Herbal Profile: Ashwagandha |

Herbal Profile: Ashwagandha

Danielle January 25, 2019

By Danielle

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha, also known as Withania somnifera, winter cherry, Indian ginseng, and poison gooseberry, is a short, woody plant.  This perennial herb grows between 14-30 inches tall, with 4 to 5-inch elliptic sage-green leaves, a green bell-shaped flower, and a bright orange-red berry.  It is a member of the nightshade (Solanaceae) family. 

Ashwagandha has been used in Indian and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, reaching back 2,500 years.  Typically the root is used in medicinals; however, the berry (remember, nightshade) and leaves are also used.  Though Wikipedia will tell you there’s “insufficient research to prove ashwagandha has any medicinal properties,” it is actually the most commonly used adaptogenic herb in the world.  Ayurvedic medicine has used ashwagandha to heal immune, endocrine, reproductive, and neurological issues.

The strange name “ashwagandha” means “smell of a horse.” This tells of the plant’s smell and its extended use to boost the immune system (like a horse).  Another name, Indian ginseng, notes its ability to increase energy amid stress, like ginseng.  You could use the herb based on these two old names, but there are many more medicinal properties to be aware of, too.

Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha contains a lot of compounds known to aid the human system, including amino acids, flavonoids, glutathione (a powerful antioxidant), tannins, alkaloids, withanolides, and triterpenes.

Lowers Cortisol Levels

Many of us are stuck in fight-or-flight mode from the stress of everyday modern life.  It is also common to deal with particularly high-stress situations, such as the death of a loved one, long-term emotional abuse, chronic illness, or job loss.  Because of this, our cortisol is ramped up all day long. This may mean you have a hard time getting to or staying asleep.

Researchers have regulated chemical signals in the nervous system of animals and found that ashwagandha blocks the stress pathway of rats (1).  Researchers didn’t stop at animal studies; they also studied humans.  They successfully reduced human stress by using ashwagandha when they did a 60-day study of 64 people with chronic stress. In that study, 69 percent reported reduced stress, anxiety, and insomnia (2).  I highly recommend Earthley’s Cocoa Calm or Master Tonic for these benefits.

May Reduce Anxiety

Anxiety usually goes hand-in-hand with stress, so it’s no wonder ashwagandha has also successfully treated anxiety.  In a 6-week study, researchers found that 88 percent of the people who took ashwagandha had a reduction in anxiety levels (3).  Another study found that ashwagandha was a viable option for naturopathic care in anxiety after 75 participants were followed for eight weeks.  It had significant benefits, including their mental health, concentration levels, lack of fatigue, social functionality, vitality, and more (4).  I highly recommend Earthley’s Anxiety Relief for these benefits.

May Help Adrenal Fatigue

Cortisol is your body’s primary stress hormone made by the adrenal glands and works with certain parts of the brain to control mood, motivation, and fear, also known as fight-or-flight.  When cortisol levels become chronically elevated, your body will be on high alert, resulting in an alteration or complete shutting down of functions such as your digestive or reproductive systems, immune systems, or even growth processes (5).  

In one study involving chronically stressed adults, participants supplemented ashwagandha and found that ashwagandha significantly reduced cortisol levels (6), which means ashwagandha can help with adrenal fatigue.  I highly recommend Earthley’s Master Tonic for these benefits.

According to Vegan Liftz, those who are in adrenal fatigue have cortisol issues, and ashwagandha can assist with that.  This also means that ashwagandha can help lower stress, as cortisol causes a domino effect on our stress levels.

Anticancer Properties

Several studies have been conducted in both test tubes and on animals regarding the potential anticancer properties of ashwagandha.  One study found ashwagandha to play a cancer-protective role in rodents with cancer that were chemically induced (7).  Another study, a test-tube study, found that ashwagandha may cause cancer cells to become less resistant to apoptosis and disrupt the vimentin cytoskeleton. Ashwagandha can possibly induce ROS generation, c-Fos expression, and c-FLIP(L) suppression (8).

Lowers Inflammation

In several studies, ashwagandha was shown to help decrease inflammation.  Chronic inflammation has been linked with many diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, and certain cancers (9).  In one animal study, ashwagandha had a protective effect on inflammatory markers and insulin resistance in fructose-fed rats (10).  

C-reactive protein (CPR) is measured in your blood and increases when there’s inflammation in your body (11).  Human studies took ashwagandha extract daily and had a 36 percent decrease in C-reactive protein compared to only 6 percent in the placebo group (12).

May Improve Brain Functionality

Many studies have been conducted in test tubes, animals, and even humans around the possibility that ashwagandha may improve brain function and memory.  In one study, researchers studied rats with epilepsy and found that ashwagandha nearly completely reversed spatial memory impairment, likely caused by a reduction in oxidative stress (13).  

