Did you stumble across this article looking for solutions to your various health problems? Are you looking for cures to relieve some anxiety and stress? Or did you just hear about the magical rejuvenating effects of Ashwagandha and wanted to know more?
Whatever it is, you have come to the right place as this article will provide you with all the insights about one of most powerful Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha.
What is Ashwagandha?
One of the staples of ancient Indian medicine, Ashwagandha is commonly known as “Indian Winter cherry” or “Indian Ginseng”. You may have heard about Ashwagandha churna, a finely sieved powder that can be mixed with water, ghee or honey. This powder is extremely popular for its healing effects, that we’ll talk about in the later part of the article.
Before that, let’s understand a bit about what makes Ashwagandha so special by overviewing five interesting facts about it.
- Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub that grows in India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. Every single part of the shrub is immensely useful in some way or the other.
- The name Ashwagandha is derived from the Sanskrit words “Ashwa”, which means horse and “Gandha”, which means odour. An Ayurvedic Scholar Charaka (100 BC) had quoted - ‘One obtains longevity, regains youth, gets a sharp memory and intellect and freedom from diseases, gets a lustrous complexion, and strength of a horse.’
- According to traditional Indian classification, Ashwagandha is considered a Rasayana which means that it helps in lengthening the lifespan.
- Modern medicine classifies ashwagandha as an adaptogen, which means it helps the body adapt to stress. The herb is most well known for its rejuvenating and therapeutic attributes.
- Ayurveda also classifies the herb as Bhalya - something which increases strength and Vajikara - something which promotes healthy sexual functioning.
These simple facts about Ashwagandha highlight why it’s recommended by Ayurveda. In the next section let’s explore how different parts of this shrub are used as medicine.
How is Ashwagandha used as medicine?
We mentioned how every part of Ashwagandha shrub is extremely useful. So, let’s start with the most well-known use of Ashwagandha as churna. Did you know that this famous Ashwagandha churna (also used as paste by combining with water, ghee or honey) is prepared from the roots of the shrub?
The list of benefits of this powder is endless. The most common uses of the powder are for relieving the conditions such leucoderma, constipation, insomnia, rheumatism, nervous breakdown, goitre etc. The paste prepared from the powder is also applied to the joints to get relief from inflammation and pain.
Although there are various different types of Ashwagandha, the Nagori Ashwagandha is the supreme among all Ashwagandha varieties. For maximum benefits, only fresh ashwagandha powder must be used.
The other parts of the shrub are also extremely useful.
For instance, Ashwagandha leaves, though bitter in taste, are rich in iron and can be consumed as herbal tea. They help in relieving conditions like anemia and blood loss due to heavy periods. Herbal tea prepared from Ashwagandha leaves also serves as an energy tonic and relieves fever and painful swellings.
The flowers are astringent, depurative, diuretic and aphrodisiac. The seeds are anthelmintic (helps in destroying parasitic worms) and combined with astringent and rock salt to remove white spots from the cornea. Ashwagandharishta (an Ashwagandha health tonic) prepared from its seeds is used to treat hysteria, anxiety, memory loss, syncope, etc.
Isn’t it interesting to know how a single shrub can be so useful. Let’s quickly look at the science behind this to get a better perspective.
What exactly makes ashwagandha so beneficial?
The key chemical structures of Ashwagandha endow it with its unique medicinal properties. It works like this - All plants possess an array of special compounds known as phytochemicals. In simple words, because plants cannot move around, these phytochemicals exist to perform specific tasks. Some phytochemicals act as an immune system, responding to attacking antibodies. Some exist to deter insects from eating them as the plant cannot move around to defend itself. Some phytochemicals simply help the plant to grow fast and strong.
When consumed, these chemicals can overlap with ones that activate pathways in our bodies and can have a very meaningful effect on our bodies. What makes ashwagandha so special is that it has a large quantity of these phytochemicals, which makes it extremely beneficial and positively affects various systems in our bodies.
Now, let’s look at the many health benefits of Ashwagandha. We’ll also talk about how you can use Ashwagandha to treat specific conditions. Let’s begin.
Health benefits of Ashwagandha
Historically, the roots of Ashwagandha have been used to treat arthritis, constipation, Insomnia, skin conditions, stress, gastrointestinal issues, diabetes, nervous breakdowns, fevers, snake bites, memory loss and various other conditions. The leaves, seeds and even fruits have been used to treat various conditions. Let’s look at them one by one.
