The root of the ashwagandha plant has been a staple of Ayurveda — the traditional system of medicine in India — for thousands of years. As modern scientific research continues to confirm a long list of ashwagandha benefits, this medicinal plant that was once considered exotic to Westerners has slowly been becoming more mainstream to North Americans.
- What is Ashwagandha?
- Ashwagandha Health Benefits
- Ashwagandha Relieves Stress and Anxiety
- Ashwagandha Improves Cognition
- Ashwagandha Provides Better Sleep
- Ashwagandha Increases Energy
- Ashwagandha Boosts Fertility and Sexuality
- Ashwagandha Enhances Muscle Growth and Strength
- Ashwagandha Reduces Inflammation and Helps the Immune System
- Ashwagandha Improves Underactive Thyroid Function
- Ashwagandha Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
- Ashwagandha Improves Heart Health
- Ashwagandha Has Anti-Aging Properties
- How to Take Ashwagandha
- Ashwagandha Supplement Types
- Ashwagandha Dosages
- When and How to Take Ashwagandha
- Ashwagandha Safety
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha, native to India and Northern Africa, is also referred to as Indian ginseng, winter cherry, and its botanical name Withania somnifera. Ashwagandha is a small evergreen shrub with yellow flowers, red berries, and long, tuberous roots. While the leaves, seeds, and root of the plant have long been used for a variety of purposes by practitioners of Ayurveda medicine, it is only the root that has captured the interest of health-conscious folks in the Western world.
Ashwagandha root is believed to provide many health benefits, from reducing inflammation to boosting testosterone in men to lowering blood sugar levels. But it’s best known as an adaptogen — a medicinal plant that helps the body adapt to stress.
Adaptogens and Stress
Adaptogens are a large family of herbs and roots that in alternative medicine are considered to have properties that help the body deal with, or adapt to, stressors of all kinds. Ashwagandha may top the list of important and powerful adaptogens, but several others — including ginseng, Rhodiola rosea, Astragalus membranaceus, Bacopa monnieri, and Rhodiola rosea — are also very popular.
Stress is often thought of only in the simplistic term of being emotionally challenged or troubled, as in This relationship is stressing me out! But stress arises from many sources:
- Mental exertion
- Physical exertion
- Poor nutrition
- Lack of sleep
- Psychological pressures
- Harsh environmental conditions
Along with the different causes of stress come different health issues, including:
- Insomnia or interrupted sleep
- Poor appetite
- Decreased libido (sex drive)
- Lack of energy
- High blood sugar levels
- Lack of concentration and focus
This is why adaptogens, which are thought of as stress-relievers, can play a role in treating such a wide variety of seemingly unrelated health issues.
There are a number of compounds in ashwagandha that give the plant its many health benefits. But there is one active ingredient in particular that is most responsible for ashwagandha’s potency: withanolides.
Withanolides (there are more than one type of withanolide) are naturally occurring steroids. They’re hormone precursors — they aren’t hormones themselves, but they can get converted into hormones as the body needs them. Not only can they get converted to hormones, they can block overactive hormones by occupying hormone receptors on cells. These actions are what give ashwagandha its hormone-regulating power.
Ashwagandha Health Benefits
Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen because it helps your body manage, or adapt, to all kinds of stresses. But the ashwagandha plant — especially its root — has been a valuable part of Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years because its been considered a remedy for numerous ailments. Modern science has lately been confirming the many health benefits of ashwagandha, from reducing anxiety to improving memory, mood, and sleep.
Ashwagandha Relieves Stress and Anxiety
Whether stress is physical, psychological, or emotional, it involves the main stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol helps your body prepare for, and react to, stress. Increasing bloodstream glucose, making tissue repairing chemicals available, increasing alertness, and cutting back on nonessential functions are a few of the functions cortisol carries out.
In limited doses, cortisol is invaluable — it helps you cope with stress and may even save your life as your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. However, big health issues arise when cortisol levels remain high for extended periods of time. Chronically elevated cortisol levels lead to anxiety, impaired sleep, decreased testosterone levels, weight gain, and other issues.
Ashwagandha is best known for its ability to reduce a person’s level of stress and anxiety. It accomplishes this by reducing cortisol levels by as much as 30 percent. One study gave 75 participants who were experiencing moderate to severe anxiety 600 mg of ashwagandha daily for 12 weeks. The results were impressive, with the majority of the study subjects experiencing significant improvements in lowering anxiety while improving energy levels, focus, and overall quality of life.
