If you want to know what Ashwagandha is, how it can benefit you, and how to avoid getting ripped-off when buying it, then you want to read this article...
Ashwagandha is one of the most widely used herbal supplements. It also happens to be one of the most well-researched, with literally hundreds of studies across a wide range of potential applications.
If you’re reading this article, it’s probably because you’re thinking about supplementing with Ashwagandha. Or, perhaps you already are and you just feel like you should know what it is you’re putting in your body. Well, not to worry…
In this article, we’ll answer questions like:
- What Is Ashwagandha?
- Why Do People Supplement With It?
- What Does The Research Say?
- Are There Side Effects?
And much, much more. So, if you’re all ready to learn everything you could ever need to know about Ashwagandha (and more), let’s get started…
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha, more formally known as Withania somnifera, is an herb which has an extensive history of use throughout Ayurveda Medicine.
The term Ayurveda refers to branch of traditional Indian medicine which seeks to balance the mind, body, and spirit. This is accomplished partially (not completely) with the use of various herbs.
Unlike most herbs used throughout traditional medicine systems, Ashwagandha actually has a lot of science behind it. Literally hundreds of different studies have been conducted at this point. Many of the traditional uses for Ashwagandha have been clinically proven.
Ashwagandha is a plant which is comprised of hundreds (or thousands) of different chemical compounds. Rather than attributing the benefits to one specific compound, research has revealed a handful of related molecules which are responsible for the majority of the benefits.
Some of the more important molecules that come up in the research are:
- Withanolide A
- Withaferin A
- Withanoside IV
Here’s what they look like:
Of course, there are many more but these are the primary constituents which are associated with the majority of the benefits.
Why Do People Supplement With It?
Ashwagandha is used by different people for different reasons. Among the most common are:
- Stress Reduction
- Performance Enhancement
- Sexual Health Improvement
- General Health Benefits
Of course, the list of potential benefits is ongoing and constantly evolving. It’s possible that Ashwagandha has much more to offer. For the purposes of this article though, we’ll try to focus on what the research says though…
What Are The Proven Benefits Of Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha has more studies behind it than most other herbal supplements. Some of the alleged uses have been investigated to a greater extent than others. We’ll focus primarily on the benefits that have actually been PROVEN scientifically.
Rodent studies may be compelling, but aren’t you more concerned with what it does IN HUMANS? Thought so. Let’s dive right in…
Ashwagandha Reduces Stress
Stress and anxiety relief is perhaps the most widespread use of Ashwagandha, It belongs to a class of herbs collectively referred to as Adaptogens.
The term Adaptogen refers to any natural (herbal) substance which helps the body adapt to stress, either physical or mental (or both).
Subjects took either Ashwagandha or a placebo and were then scored on tests of perceived stress as well as Cortisol (stress hormone) levels. The results are shown below:
As you can see, Ashwagandha supplementation reduced all measures of perceived stress as well as Cortisol levels far more than what was seen in subjects taking the placebo.
Another study with a similar design and supplementation protocol found exactly the same thing. Lower Cortisol and lower self-reported stress.
Similar results were seen in yet another study, this time in patience suffering from anxiety.
A systematic review which collected data from several different studies on Ashwagandha and stress concluded that it is indeed effective for reducing both physical and subjective measures of stress.
If there’s one benefit of that is EXTREMELY promising and backed by study after study, it’s stress reduction. Several studies have all concluded the same thing. Ashwagandha reduces stress, both physical and mental.
In this sense, it’s similar to Phosphatidylserine. They work quite differently of course, but both have been shown to reduce mental and physical indications of stress.
So what else does it do?
Ashwagandha Enhances Exercise Performance
One study found that, despite not exercising, subjects taking Ashwagandha for 30 days experienced an increase in strength.
These findings were replicated in a recent (2015) study. This study specifically focused on the impact on exercise performance and muscle mass.
Researchers found that 8 weeks of supplementation resulted in:
- increased muscle mass
- greater strength
- enhanced recovery
And it was concluded that Ashwagandha supplementation may be beneficial for weight-lifters. Of course, more studies would be nice…
Ashwagandha Promotes Sexual Health
Ashwagandha has long been used as an aphrodisiac but research has actually revealed that it can actually improve sexual health. One study found that supplementation improved various parameters of seminal health in infertile men.
These findings were replicated in another study and again in yet another study. Every study which has investigated the impact of Ashwagandha on sexual health of infertile men has concluded that there are benefits.
Some of these studies have found an increase in Testosterone levels as well, meaning the improvement in sexual health could be Testosterone-related. This makes sense since Ashwagandha has also been shown to slightly increase Testosterone levels in healthy (exercising) subjects as well.
Of course, the most likely to experience sexual benefits are those who are either infertile or suffer from some sort of sexual dysfunction. It’s not clear that it’s much of an aphrodisiac in initially healthy people.
Ashwagandha MAY Aid In Weight-Loss
Despite some preliminary (in vitro) findings which suggest Ashwagandha may aid in fat-loss, it hasn’t been studied too extensively in this area.
One study found that subjects who exercised while taking Ashwagandha lost more fat than subjects who exercised without it, but that’s about it.
Unfortunately, one study isn’t really enough to conclude that it can be used to facilitate fat-loss, but it certainly warrants further research.
