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Ingredient Spotlight: All Things Ashwagandha

Meet Ashwagandha, one of the buzziest adaptogens in the wellness world right now. Also known as Winter Cherry and Indian Ginseng, it has even been dubbed “the adaptogen of the moment” by some.  But it isn’t new by any means – it has been used for over four millennia in various healing circles. Today’s brain waves are all about Ashwagandha and its benefits.

It’s been used throughout history.

Ashwagandha is rooted in Ayurveda, which is the traditional system of medicine and healing in India that is traced back to 6000 BCE. It was originally taught as an oral tradition, and eventually was recorded in Sanskrit in the sacred texts of the Vedas, a collection of texts written in India considered to be sacred by the Vedic religion. Today, Ayurveda is still widely used in many parts of the Eastern world. Now, parts of Ayurveda (like its use of adaptogens) are taking the Western world by storm.

The reason this adaptogen is called Ashwagandha is because of the root’s smell, which is said to smell like a horse: ashwa means ‘horse’ in Sanskrit, and gandha means ‘smell.’ Ashwagandha is a shrub that has roots which humans can consume for their various beneficial properties. Its roots then are used as an herb to promote healthy reactions to stress, as well as other various benefits.

It’s great for stress relief.

One of Ashwagandha’s most noteworthy benefits is its stress relieving properties. Ashwagandha is able to help manage occasional everyday stress by lowering the stress hormone cortisol, which in turns helps us feel more calm and relaxed. This also helps support healthy blood pressure levels already within the normal range.

Not only does Ashwagandha reduce cortisol levels, it can also have a healthy impact on glutamate levels. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter in the brain that has excitatory effects, causing more activity in our brain cells. It is one of the most abundant neurotransmitters in our brains, and in excess can cause excitotoxicity (when there is too much activity in our brain cells) and oxidative stress, when the brain has a hard time removing toxins. While research on this subject is still preliminary, experiments have shown that Ashwagandha’s calming effects can have protective qualities when the amount of glutamate can reach high levels.

It supports concentration and focus.

Ashwagandha has also been found helpful to improve concentration, focus, and coordination. One particular study found that after taking 500mg of Ashwagandha Root Extract for 14 days, participants showed significant improvement in their mind and motor functions by taking reaction-time, cognitive agility, and card sorting tests. Part of this is because of Ashwagandha’s calming properties – when you feel calm, you can experience steady focus.

It can support healthy testosterone levels in men.

While research is preliminary, some have found that testosterone and fertility levels may benefit from Ashwagandha use. One study examined 75 infertile men and treated them with Ashwagandha, which led to increased sperm count and mobility, as well as an increase in testosterone levels. Another study found that men who received Ashwagandha as a treatment for stress actually experienced higher antioxidant levels and better sperm quality, ultimately benefiting their fertility levels.

It encourages a healthy immune system. 

Ashwagandha has been found to have antioxidant properties, which helps prevent damage from free radicals. Additionally, Ashwagandha supports healthy white blood cell production, which is key to a healthy immune system. 

It helps support a good night’s sleep.

People don’t just use Ashwagandha to focus, either. This adaptogen is actually very helpful to supporting a restful sleep. How can it do both? Because of its ability to alleviate tension and irritability through reducing cortisol release, it helps calm the brain and body by promoting relaxation, leading to a good night’s sleep.

The takeaway. Is it worth the buzz?

Ashwagandha’s long history of usage and multitude of benefits shows that it’s not just another fleeting wellness trend. Using healthy amounts of Ashwagandha over an extended period of time may help us sleep better, concentrate more, and live an overall healthier life. The impacts of adaptogens like Ashwagandha are not immediate, however, which is why it’s important to take them regularly to reap their benefits.

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