What is Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera)?
Ashwagandha, also called Indian Ginseng and winter cherry, is one of the top-performing Ayurvedic herbs. Ashwagandha root powder comes from a shrub in the nightshade family called Withania somnifera. The botanical name Withania somnifera comes from somnifera, the Latin word for sleep-inducing. The name Ashwagandha is a blend of ashva and gandha, two Sanskrit words for horse and smell. The name is fitting, as ashwagandha root has a horsey odor and is said to give individuals the physical strength and virility of horses.
Ashwagandha root is an adaptogen, a compound that blocks the chemical and physical effects of stress on the body. Its adaptogen effects likely come from its withanolide glucosides content. Ayurvedic classifications of ashwagandha root include:
Rasayana (general tonic—similar to the western classification adaptogen)
Bhalya (strength enhancer)
Ashwagandha has a plethora of uses in Ayurveda, but the most common uses relate to stress, the immune system, nervous tension, mood, and physical strength.
Potential Ashwagandha Root Benefits
Ashwagandha for Stress
Ashwagandha’s primary purpose is to reduce stress and calm frazzled nerves. Ashwagandha helps the body cope with stress by relieving the perception of stress. Ashwagandha root suppresses the stress response and prevents stress proteins from increasing, including cortisol and c-Jun N-terminal kinase 1 (JNK-1).
Ashwagandha also provides neuroprotective effects that shield the body from the physical and mental effects of stress. It reduces biomarkers of stress and prevents the fatigue often caused by stress. Ashwagandha root has anxiolytic properties and may help reduce nervousness in social situations and promote socialization. These effects increase significantly for individuals experiencing stress. Animal studies have noted that ashwagandha also improves mood
Ashwagandha for Sleep
Ashwagandha root powder may help individuals struggling with poor sleep. Ashwagandha root relieves stress and tension, which allows individuals to fall asleep easier. It can also reduce the amount of time it takes an individual to fall asleep. Ashwagandha root powder may improve the quality of sleep as well by reducing oxidative stress and interacting with GABA receptors.
Ashwagandha Benefits for Men
Ayurveda considers ashwagandha root an aphrodisiac, and it may improve several areas of men’s health. It helps significantly increase sperm count and motility, which may enhance fertility. Ashwagandha helps boost testosterone levels in men, particularly those that strength train regularly. It also enhances how much oxygen a person can breathe in (VO2 max) during high-intensity exercise.
Ashwagandha Benefits for Women
Men don’t have the corner market on ashwagandha’s sexual benefits. Ashwagandha may boost libido, improve sexual function, and reduce sexual distress in women. It achieves this by reducing mental stress and boosting testosterone. Ashwagandha may also provide relief from heavy menstrual cycles.
Potential Ashwagandha Side Effects
Most individuals can take ashwagandha root powder without experiencing side effects. However, large doses may cause upset stomach, nausea, and diarrhea. Pregnant women should avoid taking ashwagandha supplements, as large doses may result in loss of pregnancy. Individuals with thyroid problems should avoid ashwagandha, as it may affect the thyroid. Ashwagandha supplements may interact with certain medications that affect hormones or modulate moods. Consult with a physician before starting any new supplement.
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