Ashwagandha is a key herb in Ayurveda, a traditional form of alternative medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing.
For thousands of years, people have used ashwagandha to relieve stress, boost energy, and improve concentration (1).
"Ashwagandha" is Sanskrit for "horse smell," referring to both the herb's scent and its potential to increase strength (2).
It goes by several names, including "Indian ginseng" and "winter cherry." Its botanical name is Withania somnifera.
The ashwagandha plant, which is native to India and Southeast Asia, is a small shrub with yellow flowers. Extracts or powder made from the plant's root or leaves are used to treat a variety of ailments, including anxiety and infertility (3).
Based on research, here are 9 potential ashwagandha benefits.
1. May aid in the reduction of stress and anxiety.
The ability of ashwagandha to reduce stress is perhaps its most well-known benefit. It is classified as an adaptogen, which is a substance that aids the body in dealing with stress.
Ashwagandha appears to aid in the control of stress mediators such as heat shock proteins (Hsp70), cortisol, and stress-activated c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK-1) (4).
Several studies have found that ashwagandha supplements can help with stress and anxiety relief.
In a small study of 58 people, those who took 250 or 600 mg of ashwagandha extract for 8 weeks had significantly lower levels of perceived stress and the stress hormone cortisol compared to those who took a placebo.
Furthermore, when compared to the placebo group, participants who took ashwagandha supplements had significantly better sleep quality (4).
Another study of 60 people found that taking 240 mg of ashwagandha extract per day for 60 days resulted in significant reductions in anxiety when compared to those who received a placebo treatment (5).
As a result, preliminary research suggests that ashwagandha may be a beneficial supplement for stress and anxiety.
A recent review of studies concluded, however, that there is insufficient evidence to reach a consensus on the most appropriate dosage and form of ashwagandha for treating stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders such as anxiety (6).
Ashwagandha may be useful for alleviating stress and anxiety symptoms.
2. It may improve athletic performance.
Ashwagandha has been shown in studies to improve athletic performance and may be a worthwhile supplement for athletes.
One study included 12 men and women who took ashwagandha doses ranging from 120 mg to 1,250 mg per day. The findings indicate that the herb may improve physical performance, including strength and oxygen use during exercise (7).
According to a review of five studies, taking ashwagandha significantly increased maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max) in healthy adults and athletes (8).
The maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during intense activity is referred to as VO2 max. It is a test of heart and lung fitness.
Having a high VO2 max is important for both athletes and nonathletes. Low VO2 max is linked to an increased risk of death, whereas high VO2 max is linked to a lower risk of heart disease (8).
Additionally, ashwagandha may aid in the development of muscle strength.
In one study, male participants who took 600 mg of ashwagandha daily and did resistance training for 8 weeks had significantly greater gains in muscle strength and size than a placebo group (9).
Ashwagandha may help athletes and healthy adults improve measures of physical performance such as VO2 max and strength.
3. It has the potential to alleviate the symptoms of some mental health conditions.
According to some research, ashwagandha may help reduce symptoms of other mental health conditions, including depression, in certain populations.
Researchers looked at the effects of ashwagandha in 66 people with schizophrenia who were experiencing depression and anxiety in one study.
They discovered that taking 1,000 mg of ashwagandha extract daily for 12 weeks resulted in greater reductions in depression and anxiety than taking a placebo (10).
Furthermore, another study found that taking ashwagandha may help improve total symptoms and perceived stress in people with schizophrenia (11).
According to preliminary research from 2013, ashwagandha may help improve cognitive impairment in people with bipolar disorder. More research, however, is required (12).
Furthermore, a 2012 study found that stressed adults who took 600 mg of ashwagandha extract per day for 60 days reported a 77% reduction in depression symptoms, while the placebo group reported a 5% reduction (13).
However, because only one of the participants in this study had a history of depression, the implications of the findings are unclear.
Although some research suggests that ashwagandha may have antidepressant effects in some people, it should not be used as a replacement for antidepressant medication.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, consult with a healthcare professional so that you can receive any necessary assistance or treatment.
According to the limited research available, ashwagandha may help reduce symptoms of depression and benefit people with certain mental health conditions. More research, however, is required.
4. May aid in the increase of testosterone and fertility in men
In some studies, ashwagandha supplements have been shown to improve male fertility and increase testosterone levels.
In one study, 43 overweight men aged 40–70 with mild fatigue took ashwagandha extract or a placebo tablet daily for 8 weeks.
The ashwagandha treatment resulted in an 18% increase in DHEA-S, a sex hormone involved in testosterone production. Participants who used the herb also had a 14.7% higher increase in testosterone than those who took a placebo (14).
Furthermore, a meta-analysis of four studies discovered that ashwagandha treatment significantly increased sperm concentration, volume, and motility in men with low sperm count.
In men with normal sperm counts, it also increased sperm concentration and motility (15).
The researchers concluded, however, that there is currently insufficient data to confirm the potential benefits of ashwagandha for male fertility and that more high-quality studies are required (15).
Ashwagandha may help boost testosterone levels and may have some male fertility benefits. More research, however, is required.
5. It has the potential to lower blood sugar levels.
Ashwagandha may have some benefits for people with diabetes or high blood sugar levels, according to limited evidence.