An Ashwagandha Stack for Anti-Anxiety
If the primary reason you’re considering taking an ashwagandha supplement is to deal with anxiety, you might consider including ashwagandha in a stack. Stacking is a term used in nutritional supplements to refer to combining two or more supplements together into a single dose. Typically a stack groups together supplements that each target a specific health issue, such as anxiety. While each supplement targets the same health concern, each may work in a different way — so collectively these multiple nutrients “fill in the gaps” that any one individual supplement may miss.
For treating anxiety Pure Nootropics recommends a stack of up to four supplements — ashwagandha, magnesium glycinate, 5-HTP, and inositol.
- Ashwagandha: You now know that the root of this herb is a powerful adaptogen that lowers cortisol to reduce stress and anxiety. (visit product)
- Magnesium Glycinate: This is an important mineral that plays a role in numerous functions in the body, including supporting the immune system, regulating blood pressure, and balancing hormone levels. Like ashwagandha, magnesium reduces a person’s release of the stress hormone cortisol.(visit product)
- 5-HTP: Serotonin is a hormone that plays an important role in regulating anxiety and mood. You can’t buy serotonin as a supplement, but you can buy 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP. 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin — the body converts 5-HTP into serotonin.(visit product)
- Inositol: This is a carbohydrate that plays a key role in the release of the two feel good hormones: serotonin and dopamine. People who suffer from anxiety usually have low levels of inositol, so increasing inositol may contribute to lessening anxiety.(visit product)
Ashwagandha Improves Cognition
It turns out that reducing stress has several positive health implications in addition to the obvious one of feeling generally less “stressed out.” One of those positive effects is improved cognition, with cognition being our brain-related processes such as attention, memory, learning, focus, and imagining.
In Ayurveda medicine ashwagandha is considered one of several medhya rasayana — nootropic herbs that protect cognition and enhance brain functions. Ashwagandha’s ability to lower cortisol levels plays a key role — lowered stress and anxiety let’s the brain function better. Ashwagandha also increases acetylcholine, which is another factor in this plant’s ability to serve as a nootropic, or “smart drug.”
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter found throughout the nervous system. Acetylcholine plays an important role in memory, learning, attention, motivation, and REM sleep.
One clinical study found that 500 mg of ashwagandha daily for two weeks improved cognitive abilities in healthy adults as well as adults with mild cognitive impairment. Study participants experienced improvements in focus, attention, memory, and task performance.
Ashwagandha Provides Better Sleep
Many people who take ashwagandha supplements split their daily dosage into two separate doses, taking one in the morning and one in the evening. Taking a dose before going to bed encourages sound sleep by rejuvenating the body and lessening stress.
As described in the above Relieves Stress and Anxiety section, ashwagandha lowers cortisol levels, and high levels of this stress hormone is responsible for the majority of your sleep disturbances.
Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal circadian clock that runs in the background and regulate the timing of essential processes and functions. The best understood, and most important, of the circadian rhythms is your sleep-wake cycle.
According to your body’s circadian clock, cortisol levels in your body are expected to naturally lessen in the early evening in anticipation of sleep. Chronic stress brings about too much cortisol, which overrides this circadian rhythm and leads to insomnia (sleeplessness) and a poor quality of sleep.
An interesting side-note on circadian rhythms is that they exist in may types of organisms. For instance, circadian rhythms regulate flowers to open and close at the proper times of the day.
A recent study of 80 individuals, half of whom suffered from insomnia, determined that ashwagandha greatly increases sleep quality. For eight weeks participants were given either KSM-66 Ashwagandha extract or a placebo. Sleep parameters such as total sleep time and sleep efficiency (total time in bed actually spent in sleep) were assessed and the results revealed that ashwagandha supplements dramatically improved all sleep parameters.
In addition to lowering cortisol levels, ashwagandha helps bring about better sleep in two other ways.
Your body is designed to burn fat at night, and stable blood sugar levels are a part of this fat-burning process. One reason a person wakes up during the night is because their blood sugar levels crashed. Ashwagandha is known to be a stabilizer of blood glucose levels.
Finally, as mentioned in the above Improves Cognition section, ashwagandha increases acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter plays a role in many functions, including promoting REM sleep.
