Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha

David Tomen
Author:
David Tomen
11 minute read
Ashwagandha has been shown to repair and reverse damage to the brain caused by chronic anxiety and stress.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing.  One of the main benefits of Ashwagandha is its remarkable stress-relieving properties. And stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the most potent drugs used to treat depression and anxiety.

In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha means “smell of horse”. Meaning this herb imparts the strength and vigor of a stallion.

Ashwagandha is native to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. And is now being grown in other regions including the United States.

Ashwagandha helps protect your central nervous system. And is a promising alternative treatment for a variety of degenerative brain diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

As an antioxidant, Ashwagandha seeks out and destroys free radicals. Free radicals have been implicated in many age-related diseases. There’s even some emerging evidence that Ashwagandha offers anti-cancer benefits.

Here we’re going to explore how Ashwagandha benefits your brain.

Ashwagandha helps:

  • Reduce Stress: Ashwagandha helps reduce anxiety and depression. It reduces the stress hormone cortisol, lowers blood sugar levels, and improves lipid profiles.[i]
  • Neuronal Regeneration: Ashwagandha helps regenerate axons and dendrites of brain nerve cells. And helps reconstruct synapses, the junctions where nerve cells communicate with other cells.[ii] Boosting memory and restoring neural networks affected by neurodegenerative disease.
  • Neurotransmitters: Ashwagandha extract inhibits acetylcholinesterase. The enzyme responsible for breaking down the key neurotransmitter acetylcholine.[iii] Boosting memory, learning and cognition.

Overview

Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing.  This ancient herbal remedy has remarkable anti-depressant qualities. And has been shown to be as good as many prescription pharmaceuticals in treating depression and anxiety.

Ashwagandha is often referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its rejuvenating properties. But botanically, Ashwagandha and ginseng are unrelated.

Native to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Ashwagandha is now being grown in other regions including the United States.

Ashwagandha is in the same family as the tomato. It’s a small woody shrub with oval leaves, and five-petal yellow flowers. The fruit is red and the size of a raisin. The plant is also known as the “Winter Cherry”.

Ashwagandha is known as an adaptogen. Which means it helps your body adapt to stress, both mental and physical.

The Indian Materia Medica lists Ashwagandha for:

  • general debility
  • impotence
  • general aphrodisiac purposes
  • brain fatigue
  • low sperm count
  • nervous exhaustion
  • where general vigor must be restored.

Ashwagandha extract has been shown to be an effective antioxidant in the brain. Clearing the cellular waste implicated in Alzheimer’s Disease.[iv]

Is also boosts memory and cognition. By reducing stress and increasing acetylcholine. And regeneration of nerve networks in the brain.

Ashwagandha repairs neural networks

How does Ashwagandha Work in the Brain?

Ashwagandha boosts brain health and function in several ways. But two in particular stand out.

  1. Ashwagandha enhances GABA receptors and regulates serotonin in the brain. It appears to work on neuron receptors, enabling GABA to connect easier. This inhibits the signals present under a stress response in the brain. Anxiety is reduced.

A study was conducted at The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine with 75 volunteers with moderate to severe anxiety. Ashwagandha produced a significant decrease in anxiety levels over the control group.[v]

  1. Ashwagandha improves cognitive and psychomotor performance in a healthy brain.

Researchers at Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India worked with 20 healthy male volunteers. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial participants were given 250 mg capsules of standardized Ashwagandha extract for 14 days.Ashwagandha improves reaction time

Significant improvements in reaction time were reported at the end of the trial. The study suggests that Ashwagandha extract improves cognitive and psychomotor (physical reaction) performance even when you’re in the best of health.[vi]

How things go bad

Chronic stress and cortisol can damage your brain. Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley found that chronic stress triggers long-term changes in brain structure and function.[vii]

Chronic stress changes neural networks. Cortisol creates a domino effect that hard-wires pathways between the hippocampus and amygdala. (The amygdala (lizard brain) is the area responsible for your fight-or-flight response).

This hard-wiring caused by stress is not the way the brain was designed. But chronic, ongoing stress tricks the brain into rebuilding circuits and hunkering down for the long haul.

This re-wiring appears to be permanent. Unless you intervene with something like Ashwagandha.

Brain changes caused by chronic stressChronic stress seems to ‘flip a switch’ in stem cells in the brain. And turns them into a type of cell that prevents connections to the prefrontal cortex. Preventing improved learning and memory.

And laying down the scaffolding linked to anxiety, depression and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Chronic stress coats neurons in myelin

Chronic stress reduces the number of neurons

Gray matter decreases and white matter increases.

Under conditions of chronic stress and excess cortisol, your brain’s neurons are coated (or sheathed) in myelin.