A meta-analysis of 24 studies, including 5 clinical trials in people with diabetes, discovered that ashwagandha treatment significantly reduced blood sugar, haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), insulin, blood lipids, and oxidative stress markers (16).
Certain compounds in ashwagandha, including one called withaferin A (WA), are thought to have potent anti-diabetic activity and may help stimulate your cells to absorb glucose from your bloodstream (17).
However, research is currently limited, and more well-designed studies are required.
Limited evidence suggests that ashwagandha may lower blood sugar levels by influencing insulin secretion and the ability of cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream.
6. May help to reduce inflammation
Ashwagandha contains compounds, such as WA, that may aid in the reduction of inflammation in the body (18).
WA has been discovered to target inflammatory pathways in the body, including signal molecules known as nuclear factor kappa B (NF-B) and nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (NF-ERF2) (Nrf2).
WA has been shown in animal studies to help reduce levels of inflammatory proteins such as interleukin-10 (IL-10) (18).
There is some evidence that ashwagandha may aid in the reduction of inflammatory markers in humans as well.
Adults experiencing stress were given ashwagandha extract for 60 days in one 2008 study. As a result, they had significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker, when compared to those who received a placebo (19).
In another study, people with COVID-19 were given an Ayurvedic drug containing 0.5 grammes of ashwagandha and other herbs twice daily for 7 days. When compared to a placebo, this reduced participants' levels of inflammatory markers CRP, IL-6, and TNF- (20).
The treatment formulation also included the following ingredients:
- 1 gramme ghanvati giloy (Tinospora cordifolia)
- 2 gramme swasari ras (a traditional herbo-mineral formulation)
- 0.5 gramme tulsi ghanvati (Ocimum sanctum)
Despite these encouraging findings, research on ashwagandha's potential anti-inflammatory effects is limited at this time.
Ashwagandha may aid in the reduction of inflammatory markers in the body. More research, however, is required.
7. It has the potential to improve brain function, including memory.
The use of ashwagandha may improve cognitive function.
According to one review of five clinical studies, there is preliminary evidence that ashwagandha may improve cognitive functioning in certain populations, including older adults with mild cognitive impairment and people with schizophrenia.
It may help with the following cognitive functions (21):
- executive function
- response time
- cognitive task performance
A study of 50 adults found that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha extract daily for 8 weeks resulted in significant improvements in the following measures when compared to a placebo (22):
- immediate and long-term memory
- information processing speed
According to the researchers, compounds found in ashwagandha, such as WA, have antioxidant effects in the brain, which may benefit cognitive health (22).
More research, however, is required before experts can draw firm conclusions.
Certain populations may benefit from ashwagandha supplements in terms of memory, reaction time, and task performance. More research, however, is required.
8. It may aid in the improvement of sleep.
Many people take ashwagandha to promote restful sleep, and there is some evidence that it may help with sleep problems.
A study of 50 adults aged 65–80, for example, discovered that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha root per day for 12 weeks significantly improved sleep quality and mental alertness upon waking when compared to a placebo treatment (23).
Furthermore, a meta-analysis of five high-quality studies discovered that ashwagandha had a small but significant positive effect on overall sleep quality.
Taking ashwagandha helped people feel less anxious and more alert when they woke up (24).
The results were more pronounced in people who had insomnia and in those who took more than 600 mg daily for 8 weeks or longer, according to the researchers (24).
Recent research suggests that ashwagandha may be an effective natural sleep aid, particularly for people who suffer from insomnia.
9. It is reasonably safe and widely available.
Although the long-term effects of ashwagandha are unknown, it is a safe supplement for the majority of people.
According to a review of 69 studies, ashwagandha root appears to be safe and effective for managing certain health conditions such as stress, anxiety, and insomnia (1).
In one study of 80 healthy men and women, taking 600 mg of ashwagandha daily for 8 weeks was found to be safe and did not cause any negative health effects in the participants (25).
Certain people, however, should not take it. Pregnant women, for example, should avoid it because high doses may result in pregnancy loss (26).
Those suffering from hormone-sensitive prostate cancer, as well as those taking certain medications, such as benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants, or barbiturates, should avoid taking ashwagandha (26).
Some people who take ashwagandha supplements have experienced upper gastrointestinal discomfort, drowsiness, and diarrhoea (26).
Furthermore, ashwagandha may have an effect on the thyroid, so people with thyroid disease should consult a doctor before taking it (27).
The recommended dosage for ashwagandha varies. Doses ranging from 250–1,250 mg per day, for example, have been shown to be effective for a variety of conditions. If you have any questions about ashwagandha dosing, speak with a healthcare professional.
According to research, the effects of ashwagandha are not immediate, so you may need to take it for several months before you notice any benefits.
Ashwagandha can be taken in a variety of ways, including as a single dose or multiple doses per day. You can take it with food or on an empty stomach.
It is manufactured by several supplement manufacturers and sold by a variety of retailers, including health food stores and vitamin shops.
Although ashwagandha is generally safe, it is not suitable for everyone. Before taking ashwagandha, consult with a healthcare professional.
Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb that has a variety of potential health benefits.
According to study findings, it may help reduce anxiety and stress, promote restful sleep, and even improve cognitive functioning in certain populations.
Most people consider ashwagandha to be relatively safe. However, it is not appropriate for everyone, so consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating ashwagandha into your routine.