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What Does Ashwagandha Do for Your Body?

Where is Ashwagandha found?

Ashwagandha is a herb that's mainly been used in India as part of the ancient medicinal system of Ayurveda for more than 3,000 years. Benefits of ashwaganda include stress relief, boosts fertility, boosts brain function, and other benefits.
Ashwagandha is a herb that’s mainly been used in India as part of the ancient medicinal system of Ayurveda for more than 3,000 years. Benefits of ashwaganda include stress relief, boosts fertility, boosts brain function, and other benefits.

Ashwagandha is a herb that’s mainly been used in India as part of the ancient medicinal system of Ayurveda for more than 3,000 years. Its botanical name is Withania somnifera, and it’s also known as the Indian ginseng or winter cherry.

It’s widely found in India, Africa, and some regions of the middle east. Practitioners of Ayurveda have recommended the use of ashwagandha to reduce pain and inflammation, overcome anxiety, and improve overall health. Ayurveda broadly advocates exercising, meditating, and focusing on healthy nutrition in addition to the use of herbs to balance your mind, body, and spirit.

Extracts of ashwagandha are available in the form of capsules, powders, and tinctures. These are primarily sourced from the roots of this herb, which are rich in withanolides, its main active ingredient. Withanolides belong to the steroid and alkaloid group of chemicals that are known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and hormone-balancing properties.

This is why ashwagandha is also called an adaptogen – plants with ingredients that affect how your body deals with stress, anxiety, and fatigue.

Health benefits of Ashwagandha

Although research on the health benefits of ashwagandha is still ongoing, current research suggests that it has several physical, as well as mental, health benefits, some of which are listed below.

Could have anti-diabetic properties

Although withanolides are mostly found in the roots of ashwagandha, leaf extracts from the herb have been found to have anti-diabetic properties. Research has found that leaf extracts lead to an increase in insulin secretion that aids the breakdown of glucose.

Specific withanolides were found to increase glucose uptake by more than 50%, and this continues to increase with a proportional rise in the amount of a specific withanolide called withaferin A.

May treat neurodegenerative conditions

There have been numerous studies on the positive effects of ashwagandha on people with neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. The onset of such conditions generally leads to synaptic loss that harms your sensory, motor, and cognitive abilities.

These studies have shown, though, that ashwagandha helps slow, reverse, and in some cases, even remove the harmful physiological effects of these conditions. These benefits have been observed in both the early and advanced stages of these conditions.

The main compounds that these benefits are attributed to are known as glyco-withanolides and sitoindosides that have been isolated from the roots of ashwagandha.

May improve fertility

One of the causes of infertility in men is a condition called varicoceles, in which the veins in the male scrotum (the pouch of skin that holds the testicles) are enlarged. It’s estimated that roughly 10 to 15 males out of 100 have a varicocele, and although varicoceles are harmless in most cases, in some cases, they can lead to fertility issues.

Recent studies have shown that ashwagandha, on the other hand, helps improve sperm motility, as well as sperm count in men with infertility.

Another study found that ashwagandha increases sperm concentration, semen volume, and sperm motility in men with low sperm count, as well as in men with normal sperm count.

Could improve brain function

Research has shown that ashwagandha may help improve brain activity. One study highlighted the positive impact of the herb on cognitive abilities, especially in older individuals with mild conditions. Some of the reported benefits include:

  • Improved focus
  • Better reaction
  • Enhanced performance of cognitive tasks 
  • Improved memory
  • Faster processing of information 

The study underlined ashwagandha’s antioxidant effects on the brain, which improved cognitive functions.

May help relieve stress

One of the most widely researched uses of ashwagandha is its ability to relieve stress. Research has shown that the intake of ashwagandha reduces cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone produced in the body when you’re faced with stressful situations and which triggers the fight or flight response. Ashwagandha is also known to reduce the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the physiological system in your body that controls your stress response.

A study monitored 58 participants, some of whom took different quantities (250 milligrams and 600 milligrams) of ashwagandha for 8 consecutive weeks. The participants who took ashwagandha reported considerably lower levels of stress when compared to the control group. The study also showed that the participants who took ashwagandha regularly were able to sleep better. 

Another study with 60 participants showed that those who took 240 milligrams of ashwagandha every day for two months reported a substantial reduction in their anxiety levels when compared to the control group.

May improve physical activity

How much physical activity you can engage in depends in part on your aerobic capacity, which is referred to as the maximum oxygen consumption (VO2max). This also reflects the cardiorespiratory ability (heart and lung fitness) of an individual and is an important metric for sportspeople.

VO2max is an indication of the body’s ability to transport and utilize oxygen, which is a critical criterion for athletes. Professional athletes regularly monitor their cardiorespiratory levels to make sure that they’re able to perform at their peak fitness, especially when performing in sports that require endurance.

Research found that athletes who took anywhere between 300 to 1,200 milligrams of ashwagandha every day saw an increase in their athletic performance.

This effect of ashwagandha is attributed to its mitochondrial impact. Mitochondria are known as the powerhouse of the cell, as this is where energy is produced. 

Ashwagandha also helps improve the capacity of oxygen transported within the body by increasing the concentration of hemoglobin and red blood cells that transport oxygen to the muscles.

Conclusion

Ashwagandha has multiple possible mental and physical benefits and is considered relatively safe, but check with your doctor to make sure that it’s suitable for you.

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