Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, is an herb native to Asia and Africa. Also called “Indian ginseng,” it’s been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to ease pain and inflammation, treat insomnia, and boost nutrition, along with other conditions.
Ashwagandha is also considered an adaptogen. That means it helps your body better manage stress. Much of the research on ashwagandha’s benefits has been done on animals, so experts can’t say for sure how well it works. But here are some things this herbal supplement might help with.
Stress and Anxiety
There are a few human studies on its stress-relieving properties. A review of five studies found the supplement helped lower stress levels. One study showed adults who took 300 milligrams of ashwagandha daily for 8 weeks had lower levels of anxiety and fatigue. They also had an easier time concentrating than adults who did psychotherapy, or talk therapy, for the same amount of time. In another study, adults who took 300 milligrams of ashwagandha daily for 8 weeks had less stress and fewer stress-related food cravings than adults who took a placebo (fake pill) instead.
Several studies have shown ashwagandha has compounds that may help fight certain types of cancer. Researchers aren’t sure how, but extracts in the herb seem to limit the activity of cancer cells in breast, colon, prostate, ovarian, lung, and brain cancers. It does the same for thyroid, gastrointestinal, cervix, and skin (melanoma) cancers. Ashwagandha is considered safe to use with traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Experts say it may ease some side effects, like a weak immune system. But most of these studies have been done on cancer cells or animals with cancer.
Studies show ashwagandha can slow, stop, and possibly reverse certain types of nerve cell damage. That’s what leads to diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s. Still, almost all of the studies on ashwagandha and nerve cell damage in the brain have been done on animals or animal cells.
Another study found healthy young adults who took 500 milligrams of ashwagandha daily for 8 weeks had more speed and strength during exercise than people who took a placebo. They also breathed better, taking in more oxygen.
One small study found infertile men who took 5 grams of ashwagandha daily for 90 days had a higher sperm count. The health of their sperm improved, too.
One study in humans showed taking 300 milligrams of the herb two times a day improved sleep. Another study on animals found that the triethylene glycol in ashwagandha is what brings sleep on. But more research is needed.