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Ashwagandha – Benefits, Weight Loss, Side Effects & How to Consume

The conventional use of herbal medicines is a part of our Indian culture and social heritage. Ayurveda is a way of life that addresses holistic well-being. It improves health by minutely studying body types, food preferences and various other parameters.

While we continue to treasure Ayurvedic medicines and treatment methods, some Ayurvedic herbs have gained international acclaim. One such herb is Ashwagandha, one of the most celebrated herbs in Ayurveda. 

For years, traditional Indian medicines have involved the use of the Ashwagandha plant, specifically its root powder. Ashwagandha benefits as a medicine and a nutritional supplement. However, there is a need for more specific research in this area. Meanwhile, we have dug out some information about this magical herb for you. Read to find out. 

What is Ashwagandha?

Withania somnifera or ashwagandha has many names. Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry, and iciness cherry are some of the famous names. In addition, it is categorised as a Rasayana (tonic) to increase longevity and vitality. It is a plant from the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Several species within the genus Withania are morphologically similar. Somnifera is a Latin word that means sleep-inducing.

Ashwagandha finds its mention in historical medical journalling and is famous for its therapeutic qualities. ‘Ashwa’ means horse, and ‘Gandha’ means smell in Sanskrit. Therefore, it implies that this herb mimics a horse-like odour. Furthermore, the name suggests that the herb imparts the vigour and energy of a stallion. Traditionally, people use it to improve immunity after an illness.

Ashwagandha, known as ‘Rasayana,’ may help preserve youth physically and mentally. The main phytochemical constituents are withanolides, which are triterpene lactones. In addition, it includes withaferin A, alkaloids, steroidal lactones, tropine, and cuscohygrine.

Historically, the roots of this herb have been used to treat several ailments like stress, anxiety, constipation and insomnia. In addition, the leaves, seeds and fruits also help treat illnesses.

It is an adaptogenic herb and an aphrodisiac. The plant is also called the Indian ginseng for its rejuvenating properties. However, botanically, ashwagandha and ginseng are not related.

The evergreen shrub grows in India, the Middle East and some parts of Africa. Ashwagandha grows in drier regions of India, Nepal, China, and Yemen. The plant grows in dry stony soil. It is a short, tender perennial shrub and grows up to 35–75 cm tall. The leaves are dull green in colour and are elliptic. In contrast, the flowers are small, green and bell-shaped.

Ashwagandha belongs to the same family as that of the tomato. It bears red fruits about the size of a raisin. It can be grown from seed or greenwood cuttings. If you are using the seed, then you will have to sow it in early spring. You can plant greenwood cuttings later in the spring. It is essential to know that the plant needs watchful tending as it is prone to diseases.

Proven Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

Indians have used Ashwagandha root powder for centuries as ayurvedic medicine. Still, there is a lack of scientific evidence about its benefits.

However, the traditional medicine ashwagandha has several advantages. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety and immunomodulatory properties. It is also a relaxant and antispasmodic.

The primary advantages of Ashwagandha are:

Lowers cortisolLowers blood sugarsLowers stress/anxietyLowers depressionIncreases testosteroneLowers inflammationAntimicrobial propertiesCardioprotective functionsAnticarcinogenic properties Neuroprotective functionAnalgesic and antipyreticGrowth promoting function in childrenImprove sleep

It contains phytochemicals Withaferin A, alkaloids, methanolic and ethanolic extracts. Withaferin A is one of the most critical steroids because of its anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-arthritic, and antibacterial properties. It is also an adaptogen and helps you adapt to and counter stress.

Ashwagandha for Weight Loss

Ashwagandha’s benefits are many. It can be cultured from its roots and leaves. It not only has several health benefits; it also aids in weight loss.

Ashwagandha is a natural antioxidant, which improves overall health. These antioxidants speed up your metabolism, decrease inflammation and thus help in burning the stored fat in your body.Ashwagandha helps in boosting the immune system. It helps redirect energy back to the weight loss process. The herb also helps fight inflammation due to its antibacterial properties. When the body’s immune function is compromised, weight loss comes to a standstill until the body improves. Better immunity has a positive effect on weight loss. Ashwagandha enhances the body’s immune function and promotes healthy weight loss.The level of stress or high cortisol level is one of the leading causes of weight gain. As ashwagandha aids in reducing stress and anxiety, it, in turn, helps manage a healthy weight.Hypothyroidism is a primary reason that leads to weight gain. Ashwagandha helps to regulate thyroid hormone levels.Elevated cortisol levels result in insulin release that pushes the body to use blood sugar and store it as fat. Ashwagandha improves insulin sensitivity and regulates blood sugar levels. As a result, it contributes to losing unwanted weight.

