Ashwagandha Studies: Hyped Benefits vs. Clinical Evidence

Ashwagandha Root, Leaves and Seed

Ashwagandha is a plant that is widely used in traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda) and around the world to treat different health problems. The scientific name of this herb is withania somnifera. Different parts of the plant are used to make traditional medicine, particularly the root, the extract of which is touted to have different therapeutic effects.

Most of the claimed medicinal benefits of ashwagandha are based on anecdotal evidence, where some users say it works and others say it doesn’t do anything! If you look into scientific evidence…well, there have been many clinical studies of this herb with positive results, but none of them were quite conclusive. The loads of positive consumer reviews and the promising, albeit slim, scientific evidence suggests that ashwagandha may be worth trying — but no dramatic results should be expected.

From mental enhancement, to sexual enhancement, to cancer treatment and many other health issues, ashwagandha supplements are sold over the counter under numerous categories and health claims.

In this article I will try to provide as many clinical studies as there are available to either support or refute some of the widely circulated claims about ashwagandha’s benefits. So, let’s go!

Ashwagandha for Anxiety and Stress

The most commonly suggested use of ashwagandha is for the management of anxiety and stress, and there appears to be a good amount of scientific evidence to support this claim.

A 2012 study involving 64 participants with chronic stress found that ashwagandha root extract significantly reduced anxiety and increased resistance to stress compared to placebo.

Ashwagandha for Insomnia

Because of its calming anxiolytic effect, ashwagandha is used to help improve sleep quality, especially for people with sleep disorders.

There aren’t any human studies that evaluate the efficacy of this herb for patients with insomnia, however, some animal studies show promise in this regard. A 2008 study found that ashwagandha improves sleep quality in sleep-disturbed rats.

Ashwagandha for Depression

Ashwagandha may help stabilize and improve mood in people suffering from depression and anxiety. One human study suggests antidepressant effects of ashwagandha, and a 2000 animal study also concluded positive results.

Ashwagandha for Strength and Energy

There is some evidence to suggest that ashwagandha may improve physical performance and power. In one study, participants who took a dosage of 500mg per day of ashwagandha root extract showed improvements in physical performance and endurance parameters.

In another study, 40 athletes (cyclists) took 500mg of ashwagandha twice a day for a period of eight weeks. A treadmill test was used at the beginning and end of the study, and the results showed significant improvement in cardiorespiratory endurance in the group that took ashwagandha compared to no significant change in the placebo group.

And a more recent study examined the effects of ashwagandha on muscle strength in young men aged 18-50 years old. The treatment group took 300mg of ashwagandha root extract twice a day for eight weeks. The results obtained at the end of the study demonstrated that subjects who took the supplement had increased muscle strength and mass, improved muscle recovery, reduced body fat, and increased testosterone levels. The study concluded that ashwagandha supplementation may be helpful in combination with resistance training.

Ashwagandha for Weight Loss

Weight loss and gain is a complicated issue as there are many different external and internal factors that can affect one’s weight. Some findings suggest that ashwagandha may help people with stress-related weight gain.

A 2016 study found that ashwagandha is helpful for weight management in people under chronic stress. Study subjects who consumed a dosage of 300mg twice a day reported decreased food cravings, improved eating behaviors, and a decrease in body weight and body mass index.

Ashwagandha for Thyroid Function

The adaptogenic effects of ashwagandha seem to help modulate and balance the levels of thyroid hormones in the body. It is used for both hypothyroidism; where it helps increase thyroid hormone levels back to normal, and also for hyperthyroidism; where it helps bring thyroid hormone levels down to normal.

A recent study found that a dosage of 600mg of ashwagandha root extract taken daily significantly improved levels of thyroid hormones in patients with subclinical hypothyroidism.

Another study involved patients with bipolar disorder who received 500mg a day of ashwagandha extract. Measurements taken during the 8-week study showed that ashwagandha has the ability to increase serum levels of the thyroxine (T4) hormone.

Ashwagandha for Adrenal Fatigue

Some people take ashwagandha to treat adrenal fatigue (hypoadrenia), but there are no clinical studies that evaluate the benefits of ashwagandha for this specific condition.

However, ashwagandha has been proven to reduce stress, and since stress is the primary cause of adrenal fatigue there may be some noticeable improvement when supplementing with this herb.

Ashwagandha for OCD

There is only one animal study that noted anti-obsessive effect of ashwagandha in mice.

There is no evidence that ashwagandha helps treat obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans. However, because OCD is related to stress, anxiety and depression, and since ashwagandha may help manage those three, it may also help alleviate OCD.

Ashwagandha for ADHD

Ashwagandha is one of the suggested herbal remedies for ADHD, but there is no scientific evidence to support this claim, and none of the reviewed available studies measured this herb’s effects on ADHD symptoms.

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