Ashwagandha (Sanskrit for “smell of the horse”) is an herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia and has recently become popular in the West as a nootropic. Though its scientific name is Withania somnifera, ashwagandha goes by other names, like winter cherry (because it kind of looks like a cherry wearing a jacket) and Indian ginseng (because they have restorative properties in common). Though it is most often listed as ashwagandha on nootropic nutritional information, don’t be surprised if you occasionally see it called something else.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which means that it belongs to the family of natural compounds that some scientists believe can block the physical effects of stress. Some studies suggest that ashwagandha can help reduce anxiety and decrease cortisol concentration levels, so it’s become a hot commodity in the nootropics world.
Ashwagandha is linked to decreased anxiety, reduced rates of depression and insomnia, and an immunosuppresive effect of stress. Better sleep, greater resiliency, and improved mood are all positive improvements reported by some users, so it has the potential to be good for the brain. There is even some preliminary evidence to suggest that ashwagandha could fight Alzheimer’s disease by lowering LDL cholesterol levels, though more research is needed in that regard. Ashwagandha may also boost athletic ability in athletes. Let’s unpack these claims so you can decide if ashwagandha is a good fit for your stack.
Photo: Ashwagandha, via Chopra.com
Ashwagandha contains both sitoindosides and acylsterylglucosides, compounds which have been shown to work well as de-stressers in trials. When you are too stressed, you sleep poorly, and when you sleep poorly, you become more stressed. It’s a vicious cycle that can lead to decreased memory skills, poor reaction times, and a harder time learning new things. Bad sleep or a lack of sleep puts you at an increased risk for anxiety and depression, and it also depresses your immune system, giving you that “run down” feeling we all dread. Ashwagandha, by way of the compounds it contains, may help decrease the amount of stress you experience, allowing you to have better sleep and an improved outlook.
Ashwagandha has historically been used as an anti-inflammatory, and there’s some modern medical evidence to support its use for that. Decreased inflammation can lead to less of the baseline pain that makes it harder to get out of bed in the morning, harder to concentrate on tasks, and harder to enjoy being active. Ashwagandha isn’t strong enough to take the place of a prescription pain medication, and it shouldn’t replace any course of medical treatment without consulting with a medical professional.
Photo: Ashwagandha by A. Donato via Sloan Kettering
Lastly, let’s look at how ashwagandha has been linked to improved endurance and athletic performance. One study showed that mice given ashwagandha could swim for nearly twice as long as the untreated group, indicating that it might have the same impact on people. There’s no limit to the benefits aerobic exercise can bring; it’s been linked to improved cognition, longer life spans, decreased cholesterol, and even better outcomes with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Preliminary and anecdotal evidence suggests that ashwagandha might be able to help you in endurance-related activities.
Standalone ashwagandha supplements are available in the form of teas, tinctures, and tablets, but since the research suggests you need a few hundred milligrams per day to achieve optimal results, the best bet may be to take it in a capsule form alongside your meals. Check out Cognitex, which is a great nootropic blend for a first-time user, and Shroom TECH, which some people say helps with fatigue.
Have you tried ashwagandha? Did you find it help you manage stress? Tell us how you added it to your stack in the comments.