1. For Anxiety -
Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen which means that it helps the body to adapt to stress. It can boost brain function and help fight symptoms of anxiety and depression. Several controlled human studies have shown that this herb can reduce symptoms in people with stress and anxiety disorders. In a 60-day study with people with chronic stress, those in the group that supplemented with ashwagandha reported a 69% reduction in anxiety and insomnia, on average, compared with 11% in the placebo group.
If you experience stress in your day to day life, you can use a traditional Ayurvedic oil to massage your body with Ashwagandha as one of the key ingredients. Recommended in the ancient Ayurvedic text of Sahastrayogam, Ayurvedic Sugandhadi Oil is one such ingredient that alleviates stress, exhaustion, tension and body ache.
2. For Inflammation -
Inflammation is the body’s normal response to conditions such as infection, toxins, and trauma. Under normal conditions, the body will produce an anti-inflammatory response to restore balance. In cases of chronic pain, however, the body is not able to regulate the inflammatory response. The result is chronic imbalance and chronic pain.
There are many Ayurvedic herbs that address ongoing, excess inflammation. Ashwagandha is one such herb which has proven to be effective in reducing inflammation. Ashwagandha herbal tea prepared from leaves is helpful in relieving inflammation.
3. For preventing and healing acne
Ashwagandha root has both antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which protect the skin from infections or acne. It also boosts the collagen in the skin which prevents it from ageing. If you suffer from acne, you should try natural face packs with Ashwagandha powder. Kama Ayurveda’s Nimrah Face Pack has Ashwagandha as one of the key Ayurvedic key ingredients. This anti-acne treatment heals pimples and blackheads, reduces scars, improves skin tone and repairs inflammation.
4. For Heart health
Ashwagandha has a variety of benefits to the heart, including providing treatment to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, chest pain and various other heart diseases. Including Ashwagandha powder in your diet helps in maintaining a healthy heart.
5. For fighting infections and boosting immunity
Did you know that Ashawagandha is one of the 15 ingredients of the famous Lakshadi Thailam that is popular for fighting infections, healing fever and boosting immunity? Lakshadi Thailam is used as a Body Massage Oil for babies due to its numerous benefits for skin and health. Ashwangandha soothes and calms inflamed or sensitive skin. Hence, it’s ideal for sensitive skin of the babies. You can even use Natural Soap for your baby with Ashwagandha as one of the key ingredients.
6. For Cancer
Certain studies have found that withaferin, which is a compound in ashwagandha, helps induce apoptosis, which is the programmed death of cancer cells.
It also prevents the growth of new cancer cells in several ways. Withaferin is believed to promote the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) inside cancer cells, thereby disrupting their function.
Studies also suggest that it may help treat various types of cancer, including breast, lung, colon, brain, and ovarian cancer. In one such study, rats with ovarian tumours treated with withaferin alone or in combination with an anti-cancer drug showed a significant reduction in tumour growth. The treatment is also believed to prevent the spread of cancer to other organs.
7. For Alzheimer's treatment
Researchers have found that Ashwagandha inhibits the production of beta-amyloid plaques. These plaques, considered lethal to brain cells, grow in the brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
At the National Brain Research Center (NBRC), scientists conducted tests on mice with Alzheimer’s. After a few days of treatment cognitive performance of the mice improved significantly. At the end of one month, their brain function had returned to normal and the amyloid plaques that had been present in the mice’s brains were reduced.
Studies show that rather than altering brain chemistry directly, ashwagandha boosts a protein in the liver which clears amyloid from the brain.
8. Helps in toning the skin and strengthening muscles of new and expecting mothers
Ashwagandha is one of the key ingredients in the famous Ayurvedic Bala Oil (also known as Dhanwantaram Thailam). This classic Ayurvedic treatment is meant for expecting and new mothers to relieve pain, fatigue and boost energy and immunity. It also strengthens the muscles and improves the elasticity of the skin which helps in preventing stretch marks during pregnancy.
9. Treating Insomnia
Do you lie awake in bed late at night unable to sleep? Does this happen often? If so don’t worry, ashwagandha is the cure for your insomnia. Ashwagandha is known to possess sleep-inducing properties that might seem beneficial to those suffering from sleeplessness. Try a warm cup of ashwagandha powder mixed with milk before you sleep to help to unwind and sleep better.
10. Treating Asthma
Asthma is a respiratory disorder that may cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and chest congestion. If you are suffering from asthma, Ashwagandha can prove to be a natural cure for your condition. There may be many factors that may trigger asthma such as dust, pollen, stress, anxiety, pollution, etc. Various ayurvedic texts have mentioned various cures for asthma in children and in adults. It involves using ayurvedic medicines and herbs and also a significant change in lifestyle. Ashwagandha roots when consumed regularly, reduce stress which in turn helps with respiratory diseases such as this.
