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Ashwagandha 101: The Top 5 Proven Healing Benefits of this Ancient Herb

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Ashwagandha 101: The Top 5 Proven Healing Benefits of this Ancient Herb

If you've been stressed, someone has likely recommended you take ashwagandha. According to integrative medical specialist Dr. Yufang Lin, ashwagandha can increase energy and reduce inflammation, pain, and anxiety. 24% of American adults experience fatigue. 60% of deaths worldwide are attributed to chronic inflammation. 50.2 million American adults experience chronic pain. Anxiety disorders represent the most widespread mental health condition in the United States. With these statistics, it's logical to conclude that most people could benefit from ashwagandha's medicinal properties.


What is Ashwagandha?: Understanding its Origin and Composition

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an herb native to parts of India, Africa, and the Middle East that has been used in Ayurvedic and indigenous medicine for over 3,000 years. Ashwagandha has been found to contain many important bioactive constituents, including flavonoids, phenolic acids, alkaloids, saponins, tannins, and withanolides. These active compounds have been shown to possess anti-cancer, immunomodulatory, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, anti-aging, adaptogenic, and antidiabetic properties. Combined, traditional use and scientific evidence demonstrate that ashwagandha can effectively prevent and treat many diseases. (2, 9

The Top 5 Therapeutic Uses of Ashwagandha

Clinical trials show that ashwagandha extract can treat many diseases, including arthritis, infertility, amnesia, anxiety, cancer, and neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases. Let's explore the research that backs the use of ashwagandha for addressing some of these conditions.

1. Ashwagandha for Stress and Anxiety Reduction

The most popular and well-known application of ashwagandha is for stress and anxiety relief. Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen, a substance that helps the body cope with stress. In vitro and in vivo animal and clinical data suggest that the adaptogenic effects of ashwagandha come from this herb's ability to reduce cortisol, increase dopamine receptors in the brain, mimic the effects of GABA, and enhance serotonin transmission

A meta-analysis of seven clinical studies concluded that taking ashwagandha 240-1,000 mg daily for 8-12 weeks improves perceived stress levels by 30-44% and decreases cortisol levels by 22-28%. Clinical research also shows that taking ashwagandha root extract improves college students' perceptions of how well they can manage stress and may prevent stress-related weight gain

Clinical practice guidelines from the World Federation of Societies of Biological Psychiatry and the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments recommend ashwagandha root extract at doses of 300-600 mg (standardized to 5% withanolides) daily as monotherapy or adjunctive therapy in patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This recommendation is based on three clinical trials that have consistent results showing that ashwagandha supplementation reduces the severity of GAD symptoms in over half of patients taking it (16, 25).  

2. Ashwagandha for Improving Cognitive Function and Memory

Adaptogenic herbs exhibit neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, antidepressant, nootropic, and central nervous system-stimulating activity. These actions increase mental capacity, often improving executive functioning, attention, reaction time, and memory. Simply stated, you can boost brain health with ashwagandha. (22

Poor sleep impacts intellectual performance negatively and, in the long term, can increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Findings from preclinical animal models suggest that ashwagandha suppresses the acute effects of sleep disruption on memory and learning. Human clinical trials support this notion; not only have they shown that ashwagandha can improve sleep in patients with insomnia and non-restorative sleep, but they have also proven that ashwagandha improves measures of executive function, sustained attention, and short-term memory. (29

Preliminary results from a 2013 study also found ashwagandha to be a pro-cognitive agent in doses of 500 mg daily for eight weeks in patients with bipolar disorder. Positive clinical outcomes of this study included improved markers of auditory-verbal working memory, reaction time, and social cognition.

3. Ashwagandha for Enhancing Stamina and Endurance

Research suggests that ashwagandha may be a beneficial supplement for athletes looking to improve their athletic performance and physical stamina. A systematic review and meta-analysis including 12 studies concluded that ashwagandha enhances physical performance by noting improvements in participants' muscle strength, VO2 max, and physical recovery. Researchers hypothesize that the positive effects of ashwagandha root extract on muscle strength, cardiorespiratory fitness, and post-exercise recovery are due to the antioxidant properties of the plant. (5)  

4. Ashwagandha for Supporting Thyroid Health

Ashwagandha seems to stimulate thyroid hormone synthesis and secretion. Preliminary clinical research in adults with subclinical hypothyroidism shows that taking 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily for eight weeks increases thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) serum concentrations by 42% and 20%, respectively, and reduces serum thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels by 17% from baseline. 

5. Anti-Inflammatory and Immune-Boosting Properties of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha's high concentration of withanolides and sitoindosides is likely responsible for its immune-boosting benefits. These active constituents appear to mobilize macrophages, phagocytosis, and lysosomal enzymes, which play crucial roles in the immune system's defense against infectious pathogens. (18

In a human study, increases in immunoglobulins, interferon-gamma, interleukin-4, T cells, B cells, and natural killer cells were measured in healthy adults after a month of taking just 60 mg of ashwagandha extract daily. These findings support that ashwagandha can modulate the innate and adaptive divisions of the immune system and suggest that it may be an effective strategy for preventing and treating infection.

In a 2021 study, researchers gave patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection an Ayurvedic formula containing ashwagandha, giloy ghanvati, swasari ras, and tulsi ghanvati twice daily for one week. At the end of the trial, patients taking the formula witnessed 100% recovery, measurable reductions in serum inflammatory markers, and a 40% absolute risk reduction of delayed recovery. While these results cannot be wholly attributed to ashwagandha, they do support that ashwagandha plays an important role in supporting the immune system and clearing infection.

How to Incorporate Ashwagandha into Your Routine

Incorporating ashwagandha into your routine as a part of your daily health regimen involves careful consideration of dosages, forms, and supplement quality. Ashwagandha is commonly available in various forms, such as capsules, powders, and tinctures. When it comes to dosing, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional or follow the recommended guidelines on the product label. A standard dose ranges from 250 to 500 mg, taken one to two times daily. Capsules are convenient for precise dosing, while powders allow for versatile consumption, such as mixing it into smoothies or teas. When buying supplements, look for reputable brands that offer third-party testing, ensuring the product's purity and authenticity.

Safety Precautions for Using Ashwagandha

Most people can safely use ashwagandha. Anecdotal and traditional use of ashwagandha suggests that long-term use of the herb is safe. However, clinical research has only definitively concluded that it can be safely administered for up to three months. (2) 

In some individuals, ashwagandha may cause drowsiness and digestive upset. There have been a few cases linking liver injury to ashwagandha supplements. (2) 

The use of ashwagandha may be unsafe for the following populations (2): 

  • Patients who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Patients scheduled for surgery
  • People with hormone-sensitive prostate cancer
  • Patients taking medications for diabetes and high blood pressure, immunosuppressants, sedatives, and anticonvulsants

To ensure the safety and efficacy of supplementation, it is always advised to consult with a knowledgeable healthcare provider or herbalist before taking ashwagandha. 



Ashwagandha is a traditional Ayurvedic herbal remedy used medicinally for thousands of years. Scientific data support the conclusion that Ashwagandha is a versatile herb effective in treating various diseases and promoting optimal health due to its pharmacological adaptogenic, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant actions.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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