In another study, 50 adults were examined for eight weeks after taking ashwagandha root extract twice a day.  The results showed significant improvement in their general memory, task performance, and even attention (14).  In a test-tube study, ashwagandha could reverse β-amyloid1-42 induced toxicity in human neuronal cells implicated in HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (15). I highly recommend Nourish Him Naturally for these benefits.

Fertility Benefits

Ashwagandha has shown promising possibilities for increasing fertility in men thanks to its ability to boost testosterone levels.  In one study, ashwagandha improved semen quality specifically by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile men (16).  

In another study, men who took ashwagandha for stress experienced higher antioxidant levels and better sperm quality, and after 90 days of consistently using ashwagandha, 14 percent of their partners became pregnant (17).  I highly recommend Earthley’s Nourish Him Naturally for these benefits.

Regulates Blood Sugar & Cholesterol Levels

Research has shown that ashwagandha helps regulate blood sugar levels in those with diabetes and even improves insulin resistance (18).  Additionally, thanks to ashwagandha’s anti-inflammatory effects, it seems as if it may also lower both cholesterol and triglyceride levels and improves overall heart health.  One animal study found ashwagandha to reduce cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels by 53 and 45 percent in rats (19), which has led researchers to believe it may do the same for humans but has not yet been confirmed.

Thyroid Support

Ashwagandha has been shown to boost a slow-producing thyroid (hypothyroidism) and help those with Hashimoto’s.  During an 8-week ashwagandha treatment period, ashwagandha effectively normalized the serum thyroid indices significantly (20).  I highly recommend Earthley’s Thyroid Support tincture for these benefits. 

Safety Concerns

Ashwagandha is not recommended for those with hyperthyroidism.  Aswagandha may exacerbate symptoms by boosting T3 and T4 levels, potentially leading to thyrotoxicosis, a severe form of hyperthyroidism. 

Do not use it if you already have low cortisol, as ashwagandha lowers cortisol.  Be careful when consuming if you have issues with any herbs of the nightshade family.  The mainstream recommendation is to consult your doctor before taking if pregnant or nursing, but herbalists say otherwise.

Notably, a trusted herbalist since 1989, Richard Whelan has had no documented adverse reactions or effects with this herb.  He considers Withania to be exceptionally safe to use in high or frequent doses if necessary. He states it can be taken by the young or old while pregnant or breastfeeding with confidence (21).

How to Use Ashwagandha

You can find ashwagandha in dried capsule form, dried bulk, extracts, or tinctures.  Tinctures always contain the most concentrated amount of herbs.  Teas and soups are also options, especially when following ayurvedic medicine recipes.

A good starting dose is 300 milligrams twice per day.  You can increase to 750-1,250 milligrams daily as you see results.  Some studies say it’s safe up to 6,000 milligrams per day.  

Follow the recommendations of any supplement; some of my recommendations include:

  • Earthley’s Anxiety Relief is formulated with herbs chosen for their ability to calm the body and improve mood without unfortunate side effects.  Relieve symptoms of anxiety naturally.
  • Earthley’s Cocoa Calm combines an all-natural, antioxidant-rich cocoa powder with three key adaptogens (ashwagandha root, Rhodiola root, and eleuthero root).  The result is a cocoa powder that tastes just like chocolate but helps you feel calmer and more able to deal with common daily stresses!
  • Earthley’s Master Tonic is perfect for total body support when life gets too busy. If you’re feeling run down and in need of support, Master Tonic is here for you!  This herbal remedy has nutrients to support all your major organs that need help when you’re overworked—made with all-natural ingredients without any OTC medication drugs with those nasty side effects.
  • Earthley’s Natural Balance was made for women struggling with the ups and downs of hormones.  This herbal remedy can help steady hormone levels and provide increased energy, calmness, and sleep quality.  It is made with all-natural ingredients without those OTC medications that have unwanted side effects.  Do not take while pregnant. Use caution while breastfeeding.
  • Earthley’s Nourish Him Naturally was curated with a man’s specific needs in mind!  Earthley used herbs to support heart health, prostate health, and energy levels to make this vitamin powerhouse.  You could see an improvement in overall health and wellness through this natural and organic herbal supplement!
  • Earthley’s Thyroid Support is an herbal formula for thyroid support and total body wellness.  The herbs include ashwagandha, amla berry, licorice root, Brahmi leaf, and milk thistle seed.  It also supports a healthy liver and stress response and is rich in vitamin C.

Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice.  These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and nothing in this post is intended to diagnose, treat, or cure anything.  If you have questions, please do your own research or seek advice from a health professional.

If you have ashwagandha in your natural medicine cabinet, how do you use it?

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Danielle was born and always will be a farm girl, searching for God’s natural truths in an unnatural world. She’s a doula, health coach, natural health activist, and currently obtaining her naturorthopathic doctorate degree. When she isn’t reading about holistic healing, you will likely find her chasing a sweet little boy or a small flock of rebellious chickens in the Midwest mud.

1 Comment

  1. Hi, Is Ashwagandha ok to take when pregnant?
    Regine daly


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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