit, another Ayurveda supplement, has been studied to lower fasting blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. Newly diagnosed, type-2 diabetics tried this combination for 4 weeks of taking two 500 mg capsules twice a day. They also followed a restricted diet. Almost half of those followed showed an improvement in blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Each capsule had a dosage of 250 mg each of ashwagandha and shilajit. Jump to Our 10 Best Ashwagandha Supplements List
Along with lowering stress and anxiety, ashwagandha can also help with managing depression. It counters signals and the impact of chemicals associated with typical symptoms of depression.
In addition, ashwagandha is non-habit forming as opposed to prescription drugs. A word of caution, though. Do not combine ashwagandha with other prescription sedatives or MAOIs. (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors). Taking ashwagandha on its own for depression acts as a natural MAO inhibitor by increasing serotonin and dopamine levels, and taking it at the same time as a similar medication could double-up the resultant effects.
The immune system works through the lymphatic system of the body. This includes primary lymph organs, bone marrow, and secondary lymph organs. Many of the pathogen-fighting agents are produced in the bone marrow. From there, they travel via the lymphatic system.
These pathogen fighters make up the body’s defense mechanisms. They help shield it against foreign invaders such as fungi, viruses, and bacteria. They even work to protect against allergens, carcinogens, and much more.
Ashwagandha has been shown in studies to modulate immune responses via multiple mechanisms. These include increasing white blood cell and platelet counts, which are produced in the bone marrow.
Ashwagandha also has the effect of increasing the number of stem cells in the bone marrow and preventing myelosuppression. This is a condition where the bone marrow can’t produce sufficient red blood cells. It also hampers the production of white blood cells and platelets.
So preserving bone marrow health and performance is one way how this herb works as a first-class immune booster.
Like many other herbs full of antioxidants, ashwagandha also shows promise in protecting the body from carcinogenic activity. These antioxidant features form the first line of defense against cancer. They fight off free radicals that may otherwise support the development of cancer cells.
Ashwagandha may also be beneficial in limiting the growth of cancer cells. To do this, the herb retards blood vessels that feed cancer cells. Known as anti-angiogenic activity, it blocks the supportive network of blood vessels by cutting off its supply. This has the effect of stopping tumor growth and prevents it from further multiplying.
During cancer treatment, anticancer drugs can depress the immune system by causing myelosuppression, which is reduced bone marrow activity. Excessive myelosuppression can lead to a condition called neutropenia. This happens where neutrophil production gets reduced to a dangerous level. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell.
As seen already, ashwagandha can counter myelosuppression by boosting WBC and platelet production. Animal studies have also shown that the herb can reverses neutropenia. As such, it holds the potential to assist during pharmaceutical cancer treatment.
A number of other benefits have also been attributed to the use of ashwagandha. These include inflammation, tumors, arthritis, and improved male fertility. However, scientific evidence supporting these claims is lacking, and more research is needed to rate its effectiveness. Most of the limited amount of testing that has been completed has been on animals, with very few involving clinical human trials.
On the other hand, alternative medicine continues to use this supplement for treating many of these conditions already with a decent amount of success.
You can get ashwagandha supplements from health stores as well as online. The important consideration here is to get a supplement with a higher withanolide content. These compounds are what offers the most potent effects.
If you’re going for the roots, you can sometimes find them bundled together at a health foods store. However, it’s most commonly available as capsules, powders, or tea for consumption. Working with the whole dried roots requires more effort and may not necessarily offer a more potent treatment.
If you’re going for the powdered version, it should be light or medium brown in color. The powder should be a soft, fine variety with a small particle size. In larger capsules, it is easy to get dosages of 500 mg or more, because the molecular weight of the active compounds is fairly high.
Dosage and How to Use
Dosage for ashwagandha will depend on the type of product you use.
If you are using ashwagandha in capsule form, it is best to take it with meals. If taken once a day, it should be taken with breakfast.
Taking it as a powder, use 1-2 tsp and boil it in water or mix with milk. Add in some honey to improve the taste and lessen the strong smell (horse sweat!). This should also be taken with meals.
To prepare it as a tea, take 2 tsp of powder and mix it with 3 ½ cups of boiling water. Boil for 15 minutes and strain to remove any plant matter. Drink up to ¼ cup two times a day.
Dosage will also depend on the condition you are taking this supplement for. The lowest effective dose for ashwagandha is between 300 and 500 mg. The withanolides should be in a range of 5-10%. You can slowly increase your dosage going up to 1000 to 1500 mg per day. Different sources have claimed that it is safe to go up to 6000 mg per day, though this should be under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner. Watch out for any symptoms along the way and adjust dosage accordingly.
Ashwagandha is well-tolerated when taken in the right dosage. However, some possible minor side effects can include an upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Expectant or nursing women should not take this supplement. There is no safety information available regarding its effects while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Those taking immunosuppressants, or diabetes or blood pressure medication, as well as those on sedatives or thyroid medications, should avoid using ashwagandha. Because the herb itself works to modify the same conditions as these medications, it may well interfere with the effectiveness of the prescribed medication.
As part of its adaptogenic properties, ashwagandha also slows down the central nervous system. This means you should stop taking it at least two weeks before any surgical procedure that requires anesthesia.
Best Ashwagandha Supplements
Our top 10 list of ashwagandha supplements is organized to reflect what you most value in your supplements. First and foremost is quality. All of our top ten supplements meet high standards of quality and come from brands with a proven record in excellence and purity. Another important factor in deciding the top ten was cost. You don’t have to pay through the nose to get a high-quality ashwagandha supplement. In addition, all the companies represented on our list have stellar records with customer service and prompt shipping. This ensures that your supplement experience is enjoyable from the first click to your final dose.
- Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE 12 Proven Health Benefits of Ashwagandha HealthLine.com
- Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE Ashwagandha: Health Benefits and Side Effects HealthLine.com
- Josh Axe, DC, DMN, CNS 11 Ashwagandha Benefits for the Brain, Thyroid & Even Muscles DrAxe.com
- Sangita Kumari and Alka Gupta Nutritional Composition of Dehydrated Ashwagandha, Shatavari, and Ginger Root Powder HomeScienceJournal.com
- Fawne Hansen HPA Axis Dysfunction AdrenalFatigueSolution.com
- Mind Nutrition Staff Why Ashwagandha can be Toxic: A Guide MindNutrition.com
- Aine Brigette Henley, Ling Yang, Kun-Lin Chuang, Meliz Sahuri-Arisoylu, Li-Hong Wu, S. W. Annie Bligh, and Jimmy David Bell Withania somnifera Root Extract Enhances Chemotherapy Through ‘Priming’ PubMed.gov
- Mathur, R., Gupta, S.K., Singh, N., Mathur, S., Kochupillai, V., Velpandian, T. Evaluation of the Effect of Withania somnifera Root Extracts on Cell Cycle and Angiogenesis PubMed.gov
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