Ashwagandha Root: Benefits, Dosage and Side Effects

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is a root used for centuries in traditional Indian medicine. Its primary function is to reduce stress and anxiety. It is an adaptogen and has antioxidant properties.

Many people also use ashwagandha for sleep and insomnia, to increase energy, or improve athletic performance. It is available as an herbal supplement, and studies point to its potential in treating cancer.

What is Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an herbal supplement that has been used in traditional Indian medicine for thousands of years. It is still used in Ayurvedic medicine today, and increasingly as a supplement European and North American countries. Ashwagandha is a root from a type of nightshade plant.

Today it’s sold as a whole herb, powder, or an extract in capsule form. Ashwagandha is available as a supplement, and not regulated by agencies in most countries. It is known for reducing stress and anxiety, helping sleep and insomnia, increasing energy, and strengthening athletic performance.

Ashwagandha is similar to other calming supplements like L-theanine, kava root, and passion flower. However, it has a long history of use and might be effective in treating or alleviating certain diseases. It boosts the immune system and might help reduce inflammation, elevate mood, and increase weight gain. There is growing evidence it can improve memory and even help cancer patients.

Also known as:

Withania somnifera, Indian ginseng, or winter cherry

Editor’s Note

Ashwagandha is a great supplement for anti-anxiety. My experiences have been largely in the middle of the road. It doesn’t especially put me to sleep, which is why some people take ashwagandha. It also doesn’t give me a noticeable boost in energy or alertness.

Some users initially feel a spike in alertness which later gives way to sleepiness and calm. I take a lower dose of ashwagandha, so that’s likely the reason for its milder effects. I have found that using ashwagandha helps me focus and get work done. Unlike other nootropics, ashwagandha isn’t known for this effect. Increased focus usually occurs as a result of its primary function, which is to reduce anxiety.

By reducing anxiety, ashwagandha can help the mind focus on the task at hand, as in my case, or help users fall asleep more easily. While I don’t experience a noticeable boost, over time, I realized that I seemed to have more energy while taking ashwagandha.

This herbal supplement has antioxidant properties, which are most likely responsible for feelings of increased energy. Antioxidant functions also speed up muscle repair and recovery after workouts.

Despite all the benefits you can experience from ashwagandha, it is true that this root can affect the gastrointestinal system. I am naturally more sensitive to medication and supplements, so when I tried to increase my dosage, I experienced bouts of nausea.

I found that I simply needed to take ashwagandha in smaller doses and less often. Supplementing every other day is usually enough for me.

This video gives a brief overview of some of the possible benefits of ashwagandha and goes into more detail about its main side effect.


Ashwagandha Reviews

Although ashwagandha is still making its way into the nootropics scene, there is evidence in user communities online that the supplement has been beneficial.

“Yesterday I took a 450mg dose in the afternoon and it definitely gave me quite the response. The social anxiety that sort of lingers with me seemed to fade away, I gained a motivated mindset, and my mood improved slightly. Only after this experience did I decide to give ashwagandha a more legitimate try.”
-deathkrew

“This product levels out my cortisol during the day so that I don’t have highs and lows. It also is very calming. Excellent for my adrenal fatigue.”
– Reviewer3013107

“This product definitely works for reducing stress. If you take it when you’re not feeling too stressed, you may hardly notice the difference–but you can tell it’s working quite well on those days when you’ve just about had it. I take NOW Ashwagandha before workouts (and often at work when needed) to keep my cortisol levels low. Unlike many herbal supplements, Ashwagandha has an effect you can actually feel.”
-Daver73

Benefits and effects

  • Anxiety and Stress
  • Sleep and Insomnia
  • Athletic Performance and Energy

Anxiety and stress

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body adapt and cope with regularly occurring stressors. Most people take ashwagandha for stress or social anxiety.

In one study, researchers tested individuals suffering from chronic stress. Study participants took 300 mg of ashwagandha twice a day in capsule form. The groups saw a definite improvement in their stress levels after 60 days.

After being tested, researchers discovered a noticeable drop in their cortisol levels, a hormone the brain produces in response to stress.

In a more complex study, two groups with anxiety received two different treatments. The first group received ashwagandha supplements, therapy, a daily multivitamin and dietary counseling. The second group received psychotherapy, breathing and relaxation techniques, and a placebo drug.

The group taking ashwagandha as part of their regimen saw an improvement in anxiety that was 20 percent greater that the placebo and therapy group. Further examination also revealed better concentration, vitality, social capabilities, and mental health. Researchers observed no adverse effects from ashwagandha.

Sleep and Insomnia

Most supplements with anti-anxiety properties have the potential to impact sleep. Ashwagandha functions in the brain to produce a calming effect, which can help those with insomnia.

In a study by Banyan Botanicals, participants taking 1200 mg of ashwagandha twice a day report a 66.9 percent improvement in their sleep quality. They also experienced a 42 percent increase in their emotional health.

Athletic Performance and Energy

Studies have also shown that ashwagandha can improve athletic performance and increase energy. It is a natural testosterone booster, which might account for this effect.

Elite cyclists in India participated in a study measuring their performance with ashwagandha. Twice a day, they took 500 mg of ashwagandha for eight weeks. At the end of this period, they took a treadmill test which revealed increased aerobic capacity, better respiratory functions, and longer stamina.

Another study examined muscle strength and physical recovery in non-athletic men. Participants took ashwagandha capsules of 300 mg two times a day for eight weeks. Results revealed improved muscle strength, size, faster recovery, and stronger overall body composition greater than the improvements found in the placebo group.

How It Works

The root extract of Ashwagandha acts a potent antioxidant. It fights off free radicals throughout the body, especially within the brain and major organs. The result is reduced cell damage and oxidative stress.

