Updated: Jun 26, 2021
Ashwagandha Root is known for reducing anxiety, boosting mood, and even gains in muscle and strength. In this video we look at the science behind the benefits of consuming Ashwagandha. Always consult a doctor or physician before beginning a nutritional supplement.
What is Ashwagandha?
For thousands of years, Ashwagandha Root (Withania somnifera) has been one of the staples of Traditional Indian Medicine. In traditional indian medicine, Ashwagandha Root is classified as rasayana meaning it is believed to lead to long life, similarly in more modern times, medicine tends to classify it as an adaptogen.
Adaptogens are compounds which allow the body to deal with the physical and chemical effects of stress.
Ashwagandha Root's most celebrated benefits is an apparent reduction in feelings of anxiety and a boost in mood. As people began to understand the importance of hormones, claims began to surface that ashwagandha possesses the direct ability to reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
Ayurvedic Medicine also classifies it as bhalya, signifying a belief it increases strength, and as vajikara which means something works as an aphrodisiac. In a similar vein the strength, and bodybuilding communities often float claims that it directly increases testosterone, which could potentially lead to greater strength and fitness. There are also claims surrounding a benefit to male fertility. Including more direct claims that it is able to boost the hormone Testosterone.
One of the most common claims regarding Ashwagandha is that it helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as the feelings of anxiety and depression, resulting in an overall improved feeling of well being and new positivity towards life.
In 2008 a clinical trial was conducted to address exactly this question. The participants were divided into 4 groups in order to detect if Ashwagandha has the desired effect on the participants.
The placebo group would consume a pill without ashwagandha in it.
One group would consume one daily dose of 125 mg of ashwagandha root powder.
One group would consume 250 mg each day.
One group would take 500 mg of the root powder each day.
In the lowest dose group by day 30 their average total score dropped by 39.5%, and by day 60 it had dropped by 62.2% compared to the placebo group which saw no significant changes at all.
While the questionnaires provided evidence of an effect, the researchers also measured biological changes. At the start of the study, the researchers took baseline levels of several hormones, including
C-Reactive Protein, to name a few.
What happened after the 60 days to these levels provides a strong clue as to how Ashwagandha is exerting its powerful effects. Yet, science is still trying to figure out exactly how Ashwagandha is able to do this.
Another study on rat brains has demonstrated that consumption of Ashwagandha is able to boost the bodies natural antioxidant defenses, showing increases in levels of glutathione peroxidise, superoxide dismutase and catalase. Through reducing neuro-inflammation and thereby baseline levels of immune and stress hormones, it would make sense that the brain would also be less sensitive to stressful events through day to day life.
Studies have shown decreases in blood pressure, and heart rate, as well as increases in social functioning and motivation.
Since Oxidative Stress is also a component of aging and many degenerative diseases, like arthritis and Parkinson's, the traditional beliefs about improving life expectancy could have some actual merit.
There are also studies demonstrating that the active chemicals in Ashwagandha have even cancer fighting abilities.
In regards to Testosterone, muscle size, strength, and male fertility, a 2015 study was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, to take on the long standing claims of Ashwagandha boosting strength. In this publication, the group consuming the Ashwagandha gained significantly more strength compared to the placebo group. While the placebo group packed an average of 58 lbs onto their bench press over the two months, the group consuming Ashwagandha added an average of 100 lbs. A similar difference was also seen on the leg extension. Additionally, the Ashwagandha group also gained a bit more muscle size than the placebo group did.
In terms of fertility benefits, studies on infertile men have found improvements in sperm health and quality. This coincides with both reductions in markers of oxidative stress in the testicles, and improvements in reproductive hormone levels.