Ashwagandha Increases Energy
After reading how ashwagandha helps a person sleep, it may seem contradictory that this same supplement can give a person more energy. That is in fact, the case. It’s one of the amazing qualities of adaptogens like ashwagandha — their ability to influence the body to adapt according to the body’s needs.
Ashwagandha adjusts its effects according to the needs of your body, which means it can be both relaxing and energizing. When you understand how the word energizing is used here the contradiction may not seem so extreme. The energy ashwagandha brings about is not an immediate, short-term, highly stimulating energy — it’s not like the “buzz” a person might get from drinking a big mug of coffee or taking a stimulant drug such as a methamphetamine. Instead, the energy from ashwagandha is “gentler” and more long-term. It’s simply a “more awake” feeling that can last much of the day.
Ashwagandha Boosts Fertility and Sexuality
Ashwagandha helps to increase fertility and improve reproductive health. Most of ashwagandha’s sexual health related benefits come from its ability to increase testosterone levels. So when it comes to reproductive health improvements, most (but not all) of this root’s benefits are directed to men.
The ability of ashwagandha to enhance male libido, vigor, and virility by increasing hormone levels is so well-known that ashwagandha root has become a common ingredient in many supplements that are marketed as testosterone boosters.
Testosterone levels typically and naturally reduce with age, but chronic stress can reduce levels in men of any age. Low testosterone, referred to as Low T, can be especially disheartening to men because of the many negative health issues that can accompany this condition: erectile dysfunction (ED), fatigue, reduced sex drive, mood changes, and loss of bone and muscle mass.
Ashwagandha’s ability to lower stress and bring about hormonal balance can offset many or all of the results of Low T. In a 3-month study involving 60 men experiencing infertility, daily doses of ashwagandha significantly increased sperm quality, count and motility (the movement and swimming of sperm). Another sign of the study’s success — by the end of the 3-month run, 15% of the partners of the participants had become pregnant.
While testosterone is mostly a male hormone, it is present in women as well. While in women testosterone levels are much lower than in men, this hormone still plays a role in women’s sexual health. Equally important in terms of female reproduction issues is ashwagandha’s ability to lower the stress hormone cortisol.
Stress, or more specifically cortisol, plays a key role in regulating female hormones. Too much cortisol may lower progesterone, the sex hormone involved in menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and embryonic development. Reducing cortisol levels increases progesterone levels and reduces stress-related tension, yielding positive effects on a woman’s menstrual cycles, libido, and reproductive system.
Ashwagandha Enhances Muscle Growth and Strength
As mentioned above in the Boosts Fertility and Sexuality section, ashwagandha increases testosterone levels, and it’s well-known that testosterone is one of the key factors involved in the development of muscle bulk and strength.
A study reported in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that ashwagandha improved muscle size and strength for a group of 57 healthy men aged 18 to 50 who participated in eight weeks of moderate resistance training. Compared to the subjects that were given a placebo, the subjects who were given 600 mg daily of a KSM-66 ashwagandha supplement experienced significantly greater increases in muscle size and strength. This same group also experienced markedly greater increases in testosterone levels and much greater decreases in body fat percentages.
Another way in which ashwagandha plays a role in muscle growth is by its ability to reduce cortisol. As you’ve read here, chronically high levels of cortisol create a host of health problems well beyond simply causing stress. In regards to muscle, cortisol is bad because it’s a catabolic hormone.
Catabolic and Anabolic Hormones
In living organisms, anabolism is constructive metabolism — it’s the building up of complex molecules from a number of smaller ones. The opposite process is catabolism — destructive metabolism that involves the breaking down of complex molecules to form simpler ones.
An anabolic hormone is one that is constructive — testosterone, estrogen, and human growth hormone are examples of anabolic hormones. A catabolic hormone is one this is destructive — cortisol and adrenaline are examples of catabolic hormones.
Cortisol, being a catabolic hormone, stimulates the breakdown of muscle. This doesn’t sound like a good thing, and in normal circumstances it isn’t. During times of stress, though, the newly released cortisol’s job is to perform any functions it can to increase the amount of energy that’s available to the body to overcome the current stressful situation. And if breaking down muscle to release amino acids for fuel helps in a “fight-or-flight” situation, that’s what the cortisol will do.
Cortisol’s actions should be be very short-lived — they should end when stress ends. In cases of chronic stress, though, cortisol’s actions can carry on. And on and on and on. That includes breaking down muscle tissue. Ashwagandha reduces cortisol levels, so it puts a stop to the destructive muscle breakdown cortisol is responsible for.
