Ashwagandha: Exploring Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science – Gade Nutrition

Ashwagandha: Exploring Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science

Ashwagandha, also known as “Indian ginseng", or even “Indian Winter cherry”, is a powerful adaptogenic herb that has been used for centuries in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It is renowned for its ability to combat stress, increase energy levels, and promote relaxation. In this article, you'll discover the numerous Ashwagandha benefits, from its ability to boost your immune system to its potential as a natural anti-inflammatory. Learn how to incorporate Ashwagandha into your daily routine.

The history and origins of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a medicinal herb with a rich history dating back over 3,000 years. Originating in India, it is a cornerstone of Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional system of healing that emphasizes balance in bodily systems through diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing. It is a small shrub that is native to the dry regions of India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa.

The name "ashwagandha" comes from the Sanskrit words "ashva," meaning horse, and "gandha," meaning smell, referring to the strong odor of the Ashwagandha root. Thus, Ashwagandha means "the smell of a horse," which refers to its unique smell and the belief that consuming it imparts the strength and vigor of a horse.

For centuries, the Ashwagandha plant has been a staple in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It has been used to treat various ailments, including stress, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue. The herb is believed to possess adaptogenic properties, meaning it helps the body adapt to stress and promotes overall balance and well-being.

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Health Benefits of Ashwagandha and Scientific Evidence

Mental Health

One of the key benefits of ashwagandha is its potential to enhance mental health. Research indicates that it can improve memory, attention, and cognitive function, likely due to its neuroprotective effects and its ability to promote antioxidant activity in the brain. Additionally, it has been found to help combat depression by modulating neurotransmitter levels. A study involving 66 people with schizophrenia who also had depression and anxiety found that taking 1,000 mg of ashwagandha extract daily for 12 weeks resulted in greater reductions in these symptoms compared to a placebo group. Additionally, limited research from 2013 suggests ashwagandha may improve cognitive impairment in individuals with bipolar disorder. A 2021 review concluded that ashwagandha could be beneficial in managing depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other mental health and neurological issues.

Cognitive Function

Ashwagandha may enhance cognitive function and memory. A review of five clinical studies indicated that ashwagandha could boost cognitive performance in specific groups, such as older adults with mild cognitive impairment and individuals with schizophrenia. The cognitive areas that showed improvement included executive functioning, attention, reaction time, and performance on cognitive tasks. In another study involving 50 adults, taking 600 mg of ashwagandha extract daily for 8 weeks resulted in significant enhancements in immediate and general memory, attention, and information-processing speed compared to a placebo. Researchers attribute these benefits to the antioxidant effects of compounds in ashwagandha on the brain.

Stress and Anxiety

Ashwagandha works by influencing stress mediators such as heat shock proteins (Hsp70), cortisol, and the stress-activated JNK-1 protein. Additionally, it reduces the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which regulates the stress response.

Research indicates that ashwagandha supplements can alleviate stress and anxiety. In a small study of 58 participants, those who took 250 or 600 mg of ashwagandha extract daily for 8 weeks reported lower perceived stress and cortisol levels compared to a placebo group. They also experienced better sleep quality. Another study with 60 participants found that taking 240 mg of ashwagandha extract daily for 60 days significantly reduced anxiety compared to a placebo.

Sleep

Ashwagandha is a popular choice for improving sleep quality, with emerging evidence supporting its efficacy in addressing sleep issues. In a study involving adults aged 65-80, daily intake of 600 mg of ashwagandha root for 12 weeks led to significant enhancements in sleep quality and morning alertness compared to a placebo.

Furthermore, a review of five high-quality studies indicated that ashwagandha had a positive impact on overall sleep quality, reduced anxiety levels, and promoted increased alertness upon waking. These effects were particularly notable among individuals with insomnia and those who consumed doses exceeding 600 mg daily for at least 8 weeks. Overall, ashwagandha shows promise as a natural remedy for enhancing sleep quality and addressing related concerns.

Physical Performance

Research indicates that ashwagandha may improve athletic performance, making it a beneficial supplement for athletes. An analysis of 12 studies involving doses from 120 mg to 1,250 mg daily showed that ashwagandha can enhance physical performance, including strength and oxygen utilization during exercise. Another review of five studies found that ashwagandha significantly increased maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max) in healthy adults and athletes. VO2 max, a key measure of cardiovascular fitness, is crucial for both athletes and nonathletes, with higher levels linked to lower heart disease risk and lower levels associated with increased mortality risk.

Moreover, ashwagandha may boost muscle strength. A 2015 study found that male participants who took 600 mg of ashwagandha daily and engaged in resistance training for 8 weeks experienced significantly greater increases in muscle strength and size compared to those who took a placebo.

Testosterone & Fertility

Research suggests that ashwagandha supplements can positively impact male fertility and testosterone levels. In one study involving males aged 40-70 who were overweight and experiencing mild fatigue, those who took ashwagandha extract tablets daily for 8 weeks showed an 18% greater increase in DHEA-S, a hormone linked to testosterone production, compared to those who took a placebo. Moreover, participants who consumed ashwagandha experienced a 14.7% greater increase in testosterone levels.

Furthermore, a review of four studies of the ashwagandha benefits for men revealed that ashwagandha treatment led to significant improvements in sperm concentration, semen volume, and sperm motility in males with low sperm count. It also enhanced sperm concentration and motility in males with normal sperm count. These findings suggest that ashwagandha supplementation may be beneficial for male reproductive health.

Inflammation

Ashwagandha contains compounds, including WA, which have demonstrated potential in reducing inflammation within the body. Animal studies have revealed that WA can lower levels of inflammatory proteins such as interleukin-10 (IL-10). Moreover, there's emerging evidence suggesting that ashwagandha may also possess anti-inflammatory properties in humans.

A recent 2021 study investigated the effects of an Ayurvedic drug containing 0.5 grams of ashwagandha and other herbs on individuals with COVID-19. Participants who received this treatment twice daily for 7 days exhibited decreased levels of inflammatory markers, including CRP, IL-6, and TNF-α, compared to those who received a placebo. These findings suggest that ashwagandha could be beneficial in reducing inflammation, potentially offering therapeutic benefits in various inflammatory conditions.

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Side effects

Studies have considered ashwagandha safe for most people when used in recommended doses. However, like any supplement or medication, it may cause side effects in some individuals, though they tend to be mild.

The only ashwagandha side effects registered in small quantities were gastrointestinal upset, such as stomach discomfort or diarrhea, especially when taken in doses higher than recommended.

While rare, allergic reactions to ashwagandha have also been reported in a small group of sensitive individuals. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include rash, itching, swelling, or difficulty breathing. If any adverse reactions occur, it's important to discontinue use and consult a healthcare professional.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also exercise caution and consult with a healthcare professional before using ashwagandha, as its safety in these populations has not been well-studied.

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How to incorporate Ashwagandha into your daily routine

Incorporating Ashwagandha into your daily routine is simple and can be done in various forms. One of the most popular ways to consume Ashwagandha is through supplements. Ashwagandha supplements are available in the form of capsules, tablets, gummies and powders. When choosing a supplement, it's important to opt for a reputable brand that uses high-quality ingredients.

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