Ashwagandha extract also strengthens the immune system. Macrophage immune cells, which work to destroy pathogens in the body, increase and function more efficiently with the presence of ashwagandha.

This herbal supplement is also thought to have anti-microbial properties. It eliminates harmful bacteria in the body like salmonella, which causes food poisoning. The effects of ashwagandha stem primarily from withaferin A and withanolide D, its main ingredients.

In addition to its anti-bacterial and anti-oxidizing effects on the immune system, ashwagandha is perhaps best known for its anti-anxiety properties. It calms the body and the brain through stimulation of GABA, an amino acid and neurotransmitter active in promoting relaxation.

While researchers are unsure if direct consumption of GABA calms the brain, users can achieve this effect with supplements like ashwagandha, which stimulate GABA production or imitate its effects.

You can start feeling the effects of ashwagandha as soon as 30 minutes after consumption. The effects may seem to linger for even a whole day. Although ashwagandha is used for sleep and insomnia, initially it may increase alertness and lead to a more relaxed states hours later.

Dosage

The minimum recommended dosage for ashwagandha is 300 mg a day, while in more extreme cases, users benefit from doses up to 6,000 mg daily. In general, it is best to take between 300 and 500 mg once or twice a day. Taking the supplement with food reduces toxicity levels.

If you’re using the whole herb or powder form of the root, you can prepare it in a tea. Steep six grams, or about two teaspoons, in three cups of boiling water for about fifteen minutes. Strain the tea to remove any residue and drink up to twice a day. [1]

Side Effects

Ashwagandha can cause some gastrointestinal distress. Side effects can include discomfort in the stomach, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. They naturally disappear over time.

You can reduce the risk of gastrointestinal symptoms by taking ashwagandha with meals. However if you have stomach ulcers, avoid taking this supplement.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid using ashwagandha, as research has suggested it might produce negative results. Ashwagandha may lower blood sugar levels and decrease blood pressure, so monitor your reaction carefully if you have diabetes or low blood pressure.

Ashwagandha also regulates thyroid hormone levels. If you are already using medication for thyroid hormones, ashwagandha is not recommended.

Stacking

Ashwagandha, Vitamin C, Rhodiola Rosea, and Tyrosine Stack

This stack targets stress. Vitamin C has been shown to normalize stress hormone levels. Rhodiola Rosea is another natural supplement for anxiety. It increases feelings of well-being, can lessen the effects of depression, and has anti-aging properties.

Tyrosine is an amino acid that helps the body deal with stress. The appropriate dosage depends on your body weight, and it should always be split into multiple doses. Try the following dosages once a day to alleviate stress:

  • 300 mg Ashwagandha (optional: take every other week)
  • 100 – 3,000 mg vitamin C
  • 170 mg Rhodiola Rosea
  • 150 mg Tyrosine per kg of body weight (split into 2-3 doses daily)

Ashwagandha, Alpha GPC, Caffeine and L-theanine Stack

Alpha GPC includes choline, which improves cognitive function and memory. Caffeine increases energy levels and alertness, while L-theanine has a balancing effect. It relaxes your system with creating drowsiness.

These supplements combined with ashwagandha promote stress relief, enhance mental capacity, and improve overall well-being.

Once a day, try:

  • 500 mg Ashwagandha
  • 300 mg Alpha GPC
  • 100 mg caffeine
  • 100 mg L-theanine

Alternatives

  • Red Ginseng
  • Rhodiola Rosea
  • Gotu Kola

Red Ginseng

Originally found in Asia, red ginseng varieties are another adaptogenic herb like Ashwagandha. It helps the body cope with stress and has a surprising number of similarities with Ashwagandha. Ginseng works to strengthen the immune system and may also be able to fight off cancerous cells in the body.

If you’re interested in trying ginseng, 100 to 200 mg of ginseng extract is a standard dose. Experts recommend taking it in two- to three-week cycles, with a resting period of one to three weeks.

  • Decreases stress
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • May be able to fight off cancer
  • Dosage: 100 – 200 mg daily
  • Price varies by variety of ginger

Rhodiola Rosea

As another adaptogen, Rhodiola rosea helps the brain cope with internal stressors in the body or mind and external stressors present in the environment. This herbal supplement decreases stress levels and can increase longevity. It elevates both mood and cognitive function.

Rhodiola has been shown to have anti-aging properties. It also reduces physical and mental fatigue.

  • Decreases stress and anxiety
  • Improves mood and brain function
  • Reduces fatigue and extends longevity
  • Effects last around 4 hours
  • Dosage: 50 – 660 mg daily
  • Price may be slightly cheaper than ashwagandha

Gotu Kola

Gotu Kola, also known as centella or its scientific name Centella Asiatica, is used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. It is used to treat bacterial and viral infections. However, it also functions as a supplement for anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Some use it to improve memory function, and the herb has even been used to treat patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Reduces anxiety, depression, and fatigue
  • Used to treat bacterial and viral infections
  • Can be effective for Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dosage: 60-180 mg
  • Price is cheaper than ashwagandha

Closing Thoughts

Ashwagandha is a powerful herbal supplement that is ideal for addressing anxiety and stress. As an adaptogen, healing the body cope with stress is its primary function. By reducing anxiety, ashwagandha can result in many other benefits. Some users find that it can treat insomnia, and improve productivity.

Athletic performance and energy are also increased through the use of this root. Ashwagandha helps repair muscle faster and encourages rejuvenation in the body by relaxing it.

The immune system receives a boost from ashwagandha, which has antioxidant properties as well. Finally, ashwagandha has been shown to have some effect on patients receiving chemotherapy and those with cancer. Ashwagandha’s full potential is still unknown, but if you’re looking for a relatively risk-free anxiety or workout supplement, Ashwagandha is a strong contender.

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