Ashwagandha Reduces Inflammation and Helps the Immune System
Inflammation is the body’s normal way of responding to attacks on the body resulting from toxins, infection, or trauma. If the body is in homeostasis (in equilibrium or in balance) prior to the attack, once the negative event ends the body will release anti-inflammatory agents to stop the inflammation (which has done its job) to return the body to balance. In cases of chronic pain or chronic stress, the body does a poor job of regulating its inflammatory response.
Ashwagandha has a number of ways of regulating the body’s immune system.
For a person with an overactive immune response, medical practitioners often prescribe steroids that reduce immune system activity and in turn reduce inflammation. Ashwagandha has a natural steroidal content that is higher than the most commonly-prescribed anti-inflammatories, including hydrocortisone and prednisolone. Ashwagandha’s natural steroids are superior to prescription drugs because while both reduce inflammation, ashwagandha’s steroids have a less drastic way of reducing the overall function of the immune system.
Ashwagandha is loaded with powerful antioxidants that fight the damage brought on by free radicals. The root of this plant also is capable of increasing infection-fighting immune cells — as demonstrated in research conducted in 2009 at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland.
Studies have also shown that ashwagandha can stimulate lymphocytes (white blood cells) and macrophages (specialized cells that play a role in the detection and destruction of bacteria), increase blood platelets, white blood cells, and hemoglobin (the oxygen-transporting protein in red blood cells).
Ashwagandha Improves Underactive Thyroid Function
The thyroid — a small butterfly-shaped gland below your Adam’s apple — makes thyroid hormone that plays an important role in metabolism, growth, and bone health.
A slow, or low, thyroid is one that acts sluggishly and fails to release adequate thyroid hormone. There are a few reasons a thyroid slows down, but the chief culprit is the much-discussed chronic stress and the resulting surplus of cortisol. An overabundance of cortisol dampens the brains emission of thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH — the messenger that signals the thyroid to amp up metabolism by producing thyroid hormone.
Stress is the major cause of a slow thyroid. Ashwagandha is a powerful stress reducer. So it makes sense that ashwagandha supplements can play a part in speeding up the thyroid. And research bears this out.
A 2017 study reported in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine involved 50 participants, each of who were diagnosed with thyroid deficiency. After eight weeks the subjects in the treatment group, who were each given 600 mg of ashwagandha root extract daily, showed a much greater improvement in serum thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels than the subjects in the control group who had each been given placebos.
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid is underactive — the gland is producing too little thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid is overactive — the thyroid is producing too much thyroid hormone. Because ashwagandha can cause an increase in thyroid hormone, it may be beneficial for people suffering from hypothyroidism. People who suffer from hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, should avoid ashwagandha as these people do not need to increase their levels of thyroid hormone (such people are usually on medication to decrease their hormones).
Ashwagandha Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Glucose in the bloodstream — which originates from the food you eat — is your body’s main source of energy. The hormone insulin is produced by the pancreas. It helps control glucose levels and plays a role in storing extra glucose for later use. When a person’s pancreas produces too little (or no) insulin, blood glucose levels can soar to levels that are much too high. That’s the case when a person has diabetes.
Ayurveda medicine has relied on ashwagandha’s ability to stimulate the secretion of insulin to reduce blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. Modern research seems to back up Ayurveda medicine. In one small study the six participants with type 2 diabetes were given ashwagandha supplements for 30 days. After that time the subjects had all lowered their blood sugar levels to the same degree as people who were prescribed diabetes medication.
Note that while ashwagandha can play an important role in lowering blood glucose levels of diabetes patients, if a person with diabetes is taking prescription medication to control their disease that person should not take ashwagandha. The patient’s prescription medication will be doing the job of lowering blood glucose levels, and the supplement will further lower glucose levels — possibly to the point of being too low.
Ashwagandha Improves Heart Health
By now you’re well aware of the fact that chronically high levels of cortisol leads to numerous health issues. Stress and anxiety are the most discussed, but weight gain, decreased testosterone levels, and impaired sleep have also been discussed in this article. As the late night television commercials are fond of loudly saying, “but wait, there’s more!”
An abundance of cortisol raises your risk of high blood pressure, central adiposity (visceral fat) gain, insulin resistance, high cholesterol and high triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia). Collectively these issues greatly increase your risk of serious heart problems, including heart attack, stroke, arterial disease, and heart disease.
