Feeling particularly stressed out lately? You’re not alone. American stress levels are on the rise, with a previous record of 4.8 out of 10 in 2015 surpassed in 2017 by a new all-time high of 5.1 out of ten (1). The American Psychological Association’s American Institute of Stress found in 2014 that approximately 77 percent of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, while 73 percent regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress, and one out of every three people feel that they are living with extreme stress (2). In looking for ways to reduce your stress levels, you may have heard about adaptogens, or substances that can help the body manage stress. Ashwagandha is a popular alternative medicine adaptogen that has been used for over 4,000 years in ayurveda to help manage stress, but just what does ashwagandha do for the body?
Ashwagandha is best known for its ability to reduce stress that is experienced in the body, and with good reason - it’s extremely effective at doing so. A study showed that people taking 300 mg per day of Ashwagandha experienced a 44 percent reduction in their stress levels, while those taking a placebo experienced only a 5.5 percent reduction (3). The herb naturally stimulates the brain’s pathways for GABA, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for the promotion of calmness in the body. The same study also showed that taking 300 mg per day of ashwagandha corresponded to a 27.9 percent reduction in cortisol levels; cortisone is the hormone responsible for our stress levels (3). The adrenal glands release cortisol in response to stress, and people who experience chronically elevated cortisol levels can experience high blood sugar, blood pressure, and increased fat storage in the abdomen. Ashwagandha is believed to work by blocking the stress pathways in our brains by regulating chemical signaling within our nervous system, helping to reduce symptoms of stress in people who struggle with chronic stress and anxiety disorders.
By the Digits
$300 billion: The amount of money that stress costs employers and workplaces each year due to workplace stress (4).
83%: The percentage of U.S. workers suffering from work-related stress (4).
30 - 49: The age group experiencing the most stress (5).
⅓: The number of Americans who visited a doctor for a stress-related issue in 2018 (6).
Support Reproductive Health
Our reproductive health is closely tied to the production of cortisol from the adrenal glands and the production of hormone levels from the thyroid glands, and ashwagandha supports healthy function of both. When under stress, the body prefers to produce cortisol, the stress hormone, instead of hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, which influence the reproductive system. It has even been shown to increase sperm quality, and sperm count in infertile men. Ashwagandha reduces the levels of stress in the body and significantly decreases the level of cortisol, allowing the body to return its focus to the production of reproductive hormones for a healthy immune system.
Please note that GEM contains ashwagandha, and that we recommend that you consult with a healthcare practitioner prior to use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. While ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years as traditional medicine, it is still new to the FDA and US market, and is therefore recommended that you consult with your doctor.
Improve Memory and Brain Function
Results are preliminary, but ashwagandha shows promise in improving and mitigating memory and brain function issues that are caused by injury or disease. It is believed that ashwagandha promotes antioxidant activity, which improves brain function by protecting nerve cells from damaging free radicals that can harm the cells. Ayurvedic medicine has long used ashwagandha to boost memory, and one study found that adults taking 300 mg of ashwagandha twice daily saw significant improvements in their general memory, task performance, and attention (7). Memory improvements are believed to be linked to reduced oxidative stress as a result of increased antioxidant activity.
Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Ashwagandha also has effects on insulin secretion and sensitivity, which impacts blood sugar levels. The substance was found to increase insulin secretion and improve insulin sensitivity in one test-tube study, and human studies demonstrate reduced blood sugar levels for patients that are currently healthy as well as those with diabetes. While ashwagandha is not intended to be used as a treatment for diabetes or other blood sugar conditions, it can help improve insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity.
Improve Body Composition
If you’re looking to add muscle and increase your strength, ashwagandha may be able to help. Research shows that ashwagandha can increase muscle mass and improve body composition while also increasing strength. One study examined the effects of the substance for improving body composition and found that those taking ashwagandha showed significantly increased gains in muscle size and mass as well as strength, and also doubled their reductions in body fat percentage over the placebo group. The herb has also been shown to support a healthy lean body weight and normal fat-to-muscle ratios, as well as promote healthy fat oxidation. If you’re looking to increase your muscle strength, ashwagandha offers a natural way to improve your body composition.
