Ashwagandha

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Ashwagandha has been used for over 3,000 years and has a wide variety of names, like winter cherry and Indian ginseng. It has been praised in traditional Indian medicine for its adaptogenic properties; it is considered to help the body adapt to stress, as well as exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes. In most cases, the roots of the ashwagandha plant are used for their medicinal properties, however, the leaves and seeds also have beneficial properties. This herb grows in the Mediterranean and across the middle east, Africa, India and Pakistan.

Supports sexual wellness

A 2015 trial studied 50 women with female sexual dysfunction to determine if ashwagandha supplementation can help increase sexual function in healthy women. In randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled design, subjects were given a placebo or 600mg Ashwagandha extract (KSM-66) for 8 weeks.

At 8 weeks, women that took ashwagandha saw a significant increase in overall female sexual function index compared to placebo. The following areas saw specific significant improvement. Arousal and lubrication scores were significantly increased in the ashwagandha group at weeks 4 and 8, with stronger improvement at week 8. Additionally, orgasm and satisfaction areas saw a significantly higher increase with those taking ashwagandha at 4 and 8 weeks. Finally, over 8 weeks the amount of "successful" sexual encounters was significantly greater in the ashwagandha group vs. placebo at 8 weeks only. (1)

Ashwagandha can also support men’s sexual wellness. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study fielded in 2013, investigators studied a highly concentrated, full-spectrum root extract of Ashwagandha (KSM-66) on male fertility parameters.

At 90 days, men who took ashwagandha saw a significant increase of 167% in sperm concentration compared to baseline. Other semen parameters such as semen volume and sperm motility saw a significant increase of 53% and 57%, respectively. Additionally, following treatment with ashwagandha, researchers saw significant increases in the serum hormones, testosterone, and luteinizing hormone (LH) at 17% and 34% (2). This is important because Luteinizing Hormone (LH) stimulates the production of testosterone from Leydig cells in the testes. Testosterone, in turn, stimulates sperm production. (2)

References
  1. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Improving Sexual Function in Women: A Pilot Study

    Dongre, S., Langade, D., & Bhattacharyya, S., BioMed research international, 2015

  2. Clinical Evaluation of the Spermatogenic Activity of the Root Extract of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Oligospermic Males: A Pilot Study

    Ambiye, V. R., Langade, D., Dongre, S., Aptikar, P., Kulkarni, M., & Dongre, A., Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013

Supports muscle strength, recovery, and endurance

Wankhede, et al. conducted a double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized trial to assess the benefits of 600mg KSM-66® Ashwagandha in healthy men in conjunction with resistance training. The trial measured the bench press and leg extension one repetition max before and after a standardized resistance training program. Individuals taking ashwagandha showed significantly higher one repetition maxes for both upper and lower body as compared to placebo, but also had statistically significantly greater muscle size in the arms and chest (1). In addition to the primary endpoint of muscle strength, Wankhede et al. also measured the possible effects of ashwagandha extract on muscle recovery. Muscle recovery refers to the reduction in exercise-induced muscle damage over time. In a prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled parallel group trial, researchers assessed the level of recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage through the increase of serum creatine kinase levels after the end of the first resistance training session and at 8 weeks. Serum creatine kinase is a commonly used measure of muscle damage because this protein is specific to muscle tissue. While recovery improved in both the ashwagandha and placebo groups, recovery was substantially higher in the ashwagandha group than in the placebo group (1). Another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that investigated the effects of ashwagandha on muscular performance during resistance training found that men given 500mg ashwagandha extract for 12 weeks experienced significant increases in maximal lower-body and upper-body strength levels, and also increases in average squat power and peak bench press powerm and experienced significantly improved perceived recovery scores while no change was noted in the placebo group (2).

Individuals participating in endurance activities can enhance their performance by increasing the amount of oxygen that is delivered to the muscles. Key factors that affect the rate at which oxygen is delivered to the body are maximal cardiac output, pulmonary diffusion, blood volume and blood flow. Maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max), defined as the maximal amount of oxygen consumed during exercise, is dependent on the cardiorespiratory system for transporting oxygen to the muscles (4). Choudary, et al. examined the effect of 600mg Ashwagandha on cardiorespiratory performance in athletes. Maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max) was measured during a 20 minute shuttle run test. Individuals consuming 600mg Ashwagandha had significant increases in VO2 max as compared to placebo (3). In another randomized, placebo-controlled trial, researchers assessed the effects of an aqueous extract of Ashwagandha for enhancing aerobic performance in elite cyclists. Individuals given 500 mg ashwagandha twice daily (500mg morning, 500mg evening) for 8 weeks showed a significant increase of 13% in VO2 max, whereas the placebo group showed no increase. Both males and females that took ashwagandha showed a significant increase in the time to exhaustion and higher VO2 max values of 10.7% and 4.3%, and 16.1% and 9.0%, respectively (4).

