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What’s All the Fuss About Ashwagandha?

Everyone these days seems to be taking Ashwagandha and raving about its benefits. I kept hearing about it from so many people, that I decided to look into this Ayurvedic herb and share what I learned.

What is ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is called the magical herb in Ayurvedic circles and is considered to be nature’s gift to mankind. It’s an extract from the roots of an evergreen plant and has been used for thousands of years as a treatment for a variety of illnesses. It’s an adaptogen, which means it might be able to improve the way our body responds to stress. Adaptogens regulate hormones and proteins involved in stress response, like cortisol and heat shock proteins, and also support the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, another key player.

The benefits:

Studies suggest that ashwagandha can keep your brain healthy, reduce inflammation, relieve stress, promote sleep, and even enhance memory. I have to admit, I was looking at it for its sleep benefits, and sure enough, one of the most studied benefits of ashwagandha is its potential for improving sleep quality in people with and without insomnia.

In a small 2019 study of 58 people, participants took 250 or 600 milligrams of ashwagandha extract or a placebo daily for 8 weeks. The results suggest that ashwagandha significantly reduced perceived stress, reduced blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and improved sleep quality compared to a placebo.

Athletic endurance

I always research new ways to improve performance and recovery and was very pleased to see that ashwagandha has been shown in clinical studies to improve endurance, recovery times and muscle strength. It significantly increased cardiorespiratory endurance and improved VO2max – an indication of the amount of oxygen the body can use during exercise – in a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Healthy adults took 300 mg of ashwagandha twice daily for 12 weeks and were assessed on performance and quality of life measures.

Ashwagandha and muscle strength

This is my favorite benefit besides sleep. Ashwagandha is said to also function as an ergogenic aid, supporting physical performance parameters related to muscle strength, muscle recovery and body composition, while also increasing testosterone levels. One randomized study pairing ashwagandha supplementation and resistance training raised testosterone levels in the body by more than 15%. Participants also experienced a boost in upper body strength by 75% and 50% in the lower body.

After all this, I have to admit, I now believe that ashwagandha could be very beneficial if you are an athlete or a bodybuilder. I’ve tested it out as far as sleep goes, and it does seem to quiet the mind enough to aid in falling asleep. I definitely felt I achieved a deeper more restful sleep.

I did notice however, that after taking ashwagandha for several days in a row, my skin started to break out. Several clients, both male and female, have complained to me about the same side effect. So, be aware if you decide to try ashwagandha, and your skin is prone to break outs, you may have the same experience.

Just a note, as with anything you use to help you sleep, whether it is ashwagandha or melatonin, make sure you actually have enough hours to sleep. Don’t take either of these supplements when you are only going to have 5 hours to sleep. You will most likely feel hungover half the day.

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