11. Treating ulcers
Various studies propose that ashwagandha could be a natural remedy for ulcers. Gastric ulcers are ulcers that can develop from damage to the stomach lining. Stress-both psychological and physical, can also increase the risk of ulcers. Ashwagandha can not only treat but also reduce the risk of ulcers. The studies also indicate that Ashwagandha by itself, or in combination with other herbs can reduce the levels of gastric acid in the stomach, thereby preventing the formation of painful ulcers.
12. Increasing stamina
In our fast-paced modern lives, it is natural to feel drained out and tired. An unhealthy lifestyle and diet can decrease your stamina and make you feel exhausted. If you are having trouble in coping with your daily tasks or feel like you lack stamina, then ashwagandha must be your go-to solution. Ashwagandha facilitates the body to reserve and sustain vital energy throughout the day to promote sound and peaceful sleep at night. It also increases your overall ability to exercise and work.
13. Cure for Vitiligo
Vitiligo is a disease that causes the loss of skin colour in blotches. It occurs when the pigment-producing cells either die or stop functioning. Medical treatment can help reduce the symptoms, but this condition cannot entirely be cured. Ashwagandha can diminish the condition to a great extent when consumed regularly.
14. Battling diabetes
Battling diabetes is tough as you need to transform your lifestyle and incorporate a new regime of medicines into your everyday routine. The most acute part of it is the side-effects of all the tablets you take in. But, the Ayurvedic medicines are supposed to cure without leaving behind any side effects of their own. They are known to treat the disease completely and give you a healthier body and mind.
In the case of diabetes control, Ashwagandha works by regulating the body’s production of insulin. It stimulates the secretion of insulin in the bloodstream by improving the break down of sugars in the blood. This ensures that the relatively less harmful sugars are being stored on your body. Thus, the blood sugar levels remain low when you consume Ashwagandha extracts over a significant period of time. Ashwagandha can also affect the overall metabolism of the body for enabling better removal of waste and all-round health. It has proven to be especially effective for people suffering from Type 2 diabetes.
15. Improve thyroid health
The thyroid is an organ located at the back of your neck. Before talking about how ashwagandha can cure thyroid, it is important to understand the different types of thyroid disorders. Hypothyroidism is a thyroid disorder characterized by low levels of thyroid hormone, whereas on the contrary, hyperthyroidism is linked to high levels.
By boosting T3 and T4 thyroid hormone levels, Ashwagandha may play a role in managing hypothyroidism but worsen symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Hence, it is advised to consult a doctor before taking ashwagandha for treating thyroid-related disorders.
16. Helps in weight loss
Are you constantly worried about gaining weight? Ashwagandha can help you in reducing and maintaining your weight. While ashwagandha is also available in capsule form, it’s advised to consume it in powder form made from dried ashwagandha leaves.
You can mix one teaspoon of ashwagandha powder in a glass of milk and add some honey to it. You can also add cardamom to improve taste, boost metabolism and promote better digestion.
This list covered some of the well-known benefits of adding Ashwagandha to your diet and to your daily cosmetics. While we’ve talked about many benefits, this list isn’t exhaustive. Next, let’s briefly discuss how Ashwagandha benefits your hair, skin and why it’s useful for men and women alike.
Benefits of Ashwagandha for Hair:
Ashwagandha possesses powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which help in keeping the scalp healthy. Ashwagandha powder is a rich source of flavonoids that also possesses fatty acids, glucose, potassium, tannins, and nitrate. Tyrosine, an amino acid present in Ashwagandha stimulates the production of melanin and restrains the loss of melanin in the hair.
It has also been reported to stop postpartum hair loss and often used in shampoos to help improve scalp circulation and provide strength to the hair. The stimulation of the production of sebum encourages healthy hair growth through its stimulation of DHEA.
There are various ways to consume ashwagandha to benefit your hair. These include the following -
- Drinking it - Ashwagandha can be taken orally through supplements or as a refreshing tea.
- Applying it - Another way to use it is to directly apply to the scalp and hair. Create a paste with the powder and warm distilled water and apply the magical herb directly to your scalp and hair. Simply apply the paste to sectioned hair and massage into the hair and scalp with your fingertips. Cover your scalp with a plastic cap and a towel for 30-45 minutes before rinsing well and styling as usual.
- Adding it - Just adding some powder or drops of oil to your shampoo will help you relieve an irritated or inflamed scalp while enhancing the blood circulation to the scalp assisting in healthier hair growth.
