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  5. 5 science-backed benefits of ashwagandha and how to take it

5 science-backed benefits of ashwagandha and how to take it

Lia Tabackman,Samantha Cassetty   

5 science-backed benefits of ashwagandha and how to take it
  • Ashwagandha's benefits include easing stress, improving sperm count, and boosting cognition.
  • Studies suggest that taking 300 mg twice daily for three months can provide you the listed benefits.
  • Potential side effects of ashwagandha include nausea, headache, and drowsiness.

Ashwagandha is an ancient herb traditionally used in Ayurveda, a 3,000-year-old medicine system originating in India.

Ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory properties and is classified as an adaptogen - a group of herbs known to reduce fatigue and stress.

Extracts from ashwagandha's roots and leaves can be bought as a supplement online or at some specialty grocery and health food stores. Here's what you need to know about this herb's potential benefits.

1. Eases anxiety and stress

If you're in a stressful or dangerous situation, your body responds by releasing cortisol. This hormone puts you into "fight or flight" mode to help you respond to a crisis.

But overexposure to cortisol in chronically stressed people can increase their risk of health problems like anxiety, depression, and weight gain.

In a small 2019 study, stressed people who took either 250 milligrams (mg) or 600 mg of ashwagandha saw significantly reduced levels of cortisol and lower scores on stress tests compared to a control group. Researchers noted that while both doses were effective in improving sleep quality, 600 mg doses were more effective in treating anxiety.

2. Soothes arthritis

Ashwagandha is an analgesic, a substance that can reduce pain, says Nicole M. Avena, PhD, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

The secret to ashwagandha's pain-relieving properties is that it's a cyclooxygenase (COX) inhibitor. These are medications that manage and treat chronic pain.

Some studies have found COX inhibitors can reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms similarly to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Aspirin and Ibuprofen.

3. Boosts cognitive function

"Ashwagandha has traditionally been used to enhance memory and improve cognition," Avena says.

A small 2017 study found people who took 300 mg of ashwagandha twice daily saw significant improvements in memory, executive function, focus, and speed at which they could process information when compared to a placebo group.

4. May increase muscles mass

If you're having trouble gaining muscle, ashwagandha might help. Studies suggest high cortisol levels negatively impact muscle mass. Ashwagandha's ability to reduce cortisol levels and increase testosterone - which contributes to muscle growth - could be the ticket to greater muscle gains.

In a small 2015 study, men between the ages of 18 and 50 who took 300 mg of ashwagandha root twice daily and participated in strength training saw significant increases in muscle strength and size compared to placebo subjects, as well as a greater reduction in exercise-induced muscle damage.

5. Increases fertility in men

Studies suggest high doses of ashwagandha can treat male infertility linked to low sperm concentration levels.

Related Article Module: 6 ways to increase sperm count and improve male fertility

In fact, a small 2013 study of men who were infertile due to low semen count found 225 mg of ashwagandha taken three times a day for 12 weeks improved fertility by increasing sperm concentration levels, semen volume, and sperm motility - or the ability of sperm to move efficiently.

How to take ashwagandha

While there are no formal dosing guidelines for ashwagandha, "many studies show safety and efficacy when 300 mg of ashwagandha is taken twice daily," Avena says. "We don't have long-term data on ashwagandha, so at this point, we only know it's considered 'possibly safe' when taken daily for up to 3 months."

When buying ashwagandha, Avena recommends looking at the concentration of withanolides, which are compounds in the herb believed to provide its benefits. Stick to 0.3% withanolides for a root powder and at least 1.5% withanolides in a root extract.

Ashwagandha side effects

Insider's takeaway

Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb used to treat or reduce anxiety, stress, fatigue, pain, arthritis, and infertility in men. When shopping for ashwagandha, be sure to look for brands with the proper withanolide content to get the best effects, and stick to no more than 300 mg twice a day.

Patients who take benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants, or barbiturates should avoid ashwagandha because of its possible sedative effects. Also, avoid ashwagandha if pregnant as it could cause miscarriage. It also interferes with treatment in people who have hormone-sensitive prostate cancer, Avena says.

People with autoimmune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease, should speak to their doctor before taking ashwagandha.

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