Under healthy conditions this “sheathing” is a protective measure. But this excessive sheathing is likely an evolutionary measure made to reinforce the connection between the hippocampus and amygdala. Improving the fight-or-flight response during extended periods of threat or attack.

In the modern world, chronic stress hijacks your fight-or-flight response system. It backfires in daily life in which you are not in physical danger.

Ashwagandha benefits

Ashwagandha undoes damage to the brain caused by chronic stress. And helps keep it healthy.

Ashwagandha benefits cognitive function. Glycowithanolides, one of the many compounds found in Ashwagandha, reduces cortisol. And overall energy levels are enhanced through optimizing mitochondrial function.

It also has GABA-mimicking effects in the brain. Comparable to the effects of prescription benzodiazepines like lorazepam (Ativan).

Ashwagandha can also help prevent and repair damage caused by Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. Through its antioxidant and inflammation-reducing mechanisms.

Ashwagandha even provides protection and regeneration of neurons during opiate and heroin withdrawal. And eases withdrawal symptoms.

Ashwagandha in Ayurvedic Medicine heals the brainIn Ayurvedic medicine, Rasayana herbs are used to promote a youthful state of physical and mental health. The ancients considered Medhya Rasayana herbs to be working with higher brain function. These are mind-rejuvenating herbs.

Of the 8 or 9 most cherished herbal remedies, Ashwagandha is the highest or most prominent of Ayurvedic Rasayana herbs. Acting as an adaptogen, rejuvenating the nervous system, and boosting the body’s resilience to stress.

How does Ashwagandha feel?

Ashwagandha users report:

    • Ashwagandha as a stress-reliever. If you are experiencing severe fatigue and brain fog, it’s likely stress. Chronic or severe stress can disguise itself in many ways. Including feeling abnormally fatigued. You find that you are not sleeping well. Or don’t feel rested and refreshed when waking up in the morning. Even after taking a sleeping pill. Many report a rapid change in energy and motivation as soon as they take Ashwagandha. Others won’t feel the effects for a couple of weeks before relief sets in. You’ll know Ashwagandha is working when you wake up in the morning feeling refreshed. And eagerly looking forward to starting your day.
    • Ashwagandha as an anti-anxiety aid. As an anti-anxiety aid users say they feel their self-confidence has been restored. Your speech will feel more fluid and easier, especially in public settings. No more panic attacks.

ashwagandha removes fear of public speaking

  • Ashwagandha as an antidepressant. Depression, even if it’s not professionally diagnosed, can destroy your life. Ashwagandha users say it is the best antidepressant they’ve ever used. Their energy is restored, motivation is back, and they’re able to focus.

Ashwagandha works on many levels in the brain. Cortisol levels are stabilized. And the damage to your brain begins to correct itself. Acetylcholine levels rise so you’re able to think clearly again.

Neurons get repaired, and cognition and memory return to levels you experienced when you were younger. And GABA receptors are re-activated producing a calming effect.

Ashwagandha Clinical Research

Researchers at Asha Hospital in Hyderabad, India did a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial with 64 subjects who had a history of chronic stress. The study group took a 300 mg capsule of full-spectrum Ashwagandha root twice a day for 60 days.

Follow up calls to participants were done on the 15th, 30th, 45th and 60th day of the trial. Researchers reported serum cortisol levels were substantially reduced.

Ashwagandha improves quality of lifeThe report concluded “that a high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life”.[viii]

Ashwagandha as a nootropic

One study done in a lab in India subjected laboratory mice to electroconvulsive shock treatment. Or were given scopolamine to induce amnesia (memory loss).

Both sets of mice were given Ashwagandha extract daily after the shock or chemical treatments. Ashwagandha extract restored their memory and motor skills.[ix]

Ashwagandha as an antidepressant

Scientists did a study on rats to compare Ashwagandha with the popular benzodiazepine antidepressant lorazepam (Ativan). And the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine (Tofranil).

Researchers gave the rats either Ashwagandha, lorazepam or imipramine. 30 minutes later they put the rats through a maze, had them interacting socially, and even forced them to swim.

They concluded that as a mood stabilizer, Ashwagandha worked on depression and anxiety as well as either of the two antidepressants.[x]

Ashwagandha Dosage

Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India recommends 3 – 6 grams daily of standard ground Ashwagandha powder.

  • For arthritis: 250 – 500 mg of extract (4-5% withanolides)
  • For antioxidant protection: 100 – 200 mg of extract (4-5% withanolides)
  • For immunity: 100 – 200 mg of extract (4-5% withanolides)
  • For relaxation: 250 – 500 mg of extract (4-5% withanolides)
  • For stress: 250 – 500 mg of extract (4-5% withanolides)
  • For sexual performance: 250 – 500 mg of extract (4-5% withanolides)

For higher Ashwagandha doses like 500 mg, take 250 mg in the morning and another 250 mg early afternoon. And note the distinction between standard ground Ashwagandha powder and an extract. The extract is much more concentrated.