Benefits of Ashwagandha for skin
Ashwagandha is a superfood that promises beautiful, glowing skin and healthy nails. Ashwagandha has high levels of antioxidants that fight signs of ageing such as wrinkles, dark spots, fine lines, and blemishes. It also contains alkaloids that act on the nervous system to ease anxiety and stress, which in turn have a direct impact on the health of our skin and hair.
This is how Ashwagandha works -
- It moisturizes: Ashwagandha soothes and protects against dry, rough skin.
- It cleanses: The compounds referred to as withanolides help cleanse dirt and impurities, which can prevent clogged pores and acne.
- It heals: A fluid mix of ashwagandha can be applied as a cream to treat cuts, bruises, and skin infection.
- It prevents ageing: Ashwagandha boosts DHEA, which is a precursor to both testosterone and estrogen. It incites the production of vital proteins for healthy skin hydration. DHEA and estrogen help in maintaining the skin youthful by stimulating the collagen generation and increasing the natural skin oils. It also lowers cortisol levels and prevents stress from ageing the skin.
For healthy and glowing skin, mix 2 teaspoons of Ashwagandha powder with 1 teaspoon of dried ginger and one teaspoon of dried lemon peel. Boil the mixture together in 1 cup of water and apply the mixture when it is slightly cooled. So there you have it- the secret to healthy skin right under your nose.
Another way to reap the benefits of Ashwagandha for your skin is to use a face pack with Ashwagandha powder. You can use Kama Ayurveda’s Nimrah Anti-Acne pack to heal pimples and blackheads, reduce scars, improve skin tone and repair inflammation.
Benefits of Ashwagandha for Men
Traditionally, Ashwagandha has been used to treat male ailments. Its ability to stimulate and regulate testosterone generation in the body is one of the important benefits of ashwagandha for men.
Maintaining healthy levels of testosterone is vital to the health of men. It can even help with the dreaded Andropause, or “mid-life crisis”. For men suffering low sperm count and mobility, Ashwagandha has been proven to improve and maintain healthy male fertility levels.
In a recent study of men with low sperm counts, it was found that the Withanolides found in ashwagandha improved sperm count by almost 167%. In addition, they also noticed improvements in sperm quality and antioxidant levels.
We’ve already learned about ashwagandha’s ability to reduce stress levels.
It comes as no surprise that, in a study of men aged between 22 and 45, the herb helped in almost all cases of stress-related infertility. It even helped some of the participants successfully conceive with their partners. While it’s not proven to be a 100% cure for infertility in men, the results of these studies have been promising.
As always, consult a doctor first if you’re considering using ashwagandha for improving fertility. Finding the root cause will help you decide on the best treatment available.
Other studies have shown that Withaferin-A, found in ashwagandha leaves can help in the treatment of prostate cancer. Significant growth prevention in cancer cells was found in patients who used ashwagandha over those who did not. It cannot be seen as a cure, but in combination with medical care and the support of a cancer specialist, ashwagandha may help improve the recovery rates.
Benefits of Ashwagandha for women
Stress plays a significant role in regulating the sensitive reproductive hormones that impact fertility, libido, and healthy menstruation. As discussed above, Ashwagandha’s role in stress reduction is closely tied to its support and enhancement of women’s reproductive health.
Ashwagandha enhances communication within the endocrine system — strengthening the adrenal glands, reducing cortisol, and increasing the production of blood. The increased blood flow and regulated hormones have a positive effect on libido and menstrual health and can also aid in improving fertility.
It also prevents menopause-related issues: During menopause, your body experiences hormonal imbalances, which may cause hot flashes, anxiety, depression, sleeping trouble, etc. Ashwagandha is found to be the best approach to deal with these issues. It works on the endocrine system, thereby alleviating these symptoms. If you are about to reach your menopause, you must start using this herb on a regular basis.
It helps in enhancing your sexual potency: Another reason why Ashwagandha is called a magical herb is that it relieves you from mental stress, improves your mood, and increases the blood flow, thereby acting as a sexual stimulant. Sexual benefits of this herb are specified in Kamasutra, the ancient text on human sexuality. The benefits are also proven by various studies.
Benefits of Ashwagandha for Children
As we have already seen the many benefits that this magical herb has to offer, it comes as no surprise that Ashwagandha can prove to be extremely beneficial for children and teenagers as well. Since ashwagandha is an immunomodulator, boosting the immune system is one of the most popular uses of Ashwagandha for children and adults alike.
Studies suggest that it does this by increasing the levels of white blood cells and platelets in the body. It also helps the body in the development of antibodies, thus improving response to a health threat. For this reason, In India, children are made to have a popular Ayurvedic tonic known as Chawanprash. Ashwagandha is one of the many ingredients used to prepare it.
