March 25, 2022 6 min read

Ashwagandha has been ancient at the center of Ayurvedic healing for centuries, and now it's gaining exposure as an herbal remedy for managing stress, boosting brain performance, and more. The question is–what's science really say about Ashwagandha benefits?

Before you decide to try it for yourself, let's dig into why Ashwagandha may (or may not) be a good fit for your wellness routine:

Key Benefits

  • Stress relief
  • Improved sleep
  • Protects heart health
  • Boosts sexual performance

1. Ashwagandha may help combat stress

At the center of Ashwagandha benefits, you'll find that a lot of people focus on its potential to help manage anxiety.

There are a few studies to back up these claims. A 2000 study found the root supplement to have a comparable effect to lorazepam, a popular anti-anxiety medication.

A 2019 study found that patients who took 240 mg of Ashwagandha root daily experienced significantly reduced stress levels compared to the placebo group.

Another 2019 study showed similar results–subjects experienced significantly reduced levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) when taking doses of either 250 mg or 600 mg of Ashwagandha daily.

Although this is by far the most popular purported benefit of ashwagandha, more research is needed to fully confirm any anxiolytic effects.

A woman sleeping soundly after taking a dose of ashwagandha.

2. It could help you sleep.

Some evidence suggests that ashwagandha may help improve the quality of sleep, perhaps because of its potential ability to help reduce stress and promote relaxation. One study found that participants reported sleep as being 72% better, on average, after supplementing with ashwagandha for a six week period.

One study pins these effects on the triethylene glycol that is naturally present in ashwagandha. Other studies suggest that it’s because of the way that ashwagandha can interact with GABA receptors, neuroreceptors that play a key role in regulating sleep-wake cycles.

More research is needed to truly understand how ashwagandha may help with sleep. In general, research that has assessed the safety and efficacy of ashwagandha for sleep has concluded that its risk profile is low.

3. Ashwagandha may enhance cognitive functions.

Some evidence claims that ashwagandha can help boost cognitive performance in healthy adults. One small study found that ashwagandha supplementation over a two week period was associated with increased reaction time in healthy men compared to the placebo group. Another study found that ashwagandha supplementation increased reaction time, working memory, and social cognition in patients with bipolar disorder who otherwise suffered in these areas.

4. It may protect your brain as you age.

While some evidence suggests that Ashwagandha could help improve brain health in healthy adults, other evidence points to its potential ability to help prevent neurodegeneration as we age. A 2011 review of a collection of studies exhibits Ashwagandha’s potential ability to help slow the loss of brain function in patients with neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson's Disease. However, this research involved mice, so human trials are necessary to confirm these benefits.

5. It may help combat pain and inflammation.

Some evidence suggests that Ashwagandha may act as a pain reliever that blocks pain signaling and helps to ease inflammation. A 2014 trial found that a drug formulation called SENSORIL, which is made from ashwagandha root and leaves, could increase the pain threshold for tolerating thermal pain in human participants.

A 2015 study found the herb to have positive results in treating rheumatoid arthritis related joint pain. A 2016 study mirrored similar results, finding that ashwagandha supplementation was associated with a significant reduction in pain, stiffness, and disability related to knee joint pain.

6. It may help keep your heart healthy.

Some anecdotal evidence also suggests that Ashwagandha could be heart healthy, claiming that it may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, ease chest pains, and possibly even prevent heart-related disease. One 2015 study explored Ashwagandha’s heart health benefits and found that the root extract may enhance cardiorespiratory endurance, but research is otherwise limited in this area.

Some experts suggest that ashwagandha’s potential ability to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, may also play a role in reducing blood pressure and other symptoms that can adversely affect heart health.

7. It may have anti-cancer properties.

A 2011 review of ashwagandha’s benefits found that it may have some potential to help prevent certain types of cancer. It cites one study that suggests that ashwagandha supplementation helped reduce or prevent the growth of tumors in mice infected with lung cancer, although human trials are necessary to confirm these results.

