Five Extraordinary Benefits of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is a herb that has been used in the East, particularly in Ayurvedic medicine, for thousands of years. It is only more recently that we have caught to its numerous benefits in the West, with high-profile health-conscious women like Meghan Markle, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston all said to use it. Here we discuss everything you need to know about this ‘super herb’ that not only eases stress and anxiety, but also supports and strengthens everything from sleep to fertility and natural immunity.
What is Ashwagandha?
The ashwagandha plant is a small evergreen shrub native to India and parts of North Africa. It produces small, green, bell-shaped flowers that mature into little orange-red fruits that look similar in appearance to tomatoes. It is ashwagandha root that is most commonly used medicinally and in health supplements, often in the form of powder. The name for herbal substances that are known to protect the body and promote wellbeing is adaptogens, and ashwagandha is fast becoming one of the most popular and widely used adaptogens in the world today.
Ashwagandha is a Sanskrit word that translates roughly as “smell of a horse”. This alludes both to its unique scent and also to its extraordinary potency. Its Latin or botanical name is withania somnifera – somnifera referring to its profoundly grounding and calming effect and ability to promote healthy sleep. Other names used for it include Indian ginseng and winter cherry.
Research on ashwagandha continues to evolve as scientists in the West aim to prove what Ayurveda doctors have known for years. Below are five ashwagandha benefits that are already backed by science.
Ashwagandha is perhaps best known for its stress-relieving properties. The reason for this is that it helps to regulate cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is one of the ‘fight or flight’ hormones released by the adrenal glands. One of its jobs is to mobilise the body to escape from imminent danger. Cortisol levels naturally vary throughout the day but are generally higher in the morning when we wake up and drop off during the day. But between work overload, family commitments, financial pressures, the Covid pandemic and all the other chronic stresses of modern life, our cortisol response these days is regularly activated in an unhealthy way. This impacts our nervous system and can leave us feeling fraught, anxious and wired. Numerous studies have shown that ashwagandha can counter this – decreasing levels of stress and anxiety significantly.
Many people swear by taking ashwagandha for sleep. Remember ashwagandha’s Latin name withania somnifera? ‘Somnifera’ translates as ‘sleep-inducing’, reflecting the herb’s ability to support gloriously nourishing, deep sleep. Preliminary research has found that ashwagandha may help people fall asleep faster, spend more time asleep, and experience better sleep quality. After taking ashwagandha for six weeks, participants in one study described their sleep as being as much as 72% better. We all know that stress is often at the root of sleeping problems, so it follows that if our stress levels are lower then we can relax enough to get a better night’s sleep.
Ayurvedic practitioners have long believed that ashwagandha is one of the most powerful herbs for immune-system support. It was traditionally used to support longevity and a weakened immune system, and now it has been shown to encourage anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting immune cells that help to ward off illness. More research is needed in this area, but since we know that our immune system is regulated by our nervous system, and that our nervous system can be calmed and strengthened by ashwagandha, then it is easy to see how our immunity is bolstered by this powerful herb.
Ashwagandha's ability to reduce stress levels also helps in supporting our reproductive systems. When cortisol levels are high and the body is in a state of ‘fight or flight’, blood flow is diverted away from the reproductive system (as well as other systems like the digestive and immune systems) and towards the heart, large muscles and other vital organs. By reducing cortisol levels and thus enhancing flow of blood to the reproductive system, ashwagandha has a positive effect on everything from our libido, to the health of our menstrual cycles and of course our ability to conceive. And it doesn’t stop there! Excitingly, Ashwagandha's fertility boosting powers are not limited to women. The same applies to men. In fact, ashwagandha is thought to increase testosterone levels and boost sex-drive in men, and is even used by some to increase sperm count.
For all the amazing reasons we have mentioned above, ashwagandha can do wonders for postpartum and breastfeeding people. The reduction of stress helps with feelings of overwhelm; deeper sleep helps with all those interrupted, shortened nights; and the rebuilding of strength and immunity is a welcome boost amongst all the change and upheaval the body goes through during pregnancy and birth. Added to this, ashwagandha is also thought to boost breastmilk production, another welcome benefit of lower stress levels.
We’re sure you’ll agree that ashwagandha is an absolute gift from the gods. If you’d like to see what it can do for you, you can find it in our Inspired Collagyn, Coffee + Collagen and also in our Cacao + Collagen. In fact, this blog has done such a good job of reminding us how incredible ashwagandha is, we’re off to make a delicious, steaming mug of Cacao + Collagen right now!