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 - 451 comments

Chris
November 27, 2022

David,
Thanks for your research and comments across so many nootropics. You note that Ashwagandha should be used with caution for people with hypothyroid. I read elsewhere that Ashwagandha boosts thyroid function, and therefore I would assume may be beneficial for hypothyroid, but not be suggested for hyperthyroid (as it would boost an already overactive thyroid).

Could you please clarify if Ashwagandha is ok for hypothyroid, and not good for hyperthyroid.

Many thanks,

    David Tomen
    November 28, 2022

    Chris, too much or not enough thyroid meds causes big problems. So, it often takes a while to figure out the dose that is right for you. The problem when introducing Ashwagandha is it will throw off how those meds work.

Stef
November 15, 2022

Hi,

In fact I feel ashwagandha makes me feel more calm. Unfortunately this also translates into a sort of feeling of feeling flat and unmotivated. How do I handle this? I only take one cap of sensoril at night .

    David Tomen
    November 16, 2022

    Stef, it sounds like Ashwagandha is the wrong supplement for you. It mimics GABA which is why it provides its anxiolytic benefits. But Ashwagandha also affects other systems including thyroid hormone.

    So, try something else that supports GABA. Lemon Balm may be a good alternative.

Ron
October 20, 2022

Hi David,

Thanks for what u do!
I read something online, where they talked about taking black pepper with ashwagandha, like tumeric I guess..
Is that a thing ? Does it make any difference?

Thank u!!

    David Tomen
    October 22, 2022

    Ron, you need to find out first if Ashwagandha uses the drug transporter P-glycoprotein, or the major drug-metabolizing enzyme CYP3A4. If so, then it could be effective.

Pablo Jimenez
September 28, 2022

Hello David,

I have really bad anxiety cause by stress and insomnia. I have been taking Ashwagandha tea during the day and before going to sleep and I’m sleeping better now but not quite there yet. Also, my anxiety during the day decreases some how. I can imagine taking these root extract capsules will help me even more. Can these capsules be taking before going to sleep? and can they take effect as fast as the tea does?

    David Tomen
    September 28, 2022

    Pablo, most use Ashwagandha during the day primarily for stress and anxiety. It is not known as a “sleep supplement”. But the capsules will not work as fast as tea because it takes longer to digest and get into your system.

Alfredo J.
September 9, 2022

Hi David.

Is it a good idea to stack Ashwagandha with Korean Red Ginseng?.

What would be the most appropriate dose, and at what time of the day should I take each one?.

Many thanks.

    David Tomen
    September 9, 2022

    Alfredo, Ashwagandha is known as an anxiolytic and Ginseng is used primarily for an energy boost. So, the combo should be a stress-free increase in energy. Start with the lowest recommended nootropic dose for each at the start of your day.

      Alfredo J.
      September 10, 2022

      Many thanks David

Deonte
September 4, 2022

Can ashwagandha be used alongside cabergoline (a dopamine agonist).

    David Tomen
    September 5, 2022

    Deonte, shouldn’t be a problem. They are not contraindicated.

Aron
August 25, 2022

HI david, I’m taking Ashwaganda for anexiety for the last few monthnad I have noticed that I feel apathy and no motivation. That mainly acures with the KSM-66 but when I take Sensoril then it’s not so bad.

It helps with anexitety alot for me but causes apathy. Do you have any suggestions for alternatives?

    David Tomen
    August 31, 2022

    Aron, the use Sensoril instead of KSM-66. But keep in mind Ashwagandha is also a pretty potent acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. Which means your anxiety could be caused by low acetylcholine levels. Try supplementing with CDP-Choline as well during the day and see if that makes a difference.

Mark
August 25, 2022

I started taking Ashwagandha for anxiety – 500mg (KSM-66) in the evening, beginning on the 17th of August.

I normally feel anxious throughout the day.

On the morning of the 3rd day I woke up feeling good, with no anxiety. It only lasted for 1 day. The following day I woke up feeling anxious as usual.

Yesterday (24th) was the 8th day. I again woke up feeling good, with no anxiety. And again, it only lasted for 1 day. Today I woke up feeling anxious as usual.

Is it normal for the effects to be intermittent at first, before fully kicking in?

    David Tomen
    August 31, 2022

    Mark, some feel its benefits right away and others say it take a few weeks of daily use before they get the full benefit.

    Why are you not using it during the day? Would cutting your dose in half and using it twice during the day work better for you? Do you have thyroid problems because Ashwagandha cannot be used if you have thyroid issues.

    There are a variety of things that could be going on here. It could also be that this is not the best supplement for you. And you need to try something else for anxiety.

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