An athlete performing at her best after using Ashwagandha to shorten recovery time

8. It may boost athletic performance and shorten recovery time.

Some evidence suggests that ashwagandha can help increase muscle tone and athletic performance. One study found that subjects supplementing with ashwagandha experienced increased muscle strength and speed

compared to the placebo group. Another study mirrored these results, finding that subjects supplementing with ashwagandha experienced a significant increase in muscle strength. The study also noted that subjects experienced a lower body fat percentage and reduced cholesterol levels, although this study did not use a placebo control group.

In a study involving male athletes, the group supplementing with ashwagandha experienced a significant increase in muscle strength in both arm and leg exercises. They also experienced a reduction in body fat and had less muscle damage, potentially resulting in a faster recovery time.

9. Ashwagandha may boost sexual performance and fertility.

Ashwagandha has been rumored to help improve sexual functions in women, and at least one study exists to support this claim. In this study, women experiencing sexual dysfunction who were supplementing with ashwagandha experience increased arousal, lubrication, and satisfaction on a self-reported basis. Supplementing with ashwagandha also seemed to lower the feelings of distress around their sexuality and sexual encounters.

Yet another study found that ashwagandha may help increase sperm count in men struggling with infertility by helping to rebalance hormone levels.

Conclusion

Many Ashwagandha benefits have been recognized for thousands of years, but modern research has only recently begun to shed light on the true extent of its therapeutic uses. For now, Ashwagandha is regarded to have great potential for managing stress, sleep, pain, and more, and future research is aimed at understanding how to apply this herbal remedy to more severe medical applications.

For now, those who want to experience Ashwagandha benefits for themselves choose to combine it with other adaptogenic herbs and powerful nootropics for more complete effects. Ashwagandha can be used on its own, but can also be an essential part of a well-rounded wellness regimen for boosting brain health, immunity, and physical health.

Because ashwagandha supplements are not regulated as strictly as pharmaceuticals in the U.S., it’s important that you look for a high-quality supplement that’s well-made and lab tested. Using a high quality supplement and the correct Ashwagandha dosage is the best way to avoid any side effects associated with Ashwagandha supplementation. 

Always talk to your doctor before adding new supplements or making any changes to your wellness routine, especially if you take prescription medications.

Resources

  1. “Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0944711300800306?via%3Dihub
  2. “An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6750292/
  3. “Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6979308/
  4. “A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study to evaluate the effects of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep quality in healthy adults” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32540634/
  5. “Triethylene glycol, an active component of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) leaves, is responsible for sleep induction” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28207892/
  6. “Direct evidence for GABAergic activity of Withania somnifera on mammalian ionotropic GABAA and GABAρ receptors” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26068424/
  7. “Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Insomnia and Anxiety: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31728244/
  8. “Effect of standardized aqueous extract of Withania somnifera on tests of cognitive and psychomotor performance in healthy human participants” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24497737/
  9. “Randomized placebo-controlled adjunctive study of an extract of withania somnifera for cognitive dysfunction in bipolar disorder” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24330893/
  10. “An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/
  11. “Ashwagandha Extract Relieves Acute Thermal Pain in Human Subjects” https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbclip/issues/bin_504/041465-504/
  12. “Efficacy & safety evaluation of Ayurvedic treatment (Ashwagandha powder & Sidh Makardhwaj) in rheumatoid arthritis patients: a pilot prospective study” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4405924/
  13. “A randomized, double blind placebo controlled study of efficacy and tolerability of Withaina somnifera extracts in knee joint pain” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5052364/
  14. “Efficacy of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera [L.] Dunal) in improving cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy athletic adult” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4687242/
  15. “Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) and Terminalia arjuna (Arjuna) on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy young adults” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21170205/
  16. “Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23125505/
  17. “Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26609282/
  18. “Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Improving Sexual Function in Women: A Pilot Study” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4609357/
  19. “Efficacy of Withania somnifera on seminal plasma metabolites of infertile males: a proton NMR study at 800 MHz” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23796876/

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