Ashwagandha is also useful in helping the children develop a sharp memory and strong retention powers while growing up. Many many years ago, Ayurvedic experts discovered that Ashwagandha is an excellent memory enhancer. It improves the child’s ability to grasp as well as retain knowledge.
Ashwagandha can be used to restore the much-needed strength and stamina in children by increasing their appetite and providing nourishment, reducing stress and developing a strong mindset.
Benefits of Ashwagandha powder when consumed with milk
According to Ayurveda, it’s best to consume Ashwagandha with milk. Why?
In Ayurveda, an Anupama (vehicle) is the way medicine is administered. It is the vehicle that serves the action of the herb. It forms an indispensable part of Ayurvedic treatment. The herb or oushadhi becomes more effective when given with a suitable vehicle after considering the stage and strength of the patient and of course the disease.
According to Ayurvedic text, the Charaka Samhita, milk is beneficial to the mind and body. It is sweet in taste and has cool energy and a sweet post-digestive effect. Its overall effect is pleasing to the mind and body.
Ayurveda considers milk to be the best vehicle (Anupama) for the body’s seven tissue systems. Milk is especially good for the blood, bone, plasma and the reproductive system.
According to Ayurveda, milk has different effects on the body based on the time at which it’s consumed during the day. Milk consumed in the morning increases power, body mass and appetite. Milk taken in the afternoon increases appetite and may even help in reducing the size of kidney stones. Milk taken at night relieves various aches and pains.
Ashwagandha and milk possess similar properties, both are considered rejuvenators and hence are an optimal combination. Taking ashwagandha with milk can give more solid results in cases of starvation and tuberculosis. It is helpful in gaining muscular strength, managing weight and curbing malnutrition.
The scholar Sushruta also indicated that Ashwagandha served with milk serves as a medicated clyster in Vata disorders and anorectal bleeding.
How to prepare Ashwagandha with milk?
Add 4 cups of milk and 10 grams of ashwagandha powder to a pan. Boil the mixture until its appearance turns to a thick paste. Then extract it from the heat. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes. You may add 1 tsp of sugar to this. This ashwagandha milk recipe is beneficial if consumed on an empty stomach as an empty stomach condition provides better absorption of the active substances of ashwagandha. Just ensure that you are not lactose intolerant or milk doesn’t result in acidity on an empty stomach.
Dosage and how to consume Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha root powder can generally be used at daily dosages of 120 mg to 2g in combination with other preparations. However, it is advised to consult a doctor before starting with the consumption of this herb. Pregnant and lactating women are advised not to consume Ashwagandha as abortifacient properties have been reported for ashwagandha.
- To Reduce Stress and Anxiety: Most benefits are linked to dosages of 500–600 mg per day taken for at least one month.
- To Lower Blood Sugar Levels: Ashwagandha may help lower blood sugar levels. Benefits appear to start at dosages as little as 250 mg per day.
- To Boost Fertility: Five grams of ashwagandha per day may boost fertility in men in as little as three months.
- To Enhance Muscle Growth and Strength: Daily doses of 500 mg of ashwagandha may provide increases in muscle mass and strength in as little as eight weeks. While most studies have been primarily focussed on men, some research suggests women may reap the same benefits as well.
- To Lower Inflammation and Help Fight Infection: Supplements containing at least 250 mg of ashwagandha or 12 ml of ashwagandha extract offer the most benefits.
- To Boost Memory: Consuming 500–600 mg of ashwagandha root extract per day may boost various aspects of memory.
Although Ashwagandha is considered safe for consumption, however, pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as people with diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes, may need to avoid it.
Ashwagandha may also interact with thyroid, blood sugar and blood pressure medications.
People taking these types of medication should consult with their doctor before supplementing with the medicinal herb.
Side Effects of Ashwagandha:
Ashwagandha is considered well-tolerated in small to medium doses. But there haven't been enough long-term studies to examine possible side effects.
Pregnant women should avoid using ashwagandha because it can cause early delivery. Although ashwagandha supplements are generally well-tolerated when taken short-term in typical dosages, mild to moderate side effects such as headache, sleepiness, and stomach upset have been reported. Rarely, allergic reactions and rapid heartbeat have been reported.
Be aware, however, that ashwagandha can potentially lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and increase thyroid hormone levels.
Hope that this article provided you with useful insights into the benefits and uses of the magical herb - Ashwagandha. You can start using Ashwagandha topically as oil or face pack to get all its benefits for your skin. However, do remember to consult a doctor before consuming this ancient ayurvedic medicine. Keep in mind the safety note and side effects as well.