In this episode of Discover with Dr. Dan | Proactive Health, Dr. Dan explores the benefits of ashwagandha and dives into how this herb impacts human health. Tune into the full episode to learn more about this anciently-used plant.
Origins of Ashwagandha
The Sanskrit translation of Ashwagandha means smell of horse because this plant does indeed smell like a horse, but it has some really incredible properties. It’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, believed to have natural stress relieving and antiinflammatory properties. Dr. Dan explains:
It's best known for its ability to act as an adaptogen. Adaptogen is a term given for a compound that can reduce the chemical and physical effects of stress on the body. So it reduces the actual amount of stress the body feels. So the body produces cortisol and other hormones which induce the stress response but when an adaptogen is present, even though cortisol levels are high, the stress response is reduced.
When cortisol levels are reduced, the body doesn’t feel the effects of stress as easily and as Dr. Dan has mentioned in previous episodes, when the body is stressed, it increases inflammation - the root cause of disease. Anxiety is also greatly reduced when taking this herb, making it a possible treatment for mental wellness.
Your Brain on Ashwagandha
Stress and anxiety are treatable through taking this plant regularly. According to Dr. Dan, “600 milligrams of ashwagandha a day is standard,” and this number was found through various credible studies. In a 2017 study, the group that took ashwagandha daily reported significant improvements in cognitive function like working and logical memory, better ability to pick out details, and increased accuracy in pairing verbal and physical items. To further explain this study, Dr. Dan examines the pairing portion. He says, “So these are tests where they take words that are similar to each other and ask people to combine them together and to pick them out. Faces, family pictures, executive function, sustained attention, information processing, all these improved significantly in the ashwagandha group.”
Another study done in 2009 focused on two groups: an ashwagandha supplement group and a placebo group. Participants were given either a placebo starch supplement or a dose of ashwagandha and counseling over a period of eight weeks. At the end of the trial, researchers found that, “Ashwagandha was associated with a 56.5% reduction in anxiety symptoms, while the placebo group only saw a 30.5% reduction.”
How it Affects Your Body
Not only does ashwagandha have benefits for mental health, but it can also boost physical health. For generations, the herb has been used to help in muscle and exercise recovery. “They've done some clinical studies where athletes, anaerobic athletes, powerlifters using ashwagandha can have more power in their lifts, more reps, more power overall, and longer time to muscle failure.” They studied athlete’s VO2 max, which is cardio-respiratory endurance, and found that participants were less fatigued and more energized when taking ashwagandha.
For men, this herb can boost testosterone levels, making them more fertile. Ashwagandha also increases female libido and all of the parameters surrounding it.
Additionally, ashwagandha is known to help people fall asleep and stay asleep. To measure this, many factors are observed to determine how the herb impacts the sleep cycle. “There was a 72% increase in sleep quality in the ashwagandha group compared to a 29% increase in the placebo group,” when things like total sleep time and sleep latency were examined in a sleep study.
Overall, ashwagandha is hugely beneficial to multiple facets of human health and as we learn more about it and use it, we can improve our overall quality of life.
To learn more about ashwagandha and its benefits, check out the Discover | Dr. Dan Proactive Health podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Tuesday.