Ashwagandha has been shown to help decrease inflammation by increasing natural killer cell activity and boosting immune activity. These cells are part of the immune system and are responsible for fighting infection, keeping us healthy. A controlled study showed that people taking 250 mg of ashwagandha experienced a 36 percent decrease in their C-reactive protein (CRP) levels; CRP is a marker of inflammation that is linked to a higher risk of heart disease (8).
Reduce Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels
In addition to improving heart health by reducing CRP levels, ashwagandha has the potential to improve cardiovascular health through the reduction of cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The effect of ashwagandha on cholesterol and triglyceride levels may be at least partially due to its stress-reducing effects, as the study focused on chronically stressed adults.
Improve Endurance and Stamina
If you’re struggling with endurance and stamina when it comes to your athletic performance or just keeping up with the demands of daily living, ashwagandha might be able to help. The substance has been shown to improve heart and lung capacity and increase energy levels, which can result in a significant increase in athletic performance.
Fight Neurodegenerative Disease
As established, ashwagandha can improve memory and cognitive function, and this has significant implications for its role in fighting neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinson’s Disease. Ashwagandha’s active ingredients, or withanamides, have been shown to protect the brain against B-amyloid-induced plaques that are present in Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s believed that the herb provides this protection through its natural antioxidant properties, which protect against damage from free radicals. Ashwagandha root extract has also been shown to have protective effects against Parkinson’s Disease.
Support Joint Health
Ashwagandha supports healthy inflammatory and immune response and has been shown to be anti-inflammatory, which helps support joint health. People who experience occasional swelling, joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis, stiffness, and discomfort but who are otherwise healthy can benefit from the benefits of ashwagandha to reduce inflammation and minimize pain and discomfort and improve your quality of life.
The name ashwagandha is Sanskrit for “the smell and strength of a horse,” which speaks to the herb’s traditional use supporting a healthy sex drive. People who have sexual problems which prevent satisfaction during sexual activity have shown improvement in their symptoms when taking ashwagandha daily for eight weeks while also receiving counseling. The adult women in the study showed a greater increase in their interest in sex and sexual satisfaction when taking ashwagandha and receiving counseling than those in the control group who received counseling alone.
Decrease Metabolic Side Effects of Certain Drugs
Antipsychotic drugs, including those used to treat schizophrenia and other psychological conditions, can sometimes cause an increase in the levels of fat and sugar in the blood. One study showed that people taking these medications showed a reduction in the levels of fat and sugar in their blood when taking ashwagandha three times daily over the course of one month (9).
The research is still preliminary, but several studies show that ashwagandha has the ability to inhibit cell growth in certain types of cancer, helping to slow the spread of the disease (10). Animal studies have shown the ability of the herb to slow the growth of lung tumors, while other studies show that ashwagandha may slow human cancers that include breast, lung, kidney, and prostate. However, more research is needed.
When you consider all of the health benefits of ashwagandha, it’s no wonder that the herb has been used to treat a wide range of conditions over the past four millenia. It may “smell like a horse,” but it’s highly effective at helping people reduce their stress levels and supporting overall wellbeing. The best part? Ashwagandha is well-tolerated and has no noticeable side effects. Ashwagandha benefits shouldn’t be used to replace any medical treatments, but it can support your health when used appropriately.
- Ashwagandha increases testosterone: Studies have shown that ashwagandha may increase testosterone, but there is no convincing evidence to support this myth
- Ashwagandha causes weight gain: It has actually been shown to reduce body fat and increase body muscle mass. The weight gain from the muscle mass may be the reason people think it causes weight gain when you’re actually gaining muscle.