Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb that is making a comeback as a potent anti-anxiety ingredient. For thousands of years, it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to reduce stress, increase energy, and boost concentration.
In Sanskrit, the word ashwagandha means “smell of the horse.”
This refers to the herb’s potent scent as well as its ability to increase strength. Ashwagandha is also known as “winter cherry,” “poison gooseberry,” and “Indian ginseng.”
In more scientific terms, ashwagandha is an adaptogen – a type of herb that helps the human body manage stress.
Adaptogens contain multiple compounds that help them withstand the harsh environments in which they grow. This strength transfers to humans when ingested.
Ashwagandha can also:
- Improve brain function
- Treat insomnia
- Decrease blood sugar and cortisol levels
- Lower cholesterol
- Fight depression
- Reduce inflammation
- Boost testosterone and improve sperm quality
- Increase muscle mass
Studies suggest ashwagandha can effectively reduce blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity in patients with diabetes and schizophrenia.
The health benefits of ashwagandha are widely attributed to the plant’s high concentration of withanolides (a type of naturally occurring steroid). Animal studies suggest another compound in the plant – called withaferin – may help treat cancer by disrupting the function of cancer cells, slowing tumor growth, and reducing cancer cells’ ability to resist apoptosis (cell death). Studies in mice suggest withaferin can reduce tumor growth by up to 80% and prevent cancer from spreading from one organ to another.
Ashwagandha is on the rise
In 2018, sales of ashwagandha supplements in the United States jumped by more than 160%, totaling $12.4 million. That year, it was the 7th top-selling herbal supplement ingredient in the US.
It has also started to appear in beauty products in recent years, where its antioxidant properties can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve complexion, and reduce acne. It is in some shampoos and conditioners for its ability to stimulate the scalp and strengthen hair.
Ashwagandha is safe for most people, although its long-term effects have not been studied. Do not take ashwagandha if you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding or if you have an autoimmune disease or are taking medication for thyroid disease.
As always, it’s important to consult your doctor before taking a new supplement to ensure it will not react with existing medications.