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Ashwagandha has been used for more than 3,000 years in Ayurvedic medicine.

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› What is it?

The root of this plant, also called Indian ginseng or winter cherry, has been used for more than 3,000 years in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s considered an adaptogen, a natural substance that can return the body to a neutral state during times of stress.

› Health benefits

Numerous small studies seem to back up thousands of years of anecdotal evidence about ashwagandha’s potential health benefits:

Brain function
In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha has traditionally been used to boost memory, and a few studies have been conducted in this area. A small human study showed that it improved general memory, task performance and ability to focus. In another study using rats, it caused almost a complete reversal of spatial memory impairment. Ashwagandha reduces oxidative stress, protecting brain and nerve cells from harmful free radicals. Scientists have looked at its ability to improve brain function in people with degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, and it seems to offer protection to the brain’s connective paths.

Several human show evidence that ashwagandha is effective at reducing stress, anxiety and insomnia by reducing levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Several studies have shown that ashwagandha can reduce blood sugar levels, both in healthy subjects and those with diabetes. It can also improve insulin sensitivity.

Research is at an early stage, but animal and test-tube studies have found that compounds in ashwagandha help to impede the growth of new cancer cells and induce the death of existing cancer cells.

Male fertility
Ashwagandha improves testosterone levels and increases sperm count and motility. In one study, men who received ashwagandha for stress experienced higher antioxidant levels and better sperm quality; 14 percent of the men’s partners became pregnant after three months of treatment.

Body composition
Studies in healthy men show that ashwagandha may increase strength and muscle mass and reduce body fat.

Heart health
Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce inflammation that can cause heart disease. Studies in both animals and humans show that it also may improve heart health by reducing levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.

Studies on ashwagandha show promising results for people with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). One study involving 50 people found that taking an ashwagandha root extract daily for eight weeks led to significant improvement in the level of thyroid hormones compared with the placebo group. There is evidence that ashwagandha is effective at resolving hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), however.

› How much do I need?

Ashwagandha root extract is commonly taken in 450 to 500 milligram capsules once or twice per day. There have not been many studies on its side effects, but it is generally considered well-tolerated. However, pregnant women should avoid using ashwagandha because it can cause early delivery.

› In food

In some parts of the world, people eat the shoots, seeds and fruit of the ashwagandha plant. The root has a strong smell said to be reminiscent of horse’s sweat—and the word “ashwagandha” means “smell of a horse.”

› Dietary supplements

Ashwagandha is most common in extract form, but powder, capsules and even teas are also available. Do not take if pregnant or breastfeeding; some evidence suggests it could cause early delivery. The herb can also interact with certain medications. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels, and consult your pharmacist, physician or other healthcare professional before using.

Source: Medical News Today, Healthline, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine

Please consult your health care provider before making changes to your vitamin/supplement regimen.

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