Assists to Withstand the Effects of Stress

Ashwagandha has adaptogenic benefits that help the body adapt to various emotional and physical stress. Ashwagandha helps to reduce serum cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ in the body.

It significantly reduces the cortisol content of the adrenals, C reactive proteins, pulse rate and blood pressure, and the ascorbic acid content. In addition, it helps lessen the stress-induced and aspirin-induced ulcers of the gastrointestinal tract. The root extract of ashwagandha effectively enhances the resistance to stress without adverse effects.

Reduces Anxiety and Depression

Ashwagandha reduces levels of tribulin, an endocrine marker of clinical anxiety. It also has an antidepressant effect like imipramine. As a result, the use of ashwagandha as a mood stabiliser in clinical anxiety and depression is prevalent.

Though research is limited, it has shown signs that ashwagandha may help reduce depression. In addition, it also helps calm the central nervous system.

Helps to Regulate Blood Sugar Levels

The herb can lower blood sugar levels and help keep it in control. It also helps reduce fasting blood sugar levels. A study further confirms ashwagandha’s role in insulin sensitivity and secretion.

Anti-Cancer Properties

Research says that ashwagandha contains anti-cancer properties. It helps induce apoptosis i.e. programmed death of cancer cells. Ashwagandha is an adjuvant to chemotherapy that delays the growth of new cancer cells.

Besides having an anti-cancer effect, it counters the side effects of anti-cancer agents. These agents invariably reduce immunity and quality of life. Ashwagandha also acts as an immunomodulator. As a result, it can enhance the life span of cancer patients.

However, there are no tests and clinical studies to confirm the results on human beings. But several centuries of ashwagandha usage are encouraging.

Offers Anti-Inflammatory and Analgesic Benefits

It has been empirically proven that ashwagandha reduces inflammation by improving the immune cells that fight infection. It also decreases markers of inflammation, which increases the risk of heart disease. Thus it has antibacterial, antitumoral, immunomodulating and anti-inflammatory properties. 

Helps to Lower Cholesterol and Triglyceride

Ashwagandha improves heart health by reducing the levels of bad LDL, serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Ashwagandha contains antioxidants that protect the nerve cells from harmful free radicals. It reduces oxidative stress and improves memory and brain function.

Studies suggest that ashwagandha in small to medium quantities aids in enhancing general memory, task performance and attention. Ashwagandha promotes intellect and memory. Though there is limited research in this area, ashwagandha usage is generous in ayurvedic medicines to boost memory and cognitive processes.

Effect on Neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease :

The degradation of neurites is a significant part of the diagnosis for patients suffering from other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

Many studies show that ashwagandha slows, stops, reverses or removes nerve cell atrophy and synaptic loss. Therefore, ashwagandha can treat neurodegenerative diseases. The prominent ones are namely, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder

According to research ashwagandha extracts improve the anxiolytic potential and address ADHD in children. It also aids in improving attention and impulse control.

Stabilises Hypothyroidism

Research suggests that ashwagandha helps to lower TSH and increase thyroid hormone levels. However, one must consult a physician before consuming ashwagandha to avoid its interference with regular drugs.

Helps to Keep Control of OCD

Some researches show that ashwagandha aids in reducing the symptoms of neurological disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) along with prescribed medications.

It balances the brain chemistry, improves resilience to stress, and stimulates BDNF. This Ayurvedic herb is beneficial in reducing compulsive urges, which increase during the manifestation of anxiety and/or stress.

Cerebellar Ataxia

Ashwagandha is a nervine tonic. It rejuvenates and vitalises, and improves immunity and longevity. In addition, ashwagandha improves balance in people with cerebellar ataxia.

Helps to Reduce the Signs of Ageing

Thanks to its antioxidant properties, ashwagandha aids in reducing the symptoms of health problems due to ageing. For example, it helps to reduce hair greying by increasing the production of melanin in the hair cells.

Significance in Heart Health

Ashwagandha improves heart health by lowering systolic blood pressure, boosting the cardiac muscles, and lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.

