The health benefits of adaptogens are not to be underestimated. Ashwagandha is one adaptogenic herb in particular that has numerous health benefits, from improving your immune system to supporting a healthy heart. Read on to find out how ashwagandha’s health benefits can work wonders on your body, and how you can incorporate it into your diet with ease!
Ashwagandha is much more than just a fun word to say - it’s an adaptogenic herb that’s loaded with health benefits! This shrub can be found in the drier regions of India, parts of Africa, and the Middle East, getting its name due to its smell (ashwa literally means horse!). You may know this tan root with red fruit by other names such as Indian ginseng, winter cherry, or poison gooseberry. Whatever name you use to describe this adaptogenic herb, ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for a variety of health benefits, including treating wounds, back pain, boils, and managing stress. Ashwagandha has been used for over 2,500 years and is now one of the most popular adaptogens, thanks to its benefits that are backed by scientific research.
To reap the benefits of the plant, people typically use the root and leaves. These parts consist of withanolides, which is a group of flavonoids (steroidal lactones) that contribute to many of the health benefits of ashwagandha particularly affecting our body’s response to stress. Stick around and read about the amazing health benefits of ashwagandha!
Benefit #1: Ashwagandha is a natural remedy for anxiety.
It’s quite a relief to learn that ashwagandha is an herb that can directly impact your brain in a positive way. This was demonstrated in a 12-week study of patients with anxiety who received the same therapeutic treatments - except one group received ashwagandha supplements while the other received placebo pills (2). The study found that the group that took ashwagandha reported a reduction of 55% in their anxiety scores, while the placebo group only saw their anxiety reduced by less than a third. The study then compared ashwagandha to lorazepam and imipramine, which are pharmaceutical drugs used to combat anxiety. The ashwagandha group saw better results in other areas like better concentration, fatigue, and mental health!
And the great thing about ashwagandha, though, is that it doesn’t have the side effects that may common drugs used to treat anxiety have. Side effects from the aforementioned drugs may include insomnia, increased appetite, and drowsiness.
Benefit #2: Ashwagandha can help manage stress.
This is a big one, yet it’s also not a surprise considering ashwagandha is an adaptogen. If you don’t know, adaptogens are a whole class of herbs, roots, or fruit that support the adrenal glands. By simply supporting your adrenal glands, adaptogens thus help in your body’s response to stress. Doesn’t that sound phenomenal? Every day we deal with stress, big and small, and it’s crucial that our bodies respond to stress in a healthy manner - otherwise we can have a variety of health issues and complications from all the built up stress.
So what ashwagandha can really do is lower your cortisol levels. Cortisol is literally known as a “stress hormone.” Why? Because this is what the adrenal glands release when the body is confronted with stress. If your cortisol levels are often elevated for long periods of time, it may already be taking its toll on your body, like having high blood sugar and more fat being stored in the abdomen. One 60-day study involving chronically stressed participants had the subjects take either ashwagandha root extract or a placebo. Their stress levels were measured based on a modified scale. Of the 98 who completed the study, the stress scores of the ashwagandha group decreased significantly more than those of the placebo group (3). Additionally, there was no report of adverse effects from the participants, signifying that ashwagandha once again does not have those side effects affiliated with anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs.
You can probably deduct that Ashwagandha can also improve depression. Stress is typically the cause of depression, and considering ashwagandha can help you reduce your stress naturally, the root may actually function as a treatment for depression.
Benefit #3: Ashwagandha can reduce and balance blood sugar levels.
In other words, ashwagandha has some anti-diabetic benefits. In 2015, about one in ten Americans had diabetes - that’s around 30.3 million people (4). As we age, the likelihood of diabetes also increases. One study in particular using rodents resulted in the diabetic rats achieving regular blood sugar levels with the help of both ashwagandha root and leaf extracts (5).
Ashwagandha’s effect on reducing blood sugar levels is significant because hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, can lead to a whole series of serious conditions like ketoacidosis, heart problems, and damaged nerves and organs. Ashwagandha may prevent these by getting to the root of the problem: blood sugar.
Benefit 4: Ashwagandha can improve brain function.
In Ayurvedic practice, ashwagandha has been used boost memory. Some studies suggest this adaptogen may be able to reduce the mental issues that could arise from injury or disease, such as problems with memory function and brain function. One study involving epileptic rats found that treatment with ashwagandha resulted in an almost total reversal of impairment in spatial memory (8).
