Withania Somnifera, also known as ashwagandha, is a powerful Ayurvedic herb (plant) that has been used for thousands of years to promote good health and fight off disease.
In latin, the word somnifera means “sleep-inducing”.
The root of the withania somnifera plant is what is used to make ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha in Sanskrit means the smell of a horse because the withania somnifera plant’s root has a horse-like smell.
Ashwagandha is sometimes referred to as “Indian ginseng” because it has similar adaptogen properties to ginseng.
Withania Somnifera (ashwagandha) Benefits:
Ashwagandha has many reported benefits, such as:
- Increased energy and athletic performance
- Improved sleep
- Reduced stress and cortisol
- Improved brain function
- Ability to fight Alzheimer’s
- Ability to fight cancer
- Lowered blood sugar levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced symptoms of depression
- Decreasing pain and swelling (inflammation)
- Preventing the effects of aging.
- Fertility problems in men and women
- Increased sexual desire
In this post, we will focus on the benefits that are primarily related to brain health.
Ashwagandha Helps Relieve Stress, Reduce Cortisol, and Insomnia
Stress triggers our fight or flight response mechanism which then triggers the release of cortisol into our body.
Our bodies were made to handle short-term stress however long-term stress can lead to severe negative consequences, such as.
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
Long-term stress and excess cortisol causes brain cells to die and decreases the rate at which new ones grow.
Stress damages virtually every kind of cognition that exists. It damages memory and executive function.
High levels of cortisol in our bodies can also lead to insomnia.
Researchers have found that cortisol levels are higher in insomniacs.
Withania Somnifera (ashwagandha) has the benefit of being an adaptogen. This means that it can help our bodies deal with stress and therefore reduce cortisol levels.
Numerous studies have shown that groups using withania somnifera benefited from reduced anxiety and stress as compared to placebo groups.
Helps Fight Alzheimer’s
As a result, withania somnifera root has shown potential to become an effective therapy for Alzheimer’s disease humans.
In a recent withania somnifera study, 26 male participants aged 20-35 were given two capsules of 250mg each twice daily for 14 days. One group received the withania somnifera dose, the control group received the placebo.
The withania somnifera group showed significant improvements in terms of reaction time, choice discrimination, digit symbol substitution, digit vigilance, and card sorting tests.
In a report studying the effects of withania somnifera in bipolar disorder, researchers found that it improved working memory, reaction time and social cognition.
The NIH Office of Dietary Supplements does not currently have a recommended dosage for withania somnifera root (ashwagandha).
That being said, the benefits noted in the research studies came from dosages of typically between 10mg to 30mg of withanolides (the active components in ashwagandha).
Ashwagandha usually comes in liquid, powder or extract pill form.
The % of withanolides found in ashwagandha supplements varies from supplier to supplier.
While a supplement may state it has 500mg of ashwagandha extract, that in itself does not tell you the % of withanolides it contains.
It is important to know how much withanolides you’re actually receiving in the supplement since they are the active components accounting for its health benefits.
Most, but not all ashwagandha supplements will state the % of withanolides that it contains on its label. Typical values are between 1% and 5% of the total supplement in mg. Thus, a 500mg supplement with 2% withanolides will contain 10mg of withanolides.
If the supplement doesn’t state the % of withanolides it contains, you should avoid it because you don’t know for sure what you’re getting.
As you know, most supplements are not well regulated. Therefore, you may not even receive the dosage that is printed on the label.
ConsumerLabs.com found that only 25% of the ashwagandha supplements they tested passed their review.
Based on my personal research, my current recommendation for an ashwagandha (withania somnifera) supplement would be:
Note: Ashwagandha should not be taken by any pregnant or lactating women.
As with any supplement, we strongly urge you to consult with your own doctor before making any health-related decisions such as starting or stopping any supplement or medication.
Withania somnifera (ashwagandha) benefits the brain in the following ways:
- Reduced stress
- Lowered cortisol
- Improved sleep
- Improved cognition
- Ability to fight Alzheimer’s
To obtain these benefits, make sure you choose a well researched and tested supplement such as the one recommended.
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