Surveys among healthy adults have indicated ashwagandha can intensify VO2 max levels, the maximum amount of oxygen you take in a while physically putting yourself out. These levels measure how well your heart and lungs distribute oxygen to muscles during physical activity. Thus, elevated VO2 max levels demonstrate a healthy heart that performs well under those circumstances.

Others Benefits

Preliminary research shows that ashwagandha improves the symptoms of the following ailments. But there is no concrete evidence on the effect of ashwagandha alone in treating them.

The diseases include Rheumatoid arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Tuberculosis, Ulcerations, and other conditions. The analgesic function reduces the severity of pain and disability scores. 

Improvement of sexual health of women:

According to clinical research, ashwagandha can benefit women experiencing sexual dysfunction or Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. Administration of ashwagandha improves arousal, lubrication, orgasm and satisfaction, as reported by the participants. It also reasonably diminished sexual distress among the respondents.

Improved Testosterone Levels in Men

Ashwagandha may also contribute to reproductive benefits for men by increasing testosterone levels. In research involving infertile men, ashwagandha managed to enhance sperm quality.

This study states that 14% of sexual encounters resulted in successful pregnancy in women. They also showed increased muscle mass and strength in men.

How To Consume Ashwagandha Powder?

Ashwagandha is available in the market in the form of roots, tablets and a finely sieved powder. The powder needs to be mixed with water, ghee or honey for consumption. 

It enhances the function of the brain and nervous system and improves memory. In addition, it enhances the functioning of the reproductive system, promoting a healthy sexual and reproductive balance. Moreover, being a powerful adaptogen, it enhances the body’s resilience to stress. 

Here are some other ways you can consume ashwagandha powder.

Roast an ounce of Ashwagandha powder with ghee and mix it with a tablespoon of date sugar. Eat this at least 20 minutes before breakfast or later during the day with a cup of milk.

Ashwagandha powder with ghee, sugar and honey is a delicious form of aphrodisiac used to treat erectile dysfunction.

The Kishirpaka method of Ashwagandha tea is also very famous. Ashwagandha tea is made by boiling the powder in milk and reducing it to half. You can add sugar to improve the taste or an equal quantity of liquorice to make it more potent while boiling.

Ashwagandha Sweet and Salty Cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup refined wheat flourA pinch of salt2 tsp Ashwagandha powder1/4 cup butter1/8 cup sugar1/4 cup milk

Preparation

Sift the flour, salt and ashwagandha powder and set asideTake a pan and melt the butter, add sugar and mix well.Add the milk and mix.Add the dry ingredients, mix, and knead into a doughRoll and shape the dough and place on a baking sheetBake at 375 F for 2-3 minutes.

Ashwagandha Balls

Ingredients

1.5 tbsp jaggery2 tbsp Ashwagandha powderA pinch of black saltA bit of black pepper

Preparation

Powder the jaggery and add ashwagandha powder to it. Mix well.Add black salt and black pepperMix well and shape them into balls.

Ashwagandha Banana Smoothie:

You can simply add a tablespoon of ashwagandha powder to your regular banana smoothie. 

Ashwagandha Shrikhand/Dessert

Ingredients

4 cups curd1/2 cup sugar5 Tablespoon Ashwagandha powderMixed nutsCardamomNutmegSaffronAlmond leaves to garnish

Preparation

Tie the curd in a muslin cloth and place it hanging for eight hours. (hung curd)Divide the curd into four portions. Add sugar and ashwagandha powder to one part of the curd. Knead into a smooth paste. You can refrigerate the remaining three portions and use them when needed.Add mixed nuts, cardamom, nutmeg, saffron and almond to improve the taste.

One can use Ashwagandha powder in many ways to make crunchy snacks, tinctures, and tea, among others. One can also use it to make a face cleanser, and anti-acne cream as well.

Ashwagandha Side Effects

Ashwagandha is safe for consumption if you take the correct dosage. Though the effect of long-term consumption of this herb is not known, there have not been any cases of fatal or severe ashwagandha side effects. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause vomiting, diarrhoea, or upset stomach in some people. The side effects of the herb differ from one person to another. Talk to your healthcare specialist before consuming ashwagandha or its supplements. Some reported side effects include skin burning and discolouration, sedation, severe liver injury, thyrotoxicosis, and increased testosterone levels.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised not to take ashwagandha as there is evidence of the herb causing premature delivery and miscarriage. However, there is no study on the effect of ashwagandha on lactating women. However, to be on the safer side, refrain from taking it.