Ashwagandha improves heart health by reducing cortisol, thereby reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat that stores unused calories to be used later for energy between meals. When it comes to cardiovascular risk, compared to cholesterol levels triglyceride levels get far less attention — even though triglycerides are the most common type of fat and contribute to hardening of the arteries.
One study showed that people who took ashwagandha root for 30 days experienced a dramatic decrease in LDL (low density lipoproteins) cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as drops in blood glucose levels.
Ashwagandha Has Anti-Aging Properties
What exactly is aging? There isn’t really a short, set, commonly accepted definition. Aging might be thought of as the result of accumulated damage, such as cellular damage, over time. There’s no clear indicator of what is considered aging – it’s more of a gradual process that leads to a decline in mental and physical health, and the development of serious illness and disease.
Like aging, anti-aging has no definition accepted by all. What makes a medication or nutritional supplement earn the label of anti-aging? If you accept that aging is the body accumulating damage over time, then it might make sense to consider a supplement to be anti-aging if it effectively minimizes, delays, cures, or prevents damage, illness or disease. Using that definition, ashwagandha certainly qualifies as a superior anti-aging supplement.
Among ashwagandha’s health benefits are decreases in stress, anxiety, inflammation, and blood glucose, and increases in testosterone and thyroid hormone levels. All these benefits contribute to the potential for a longer, healthier life.
Ashwagandha Increases Telomerase Activity
Healthy cells are fundamental to life in general, and a healthy life in particular. Any supplement that plays a key role in keeping your cells healthy should be considered an anti-aging supplement. It turns out that in addition to the above health benefits, there’s one other property of ashwagandha that should certainly qualify this herb as an anti-aging supplement: its ability to increase telomerase activity in cells.
When a cell splits to become two cells, a copy of the original cell’s DNA is made for the new cell to ensure that this new daughter cell cell is an identical copy of the parent cell.
At the ends of DNA strands, on both sides, are chains of telomeres — little caps that prevent damage from happening to the DNA during the copy. The telomeres exist for protection purposes only — they don’t themselves include any DNA code important to the chromosome.
If an instance of DNA copying is imperfect, it might not copy the DNA strand all the way to the end. With telomere caps at the end of a DNA strand, that’s alright. Important DNA information will be copied, and only part of the information-free cap — some of the telomeres that make up a cap, will be “chopped off.” Telomeres are vitally important to cell health because they guarantee that new cells are created with damage-free DNA.
Over time, cells split and re-split countless times. Any one time could shorten a cap as some of the telomeres that make up the cap may get lost in the DNA copy process. Eventually the number of telomeres in one cap may become so few that the next imperfect DNA copy will not only stop short of the telomeres, but might also stop short of copying the entire DNA strand, resulting in a damaged, very unhealthy, cell.
Fortunately there’s a way for the body to continually add more telomeres to a cell’s cap so that the chain never gets too short — ensuring continued successful replication, or copying, of the cell.
Telomerase is an enzyme in stem cells. Telomerase exists to create new telomeres to get added to the caps of DNA strands in cells. The activation of telomerase to generate replacement telomeres is a natural part of stem cell function. It is possible, though, to encourage additional telomerase activation. Ashwagandha has been proven to have the ability to encourage telomerase activity.
Research has shown that ashwagandha root extract enhances telomerase activity by as much as a remarkable 45%. More research and study is needed, but the possibility that ashwagandha could contribute greatly to cell health means that ashwagandha could potentially play a role in preventing some adult disease conditions. In short, ashwagandha may be able to fight the effects of aging.
How to Take Ashwagandha
You’ll choose between a couple of types of ashwagandha supplement. Then you’ll determine the best dosage for your needs, and when and how to take the supplement.
Ashwagandha Supplement Types
In traditional Ayurveda medicine the leaves and the root of the ashwagandha plant are used. However, the leaf is typically used for topical treatments on the skin — it’s not generally useful for internal consumption. It’s the root that is the basis of ashwagandha supplements that you’ll purchase.
Ashwagandha Root Powder vs Root Extract
When it comes to purchasing an ashwagandha supplement you’ll be confronted with two main types: ashwagandha root powder and ashwagandha root extract. As their names imply, both come from the root of the plant.
