What Is Ashwagandha?
With life being such a constant hustle that is bringing with it a mental and physical strain, Ashwagandha provides a solution that’s quite wholesome for healthy living. Ashwagandha is a herb that is derived from the nightshade plant family, which grows in the dry tropical regions of Southwest Asia, North Africa, and the Mediterranean region. In English, Ashwagandha is normally referred to as winter cherry or the Indian ginseng. In Latin, it is referred to as the Withania Somnifera, which is incidentally its scientific name. The implied meaning of Ashwagandha is the scent of horse1, which has got nothing to do with how horses smell but the potency and virility that comes with the regular use of the herb.
Ashwagandha works through active constituents that are referred to as withanolides2, whose numerous effects include improved mental acuity and physical endurance. Ashwagandha has been used for achieving many purposes in the Indian traditional medicine system (or Ayurveda3) for more than three millennia, including treating insomnia, alleviating stress, asthma, arthritis, infertility, and sexual dysfunctions.
The question of how much is enough while using Ashwagandha is always imperative to consider. However, while at it, one needs to ensure that they understand the distinct differences between doses in chemical drug use and the herbal drugs such as Ashwagandha. There are three basic doses through which Ashwagandha can be administered: low, medium, and high doses. While the low dosage is normally used for achieving mild energetic effects, the medium dosage is good for chronic conditions whereas the high dosage is used to treat acute conditions4. Using a low dosage for treating chronic or acute conditions will not give the desired results. Similarly, using medium or high dosages to address a mild condition may bring a backlash that may involve nausea and vomiting.
The dosage range is determined by factors such as sex and age5. This means that what can be considered as a low dose for an adult is by no means a high dose for a child. A high dose of Ashwagandha for adults can measure up to between 15 – 30 g of the herb’s powdered root, which is effective in treating nervous stress, acute insomnia, and fatigue. The intake of such high doses need to be supervised and should be taken for a short period of time until the patient has stabilized. In such acute condition, Ashwagandha is better mixed with milk and used while warm. It should also be mixed with ghee and drunk while the patient has an empty stomach.
The medium dose of Ashwagandha can measure up to 2-5 g of the herb’s powder. This is effective for the chronic diseases such as anxiety and insomnia that tend to fluctuate with time. When taken in the long term, the medium dose helps to regulate the body’s weight gain. Notably, this medium dose is best taken with milk that is mixed with honey or ghee based on the effect that the user desires.
Ashwagandha can also be taken as a tincture where it is prepared at the ratio of 1: 3. Alternatively, it can be taken as a fluid extract where it is mixed at the ratio of 1:1. In both cases, the dose ranges between a half-teaspoon (i.e. 2.5 ml) and one teaspoon (5 ml). When the tincture is made at a higher ratio such as 1:5, its dosage ranges between 1 – 2 teaspoons (5 – 10ml), which may leave some patients drunk based on their body’s reception of the dose.
In most cases, Ashwagandha is taken either once or twice daily6—taking a half or a quarter teaspoonful of the supplement each time. When taken in milk that is mixed with honey at night right before retiring to bed, Ashwagandha is effective in enhancing sleeping patterns, strengthening the muscles, and calming vitals. The taste of Ashwagandha triggers the digestion process, thereby sending signals all over the body on what is to come.
What Are The Top Benefits?
Ashwagandha has a lot of well-documented benefits. It is highly effective at protecting the immune system, and it even has anti-malarial effects. In addition, it has several important effects on cognition.
Here are some other common benefits of Ashwagandha:
The other benefit of Ashwagandha is evident in the relieving of stress levels. In most instances, stress manifests in the form of sleeplessness, fatigue, and hyper-reactivity. Ashwagandha provides the body with an energizing and nourishing effect that supports the healthy functioning of the body’s nervous system. This was confirmed in a study carried on 64 subjects7 with chronic stress history, where it was found that high-concentration of Ashwagandha improves individual resistance towards stress and boosts quality of life.
Stabilizes Sleep Patterns and Sexual Virility
Additionally, Ashwagandha is good for the insomniacs as it helps in fostering healthy sleeping patterns. It is also good for those seeking to sustain the health of their reproductive system. It is essentially considered one of the prime sexual restoratives that are good at fixing issues to do with infertility. In fact, in past studies, men with fertility-related stress were found to have higher antioxidant status and healthier sperms after using Ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha is effective for toning muscles and revitalizing the many functions of the body. Particularly, Ashwagandha has the capacity to calm the muscles 8while it energizes it at the same time.
What’s more, athletes will find Ashwagandha an invaluable addition to their diet as it does not only support healthy joints and backs but also enhances sustained vitality9, strength, and high energy levels that are invaluable during physical activity.
Ashwagandha can also be combined with other herbs such as Shatavari to treat infertility in women10. The combination is also effective in treating postpartum depression, threats of miscarriages, and in boosting the production of milk by lactating mothers.
What Are The Potential Side Effects?
As with anything that you plan on putting in your body, it is a good idea to know the potential side affects as well.
Studies 11 have demonstrated that the intake of Ashwagandha in large dosages result into gastrointestinal problems. These gastrointestinal problems are characterized by diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and vomiting.
Excessive Thyroid Hormone Production
According to a study carried by the University of Pittsburg Medical Center, the herb increases the production of thyroid hormone, and should be avoided by people with hyperthyroidism.
Excessive Iron Production
Ashwagandha is also rich in iron, and using the herb for long can put you at risk of taking too much iron, which is associated with serious health problems such as the weakening of bones. Normally, these side effects die down with time. It is, however, advisable that the herb is taken with meals in order to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal distress.