Benefit #5: Ashwagandha can help improve thyroid levels.
Millions of people suffer from thyroid issues. Having poor thyroid health means that you may have trouble protecting your body from disease and illness because the thyroid is in fact responsible for a lot of regulation of your body functions, including hunger, energy, and body temperature. Thankfully ashwagandha has been found to help improve underactive thyroid function. One study conducted in 2017 had 50 patients with thyroid disorder take either supplements of ashwagandha or a placebo. After eight weeks, those who consumed ashwagandha root were found with significantly higher improvement in serum thyroid stimulating hormone and thyroxine (1). So, ashwagandha may be a helpful herb in normalizing thyroid function levels for those with hypothyroidism.
Benefit #6: Ashwagandha can help you overcome adrenal fatigue.
What is adrenal fatigue, you ask? Adrenal fatigue is when your adrenals, also called your endocrine glands, become overworked from having to respond to a significant amount of stress. Whether that stress be physical, mental, or emotional, adrenal fatigue can happen with chronic stress. This can negatively affect other important hormones, leading to a downward health spiral. Luckily, research has shown that ashwagandha may help assist adrenal function, thus helping combat fatigue (6).
Benefit 7: Ashwagandha is able to boost immune function, too!
Ashwagandha can help your immune system in various ways. It has been found to increase natural killer cell activity (9). Natural killer cells, while they sound quite scary, are actually just the specific immune cells that directly fight infection to keep your body healthy! Ashwagandha is also classified under the term immune modulator, meaning it is not only able to activate your immune system, especially when you need it to fight off pesky pathogens, but it also helps you restore regular immune function resulting from auto-immune issues that may arise!
Lastly, because ashwagandha is so beneficial for your thyroid levels, it is already improving your body’s ability to fight disease by helping the very body part that is basically your body’s regulation center!
Benefit 8: Ashwagandha can increase muscle strength
Yes, this adaptogenic herb goes beyond the immune system and stress management. Studies have shown that ashwagandha can both increase muscle mass and muscle strength, all the while promoting body fat loss. One notable study revealed that taking 750 to 1,250 mg of ashwagandha root each day resulted in a gain in muscle strength (7). This study was conducted on healthy men and had a duration of just 30 days! Ashwagandha can be a great supplement for helping to maintain a strong body.
Benefit 9: Ashwagandha may prevent cancer.
Yes, you read that correctly. Ashwagandha has been found to have some anti-cancer properties in both animal and test-tube studies. Researchers have observed the adaptogenic herb to hinder the growth of new cancer cells by possibly generating reactive oxygen species that are damaging to only cancerous cells (10). Ashwagandha was also reported to aid in the induction of apoptosis, programmed cell death, squeezing the lifespan of cancer cells altogether.
How to add ashwagandha to your diet
The common way ashwagandha is consumed is through supplements. There are all sorts of forms to suit your taste, from powdered to capsulated to liquified. A delicious way to get some ashwagandha into your diet is with Mindful Matcha, a green tea blend boosted with superfoods and adaptogens, including ashwagandha.
Try these matcha/ashwagandha recipes.
MATCHA PROTEIN PANCAKES
Brain Boosting Mindful Matcha with Ashwagandha
Note: If you’re trying to treat something specifically, make sure to talk with a medical professional to see about the right dosage for you.
SUMMARY of Ashwagandha Health Benefits:
- Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb from the drier regions of India, parts of Africa, and the Middle East.
- The roots and leaves of Ashwagandha are consumed to help manage the body’s response to stress.
- Ashwagandha can help support your thyroid function, which can improve your immune system and protect your body from disease and illness.
- Ashwagandha helps manage stress and anxiety day to day, overall enhancing your mental health, overall energy, and possibly brain function.
- Ashwagandha has anti-diabetic benefits, including reducing and managing blood sugar levels.
- Ashwagandha can help both your muscles and your immune system get stronger!
- There is some evidence to believe that ashwagandha can possibly prevent the development and spread of cancer.
You can add ashwagandha to your diet by incorporating it into your favorite recipes! Try Mindful Matcha for a delicious way to get in your daily dose of ashwagandha!
Want to Read More?
12 Guiding Principles to Eating Ayurvedically
Health Benefits of Adaptogenic Herbs and How Adaptogens Reduce Stress
Brain-Boosting Mindful Matcha Chia Pudding with Ashwagandha
Looking to add Mindfulness into your day? Try Our Mindful Matcha!