Ashwagandha is known to lower the blood sugar level, decrease blood pressure and alter thyroid hormone levels. However, these benefits might also pose a threat as ashwagandha can reduce the blood sugar level of a person whose blood sugar levels are normal, possibly leading to hypoglycemia in those on medication. It can also affect blood pressure and thyroid hormone level.

As ashwagandha causes the immune system to become more active, it could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. In some people, ashwagandha can irritate the gastrointestinal tract. It is best to stop taking ashwagandha for at least two weeks before and after surgery as it may slow down the central nervous system. Consumption of alcohol, and drug-related sedation does not go well with ashwagandha. 

Summary

Ashwagandha offers several health benefits to both men and women. However, there is no extensive clinical study available to prove this. Ayurvedic medicines have successfully used ashwagandha to treat several illnesses. As there is no direct evidence of its benefits or side effects, ashwagandha should be consumed in small to medium doses after consulting with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. How long does it take ashwagandha to work?

A. It depends on the individual and for what reason they are consuming ashwagandha. It will also vary based on the current health condition of the person. However, it generally requires a few weeks to show action if all goes well.  

Q. What does ashwagandha do for the body?

A. It enhances the function of the brain and nervous system and improves memory. In addition, it improves the reproductive system’s operation, promoting a healthy sexual and reproductive balance. Being a powerful adaptogen, it enhances the body’s resilience to stress. Ashwagandha improves the body’s defence against disease by improving cell-mediated immunity. It also possesses potent antioxidant properties that help protect against cellular damage and oxidative stress caused by free radicals.

Q. Can ashwagandha cause weight gain?

A. Ashwagandha helps in reducing muscle weight related to stress. It does not lead to weight gain. Ashwagandha has an anabolic function.

Q. Is ashwagandha safe to take in the long term?

A. There are no studies to prove its side effects on long-term usage. If taken in the recommended dosage, there is no primary concern.

Q. When should I take ashwagandha for anxiety?

A. The best time to consume ashwagandha for anxiety is at bedtime before you sleep.

Q. Is it safe to take ashwagandha daily?

A. Yes, taking ashwagandha daily is safe, but people should never take it beyond the recommended doses or periods. 

Q. Is ashwagandha useful for weight loss?

A. Yes, ashwagandha boosts metabolism, reduces cortisol levels, and improves digestion. In limited dosage, overall adds to implement weight reduction effect.

Q. What is ashwagandha used to treat?

A. It can reduce anxiety and stress, help fight depression, boost fertility and testosterone levels in men, and even boost brain function. So supplementing with ashwagandha may be an easy and effective way to improve your health and quality of life.

Q. Who should not take ashwagandha?

A. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, individuals with auto-immune disorders, should not take it. Also, chronically ill patients should take ashwagandha only after consulting health care providers. 

Q. Does ashwagandha work for anxiety?

A. Yes,  it reduces cortisol levels, promotes antioxidants, boosts brain function and adds up to relieve anxiety.

Q. Does ashwagandha cause hair loss?

A. If hair loss is due to stress, then ashwagandha may improve hair quality because of its adaptogenic properties.

Q. Can I take ashwagandha on an empty stomach?

A. No, taking ashwagandha on an empty stomach may cause stomach discomfort along with side effects such as vomiting, diarrhoea and nausea.

Q. Is ashwagandha safe for long-term use?

A. Ashwagandha is considered generally safe. However, one should consult with their physician before taking it.

Q. How to take ashwagandha powder?

A. You can consume Ashwagandha powder with water, ghee or honey. Take 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of Ashwagandha root powder and boil it in water. You can add lemon, honey, and ginger according to taste. Alternatively, Roast an ounce of Ashwagandha powder with ghee and mix it with a tablespoon of date sugar. Eat this at least 20 minutes before breakfast or later during the day with a cup of milk.

Q. Does ashwagandha increase height? 

A. No, your height is entirely related to genetics and growth hormone levels and other parameters. 

Q. Do I take ashwagandha in the morning or at night?

A. Take it anytime. But ashwagandha has sleep-inducing properties. So, nightly consumption can promote good sleeping habits.

Q. How to take ashwagandha?

A. It is available in capsules, tablets and powder forms. It is advisable to consult your physician before consuming ashwagandha or its supplements. 

