Named after the smell of a horse, ashwagandha is a natural remedy that has become popular with Western consumers after centuries of use in Ayurvedic medicine. People love to talk about how it can help you sleep or reduce the effects of stress, but is it really everything it’s cracked up to be – or is it just clever marketing? It may be some combination of both, but recent research seems to indicate that ashwagandha can indeed fulfill many of the claims that are made about it.
Here’s what you need to know about Ashwagandha
- It’s an adaptogen, which means that it acts on the adrenal glands to “teach” them how to respond to stress. Think of this like a gentle exercise that “teaches” your muscles how to get stronger.
- It may be new to Western markets, but ashwagandha has been used for hundreds of years in India and other Asian countries.
- It’s commonly used for improving sleep, lowering stress, and boosting men’s sexual health.
- Since ashwagandha can have some unpleasant interactions with various supplements or drugs, you should always check with a healthcare provider before taking it.
- You can get ashwagandha in capsules, as a powder, or blended with other plant-based remedies. Look for it online, in retail drug stores, and in health food stores.
Ashwagandha is enjoying some time in the spotlight – why now?
How many of your friends, family members, and co-workers would describe themselves as “stressed”? How many of them are already taking natural remedies to boost their health? Both of these things have become increasingly common in the past few years, and both of them are factors that would make someone more likely to be interested in what ashwagandha has to offer.
There’s even a growing number of people who consider themselves to be “biohackers”. Not only do they keep up with the results of their lifestyle and diet changes, but they sometimes also experiment with natural remedies, while tracking the effects through observation or testing.
Even the scientific community is starting to take more notice of ashwagandha. So far it hasn’t been studied extensively, but there have been some promising results that will probably lead to closer examination in the future.
The connection between Ashwagandha, the adrenal glands, and cortisol
Get ready to feel smart – you’re about to learn some pretty cool facts. Since ashwagandha is an adaptogen, it’s thought to primarily affect the adrenal glands. These glands produce cortisol, which you need in certain amounts to maintain appropriate energy levels throughout the day. If your adrenals are healthy and you aren’t typically stressed-out, your cortisol levels should also be pretty normal – no need for your body to constantly gear up for a fight-or-flight reaction. However, if your life includes a lot of stress or anxiety, you’ll probably end up with elevated cortisol and weakened adrenal glands.
Enter ashwagandha. It’s supposed to help your adrenals self-regulate, which then reduces your cortisol levels. Your body stops constantly preparing to freak out, and your daily energy rhythm gets a chance to return to normal. Ashwagandha users have reported the following benefits as a result:
- Better quality of sleep
- Lower blood sugar
- Lessened anxiety
- No more stress-related increases in weight
- Fewer headaches
- Reduced irritability
What else can Ashwagandha do?
A more mysterious benefit is the one that men get with regards to their sexual health. It isn’t certain whether this happens thanks to reduced cortisol, or if it’s just another thing to love about ashwagandha, but research has suggested that ashwagandha is associated with effects like stronger libidos, boosted testosterone, and even higher sperm counts. Whatever the case, guys who are looking for a way to improve their sexual health might want to give ashwagandha a try.
At this point, a lot of what Western consumers know about ashwagandha has come from anecdotal evidence; there isn’t a ton of information available from scientific studies. That being said, there have been some studies on its properties and benefits. Even if they haven’t all been conclusive, they’ve indicated that there’s plenty more to learn about this plant. From what we currently know, other potential benefits include:
- Lower cholesterol
- Boosted muscle mass
- Reduction of inflammation
- More energy
- Improved brain function
- Possible anti-cancer effects
Why Ashwagandha isn’t for everyone
Some herbs are pretty harmless – you could practically eat an entire salad’s worth of them and hardly notice a thing. Ashwagandha isn’t that kind of plant. People who’ve taken high doses can experience unpleasant symptoms like a headache, an upset stomach, or diarrhea. This is less common with a standard or low dose, though, so you don’t have to be too worried if you’re taking it for the first time.
As with many supplements and drugs, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding shouldn’t take ashwagandha either. Since this supplement hasn’t been thoroughly studied yet, it’s considered to be a bit risky for a future or new mother.
How quickly will you see results?
Not that quickly; according to the majority of users, it’ll take between two weeks and a month. You could see the latest TikTok trend come and go before you start noticing definite changes, but don’t give up! Given the fact that ashwagandha is (hopefully) teaching your stressed-out adrenal glands to work again, you won’t see results overnight.
In the meantime, it might be helpful to start tracking key biomarkers like melatonin or cortisol. You can establish a baseline at the beginning, and watch your levels improve as you continue taking ashwagandha. Another way to track your progress would be with a sleep journal (or a regular journal). If you’re writing everything down, you’ll be able to look back and see the big picture month by month.
At this point, you should be able to see why ashwagandha is so popular. Some people swear by it, while other people just get headaches from it – but it seems to be growing in popularity regardless. If you’re prepared with some medical advice and a little common sense, it might be time to see what ashwagandha can do for you.