The world of plants and roots is fascinating and it brings with it so many benefits for the human body. However, in order to make the most of plants, you need to first understand the history of each plant and how to correctly apply it to your diet.
This month, we are looking at Ashwagandha, and as always, we will go into great detail about what this plant is and how you can use it to improve your health and fitness.
Important: While there are many benefits to using Ashwagandha, it may cause severe liver problems. Always consult a doctor before taking supplements.
What Is Ashwagandha?
Unlike many other plants, Ashwagandha is not a common household name. In fact, you may not have even heard about this root before. However, research in recent years has been able to show the incredible health benefits that this plant provides.
The scientific name of the Ashwagandha plant is Withania somnidera. It is a small, evergreen shrub that is short in growth and has velvety leaves and bell flowers. The shrub also produces orange berries that look very similar to tiny tomatoes.
For the past 1,500 years, Ashwagandha root has been used in Ayurvedic medicine in the regions of India and Nepal. The meaning of the word comes from Sanskrit. “Ashwa” means “horse” and “gandha” means “smells”, therefore, the full meaning of Ashwagandha translates to “the smell and strength of a horse”.
This translation alludes to the fact that Ashwagandha was traditionally used to support vitality and a healthy libido.
This special plant is native to the Indian subcontinent, especially the areas of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. It is also known to grow in some parts of Africa and more temperate climates such as North West Carolina.
The peak of Ashwagandha’s health benefits is in the fall season, which is when it is most commonly harvested for its beneficial phytochemicals. Although this plant can of course be found in the wild, for modern health and wellness, this plant is usually grown and harvested from farms in India.
Ashwagandha as an Adaptogen
Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen. This means that it promotes balance in many different systems of the body. Adaptogens are plants and mushrooms that help your body respond to stress, anxiety, fatigue and overall well-being.
Adaptogens can be added to food or beverages or can even be taken as tinctures. They are able to bring your body back to a steady balance by managing both physical and mental stressors.
In general, there are three qualities that plants must have in order to be considered adaptogens:
- Non-toxic when taken in normal doses.
- Helps your body cope with stress.
- Allows your body to return to a state of balance (homeostasis).
The herbal action in adaptogens increases or decreases chemical reactions within your body. It is important to know that adaptogens are not a permanent solution to long-term problems. Instead, they should be used as an addition to a healthy diet.
For example, in situations when you are stressed, you will experience elevated cortisol levels. In this case, an adaptogen will respond by reducing these cortisol levels and bringing them back to a more balanced state.
Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
The Ashwagandha is often known as the “Indian Ginseng” because it is powerful in reducing stress levels, although it is unrelated to the Ginseng species. The following are some of the most common benefits of Ashwagandha:
1. Stress and Anxiety
Whenever you experience moments of stress, your cortisol levels will be heightened. This stress hormone is released from the adrenals. Evolutionally, it has helped the body to mobilize a “fight or flight” response to perceived imminent danger, freeing up resources for a vigorous fight against an intruder or flight from danger.
Cortisol levels rise in the morning to help mobilize the body’s forces for the day and lower in the evening to allow the body to sleep and perform restorative processes. Modern life is very stressful, which means that it frequently causes raised cortisol levels.
Research has shown that Ashwagandha promotes healthy levels of cortisol and smooths out the body’s stress response cycle. This plant is able to help the body to better adapt by relaxing the immune, cardiovascular, and nervous systems, as well as the brain, muscles, and joints.
2. Improved Nervous System
The nervous system has a strong impact on breathing, feelings, decision-making, and other experiences in our lives that are vital for our overall health and well-being. Because Ashwagandha has been shown to support the structure and function of the nervous system it is also considered a neurosupportive and nootropic herb, which promotes healthy cognitive function.
Ashwagandha supports healthy nervous system function by providing antioxidant support and naturally supporting the pathways in the brain for gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for sustaining calmness and maintaining muscle tone.
3. Improved Reproductive Health
As part of the endocrine system, the adrenals play an important role because their functions are necessary for our survival while reproduction is not. Therefore, every stress response is naturally connected to sperm production and fertility in men and hormonal balance and fertility in women.
Additionally, the body produces cortisol from the same precursors used to make reproductive hormones, and, under stress, the body will preferably produce cortisol instead of testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone.
Ashwagandha can assist by helping to maintain already healthy cortisol levels, so the body can free up those resources to be used for reproductive hormones.
4. Health in Men
For healthy men who perform resistance training, Ashwagandha root has been shown to support healthy muscle strength and recovery. This is because Ashwagandha promotes healthy levels of creatinine kinase, which reduces the natural muscle damage that happens from exercise and supports muscle recovery.
For men, Ashwagandha has also been shown to support the healthy stress response, healthy sperm levels, and normal levels of testosterone.
5. Improved Growth
In terms of metabolism, Ashwagandha has an overall anabolic action, which supports weight gain during the natural growth phase. For example, Ashwagandha-fortified milk given to children has been shown to support a healthy weight, as well as healthy total plasma proteins and haemoglobin levels. It has also been shown to support normal lean body weight and fat-to-muscle ratios.
Ashwagandha may also support healthy fat oxidation and support healthy blood glucose and blood lipid levels within already normal, healthy ranges.
6. Health for Joints
Research has shown that the Ashwagandha root can support joint health. Some studies have shown that this root supports joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and discomfort in healthy men and women due to normal wear and tear. This is also because Ashwagandha naturally mitigates levels of C-reactive protein.
7. Improved Sleep
A good night’s sleep is an important part of living a healthy life. Because it is known for its grounding and recuperative properties, several studies have also shown that Ashwagandha supports healthy sleep.
8. Better Immune Health
Ayurvedic practitioners have long believed that Ashwagandha is one of the most powerful herbs for immune system support for young and old alike. Ashwagandha has also been shown to strengthen the immune system and promote an increase in white blood cells.
Although more studies are still coming out in terms of the health benefits of Ashwagandha, just the fact that it supports the increase in white blood cells is known to help people maintain their health longer.
9. Health of the Heart
Heart health has been a huge concern for people all over the world in the 21st century and many people are looking for natural ways to support their hearts. Preliminary research on Ashwagandha has shown that this root may offer antioxidant support and other benefits for heart health, as well as help the body cope with stress in a healthy way which reduces stress on the heart.
How to Take Ashwagandha
There is one slight problem when it comes to taking Ashwagandha, and that is that it is not particularly tasty. Also, Ashwagandha isn’t a plant that you can cook with, because the food will not taste good. So, how do you consume Ashwagandha?
The best way to take Ashwagandha is with the help of herb supplements, which you can find in many health stores. Additionally, you can also consume Ashwagandha through a synergistic approach.
A synergistic approach refers to the interaction or cooperation of two or more substances to produce a combined effect that is greater than the sum of their separate parts. So, although you will experience benefits from Ashwagandha alone, the synergistic approach offers even more benefits when you take several herbs together.
This is why Ashwagandha will often be combined with other herbs such as Holy Basil, Rhodiola, and Schisandra.
Finally, remember that Ashwagandha is a member of the nightshade family, so if you are allergic to these foods, you may also be allergic to Ashwagandha. These foods include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes.
Ashwagandha offers all sorts of potential health benefits like brain and cognitive support, stress support, energy support, immune support, and sleep support. Because you cannot add this plant to your recipes, since it has a bad taste, it is best to take Ashwagandha in the form of a supplement.