Ashwagandha

Background

Popularly known as the king of Ayurvedic herbs, Ashwagandha has traditionally been used to strengthen the immune system, improve both mental and physical performance. In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha means “smell of horse” that refers to the strength and vigor of a stallion. Its botanical name is Withania Somnifera, and also known by several other names, including Indian Ginseng and Winter Cherry. Ashwagandha is used as an adaptogen and plays an important role in stress and anxiety relief. It is a neuroprotective and also enhances athletic performance.[1]
Ashwagandha has nootropic effects and helps restore memory and motor skills [2] and is used by people who have Alzheimer’s disease.

Benefits

Ashwagandha is one of the most powerful herbs in Indian Ayurvedic medicine and has become a popular supplement due to its numerous health benefits. Ashwagandha helps reduce anxiety and depression.[3] Ashwagandha can regenerate axons and dendrites of brain nerve cells. It helps reconstruct synapses in severely damaged neurons. It has a role in the therapeutic treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, as it is able to reconstruct neuronal networks.[4]
Ashwagandha has many cognition related and therapeutic benefits. The common health benefits of Ashwagandha include –

  • Reduces stress and anxiety [5]
  • Enhances memory and improves cognition [6]
  • Improves energy and mood [7]
  • Helps with diabetes [8]
  • Helps people fight cancer [9]
  • Improves sexual function in women [10]
  • Reduces cortisol levels [11]
  • Promotes sleep [12]
  • Boosts testosterone levels [15]
  • Increases fertility in men [13][14]
  • Improve body composition and increase strength [16][17]
  • May reduce inflammation [18][19]
  • Improves brain function [20]
  • Enhances athletic performance [21]
  • Acts as an antioxidant [22]
  • Helps with arthritis [23]
  • Improves heart health [24]
  • Helps people who have Alzheimer’s disease [25]

There are some active components in Ashwagandha which are purported to promote relaxation in the brain, help the immune system adapt to stress, reduce inflammation and reduce blood pressure. This herb might have the ability to support weight gain and enhance strength by supporting healthy muscle growth.

How it works

Ashwagandha improves cognitive function and brain health in several ways. It enhances GABA receptors and serotonin in the brain and appears to work on neuron receptors, enabling GABA to connect easier. This hinders the signals present under a stress response in the brain and anxiety decreases.
Ashwagandha is a known brain tonic in Ayurveda postulated to act in the human body by modulating the neuro-endocrino-immune systems and have been found to be a rich source of antioxidants.
In a study, it is observed that Ashwagandha extract decreases the reaction time significantly in SRT, CDT, DSST, DVT, and CST following 14 days treatment (1000 mg/day) compared to placebo, indicating its positive effect on psychomotor function. The decrease in the reaction time could be interpreted as a central effect, since Ashwagandha helps maintain homeostasis and psychomotor abilities in times of stress. Clinical trials have shown that Ashwagandha can alleviate a reactive type of depression without causing sedation. Instead, it optimizes mental and psychomotor performance by easing the mental stress bundle. However, there has not been witnessed any sedative effect in the subjects during treatment with Ashwagandha extract. The mechanism by which Ashwagandha exerted beneficial effects is presently not clear; however, animal studies have shown that Ashwagandha is capable of improving memory and enhancing cognitive function by modulation of cholinergic neurotransmission.[26]

Considerations

Normally Ashwagandha is considered safe when taken on a short-term basis in moderate amounts. However, large amounts can cause digestive problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Supplementing this herb may interfere with certain medications and cause problems with blood sugar levels in those with diabetes. Consult your doctor if you have blood pressure problems, stomach ulcers, autoimmune diseases or thyroid disorders.
The pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take ashwagandha supplements for building muscle. These products might increase the risk of miscarriages, and the effects of these supplements on women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are unknown.

Recommendations

Ashwagandha is found in capsules, powders, or as a liquid extract. The proper dosage of Ashwagandha depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions.   A suitable range of this supplement may be 300 – 1000 mg per day; taken 1-2 times a day with meals. Your healthcare provider can choose a proper dose of it.
However, here’s some suggestion about the dosage for your consideration. You can take a dose of as little as 50 – 100 mg for a very light mood lift to create a noticeable shift in stress levels.

A moderate, median dose may be closer to 500 mg. And a maximum dosage may be to 2000 mg, taken up to 3 times daily for strongest effect. It is for the people who are suffering from more serious forms of depression or anxiety. 

Sources