Megan writes about health and wellness issues, among other topics.
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a plant or herb native to India and surrounding countries. It grows as a short shrub, with small green leaves and red-orange fruit. It is also known as Indian ginseng, winter cherry, or poison gooseberry, but when being referred to as a supplement, it is usually referred to only as ashwagandha. The supplement is usually made from the powder of the ashwagandha root. Lower quality supplements may also use leaf parts, but the most potent medicinal benefits are found in the roots.
History of Ashwagandha Use in Ayurvedic Medicine
Ashwagandha is a very important herb used in Ayurvedic medicine, or the traditional ancient medical practice of India which is based on old writings and aims to promote good health and longevity through a holistic, well-rounded approach. It is an “all-natural” approach to health that incorporates a good diet, plants as medicine, exercise, and meditation among other methods to maintain equilibrium and balance in the body. Ashwagandha belongs to the subcategory of Ayurvedic medicine called “Rasayana,” which in Sanskrit means “path” or “essence,” and refers to those remedies that promote rejuvenation, longevity, and a sense of wellbeing. While ayurvedic medicine has been used in India for over 6000 years, ashwagandha has been used during the majority of that time as “Rasayana,” being recognized early on for its stress-relieving, anti-inflammatory, longevity-promoting, properties. It has long been given to a wide variety of individuals with different health concerns, including malnourished children, adults with anxiety or rheumatic conditions, victims of snakebite, and many other conditions.
The Rise in Popularity of Ashwagandha
I think the first time I heard about ashwagandha was about one year ago. A friend of mine with stomach issues told me she had been taking this herb and it was helping with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and associated symptoms. At the time I didn’t really take note or remember about the herb, and it went off my radar pretty quickly. Fast forward a few months and suddenly ashwagandha was all over my Pinterest page. Facebook was recommending personalized vitamin companies and hair growth supplements, all of which included ashwagandha. Almost all of the ads that recommended ashwagandha to me highlighted its use as an adaptogen, or herb known to reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue. With 2020 bringing the pandemic and botched economic situations for many, it is no wonder that 2020 saw a huge increase in sales of this herbal remedy. Other adaptogens include ginseng, Rhodiola, and Arctic Root, but ashwagandha continues to be the best seller and the most popular.
The Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
Some of the supposed benefits of ashwagandha have been highlighted so far, but let’s summarize the main benefits you could expect when taking an ashwagandha supplement.
- Promotes a sense of well-being and happiness
- Improves sexual function/libido
- Lowers blood sugar and cortisol levels
- Reduces inflammation
- Promotes hair growth/prevent hair loss (because of its anti-stress properties)
- Improves memory
Have any of these benefits proven? Although there aren’t any really large-scale studies out there documenting these benefits, small-scale studies have shown ashwagandha to reduce stress, blood sugar, and cortisol levels more substantially in groups taking the herb, than in those groups taking a placebo.
Are There Any Risks With Taking Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is considered mostly safe for most populations to take, when taken in an appropriate dose. If it is taken in higher than recommended amounts, it could cause stomach problems. It can also potentially interfere with medications for anxiety or blood thinners, and can alter lab test results (such as thyroid labs), so if you have any medical conditions or are taking other medications, it would be best to consult with your doctor before taking ashwagandha.
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My Experience With Ashwagandha
Like so many others, by the end of 2020, stress was starting to take a toll on me. I have been working from home while watching two kids since March 2020, and I was beginning to feel a sense of pressure and doom every afternoon as I struggled to finish my work while also trying to find ways to keep my kids busy in a productive, non-Netflix way. On top of that, my daughter developed arthritis over the past year that has involved a lot of stressful medical appointments and MRI’s. I looked in the mirror one day and felt I had aged about 10 years in the past year due to all that stress. My hair was starting to thin, and I was finding hair everywhere.I had begun to become a much meaner, stressed mom and wife than I intended to be. Since our situation did not look like it was going to be changing soon (kids will be home until at least this summer), I started looking for small ways to incorporate self-care and help better fortify me to meet the challenges of working at home while also watching the kids.
I did a few other things first (started a skincare routine, a little more exercise, better diet), which did start to help. I was having bad anxiety, however, especially on days where we had medical appointments for my daughter. I called my doctor ad was prescribed an “as needed” headache and anxiety medication. That same day even before I picked up those medicines from the pharmacy, I decided to buy ashwagandha and turmeric, since I had seen so much about their properties together as anti-stress and anti-inflammatories and uses in hair thinning supplements like Nutrafol.
I started the ashwagandha that day. I have been taking the Whole Foods 365 brand, which recommends taking the capsule 3 times per day. I have only been taking it twice per day, however, as I find it is hard to remember to take it in the middle of the day. I didn’t have super high hopes, though, since usually anything “herbal” I’ve taken has been too weak to make a difference. By day 3, though, something happened. Usually, on weekends the time I feel myself losing patience with my kids is at bedtime. Weekend days are usually even more filled with constant chores/activities, that by bedtime I am so ready to have some time to myself. If I am going to blow up, it is usually during the bedtime routine when the kids are stalling to get to bed. This particular day when my daughter was taking too long getting her pajamas on and brushing her teeth, instead of that anger bubbling inside like usual, I felt calm. I didn’t feel the urge to yell. That is when I realized, I think the ashwagandha was working! I have taken it for two months, and have continued to get feedback from my husband and kids that I have been a lot nicer. I also typically will get 1-2 migraines per month. I think those are from stress. I have not had a single migraine since starting the ashwagandha.
As I said, I have begun other self-care practices too since noticing I was much more stressed out, but I really think that my calmer demeanor and fewer headaches can be attributed to the ashwagandha.
Ways to Incorporate Ashwagandha Into Your Diet or Routine
The easiest way for me to consistently take ashwagandha is as a capsule/supplement. I have been seeing great results from the Whole Foods brand, which I ordered from Amazon. It can also be taken as a powder and used in food, or as a tea, but I find it unlikely that I personally would remember to consume it that way on a regular basis.
Ashwagandha is increasing in popularity as an Ayurvedic adaptogen claiming to reduce stress, and with good reason. I have had very positive results with the herb, more than I had expected or hoped for. My stress is reduced, which makes me feel like I have more energy and focus to get stuff done. My hair thinning has also seemed to slow down. Overall, I would recommend adding ashwagandha as a supplement to your diet.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Nithya Venkat from Dubai on March 30, 2021:
Interesting and informative article about Ashwagandha thank you for sharing.