Of the many different plant based supplements you'll find at the health food store, one you may have stumbled over is ashwagandha. Yes, the name is a bit of a mouthful, but is it worth checking out?
After all, with so many other supplements available at the store would it be worthwhile to put money into this kind of a supplement or should you focus on something else for your personal health?
Keep on reading because we've got the answers you're looking for.
What is the Ashwagandha Plant and Other Basics
If you want to get really technical, the official name of the plant is withania somnifera, although it does more commonly go by ashwagandha (perhaps whoever came up with the "common" name of the plant name should have used an easier word to say and pronounce).
Thankfully, there are some other names you can use instead. This includes winter cherry, Indian ginseng and poison gooseberry. Yes, we are writing an article about a plant that uses the word "poison" in an alternative name.
The ashwagandha plant is on the smaller side. It is considered a perennial shrub. Perennial as the plant lasts for longer than a single year and shrub due to its height (most ashwagandha plants top out at 14 to 30 inches in height). The flower on the plant is gree with a bright orangish-red fruit in the middle of it.
Now, in case you wanted to make the ashwagandha plant sound even more appetizing than "poison gooseberry," the name itself comes from the Latin words of horse and smell. This is because, yes, you guessed it, the plant has an almost horse aroma to it.
The plant is generally found in areas around India. It can also be found in some regions through China, Yemen and Nepal, although outside of this footprint you likely won't find the particular variation anywhere else in the world.
Ashwagandha Plant in Traditional Medicine
Most plants, in some shape or form, have been used in a kind of traditional medicine. This is true with the ashwagandha plant. In traditional Indian medicine, the root of the plant was ground up and turned into a thick paste. This paste was then applied to wounds or burns, although there is very little actual proof that this provided anything other than a protective barrier to the injury.
Improving Thyroid Health
Have you been told recently that you have a thyroid issue?
The thyroid helps produce and balance your hormones, so if it is out of wack, your hormone levels will not be correct as well. That is where the ashwagandha plant comes into play. The plant itself is able to help you, whether you have a hyper or hypo thyroid problem. It can also help if you suffer from Graves disease, which is an overactive thyroid.
However, if you currently take medication to correct your thyroid problem it is best for you to not combine the two together as the two might either offset or cause other problems all together.
How Ashwagandha Plant Can Assist with Adrenal Fatigue
Stress is something each and every one of us deals with. However, when stress becomes ever present and begins to wear you down, you may eventually suffer from adrenal fatigue. When this occurs due to the chronic stress levels, the adrenal glands will continually pump out hormones in order to help respond to the stress within your body.
As your body becomes more and more reliant on the production of these hormones to offset the feeling of chronic stress, your adrenal glands may run overtime, which can cause problems not only with the hormone production but other connecting issues as well. This is where the ashwagandha plant comes in.
The ashwagandha plant can assist with the production of cortisol levels. By improving the levels of cortisol within your body, your body will in turn become more sensitive to the natural balance of your hormones. This helps level off what your adrenal gland is producing.
During a recent case study, individuals who took the ashwagandha plant for six months saw an improvement in their adrenal gland by 69 percent (for their cortisol levels) and 55 percent for their deoxycortisol levels (basically the hormones that bring you back up or back down, based on your stress levels).
Improve Your Brain's Health
Your brain is under a constant barrage of stress from every single angle. Whether it is physical stress from work, emotional stress from your personal relationships or chemical stress from varying hormonal releases, your brain needs to recoup and relax from time to time as well.
Now, your brain can't completely check out (despite what you might think of some of the other people in the office), but you can improve the brain's overall health with the help of the ashwagandha plant. In fact, the supplement does have links to improving anxiety, depression and mental disorders such as Alzheimer's.
The supplement comes packed with antioxidants that target free radicals that lead to aging. Now, studies have not been extensively performed on humans, but there have been a number of studies conducted on lab mice. In these studies (conducted by the National Brain Research Centre), mice with Alzheimer's were given the ashwagandha plant as part of the daily diet. For the first three weeks, the mice did not see any improvement in retaining new information.
However, following the 20th day, mice started to see significant improvements with the ability to retain what they had previously learned. Furthermore, when brain scans were performed the mice were found to have less amyloid plaque stuck on the brain, which is promising for individuals who suffer from mental conditions or other disorders such as Alzheimer's (Draxe, 2018).