Ashwagandha Side Effects

Note: Ashwagandha stimulates your thyroid. So if you are hypothyroid, use Ashwagandha with caution. And check with your endocrinologist to be safe.

Ashwagandha is non-toxic at moderate doses. If you are pregnant do not use Ashwagandha as it could cause a miscarriage. This herb is an adaptogen with powerful hormonal effects.

Ashwagandha can enhance the effects of sedatives, antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications, including St. John’s wort.

It can also interact and possibly amplify the effects of immunosuppressants, blood pressure medication, and drugs used to control blood glucose levels.

Ashwagandha can boost the effects of alcohol. And do not use Ashwagandha if you have bleeding issues, or before surgery.

Other possible side effects include diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, drowsiness and slowed pulse.

And you should not use Ashwagandha if you are dealing with kidney or liver disease. A study published in 2023 and which was conducted in India found those with preexisting liver disease and who used Ashwagandha from only 2 weeks to 1 1/2 years suffered liver injury. 3 suffered liver failure and died.

Where to buy Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is available as a powder, capsules, tincture and tea. The root and berry of the plant are used. The ground root of the herb is used as the base of an Ashwagandha supplement.

Active ingredients of Ashwagandha include alkaloids, saponins, and withanolides. Look for the percentage of active ingredients listed on the bottle or package. Typically, you’ll see something like “standardized to 4-5% of withanolides”.

NOTE: This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

A good choice of Ashwagandha extract is KSM66® which is a full spectrum root extract made by Ixoreal, a division of the Baldwa group of companies in India. This extract contains 5% withanolides and less than 0.1 Withaferin A (which is toxic).

You can buy it here: Pure Nootropics – Ashwagandha (KSM-66®)

Nootropics Expert Recommendation

Ashwagandha Extract 250 – 500 mg per day

Nootropics Expert Tested and ApprovedI recommend using Ashwagandha as a nootropic supplement.

Your body does not make Ashwagandha on its own. So to get its benefits you must take it as a supplement.

Ashwagandha is especially helpful for those suffering from anxiety and stress. Studies show it helps stop and reverse the devastating effects of stress on your brain, and body. This nootropic helps repair the damage to neurons and synapses caused by chronic stress.

Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogen. Which means it helps increase the effect of certain hormones when activity is low. And will block excess stimulation when activity is too high.

The benefits of Ashwagandha as an adaptogen helps balance cortisol in the body caused by chronic stress. Chronically elevated cortisol levels suppress immunity, create fat deposits on the belly, face and neck, reduces libido, causes bone loss, causes insulin resistance, and brain fog.

Balancing cortisol levels with Ashwagandha improves your sleep quality, immunity, stress response, organ function, reduces fatigue, and brain fog.

Ashwagandha is also helpful for those suffering from anxiety and panic disorders. A study published in Phytomedicine showed the calming effect of this herb was equal to the drug Ativan (lorazepam). Without the side effects.

You can safely take up to 750 mg of Ashwagandha extract daily if needed. Most get all the benefit they need with 500 mg. Dosed 250 mg in the morning, and another 250 mg early afternoon.

You can buy it here: Pure Nootropics – Ashwagandha (KSM-66®)

 

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This post may also contain other affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

[i] Bhattacharya S.K., Bhattacharya A., Sairam K., Ghosal S. “Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study.” Phytomedicine 2000 Dec;7(6):463-9. (source)

[ii] Kuboyama T., Tohda C., Komatsu K. “Neuritic regeneration and synaptic reconstruction induced by withanolide A.” British Journal of Pharmacology 005 Apr;144(7):961-71. (source)

[iii] Choudhary M.I., Yousuf S., Nawaz S.A., Ahmed S., Atta-ur-Rahman. “Cholinesterase inhibiting withanolides from Withania somnifera.” Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin (Tokyo) 2004 Nov;52(11):1358-61. (source)

[iv] Kurapati K.R. , Atluri V.S., Samikkannu T., “Nair M. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Reverses β-Amyloid1-42 Induced Toxicity in Human Neuronal Cells: Implications in HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders” PLOS One journals.plos.org October 16, 2013 (source)

[v] Cooley K., Szczurko O., Perri D., Mills E.J., Bernhardt B., Zhou Q., Seely D. “Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974.” PLoS One. 2009 Aug 31;4(8):e6628. (source)

[vi] Pingali U., Pilli R., Fatima N. “Effect of standardized aqueous extract of Withania somnifera on tests of cognitive and psychomotor performance in healthy human participants” Pharmacognosy Res. 2014 Jan-Mar; 6(1): 12–18. (source)

