Amazing Ashwagandha

By Amy Inman-Felton RDN

Health and Wellness Contributing Editor

3 Minute Read

While visiting my favorite healthy KC eatery ENJOY, I saw a new feature beverage on the menu – Ashwagandha Latte!  Uncertain as to the correct phonetic pronunciation – it tempted my taste buds – I ordered one! 

Fatefully, I was contemplating ideas for EBTS first Wellness What’s Trending feature.

Divine intervention – topic found. 

Ashwagandha (ash-wa-gan-dha), an ancient herb (Withania somnifera), is resurging with renewed interest as a supplement.  It is best known for its ability to function as an adaptogen in helping reduce stress, inflammation and providing anti-aging properties.

A bit skeptical at first, I did some delving and this ancient herb just may live up to the hype. 

What Is ashwagandha?  An evergreen shrub from the same nightshade family as the tomato and eggplant.  It is native to the dry climates of India, northern Africa, Middle East, and southern regions of Europe and the U.S.   The root and berry have been used as an adaptogenic herb for more than 3,000 years in Indian medicine and is a staple in Ayurvedic medicine. 

Did you know…adaptogens are plants or herbs known to support the adrenal gland helping to counteract stress in the body.

The ashwagandha root extract packs powerful antioxidants and polyphenols with numerous documented benefits.  It is a proven immune stimulator and may be a promising cancer fighter (including for ovarian cancer) based on emerging studies.

Medical caution.  Ashwagandha benefits aren’t for everyone.  For women who are pregnant, considering pregnancy or lactating, ashwagandha should be avoided as it may increase the risk for miscarriage. As with all supplements, those with autoimmune conditions, or those taking medication for any existing medical condition should consult with their doctor first before taking.

How is ashwagandha consumed?   Usually as a supplement (capsule), or as a powder that can be added as a booster to smoothies and beverages such as milk, tea, and coffee. Ashwagandha can also be found as tinctures and topical oils. 

The traditional Ayurvedic method soaks the root first in nutrient dense grass-fed cow’s milk before it is turned into a fine powder.  This method increases bioavailability and tempers the bitter taste of the root which can have a poignant taste.   

Dosage and Usage Tip: 

  • Look for supplements or powders using purified root extract (Withania somnifera) as the first or primary ingredient 
  • Usual antidote doses are 300 to 500 mg once or twice daily (or 1 teaspoon of powder) based on review of studies
  • Little to no adverse side effects are observed when these doses are used short term (weeks to a few months) 
  • Avoid high dosages which can cause stomach upset, sleepiness, diarrhea
  • Avoid using long term without medical guidance     

With all supplements select those with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) or third-party review by NSF International, Consumer or the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) to ensure quality with no additives, heavy metals or contaminants.    

Is ashwaghanda an option for you?  Here are four scientifically supported remedies. 

Reduces Stress and Insomnia

Aswagandha is best known for its ability to reduce cortisol -the adrenal glands stress hormone.  Chronic stress results in high levels of cortisol leading to adverse health effects including, increases in blood sugar, elevated blood lipid levels, hormone imbalances, weight gain, digestion issues, and insomnia. 1,  

Providing 300 mg root extract twice a day for 60 days reduced cortisol levels by as much as 28 percent and stress-related factors and improvement in self-assessed quality of life. 1 

Ashwagandha also lessens anxiety and promotes better sleep by calming key neurotransmitters.3,4Not sleeping well? Check out my ashwagandha bedtime cocoa for a better nights rest!

Amps Your Sex Life

This little herb may help to combat the annoying symptoms associated with menopause and declining hormones.  Ashwagandha increases both estrogen and testosterone levels. Ladies, you need both hormones for the optimal “O.”  During menopause, hormones drop and can bottom out (including testosterone) reducing your libido, arousal, and sexual satisfaction.  Ashwagandha stress-busting properties may also be another reason improved sexual desire is observed.

Women who consumed 300 mg of herb twice a day for 8 weeks enjoyed significant improvements in lubrication, arousal, orgasm, and sexual satisfaction. 5

Increasing these two hormones also helps with menopausal hot flashes!

Reduces Brain Fog

Ashwagandha has neuroprotective effects and has shown to enhance memory and cognitive functions.  It may play a key role in preventing age-related memory decline and shows promise in Alzheimer’s disease. 6 

Adults who took 300 mg of ashwagandha extract twice a day for 8 weeks had significant improvements in immediate and general memory compared to placebo. 7

Reduce Knee Pain and Osteoarthritis

Ashwagandha contains steroidial lactones called withanolide and withaferins (functions like a steroid) and may soothe joint pain and swelling associated with osteoarthritis.   Positive effects have been seen with knee and hip osteoarthritis.  When taken along with zinc and turmeric might further improve arthritis symptoms.

A recent study showed 500 mg (250 mg twice daily) may offer an effective alternative to NSAIDS for adults with joint pain. 8

Have you ever tried or used ashwagandha? How have you used it and did it make a difference? We’d love to know your results.