Ashwagandha root powder is simply the entire root of the plant, dried and made into a powder. Ashwagandha root powder may be sold in capsule form, but it is more often sold in bulk as a powder — you’ll take a dose by mixing a scoop of the powder in a tea or smoothie or some other drink. Ashwagandha means the smell of a horse in Sanskrit, which is a good hint as to the odor (and taste) of the powder.
Ashwagandha root extract isn’t the whole root — it consists of only the most medicinally beneficial constituents of the root, which are extracted, dried, and put in capsules. Think of it as a more concentrated form of the powder.
Which is the best form to take? We’d have to go with the extract. You take much less of the extract to get the full benefits (because the powder form is the whole root so it includes the less nutritious parts of the root), and you don’t have to deal with the unpleasant odor and taste (you take it in capsule form, not mixed in a drink).
KSM-66 Ashwagandha — the Best Ashwagandha Root Extract
Different supplement manufacturers use different processes to come up with their ashwagandha root extract products. One of the most well-respected extracts is named KSM-66, produced by the herbal extracts and pharmaceuticals company Ixoreal Biomed. You’ll find KSM-66 listed in the ingredients of ashwagandha sold by several supplement stores because Ixoreal Biomed sells its KSM-66 ashwagandha extract to supplement, beverage and food manufacturers for inclusion in their products.
What makes KSM-66 exceptional is the fact that it’s an ashwagandha root full-spectrum extract. Ixoreal Biomed uses an alcohol-free and solvent-free proprietary extraction process to extract all of the important, beneficial components (the full-spectrum) from the root, and does this in a manner that maintains the natural balance of these constituents.
Ashwagandha’s benefits come from a complex blend of several of the compounds present in the root, so the ideal situation is to extract all of these compounds, and do so in a manner that maintains the natural proportions of each.
How much ashwagandha you’ll take is dependent on the particular condition you plan on treating. Standard, exacting dosages for ashwagandha have not been established — for any condition. For this reason dosages are usually given in ranges. To treat many ailments, 600 mg (divided into two 300 mg doses) each day seemed to be “the sweet spot” — the amount that worked best for many people for any one specific health issue. But again, each person needs to determine their own best dosage.
Regardless of your reason for taking ashwagandha, it’s recommended to start with a dose of 300 mg of ashwagandha extract (capsules) and, over the course of many days, gradually build up to a higher amount per day (if you intend to take more than 300 mg per day). Daily dosages of up to 2,500 mg have been clinically shown to be safe, and a few studies have used daily dosages as high as 5,000 mg per day with subjects experiencing no significant side effects.
The following are general guidelines for ashwagandha dosages to treat some common ailments. In all cases the doses refer to ashwagandha extract, which is typically sold in capsule form.
Ashwagandha Dosage for Anxiety
Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. To treat anxiety it’s recommended to take between 300 mg and 600 mg of ashwagandha daily. One 2014 study reported successfully reducing the anxiety and cortisol levels of participants who were given just 250 mg daily for 60 days. Another study, this on in 2012, successfully treated subjects for stress and anxiety using 300 mg of ashwagandha twice a day for 60 days.
Ashwagandha Dosage for Insomnia or Poor Sleep Patterns
Ashwagandha doesn’t make a person drowsy or sleepy — if it did, it wouldn’t be a good supplement to take during the day. Ashwagandha can help with sleep though, and it does this because it’s been shown to have a calming effect — that’s one of the reasons it’s a good supplement for anyone suffering from anxiety. Taking 600 mg of ashwagandha per day is helpful to many people with sleep issues.
In two studies (here and here), ashwagandha extract was given to sleep-challenged participants in dosages of 300 mg twice per day. In both studies subjects reported better sleep quality, higher sleep efficiency (the percentage of total time in bed actually spent sleeping), and decreased anxiety.
Ashwagandha Dosage for Poor Memory
Nootropics is a term given to supplements and drugs that are believed to be cognitive enhancers — they increase focus, memory, creativity, concentration, motivation, or other factors related to enhanced cognition. Ashwagandha is considered an important and powerful nootropic. Taking 600 mg of ashwagandha per day has been shown to be helpful for people with memory problems.
A 2017 study involving 50 subjects given 300 mg of ashwagandha extract twice a day resulted in the subjects showing improvement in concentration, attention, task performance, and overall memory.
Ashwagandha Dosage for Male Testosterone
It’s thought that ashwagandha may play some role in testosterone production — something that’s obviously of importance for male sexual health. A daily dose of 600 mg to 1000 mg may help in increasing testosterone levels.