[vii] “New evidence that chronic stress predisposes brain to mental illness” University of California, Berkeley Feb. 11, 2014, Retrieved Mar. 24, 2016 (source)

[viii] Chandrasekhar K., Kapoor J., Anishetty S. “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.” Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62. (source)

[ix] Dhuley J.N. “Nootropic-like effect of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera L.) in mice.” Phytotherapy Research 2001 Sep;15(6):524-8. (source)

[x] Bhattacharya S.K., Bhattacharya A., Sairam K., “Ghosal S. Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study.” Phytomedicine 2000 Dec;7(6):463-9. (source)

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Join The Discussion - 459 comments

Tony
July 1, 2022

Hi Dave,

Note: Ashwagandha stimulates your thyroid. So if you are hypothyroid, use Ashwagandha with caution. And check with your endocrinologist to be safe.

Did you mean hyperthyroid? Typo?

Hypothyroid would love to be stimulated?

    David Tomen
    July 1, 2022

    Tony, a better way to say it is Ashwagandha affects your thyroid. And if you are using any kind of meds for thyroid issues Ashwagandha is a bad idea.

amine
June 22, 2022

Good evening David, can I take ashwagandha before bed?

    David Tomen
    June 22, 2022

    Theoretically you can take it before bed. But some find it interrupts their sleep. You’ll need to try it and see how it affects you.

amine
June 16, 2022

Good evening David, how long have I been taking ashwagandha and can I take a break?

    David Tomen
    June 16, 2022

    Annie, Ashwagandha can safely be used long-term without a break as long as you are using it at recommended doses.

amine
June 9, 2022

Good evening David, does Ashwagandha powder have the same effectiveness as capsules, and what are the ways to take advantage of the powder to repair nerve cells and treat depression?

    David Tomen
    June 11, 2022

    Amine, it depends on if the powder is a extract and you are comparing it to an encapsulated supplement which is also an extract.

    They’ll work the same IF they contain the same ingredient. It’ll just take a few minutes longer to experience the effects of the one in capsules because the capsule needs to dissolve.

Alana
June 2, 2022

Hi David,

What are the specific effects of using mucuna and ashwagandha together? I understand the benefits, but what do they do to help eachother? I see you mention ashwagandha enhances the GABA receptors, so it would make sense to use it with camu berry because of it’s GABA content or effect on production. Can you explain the relationship between ashwagandha and mucuna in that way please?

And in your book Secrets of the Optimized Brain, do you go into this kind of detail?

Thank you! : )

    David Tomen
    June 4, 2022

    Alana, I summarize the benefits for each of those supplement in Secrets. But Ashwagandha and Mucuna Pruriens work on two completely different neurotransmitter systems in your brain. GABA and dopamine which each have a job to do.

      Alana
      June 13, 2022

      Thank you so much. So, to make sure I understand, does that mean ashwagandha and mucuna don’t potentiate one another? They are both effective within their own specific functions, but taking them together doesn’t make them each better or create any kind of synergy?

        David Tomen
        June 13, 2022

        Alana, that is correct. One does not potentiate the other.

      Alana
      June 13, 2022

      I meant to ask if you go into the detail of the synergies of the nootropics in Head First. Thanks again.

        David Tomen
        June 13, 2022

        Alana, I do not spend much time on the synergistic effects of nootropic supplements because the permutations and combinations would take a library to explain each one.

        Alana
        June 14, 2022

        Ok, that makes sense. : )

Mohammad
May 11, 2022

Hi David,
Considering the stress-relieving and relaxation aspects of Ashwagandha, do you think it’s a good idea to stack it with the morning stack for alertness and productivty? (Mindlab pro, PL Energy, Noopept etc..)
What impact would it make?

    David Tomen
    May 11, 2022

    Mohammad, if Ashwagandha works for you then using it in your morning stack is a good idea.

Jman
May 3, 2022

Hello

Do you think you need to taper Ashwagandha when you have used it for a while? I have read on some forums that it causes withdrawal..

Thoughts?

    David Tomen
    May 4, 2022

    Jman, I’ve never heard of anyone experiencing withdrawal from stopping Ashwagandha. But I’m sure there is someone on this planet who does. Scroll up and read my “Side Effects” section on how it enhances several drug categories. That can create a whole host of problems. Including possibly withdrawal symptoms.

Debra FARRELL
March 16, 2022

I have severe tinnitus.

I’m concerned I’ve downregulated gaba receptors with an antibiotic

What can be done to upregulate gaba/ downregulate glutamate

    David Tomen
    March 17, 2022

    Debra, you upregulate GABA by using a GABA supplement. The best by far is PharmaGABA which is made in Japan. That will downregulate glutamate as well.

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