What is Ashwagandha

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is an ayurvedic medication used for a wide variety of ailments. It is derived from the Withania somnifera plant and it is the plants leaves and roots that are processed to make its various preparations. The root of the plant is used a majority of the time. It is available in many countries as a dietary supplement and has been the subject of much research due to its various benefits. Wisthania somnifera is cultivated in India and throughout the Middle East and is found in Eastern Africa.

A brief history

Ashwaghanda is a central medicinal herb in the Indian Ayurvedic Medical system. Its use has been dated back to as far as 6000 BC where it was used as a tonic, an aphrodisiac, narcotic, diuretic, anti-worm treatment and as a stimulant. Its name means horse, and it was believed to be given that name as its root smelled like the scent of a horse.(Singh et al., 2011)

How does it help?

Ashwagandha is made up of a group of chemicals known as alkaloids which are further divided into isopelletierine, anaferine, cuseohygrine, anahygrine and another group of chemicals knowns as steroidal lactones which consist of withanolides, withaferins. This variety of active chemicals possibly contributes to ashwagandha diverse arsenal of advantages. Withaferin specifically in Ashwagandha has shown some promising evidence in its anti-inflammatory effect, including being an antibacterial and an anti-tumor and immunomodulatory medication.(Review of Biological Activity of Withanolides, n.d.) There have been researched focused mainly on Ashwagandhas use as a stress reliever, and how it improves testosterone levels and most importantly supports brain function and protects the central nervous system.

Alleviating stress

A study published in 2019, has shown that supplementation of Ashgawandha for a period of 8 weeks was associated with a significant reduction of stress levels in individuals and improved the overall quality of life.(Salve et al., 2019) Another study concluded the same but also theorized that the way that it alleviates stress is by controlling the secretion of the stress hormone of the body by controlling hormone secretion from the brain, specifically the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland.(Lopresti et al., 2019) A study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine also concluded that it was effective in improving resistance to stress and improving the research participants quality and outlook of life.(Chandrasekhar et al., 2012) There are further, a multitude of studies supporting ashwagandhas stress busting effects. Therefore, taking ashwagandha or ashwagandha containing supplements may help reduce stress and anxiety in people susceptible to or coping with high levels of it.

Support brain function and helps treat degenerative nerve conditions

Ashwagandha has been known to improve cognitive functions and mental capacity(Singh et al., 2011). In recent studies, ashwagandhas ability to improve memory, executive function and information processing speed has also been noted(Choudhary et al., 2017). As a result you may be able to improve your own cognition by taking ashwagandha.

However, the benefits of ashwagandha don’t just stop at improving cognition. There is some evidence, though controversial, about its effects in combatting conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.  A study done in 2014 in the University of Toyoma, Japan has shown that ashwaghanda helped reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease in some patients.(Kuboyama et al., 2014) Withanoside, which is another constituent present in ashwagandha root has even shown an ability to reduce nerve and synapse damage even in active neurodegenerative disease and studies are currently being done investigating its ability to recover nerve tissue(Kuboyama et al., 2006).

Combined with its stress busting and cognitive improving properties, ashwagandha is easy to recommend for its neuropsychological benefits, especially considering the demanding nature of the 21st century, especially on our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Improving testosterone levels

Testosterone is a hormone that is vital in maintaining a healthy male’s physiology. However in the recent past there has been an alarming decline in testosterone levels in men all around the world since the dawn of the 21st century.  Several studies in the USA and Europe have indicated this as well(Chodick et al., 2020). As a result this has led to low sperm counts in men and low rates of fertility.  Ashwagandha has been known to have a spermatogenic effect, improving sperm counts. A study assessing the effect of ashwagandha on low sperm counts has found out that research participants using the root extract of ashwagandha have increased sperm counts at the end of a 90 day treatment period(Ambiye et al., 2013). Perhaps ashwagandha may be useful to take alongside formal fertility medication.

What are the preparations that are available?

It may be available in many forms, such as tea, or mixed with ghee and/or honey or as a tincture or paste. It may also be available in capsules as a part of herbal medicinal supplements.

Are there any adverse effects and safety?

Ashwagandha is known to be well tolerated by its users, with minimal or no side-effects. However, ashwagandha should be avoided in pregnancy/ breast feeding, as a precaution, as studies are still required to investigate its safety.

How you can incorporate it into your diet or daily routine?

Due to its various preparations it is quite simple to incorporate ashwagandha into your daily diet. As it comes as a tea, you may take it as a hot beverage several times a day in-between meals. Taking a tincture of ashwagandha root extract or a spoon of the powder mixed with honey or ghee in the morning or any other set time will make it a habitual and relatively effortless addition to your daily routine. Herbal supplements that contain ashwagandha usually come with their own instructions on how to use them, and these instructions must be followed carefully.

 It is best to consult your doctor before you begin using any kind of herbal supplements.


Ambiye, V. R., Langade, D., Dongre, S., Aptikar, P., Kulkarni, M., & Dongre, A. (2013). Clinical Evaluation of the Spermatogenic Activity of the Root Extract of Ashwagandha(Withania somnifera) in Oligospermic Males: A Pilot Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : ECAM, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/571420

Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 34(3), 255. https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7176.106022

Chodick, G., Epstein, S., & Shalev, V. (2020). Secular trends in testosterone- findings from a large state-mandate care provider. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology : RB&E, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/S12958-020-00575-2

Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S., & Bose, S. (2017). Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions. Journal of Dietary Supplements, 14(6), 599–612. https://doi.org/10.1080/19390211.2017.1284970

Kuboyama, T., Tohda, C., & Komatsu, K. (2006). Withanoside IV and its active metabolite, sominone, attenuate Abeta(25-35)-induced neurodegeneration. The European Journal of Neuroscience, 23(6), 1417–1426. https://doi.org/10.1111/J.1460-9568.2006.04664.X

Kuboyama, T., Tohda, C., & Komatsu, K. (2014). Effects of Ashwagandha (roots of Withania somnifera) on neurodegenerative diseases. Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 37(6), 892–897. https://doi.org/10.1248/BPB.B14-00022

Lopresti, A. L., Smith, S. J., Malvi, H., Kodgule, R., & Wane, D. (2019). An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine, 98(37). https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000017186

Review of biological activity of withanolides. (n.d.). Retrieved June 9, 2022, from https://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=US201302076010

Salve, J., Pate, S., Debnath, K., & Langade, D. (2019). Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study. Cureus, 11(12). https://doi.org/10.7759/CUREUS.6466

Singh, N., Bhalla, M., de Jager, P., & Gilca, M. (2011). An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicines, 8(5 Suppl), 208. https://doi.org/10.4314/AJTCAM.V8I5S.9


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