The Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
By Taz Bhatia, MD
Do you ever wish there was one thing that could treat all of your symptoms, whether it’s improving thyroid function or reducing memory loss? Lucky for us, the ancient Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha is extremely beneficial for many parts of our body like the thyroid, brain, immune system and so much more. Including this herb in your diet every day will uplift your body so you feel fresh to tackle the day ahead!
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to help stabilize the body’s physiology and homeostasis. What this means is that ashwagandha efficiently stabilizes imbalances in your body so that during periods of stress it can lower cortisol and boost thyroid function.
Ayurvedic medicine comes from India and is centered around finding natural ways to cure the body of illnesses instead of using prescriptions or external medications. This type of medicine also approaches illness in one area of the body as affecting the entire system, which is why ashwagandha is used as a multipurpose herb.
Categorized as “rasayana” in Ayurvedic terminology, ashwagandha is used to defend your body against toxins in your environment or diet to sustain positive physical and mental health. This ancient herb also has anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant properties, making it extremely valuable for our health. Ashwagandha is not only high in iron, but it contains different alkaloids or chemical compounds known to be anti-tumoral. It is also high in antioxidants—molecules that protect your body from external chemical damage.
As a firm believer in integrative health, which merges Western medicine with Ayurvedic, Chinese, and other traditional knowledge systems, I use ashwagandha on a daily basis and recommend it to many patients. Not only is it a natural stress reliever, but it helps strengthen your immune system while working to prevent degenerative diseases.
5 Benefits of Ashwagandha
1. Boosts thyroid function
One of the major benefits of ashwagandha is its ability to stimulate the thyroid and help it work optimally. Even better, ashwagandha is known to be effective for both overactive and underactive thyroid disorders. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that ashwagandha was successful in normalizing the thyroid in hypothyroidism patients (Sharma et. al, 2018). Though less research has been done on ashwagandha effects on hyperthyroidism, the herb has been shown to stabilize the thyroid system.
2. Reduces stress and anxiety
This is probably ashwagandha’s best-known advantage, but this herb helps you manage cortisol and keeps you calm throughout the day. According to a 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Medicine, ashwagandha is proven to “improve an individual’s resistance to the effects of stress,” helping you stay calm in high-pressure environments (Kapoor et. al, 2012).
3. Detoxifies the body
Ashwagandha has some anti-tumoral properties. It may also protect the body from infections due to its antioxidant and detoxifying properties.
4. Improves memory and brain cell function
The stressors in our life harm our bodies and damage our nervous system over time, so having ashwagandha around as a natural stress reliever is definitely beneficial. But even more so, the powerful detoxification enzymes in ashwagandha contains help stop free radicals, chemicals that promote the aging and wearing of the body. With this comes memory support—ashwagandha has been proven to help boost memory and cognitive function in adults over an 8-week period (Bose et. al, 2017).
5. Stimulates the immune system
Finally, as an adaptogen, ashwagandha can help reduce inflammation in your body and help your immune system work properly. Not only has it improved white blood cell count, but research suggests that ashwagandha may increase immunoglobulin production. Immunoglobulins are antibodies that fight off disease in your immune system, and ashwagandha helps your body naturally develop more of these to support your health.
How to Use Ashwagandha
Typically, we only use the root extract of ashwagandha, so any supplement with root extract will be beneficial. The herb will come in either capsule or powder form, and either is acceptable for use. Some of my patients prefer the capsule due to the herb’s unique smell. But I like putting a scoop of ashwagandha root extract powder in my tea or shake in the morning to start the day and keep my stress low as the day progresses. Start with 500mg, and then work your way up to 1-2 grams per day.
Though the majority of uses of ashwagandha have been integrative, research points to Ayurvedic plants like ashwagandha as a source for the development of conventional treatments and prescription drugs (Bredesen, 2012). Include ashwagandha in your morning routine every day to live your healthiest and happiest life!