Ashwagandha, or more commonly known as Indian Ginseng (despite not actually being related to any form of ginseng…), is a small plant that actually belongs to the tomato family. Recognizable as a short and plump shrub with oval shaped leaves and bright yellow flowers, the Ashwagandha is native to the driest regions of India.
This particular plant it has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine for its apparent restorative benefits. Interestingly, the name Ashwagandha actually stems from these renowned restorative benefits, in which it loosely translates to ‘the smell of a horse’ in the Sanskrit language – aptly named as it was said to provide the consumer with the strength and vigor of a stallion.
In modern day, Ashwagandha has become a well-regarded health supplement, suggested to have a host of positive health effects on the human body. Often provided in powder or capsule form, Ashwagandha is extremely easy to take, making it an easy and effective addition to any healthy diet.
Nutritional Content of Ashwagandha
In terms of nutritional content, powdered Ashwagandha contains minimal macronutrients, and as such offers almost unperceivable trace amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Which is fine, because in all honesty, we are not consuming Ashwagandha for its macronutrient content…
Ashwagandha contains an abundance of antioxidants, with specific emphasis on two key types: withanolides and withaferin – both of which have shown to impact the body in a number of positive ways, and through a variety of mechanisms.
And it is really these two ingredients that make Ashwagandha such an incredible supplement.
Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
As touched on briefly above, Ashwagandha supplementation can have a host of positive health effects on the human body. While many of these are due to its antioxidant properties, it has also shown to influence the body through additional mechanisms.
Ashwagandha can reduce stress and anxiety, while improving sleep.
Ashwagandha is arguably best known for its ability to reduce sensations and feelings of stress and anxiety. While the mechanism is not entirely known, it has been hypothesized that some specific compounds within Ashwagandha block the stress pathway in the nervous system by regulating the release of specific chemicals – leading to a much lower stress response .
With this in mind, the regular supplementation of Ashwagandha has shown to significantly reduce feelings of both stress and anxiety adults, with this effect appearing to be more pronounced in those individuals who experience these sensations on a more chronic basis [2, 3].
As an added bonus, this significant reduction in stress is also likely to contribute to vastly improved sleep quality and sleep quantity, while also greatly reducing the risk of developing signs and symptoms of depression.
Ashwagandha can boost testosterone and fertility in men
The regular consumption of Ashwagandha in male adults has shown to have some huge positives in regards to reproductive health, causing a large increase in both sperm count and sperm motility, while also resulting in a measureable increase in blood testosterone levels .
This suggest that Ashwagandha may make an excellent addition to the supplement regime of those male individuals who are suffering from fertility issues, or have been diagnosed with low testosterone.
Additionally, through an increase in testosterone production, Ashwagandha may also aid in the development of lean muscle mass, and even increase weight loss.
Ashwagandha can lower our blood sugar levels
High blood sugar is a known risk factor to early onset diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, and obesity – in which it can also lead to weight gain and systemic inflammation.
With this in mind, the antioxidants in Ashwagandha (the previously discusses ‘withanolides’ and ‘withaferin’) have been suggested to have an extremely positive effect on resting blood sugar levels, causing large reductions in as little as 30 days supplementation .
Interestingly, in people with type II diabetes (a disease typified by high resting blood sugar and poor insulin sensitivity), the daily supplementation of Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels to the same degree as orally administered diabetes medication  – which demonstrates how highly effective this plant really is.
Ashwagandha may reduce the likelihood of developing cancer
Although research in this area on humans specifically is yet to be performed, the early signs are extremely promising.
Animal studies have shown that the consumption of Ashwagandha can help induce the death of cancer cells, while also impeding the growth of new cancer cells.
With this in mind, Ashwagandha has shown to increase the production of chemically reactive compounds known as reactive oxygen species (or ROSs for short). These ROSs are extremely toxic to cancer cells specifically, yet completely harmless to healthy human cells .
As such, the consumption of Ashwagandha may have the capacity to prevent the development of cancerous tissue, while also making an excellent supplement to be taken in conjunction with traditional cancer treatment – further increasing its effectiveness.
Does Ashwagandha have any side effects?
For those of us who are completely healthy, Ashwagandha has been shown to be perfectly safe for consumption in moderate amounts – although I should note that excessive doses have been shown to induce gastrointestinal distress, nausea, and in some more severe cases, vomiting.
It is also extremely important to state that the supplementation of Ashwagandha should be completely avoided during pregnancy, as it has been suggested to cause miscarriages.
In conjunction with this, it is also best to avoid consuming Ashwagandha while breastfeeding as there may also be some side effects associated (although research is yet to confirm this).
Ashwagandha is an incredible herbal supplement that deserves its place alongside the most well recognized superfoods. Considering its impact in various markers of health, its ability to reduce stress and improve sleep, and its capacity to boost both testosterone production and fertility, it would make an addition to almost anyone’s healthy diet.
With this in mind, it is also likely to make an excellent addition to the traditional treatments of diabetes and cancer – although we should also note that it should not replace these treatments, but be uses as a way to improve their effectiveness.
And finally, if you have had any experiences with Ashwagandha we would love to hear about them, so please let us know about it in the comment section below.
1. Candelario, Manuel, et al. "Direct evidence for GABAergic activity of Withania somnifera on mammalian ionotropic GABA A and GABAρ receptors." Journal of ethnopharmacology 171 (2015): 264-272. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26068424
2. Chandrasekhar, K., Jyoti Kapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty. "A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults." Indian journal of psychological medicine 34.3 (2012): 255. From : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798
3. Andrade, Chittaranjan, et al. "A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy ff an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera." Indian journal of psychiatry 42.3 (2000): 295. From : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21407960
4 .Ahmad, Mohammad Kaleem, et al. "Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males." Fertility and sterility 94.3 (2010): 989-996. From : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19501822
5. Raut, Ashwinikumar A., et al. "Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) in healthy volunteers." Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine 3.3 (2012): 111. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23125505
6. Andallu, B., and B. Radhika. "Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root." (2000). From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11116534