A 2009 study included 40 males with low sperm count being given 225 mg of ashwagandha three times daily. This resulted in participants having an increase testosterone and semen volume.
Ashwagandha Dosage for Female Low Libido
Stress is often a key factor in sexual issues with women, so the anxiety-reducing powers of ashwagandha make this a good supplement to treat such issues. A daily dose of 600 mg may prove helpful for women experiencing low libido (sexual interest).
A 2015 study with 50 women who each reported low libido or sexual difficulties involved giving participants 300 mg of ashwagandha extract twice a day. The results showed a positive effect on libido and sexual satisfaction.
Ashwagandha Dosage for Muscle Growth
You’ve just read that ashwagandha may increase testosterone levels. Testosterone is the main hormonal driver of muscle growth, so the more testosterone in your system, the faster you’ll achieve muscle growth.
Like testosterone, cortisol is a steroid hormone. Unlike testosterone, cortisol has a negative effect on muscle growth. Ashwagandha has the ability to lower cortisol levels significantly which, interestingly, has the effect of increasing testosterone levels.
An ashwagandha dosage of as little as 300 mg daily has been shown to increase testosterone levels, but 600 mg or more daily is recommended if your goal is muscle growth.
When and How to Take Ashwagandha
When should you take ashwagandha, during the morning or in the evening? Should you take ashwagandha on a full or empty stomach? We explore those questions here.
The Best Time of Day to Take Ashwagandha
Whatever amount of ashwagandha you’ve decided on, you can take it in a single dose each day, or split it into a couple of doses each day. There doesn’t seem to be any hard evidence that one method is better than the other.
A lot of people believe it’s best to split a supplement — any supplement — into two doses, taking one in the morning and the other in the evening. The theory being that it’s best to have a supplement in your body throughout each 24 hour period, rather than a single “blast” of it all at once.
Ashwagandha has numerous health benefits. For some of those benefits it might make sense to take ashwagandha in the morning, while for other benefits it may make more sense to take ashwagandha in the evening. If that’s true, it would be a good argument for splitting your daily amount of the supplement into two doses. Here are a few of the reasons you might want to take ashwagandha both in the morning and at night.
Reasons to Take Ashwagandha in the Morning
- Increases Energy: Ashwagandha reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is why some people take it to help with insomnia — it calms them down. But ashwagandha’s effects are calming, not drowsy-inducing. Taken in the morning it may give you a calm, cool energy — not a jittery “high” energy.
- Improves Memory and Focus: Ashwagandha is a popular nootropic — a “smart drug” that is a cognitive enhancer. Taking it in the morning means you’ll have a more alert, focused day.
Reasons to Take Ashwagandha at Night
- Improves Quality and Duration of Sleep: If you want to take ashwagandha for sleep, take it in the evening before bed. Ashwagandha can help you get to sleep faster, stay asleep longer, and have a more restful night’s sleep. Its calming effect will help you get to sleep, but it doesn’t make you sleepy in the sense of making you drowsy and “knocking you out.” While some people take ashwagandha in the morning for energy, it isn’t a stimulant — any increase in energy during the day will be a pleasant feeling of wakefulness — alert and focused yet still relaxed. That seeming contradiction of energy and restfulness is the nature of an adaptogen — it helps you body adapt to different situations, and has a normalizing effect on your body’s processes.
- Recovery: Your body uses sleep as a time for recovery. In men that includes hormonal regulation — testosterone levels peak while you sleep. Ashwagandha is known to increase testosterone, so you’ll be helping your body out, while you sleep.
Take Ashwagandha On a Full or Empty Stomach
When it comes to questions such as whether you should take ashwagandha with or without food, before or after a meal, or on an empty stomach, be prepared to encounter a wide variety of answers. There is no general consensus for these questions.
Ashwagandha seems to be equally effective regardless of whether you have eaten recently or not. The answer might just boil down to what works best for you. Some people get nauseous and don’t react well with taking anything — supplements, coffee, alcohol, medications — on an empty stomach. If that’s you, then take ashwagandha with a meal, or even a light snack.
Ashwagandha is a time-tested, fairly mild herbal supplement that’s safe and has few, if any, side effects for most people. But all supplements and medicines affect different people differently, so it’s a good idea to be aware of the conditions that may prevent you from trying this herbal remedy.