As mentioned earlier, the supplement is also able to help individuals who suffer from stress or anxiety. During a three month study, test subjects with anxiety were either given the ashwagandha plant extract supplement twice a day (total of 600mg a day) or two placebo pills twice a day.
At the end of the three month test the individuals who took the ashwagandha plant supplement saw improvements in not only their level of anxiety (and their ability to control their stress levels) but also their ability to focus on a given task while reducing their stress levels.
If you currently take anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication, you may want to consider taking the ashwagandha plant supplement as not only is it able to help improve your levels of anxiety and stress naturally, but it does not have the kind of negative side effects attached to it
The FDA has not put its stamp of approval on the ashwagandha plant. Due to this, there is not a set in stone dosage recommendation. However, most supplement packages indicate you should take 500 mg once to twice a day. It is also recommended to include it with a diet that is high in fiber and healthy fats (such as the fats found in olive oil or avocados).
There are a handful of different ways you can consume the ashwagandha plant. The easiest way to do this is with an actual supplement. When looking for supplements and comparing you will want to look at the ashwagandha plant strength within each supplement (this can range usually anywhere from 100 mg to 1000 mg or so).
There are other options available for the delivery of the ashwagandha plant into your body. You can find a powder, that is designed to be added into protein shakes or smoothies. You can also find it in a liquid extract bottle as well.
Realistically, it comes down to what works best for your own personal needs. Taking a pill is easy to do and you can add it in with the other supplements you take throughout the course of the day (plus, as it is recommended to take it with Vitamin C, you can pair up the two supplements together).
The powder is easy to toss in with beverages, as is the liquid, but usually the pill variety is going to be less expensive and easier to find than the other options.
Who Shouldn't Take Ashwagandha Plant
While there are a number of different health benefits connected to the ashwagandha plant, it is important to not mix it with other medications you might already take. According to WebMD (2018), medications for the immune system will interact with ashwagandha, which can prevent the medication from working correctly. While ashwagandha can boost the immune system, it may directly attack the medication, so combining the two is not a good idea.
Additionally, if you take any kind of sedative medication, you shouldn't combine it with ashwagandha. This is because ashwagandha already is known to cause drowsiness. When this is combined with another sedative, the result may be too severe and cause other medical problems. This is especially the case if you are on painkiller medications such as diazepam (Valium) o Ambien.
If you have thyroid hormone problems, you may be able to take the ashwagandha plant supplement, but you should still be mindful of the interaction. There have been reported cases of these hormone issues interacting with the ashwagandha plant. When the two come in contact with one another the supplement can increase the effect of the thyroid hormone.
If you are pregnant or breast feeding, it is recommended to not take the supplement. There has been some links between miscarriages and using ashwagandha. Further research is needed, including if you are breast feeding, but it is still important for you to avoid consuming the plant in any form during these stages.
If you have blood pressure problems (both low and high, ashwagandha might lower your blood pressure. If you already have lower blood pressure it might push your pressure too low, which will cause other medical problems. On the other side, if you have high blood pressure and take medication for it, this might prevent the medication from carrying out its job.
If you suffer from diabetes, taking ashwagandha has the potential of lowering your blood sugar levels, which may also interfere with your diabetes medication, which in turn will force your blood sugar levels to drop down even further. It also may irritate your GI tract, so it is best to avoid taking this kind of a product if you have any kind of stomach ulcer (or recurring GI problems).
You also shouldn't take the ashwagandha plant if you have thyroid disorders as it can increase the hormone level production from the thyroid. You especially shouldn't take the supplement if you are on any kind of thyroid hormone medication.
Lastly, if you are planning for surgery it is a good idea to inform your doctor that you take this supplement (and any other supplement you might currently take). It is possible the ashwagandha plant supplement can lead to some immune system issues (such as it becoming overtly active), which may increase your auto immune disease issues.
It can also cause problems with slowing down your central nervous system, which may interact with the anesthesia given to you and the last thing you want to do is cause problems with your anesthesia. Due to this, it is important for you to stop taking the supplement at least two weeks prior to your surgery (WebMD, 2018).
The ashwagandha plant supplement may not be for everyone. There are some health benefits, and while it is not tested or proven by the FDA, it doesn't mean that you can't see results from including it in your daily regimen. Based on your own current health and what you need to improve upon, you may find this is the right addition to your personal needs.
Just make sure to consult your doctor before adding in any new supplements, especially if you are currently on other medication or have other medical conditions, just to make sure there are no undesired side effects or unforeseen health problems.