If you’ve kept up with the health and wellness scene over the past few years, you probably already know that there’s always some new fad making the rounds.
Whether it’s apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, or fish oil pills, people love trying out whatever’s trending.
Ashwagandha may have all the markings of being the latest health craze, but it’s actually been used in Ayurvedic medicine for the last several hundred years.
Here are a few more things you may not know about ashwagandha:
- It can help improve sleep, reduce stress, and boost sexual health in men, among other things.
- Its name means “horse smell” in Sanskrit – you can probably guess why.
- You can purchase ashwagandha powder or capsules online, at health food stores, or from retail drug stores.
- It’s best to check with a doctor before taking it, and it isn’t recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing.
Why is ashwagandha getting so much attention?
With more and more people becoming aware of alternative solutions to their health problems, Western consumers seem to find ashwagandha’s potential effects very appealing.
The main talking points – that it helps with sleep and stress levels – are things that most people would like to improve. After all, when is the last time you heard someone say that their life was calm and they were well-rested?
The average Western adult might be open to giving ashwagandha a try, but some of the people who call themselves “biohackers” are actually intrigued by the effects this plant could have on their health.
It fits right in with their overall goal of making small changes in their diets or lifestyles, then observing the short- and long-term effects.
What has science discovered about ashwagandha?
Speaking of observing the effects of ashwagandha, this is where most of the available information comes from – anecdotal evidence. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to specific health claims.
For instance, some users have reported an anti-inflammatory effect after taking ashwagandha, but nobody knows how the supplement made that happen – or if it was just a coincidence.
It would also be handy to know more about drug or supplement interactions, possible side effects, and other contraindications.
Even so, between several centuries of Ayurvedic tradition, and a growing number of people who say they’ve benefited from using the plant daily, it’s pretty unlikely that you’d take ashwagandha and end up regretting it.
What are the health benefits of ashwagandha?
The science isn’t totally lacking – there’s a good bit of research that supports Ayurvedic medicine’s claims about the plant’s beneficial properties.
There are also several studies that don’t quite prove certain benefits, but that point to promising discoveries which could be uncovered with additional research.
These potential benefits include:
- Possible anti-cancer effects
- Better energy during daytime hours
- Improved muscle-building capabilities
- Lower cholesterol
- Reduced inflammation
- Sharper brain function
These are some of the effects that are worthy of further exploration; however, there are other benefits that have already been clearly demonstrated.
- Reduced feelings of anxiety and depression
- Fewer instances of irritability
- No more weight gain related to stress
- Improved sleep
- Lower blood sugar
- Fewer headaches
How can a single plant give all these benefits?
This may seem like a pretty random list, but all of these symptoms are related to cortisol, known as the “stress hormone”.
If your cortisol levels are too high, you could suffer from symptoms like insomnia, migraines, and anxiety, to name just a few. Ashwagandha can relieve these symptoms by lowering cortisol levels.
In fact, some users have even reported feeling “chilled out” after taking ashwagandha, but without the usual brain fog associated with prescription sedatives.
Ashwagandha can have this cortisol-lowering effect because it’s an adaptogen, or a plant that acts on the adrenal glands. Since all of your cortisol is actually produced by the adrenals, getting them to calm down is pretty much the only way to reduce cortisol.
Why is it so important to control cortisol levels?
Taking ashwagandha isn’t the only way to lower cortisol; it’s just that this can be almost impossible to do without some extra help.
You could also get your adrenal glands to slow down on the cortisol production by eliminating some stress from your life, but that’s quite difficult for many people. If you’re already feeling frazzled, even the smallest incident could feel like the end of the world.
Your adrenals could ramp up the cortisol because you dripped coffee on your shirt right before you had to leave for work, or because you’re pushing yourself to get through the day on just four hours of sleep.
The original purpose of cortisol production was to give us a necessary boost while running from predators or defending tribal territory, but these days it’s more likely to get triggered by some bad news or a nagging co-worker.
How ashwagandha can benefit men’s sexual health
This isn’t quite as well-understood as ashwagandha’s effect on cortisol, but research has suggested that the plant also has some specific benefits for men.
These may include increased testosterone levels, boosted sex drive, and even improved sperm count. We don’t yet know whether this yet another effect of lowered cortisol, or if it’s an entirely separate benefit.
Either way, it’s good news for men who are looking for a way to correct hormonal imbalances.
What you can expect while taking ashwagandha
You may experience a few side effects, but they usually only show up with high doses. The most commonly reported ones are headaches, an upset stomach, and diarrhea.
While the side effects will probably show up soon after taking a dose, the benefits will take a bit longer to appear – anywhere from 14 to 30 days, according to most users.
Elevated cortisol isn’t something that can be fixed overnight, so you just have to be patient and let the ashwagandha do it’s thing. If it gives you the results you were hoping for, though, you won’t mind the wait at all!