Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb.
It’s classified as an adaptogen, meaning that it can help your body manage stress.
It can boost brain function, lower blood sugar and cortisol levels, and help fight symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Here are 12 benefits of ashwagandha that are supported by science.
1. Is an Ancient Medicinal Herb
Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, a form of alternative medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing.
It has been used for over 3,000 years to relieve stress, increase energy levels, and improve concentration.
Its botanical name is Withania somnifera.
The ashwagandha plant is a small shrub with yellow flowers that’s native to India and North Africa. Extracts or powder from the plant’s root or leaves are used to treat a variety of conditions.
Many of its health benefits are attributed to its high concentration of withanolides, which have been shown to fight inflammation and tumor growth.
2. Can Reduce Blood Sugar Levels
In several studies, ashwagandha has been shown to lower blood sugar levels.
One test-tube study found that it increased insulin secretion and improved insulin sensitivity in muscle cells.
Also, several human studies have suggested that it can reduce blood sugar levels in both healthy people and those with diabetes.
Additionally, in a 4-week study in people with schizophrenia, those treated with ashwagandha had an average reduction in fasting blood sugar levels of 13.5 mg/dL, compared with 4.5 mg/dL in those who received a placebo.
What’s more, in a small study in 6 people with type 2 diabetes, supplementing with ashwagandha for 30 days lowered fasting blood sugar levels. However, the study didn’t include a control group, making the results questionable.
3. Might Have Anticancer Properties
Animal and test-tube studies have found that withaferin — a compound in ashwagandha — helps induce apoptosis, which is the programmed death of cancer cells.
It also impedes the growth of new cancer cells in several ways.
First, withaferin is believed to promote the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) inside cancer cells, disrupting their function. Second, it may cause cancer cells to become less resistant to apoptosis.
Animal studies suggest that it may help treat several types of cancer, including breast, lung, colon, brain, and ovarian cancer.
In one study, mice with ovarian tumors treated with withaferin alone or in combination with an anti-cancer drug showed a 70–80% reduction in tumor growth. The treatment also prevented the spread of cancer to other organs.
Although no evidence suggests that ashwagandha exerts similar effects in humans, the current research is encouraging.
4. Can Reduce Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is known as a stress hormone given that your adrenal glands release it in response to stress, as well as when your blood sugar levels get too low.
Unfortunately, in some cases, cortisol levels may become chronically elevated, which can lead to high blood sugar levels and increased fat storage in the abdomen.
Studies have shown that ashwagandha may help reduce cortisol levels.
5. May Help Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Ashwagandha is perhaps best known for its ability to reduce stress.
Researchers have reported that it blocked the stress pathway in the brains of rats by regulating chemical signaling in the nervous system.
Also, several controlled human studies have shown that it can reduce symptoms in people with stress and anxiety disorders.
6. May Reduce Symptoms of Depression
Although it hasn’t been thoroughly studied, a few studies suggest ashwagandha may help alleviate depression.
In one controlled 60-day study in 64 stressed adults, those who took 600 mg of high-concentration ashwagandha extract per day reported a 79% reduction in severe depression, while the placebo group reported a 10% increase.
7. Can Boost Testosterone and Increase Fertility in Men
Ashwagandha supplements may have powerful effects on testosterone levels and reproductive health.
In one study in 75 infertile men, the group treated with ashwagandha showed increased sperm count and motility.
What’s more, the treatment led to a significant increase in testosterone levels.
8. May Increase Muscle Mass and Strength
Research has shown that ashwagandha may improve body composition and increase strength.
In a study to determine a safe and effective dosage for ashwagandha, healthy men who took 750–1,250 mg of pulverized ashwagandha root per day gained muscle strength after 30 days.
9. May Reduce Inflammation
Several animal studies have shown that ashwagandha helps decrease inflammation.
Studies in humans have found that it increases the activity of natural killer cells, which are immune cells that fight infection and help you stay healthy.
It has also been shown to decrease markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (CRP). This marker is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
10. May Lower Cholesterol and Triglycerides
In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, ashwagandha may help improve heart health by reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Animal studies have found that it significantly decreases levels of these blood fats.
One study in rats found that it lowered total cholesterol and triglyceride levels by 53% and nearly 45%, respectively.
11. May Improve Brain Function, Including Memory
Test-tube and animal studies suggest that ashwagandha may mitigate memory and brain function problems caused by injury or disease.
Research has shown that it promotes antioxidant activity that protects nerve cells from harmful free radicals.
In one study, rats with epilepsy that were treated with ashwagandha had nearly a complete reversal of spatial memory impairment. This was likely caused by a reduction in oxidative stress.
Ashwagandha supplements may improve brain function, memory, reaction time, and the ability to perform tasks.
12. Is Safe for Most People and Widely Available
Ashwagandha is a safe supplement for most people, although its long-term effects are unknown.
However, certain individuals should not take it, including pregnant and breastfeeding women.
People with autoimmune diseases should also avoid ashwagandha unless authorized by a healthcare provider. This includes people with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and type 1 diabetes.
Additionally, those on medication for thyroid disease should be careful when taking ashwagandha, as it may increase thyroid hormone levels in some people.