References
  1. Examining the effect of *Withania somnifera* supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial

    Wankhede S, Langade D, Joshi K, Sinha S and Bhattacharyya S. , Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2015

  2. Effects of an aqueous extract of withania somnifera on strength training adaptations and recovery: The STAR Trial.

    Ziegenfuss T, Kedia A, Sandrock J, Raub B, Kersick C, Lopez H. , Nutrients, 2018

  3. Efficacy of Ashwagandha (*Withania somnifera [L.] Dunal*) in improving cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy athletic adults

    Choudhary B, Shetty A and Langade D.G., AYU Journal - An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda, 2015

  4. Effects of eight-week supplementation of Ashwagandha on cardiorespiratory endurance in elite Indian cyclists

    Shenoy S, Chaskar U, Sandhu J, Paadhi MM, J Ayurveda & Int. Med, 2012

Helps relieve occasional stress

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was performed on 64 subjects. Each subject was given 300mg of ashwagandha extract 2x per day or a placebo. The volunteers were then asked to complete a stress-assessment test. After 60 days, the volunteers taking ashwagandha expressed a 44% reduction in stress, whereas the placebo group only showed a 5.5% reduction. Levels of serum cortisol, the stress hormone, were also significantly lower in the group taking ashwagandha – a 27.9% reduction in cortisol levels after 60 days.

Another 2016 study found similar results to the study referenced above. In this study, volunteers taking ashwagandha reported improved scores on the “Perceived Stress Scale” and the “Oxford Happiness Questionnaire”. As a precursor to the studies mentioned above, ashwagandha was found to have anti-stress activity in Wistar Rats.

References
  1. A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults

    Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty, S, Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 2012

  2. Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial

    Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, and Joshi K., Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 2016

  3. Adaptogenic activity of *Withania somnifera*: an experimental study using a rat model of chronic stress

    Bhattacharyaa S.K, Muruganandamb A.V., Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 75, 2003

Supports memory and cognitive function

A 2017 study evaluated the effect of ashwagandha on memory and cognitive function in adults with mild cognitive impairment. When compared to placebo, the ashwagandha treatment group demonstrated significant improvements in both immediate and general memory as well as executive function, sustained attention, and information-processing speed.

References
  1. Efficacy and Safety of an Ashwagandha (*Withania somnifera*) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Selected Cognitive Functions

    Choudhary D, Langade D, Unpublished, 2017

Supports cardiovascular endurance

Individuals participating in endurance activities can enhance their performance by increasing the amount of oxygen that is delivered to the muscles. Key factors that affect the rate at which oxygen is delivered to the body are maximal cardiac output, pulmonary diffusion, blood volume and blood flow. Maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max), defined as the maximal amount of oxygen consumed during exercise, is dependent on the cardiorespiratory system for transporting oxygen to the muscles (2). Choudary, et al. examined the effect of 600mg Ashwagandha on cardiorespiratory performance in athletes. Maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max) was measured during a 20 minute shuttle run test. Individuals consuming 600mg Ashwagandha had significant increases in VO2 max as compared to placebo (1). In another randomized, placebo-controlled trial, researchers assessed the effects of an aqueous extract of Ashwagandha for enhancing aerobic performance in elite cyclists. Individuals given 500 mg ashwagandha twice daily (500mg morning, 500mg evening) for 8 weeks showed a significant increase of 13% in VO2 max, whereas the placebo group showed no increase. Both males and females that took ashwagandha showed a significant increase in the time to exhaustion and higher VO2 max values of 10.7% and 4.3%, and 16.1% and 9.0%, respectively (2).

References
  1. Efficacy of Ashwagandha (*Withania somnifera [L.] Dunal*) in improving cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy athletic adults

    Choudhary B, Shetty A and Langade D.G., AYU Journal - An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda, 2015

  2. Effects of eight-week supplementation of Ashwagandha on cardiorespiratory endurance in elite Indian cyclists

    Shenoy S, Chaskar U, Sandhu J, Paadhi MM, J Ayurveda & Int. Med, 2012

Helps reduce food cravings

Stress plays a role in weight gain. While many anecdotally say they are “stress eating,” this is in fact a scientifically studied phenomena. Scientists have also examined a correlation between stress and increased cortisol levels, as well as reduced physical activity. Together, this stress-related increased calorie consumption, increased cortisol, and lack of exercise can lead to weight gain. However, ashwagandha’s calming properties can help reduce food cravings associated with stress. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical study on 600mg KSM-66® a day found there to be significant reductions in scores on the Food Cravings Questionnaire, a commonly used self-assessment which measures several domains of food cravings. Specifically, the KSM66® group had statistically significant improvements in the following domains: planning to eat food, positive reinforcement from eating, relief from negative mood by eating, emotions that are involved during food cravings or eating, and environmental cues that may trigger food cravings (1).

References
  1. Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial

    Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, and Joshi K., Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 2016