Ashwagandha MAY Improve Sleep
Most studies have not focused specifically on the impact of Ashwagandha on sleep, but it has come up…
These benefits appear to be the result of Ashwagandha acting on GABA-receptors.
GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) in the brain. It relaxes and calms the brain by blocking the firing of neurons.
GABA is the primary target of popular anxiety drugs like Xanax (Alprazolam), which belongs to the class known as benzodiazepines. These drugs are commonly prescribed for people who are stressed, anxious, and can’t sleep.
So, it’s actually pretty meaningful that Ashwagandha performed similarly to low doses of these drugs in mice. But what about humans?
Ashwagandha has been shown to improve aspects of sleep in human subjects, but it was confounded with the inclusion of other supplements. A similar study found similar results, but again, the results can’t be attributed to Ashwagandha alone.
However, in one study which wasn’t even designed to measure sleep, subjects self-reported better sleep.
To sum it up…
When it comes to how it impacts sleep, there isn’t much in the way of human research. That said, the research that does exist is quite promising. Considering a sound mechanism by which it can improve sleep quality and duration has been established, it’s not much of a stretch to say that it probably does.
WHAT’S THE CLINICAL DOSE?
The term “clinical dose” refers to the dose at which a given supplement has been proven effective in scientific studies. One of the biggest issues with the majority of supplements is that they tend to be under-dosed.
A supplement that isn’t clinically dosed is not guaranteed to do anything. You need to make sure you’re getting a clinical dose of whatever supplement you’re taking, and Ashwagandha is no exception.
Studies have used a wide range of doses, but assuming you’re using a highly standardized form of Ashwagandha such as KSM-66® or Sensoril®, 300-600mg daily is a good place to start.
We’ll discuss the different between Sensoril® and KSM-66® a little later…
What To Expect With Ashwagandha Supplementation
Most of the benefits stem from it’s ability to reduce both physical and mental stress. The impact isn’t necessarily going to be felt immediately, but when used consistently for several weeks, you may notice:
- less stress
- improved exercise performance
- sexual health benefits
- better sleep
As with most supplements, the effects will become more noticeable with time.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Throughout the hundreds of studies, at varying doses, Ashwagandha has never caused any kind of toxicity. It is remarkably well-tolerated. As with any herbal supplements that has the potential to be psychoactive, it’s possible to experience some side effects. It’s just not very likely with this one.
Research has shown that the LD50 for compounds found in Ashwagandha is astronomically high. It’s very unlikely, possibly impossible, to “OD”. Taking way too much at one time may result in stomach issues, but that’s about it.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that Ashwagandha can amplify the psychoactive effects of benzodiazepines. So, if you’re taking those types of medications, you should probably talk to a doctor before adding it to the mix.
Branded vs Generic Ashwagandha
In supplements, Ashwagandha is usually in the form of an extract. Unfortunately, as with any herbal extract, a lot of factor can impact the quality.
- Growing Techniques
- Cultivation Techniques
- Extraction Methods
- Storage Conditions
All these things can effect the final product. This is why it’s best to use a standardized, brand-name extract rather than some off-brand BS.
When it comes to herbal supplements, the truth is that most of them don’t actually contain what they’re supposed to. This isn’t even necessarily the fault of the company that produces them or the manufacturer. Often times it originates at the source.
KSM-66® vs Sensoril®
When it comes to branded Ashwagandha, there are two top contenders:
Both of these extracts are produced with quality in mind. They’re both standardized for a guaranteed minimum concentration of active components.
Sensoril® is derived from the leaves and roots of Withania Somnifera and is standardized for a minimum of 10% Withanolides. An effective dose is 125-250mg.
KSM-66® is derived from the roots of Withania Somnifera and standardized for atleast 5% Withanolides. An effective dose is 300-600mg.
No study has compared the efficacy of these two ingredients. Sensoril® just appears to be more potent by weight. Both are considered reliable and effective at their respective doses though.
The Best Ashwagandha Supplement
There are literally thousands of different supplements which contain Withania Somnifera. While it is possible to find a good extract that isn’t necessarily one of the name brands we discussed above, it’s basically impossible to tell.
Unless the company that produces the product shells out the additional cash for Third Party Testing and then posts the results publicly, you can’t be absolutely sure what you’re getting.
That’s why you should just go with a supplement which contains something like Sensoril® or KSM-66®. We did exactly that with Singular Sport Ashwagandha.
Each serving provides 600mg of KSM-66®, a clinically effective dose for reducing stress, enhancing performance, and optimal hormonal health.
We also Third Party Test each batch of finished product, so you can be absolutely certain that you’re getting:
- The right ingredient
- The right dose of that ingredient
- No heavy metals or contaminants
That’s the Singular Sport guarantee.
The Bottom Line
Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years through traditional medicine systems, but many of these benefits are now being verified by modern science.
So far, it’s safe to conclude that Ashwagandha can
- reduce stress
- keep Cortisol in check
- enhance exercise performance
and may also support fat-loss, improve sleep, and support various aspects of general health.
I'm Matt, Founder of Momentum Nutrition and SuppWithThat.com. I've spent the better part of the last decade researching and experimenting in the areas of fitness, nutrition, and supplementation, and this is where I write it all down.