The intake of Ashwagandha may result in drowsiness, and it is thus advisable to take it with caution. Excessive dosage of Ashwagandha may bring about excessive sleepiness.
Decrease Immunity System
Studies12 have shown that Ashwagandha intake is counter-productive to the immune system of patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. When these patients take medication for such autoimmune diseases, they decrease the response of their immune system and further intake of Ashwagandha may compromise their effectiveness.
The intake of Ashwagandha is some instances result into stomach irritation. This may become more severe for persons who have stomach ulcers.
Supplementing Your Diet With Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha normally comes in three forms: liquid extract, tablet, or powder form. For rejuvenation and nourishment, the supplement is better taken with honey and ghee that are put in equal measures. However, sugar can be added as a substitute for honey to provide the cooling effect. In order to reduce the risk of the side effects that comes with the use of Ashwagandha, it is important that the herb is taken with meals.
There are also medical conditions that restrict the use of the herb. For instance, it is not advisable for people who have stomach ulcers to use Ashwagandha. This is because the herb, once ingested, will irritate their stomach lining and worsen their condition. Besides, it is advisable that patients who are due for surgery stop using Ashwagandha at least a fortnight before the scheduled surgery. This is because Ashwagandha normally slows down the nervous system, and may react with the medication that is used for anesthesia 13.
Furthermore, patients with thyroid disorders who are using Ashwagandha need to regularly conduct checks on the levels of their thyroid hormones, given that Ashwagandha significantly affects the thyroid hormones levels14. Additionally, low blood pressure patients (who are on medication to achieve high blood pressure) need to be cautious when using Ashwagandha given that the herb decreases the body’s blood pressure15
The typical recipe for Ashwagandha tea includes the following steps:
- Take the recommended dosage of Ashwagandha either in powder or table form
- Mix the dose with about 3 ½ cups of boiling water
- Allow the mixture to boil in the water for about 15 minutes
- Sieve to remove powder remnants from the tea.
There are numerous other herbs that can be stacked with Ashwagandha to achieve superb results. These include Terminalia Arjuna and Rohodiola, which when combined with Ashwagandha are quite effective in boosting mental concentration, physical endurance, and vitality. Ashwagandha can also be combined with Maca to boost sexual stimulation and address women fertility issues. When Ashwagandha is mixed with Silymarin and Curcumin, it enhances the antioxidant effect on the body, and when mixed with Echinacea and Eucalyptus, it stimulates the immune system as the combination has both the antibacterial and antiviral effect. Furthermore, a combination of Ashwagandha and Ginko Biloba is effective in strengthening the nervous system and the general mental health.
Alternatives To Taking Ashwagandha
Bacopa monnieri is also effective in alleviating stress and improving sleeping patterns16. Besides, Bacopa monnieri provides effective alternative treatment for indigestion, asthma, ulcers, and joint inflammations.
There are few herbal alternatives that have the same effects as Ashwagandha, and which you can resort to in case you cannot handle the side effects of the herb. Holy Basil (or tulsi in India), for instance, is effective as an anti-aging agent. Rhodiola is also an adaptogen stimulant and is invaluable in rejuvenating when one is severely fatigued. Rhodiola is also used in treating insomnia 17
There are also assorted medicinal mushrooms such as maitake, cordyceps, reishi, and shiitake, which are effective in enhancing the body’s immunity, preventing the growth of cancerous cells in the body, and relieving stress.
The other alternative is Maca, which is a root originating from South America, and is equally effective in balancing hormonal effects18, especially for people who are undergoing the middle-age changes; it helps them in sustaining their energy and vigor.
Other Things To Be Aware Of
There is a disagreement on the use of Ashwagandha during pregnancy in the West and the East. For instance, Indian women are encouraged to use the supplement while pregnant whereas women in the West are discouraged to use it when they are expectant. The West discourages its use during pregnancy due to its spasmolytic effects to the uterus19 and its use to induce abortion20 when ingested in large doses.
There are also controversies on the use of Ashwagandha in addressing thyroid health, with some studies claiming that it is invaluable while others discounting those claims. On one hand, some experts have noted that patients with thyroid difficulties turn to
Ashwagandha to seek relief given that some particular components of its roots boosts the liver’s glucose-6-phosphate functioning21, and thus enhances the functions of the thyroid glands. Contrasting studies have claimed that Ashwagandha increases the serum concentration of the thyroid hormones resulting into excessive hormonal effects.
Undoubtedly, the benefit that comes with the use of Ashwagandha makes the supplement quite invaluable to various groups of people. Ashwagandha does not only tone muscles but it also supports healthy joints and boosts the power and potency of the human physic. This makes Ashwagandha an invaluable supplement for athletes of all kind.
Ashwagandha is a panacea to stress caused by various stressor factors, and as exhibited in numerous forms including aggression, fatigue, and insomnia. Patients diagnosed with depression will find Ashwagandha quite effective for alleviating the physical manifestation of their stress.
When taken in milk, Ashwagandha lull’s one into a peaceful slumber. In this regard, it can be referred to as the anesthesia of a vexing life, given that most insomniacs are kept awake by their nagging thoughts. Since sleep is vital for a healthy living, Ashwagandha is highly recommended for insomniacs.
Ashwagandha is an elixir to many challenges that come with the postnatal care of women. Lactating mothers, for instance, can use it as a remedy to low levels of breast milk. Postpartum depression mothers can also use Ashwagandha to restore their hormonal balance, hence their sanity.
Scientific & Reference Citations