Thousands of years ago, Indian herbal doctors recommended ashwagandha root for a whole host of ailments. It was thought to boost vitality of the mind and body. Fast forward to today, and 21st century science has proven many of the use cases for taking this powerful and healthful plant extract. Celebrities like Megan Markle and Jennifer Aniston swear by it, and for good reason too. Discover below the rich history of ashwagandha and the five incredible health benefits it can offer.
The history of ashwagandha
Ashwagandha, or withania somnifera, is one of the most popular herbs in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medicine system. Historians have been able to trace this traditional system of healing remedies as far back as 6000 years ago! The plant extract was commonly used thanks to its assumed far reaching health benefits.
Its name originated from two sanskrit words: ‘Ashva’ meaning horse, and ‘gandha’ meaning smell. This refers to the strong horse-like smell the root has. Having tried it ourselves, we didn’t equate the smell to horse, as such. It does has a mild earthy scent but we didn’t notice it when it is added to green smoothies or juices.
As mentioned, Ayurvedic doctors believed that ashwagandha could offer a host of health benefits. These are just some that it was used for: improved memory, better brain function, sexual balance, stress resilience, and even immunity.
Where it comes from
Ashwagandha is a small shrub and has yellow flowers. The plant is native to India as well as North Africa. Historically, practitioners would dry the roots and sometimes the leaves too, then grind it down into a fine powder.
However, this is a basic approach and the level of withanolides (the important active compound) and other important compounds can vary hugely. For example, KSM-66 ashwagandha extract has 5% withanolide content. It also maintains the same ratio of the other important plant compounds naturally found in the root. It requires a gentler water based extraction method, and this also knocks out the strong horse smell too.
Other extracts can have a stronger withanolide content, but the trade-off is less of the other plant goodness that is lost.
Five benefits of ashwagandha
#1 Stress relief
Stress is a major component of modern life. Most of us are taught that we must simply deal with it, like everyone else. However, lifestyle decisions as well as natural, plant based supplements can make a real difference to stress levels. A 2008 clinical study measured the effect of taking ashwagandha over 60 days on chronic stress.
Three randomised groups totalling 98 people completed the 60 day study. The results are remarkable, too. The researchers found that taking either 125 or 250 mg of ashwagandha extract daily “significantly reduces experiential and biochemical indicators of stress without adverse effects”. By day 60, total stress and anxiety scores fell by 60-75%, with the higher dose giving the strongest reduction.
#2 Improved muscle mass and strength
In ancient times there was some belief that taking this “smell of the horse” root extract could also make you as strong as a horse, too. Interestingly, there is now scientific support for this ancient belief.
A 2018 clinical study measured whether taking ashwaganda extract would improve strength training results in recreationally active men. The study took place over a 12 week period involving a placebo group and a group taking 500 mg daily. Again, the results were encouraging, with muscle mass and endurance speeds both improving. Specifically, the group taking ashwagandha daily were able to bench press on average nearly 13 kg more at the end of the 12 week period. That was 60% better than the placebo group’s bench press improvement of just 8 kg.
#3 Reduced inflammation
Inflammation in the body can build up over time and contribute to a number of lfe threatening diseases. That’s why adding a healthy selection of natural, plant based anti-inflammatories to a wellness routine is so good for overall health. Some studies show that this plant extract is a capable anti-inflammatory, too.
In particular, a 2015 study assessed the effect of taking ashwagandha extract on rheumatoid arthritis in rats. Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of inflammation. Over 20 days, rats received 100 to 300 mg per kg of body weight. The results for those taking the extract showed “antioxidant and anti-arthritic activity and reduced inflammation”. While this is encouraging for arthritis, note that the dosage strength is very high. The average person weighing 62 kg would have to take more than 12 grams of ashwagandha per day. This would quickly get expensive.
#4 Improved brain function and memory
Are you the kind of person that is forever searching for your phone, or your keys, or both and everything in between? We’re talking about less than excellent spatial memory skills. This is what controls the ability to plan a route, remember where an object is, or where an event occurred. It can see improvement with memory games as simple as Snap, but it can have a helping hand from nature, too.
In 2012, researchers conducted a memory study. They tested whether ashwagandha extract could help fight oxidative stress in the brain which, in turn, might improve spatial memory. In conclusion, the study reveals that rats who receive the extract perform significantly better in the memory test. This was because the plant extract boosts the rat’s antioxidant system and helps to restore brain receptor density, and thus memory.
#5 Reduced cholesterol levels
The body needs cholesterol. However, high levels of cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. Fatty deposits can build up in the blood vessels. This, in turn, puts unwanted stress on the heart as it becomes harder to pump blood around the body. Eating less saturated fats can go a long way to solving high cholesterol. In addition, the same study which demonstrated ashwagandha’s stress-busting properties also showed it can fight cholesterol levels too.
It could be that higher cholesterol is linked to elevated stress. So it would make sense that ashwagandha can benefit both. The same 2008 study revealed that individuals taking 250 mg daily for 60 days saw a 17% reduction in bad cholesterol. Additionally, they saw an 11% reduction in triglycerides. At high levels, triglycerides can help harden artery walls which can contribute to heart disease.
How to take it
This plant extract is so easy to add into the daily wellness routine. Because it comes in powder form, simply add it to your daily superfood mix or smoothie, add it to a glass of water with squash, or even add it to your daily coffee. We do recommend that to stop it from caking, it is best to mix the powder with a little cold water first, then use a milk frother to mix it well. Then, just pour this into whichever drink you like and enjoy!
We religiously take the Wunder Workshop Superior Ashwagandha as it is a high quality and broad spectrum extract with 5% withanolides. This is perfect in a greens drink of your choice.
If you are already taking CBD in your wellness routine, then you can consider the Vitality CBD Boost Drops. This combines the power of CBD with ashwagandha into one convenient tincture format.
This really is a special plant extract, and highly deserving of a place in the plant based wellness routine. The more we learn about it, the more impressed we are that Ayurvedic practitioners identified it and swore by it all those years ago. And yet today, the western world is only just re-learning its promising health benefits again.