Q. What are the benefits of Ashwagandha for Stress?

A. Ashwagandha has adaptogenic benefits that help the body adapt to various emotional and physical stress. It significantly reduces the cortisol content of the adrenals, C reactive proteins, pulse rate and blood pressure, and the ascorbic acid content. The root extract of ashwagandha effectively enhances the resistance to stress without adverse effects.

Q. What are the benefits of Ashwagandha for Anxiety?

A: Ashwagandha reduces levels of tribulin, an endocrine marker of clinical anxiety. It also has an antidepressant effect like imipramine. As a result, the use of ashwagandha as a mood stabiliser in clinical anxiety and depression is prevalent. In addition, it also helps calm the central nervous system.

Q. What are the benefits of Ashwagandha for Male infertility?

A. It is beneficial because ashwagandha helps increase testosterone levels and significantly boosts sperm quality and fertility in men.

Q. What are the benefits of Ashwagandha for Diabetes mellitus (Type 1 & Type 2)?

A. Ashwagandha can lower blood sugar levels. In addition, studies prove increased insulin secretion and improved insulin sensitivity in muscle cells.

Q.What are the benefits of Ashwagandha for Arthritis?

A. Ashwagandha may act as a pain reliever and also antipyretic. It can prevent pain signals from travelling along with the central nervous system. It may also have some anti-inflammatory properties. For this reason, some research has shown it to be effective in treating forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis.

Q. What are the benefits of Ashwagandha for Parkinson’s disease?

A. Ashwagandha stops, reverses or removes neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss. Promote cognition, and it aids in improving general memory, task performance and attention. Ashwagandha promotes intellect and memory.

Q. How to use ashwagandha oil?

A. It is a warming organic oil that nourishes the muscles and joints. Ashwagandha is known for its calming effect and is an excellent body oil for promoting better sleep and relieving muscle tension.

Q. Can Ashwagandha increase testosterone hormone?

A. One study tested the effects of this herb on infertile men and found an increase in testosterone levels and an increase in sperm count. But this is limited to a study, not a proven fact.

Q. Can Ashwagandha cure depression?

A. Ashwagandha boosts immunity, and brain function reduces cortisol levels, increases antioxidants and reduces depression. But it can take days to weeks before you begin to notice its effects.

Q. Is Ashwagandha good for sleep?

A. Yes, its root extract is a natural compound with sleep-inducing potential. 

Q. Can Ashwagandha cure cancer?

A. Ashwagandha contains anti-cancer properties, induces apoptosis, acts as an immunomodulator and increases antioxidant levels. Therefore, it can be additional help in cancer treatment. Furthermore, it strengthens the immune system that helps fight cancer better. 

Q. Is Ashwagandha good for the thyroid?

A. It may improve thyroid levels in those with hypothyroidism. If taken eight weeks in consultation with the health care provider, it improves T3 T4 and TSH blood levels. 

Q. What are the dangers of taking ashwagandha?

A. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause vomiting, diarrhoea, or upset stomach in some people. It may also cause skin burning and discolouration, sedation, severe liver injury, thyrotoxicosis, and increased testosterone levels. For people with normal blood, ashwagandha can reduce it to a dangerously low levels. As ashwagandha causes the immune system to become more active, it could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. In some people, ashwagandha can irritate the gastrointestinal tract.

Q. Who shouldn’t take ashwagandha?

A: Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised not to take ashwagandha as there is evidence of the herb causing premature delivery and miscarriage. However, there is no study on the effect of ashwagandha on lactating women. However, to be on the safer side, refrain from taking it.

Q. Does ashwagandha increase anxiety?

A: No. Ashwagandha reduces levels of tribulin, an endocrine marker of clinical anxiety. It also has an antidepressant effect like imipramine. As a result, the use of ashwagandha as a mood stabiliser in clinical anxiety and depression is prevalent. In addition, it also helps calm the central nervous system.

Q. Can ashwagandha cause high blood pressure?

A: No. Ashwagandha improves heart health by lowering systolic blood pressure, boosting the cardiac muscles, and lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.

Q. Should ashwagandha be taken at night?

A: Ashwagandha can be taken anytime. But Since ashwagandha has sleep-inducing properties it is best to have it before bedtime. It ensures a good night’s sleep. 

Q. Can ashwagandha make you sleepy?

A: Yes, ashwagandha has sleep-inducing properties which make you feel drowsy. 

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