Who Should NOT Take Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, and is considered safe for most people. However, as is true of any medicine, or any plant used as a medicine, there are exceptions. If you fall into one of the following groups, it would be wisest to avoid taking ashwagandha, or at a minimum consult with a medical doctor before taking it.
- Pregnant Women: While low to moderate doses of ashwagandha are commonly taken by pregnant women in India, large does are thought to increase the possibility of inducing miscarriage. For this reason it is safer for pregnant women to avoid ashwagandha altogether.
- Breastfeeding Women: There are no scientific studies or reports that have concluded one way or another whether ashwagandha is safe or unsafe to take during nursing. While some Ayurveda practitioners recommend ashwagandha to reduce stress and anxiety during the postpartum period, out of an abundance of caution most Western medicine practitioners suggest that breastfeeding women not take ashwagandha as a supplement.
- Anyone Taking Thyroid Medication: Ashwagandha may slightly increase thyroid hormone levels in some people. For a person with normal thyroid activity, this is not an issue. For a person on medication for abnormal thyroid activity, though, ashwagandha could interfere with the subject’s medicine.
- People With an Autoimmune Disease: One of the many benefits of ashwagandha is its power to boost the system by increasing immune activity. This is beneficial for most people, but not for anyone with an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or multiple sclerosis.
- People With Low or High Blood Pressure: Ashwagandha has been shown to lower blood pressure in some people. For someone with already low blood pressure, this could be problematic. While ashwagandha might seem like a good treatment for someone with high blood pressure, such people are usually taking prescription medication for their condition, and taking ashwagandha could easily interfere with their prescribed medication.
- Anyone Taking Diabetes Medication: Ashwagandha lowers blood sugar levels, which for most people can be a good thing — especially people with diabetes. The caveat is that most people with diabetes are already prescribed blood sugar lowering medications, and in such cases taking ashwagandha could cause blood sugar levels to actually fall too low.
Ashwagandha Side Effects
In general, ashwagandha is well-tolerated when taken in typical doses (300 mg to 1200 mg daily). So the answer to the question is it safe to take ashwagandha daily, the answer is almost always yes. Everybody is different, though, so there is a slim chance that you could experience side effects. If you do, it will most likely be because you’re taking a high dose. In those cases some people experience nausea, diarrhea, or drowsiness.
People who do experience side effects are most likely people who fall into a category that should always be particular about any supplements or medications they’re considering. Here are issues that such people could face:
- Can Induce Miscarriages: While many women experience stress during pregnancy, and ashwagandha is known to reduce stress, pregnancy is not the time to experiment with any type of supplement — no matter how well-tolerated the supplement is for non-pregnant women. According to the National Institutes of Health, ashwagandha includes compounds that may increase the risk of miscarriage.
- May Lower Blood Pressure: Lowering blood pressure sounds like a positive thing to most people — and for many people it is a good thing. But for people who already have low blood pressure, or people who are on prescription medication to lower their blood pressure, ashwagandha’s ability to further lower blood pressure is a negative side effect rather than a benefit.
- Can Increase Immune Activity: Like ashwagandha’s ability to lower blood pressure, ashwagandha’s ability to increase immune function can be a negative rather than a positive. Most people appreciate the boost in immune response, but people with an autoimmune disease such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis — diseases where the body is essentially attacking itself — need to be careful as to how they strengthen their immune system so as to ensure their own body doesn’t work even harder to harm itself.
- Can Increase Thyroid Function: For people with hypothyroidism (low functioning), ashwagandha could give their thyroid a needed boost. For people with hyperthyroidism (high functioning), though, the increase in thyroid function would be a negative side effect.
The root of the ashwagandha plant has been a staple of Ayurveda — the traditional system of medicine in India — for thousands of years. As modern scientific research continues to confirm a long list of ashwagandha benefits, this medicinal plant that was once considered exotic to Westerners has slowly been becoming more mainstream to North Americans.
Ashwagandha is a small shrub native to India and Northern Africa. The plant, and in particular its root, has been an important part of India’s Ayurveda system of medicine for thousands of years. In recent years the plant has been rapidly gaining in popularity and acceptance in Western medicine.
Ashwagandha root has been shown to provide numerous health benefits including enhancing sleep, reducing inflammation, boosting testosterone, improving heart health, and lowering blood sugar levels. It is best known, however as an adaptogen — a medicinal plant that helps the body adapt to stress.