The Ayurvedic herb with the noblest reputation! Let’s see how well you know this wonder shrub.
Ashwagandha comes from combination of two different Sanskrit words, ‘Ashwa’ and ‘Gandha’ meaning horse and smell simultaneously– indicating the strong horse-like odour of Ashwagandha. Charaka, an Ayurvedic Scholar had quoted in 100 BC- ‘One obtains longevity, regains youth, gets a sharp memory and intellect and freedom from diseases, gets a lustrous complexion, and strength of a horse.’ On Ashwagandha. The biological name for Ashwagandha is Withania Somnifera, Somnifera means ‘sleep-inducing’ in Latin – Ashwagandha is known to give a good night’s sleep. Ashwagandha is also called “Indian ginseng” or “Indian Winter Cherry”.
Ashwagandha as ‘churna’ is the most well-known form of using Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha churna is prepared from the roots of the shrub. It can be used as a powder along with ghee, water, honey. Ashwagandha powder has an endless list of benefits. Most common usage is for relieving conditions such as leucoderma, constipation, insomnia, goitre, nervous breakdown, rheumatism, etc.
The leaves are bitter and Ashwagandha leaf powder can be used to prepare herbal tea. This relieves conditions such as anaemia and also serves as an energy tonic. It is also helpful in relieving fever and painful swellings.
The flowers are astringent, depurative, diuretic, and aphrodisiac. The seeds are used in fighting parasitic worms. Ashwagandha seeds and is used to treat variety of problems like hysteria, anxiety, memory loss. It is also believed that one can use Ashwagandha powder for height increase also.
Health Benefits of Ashwagandha Powder
There is enough evidence in traditional medicine that implies the usage of Ashwagandha for the treatment of multiple ailments. These conditions range from managing stress, anxiety, sleep, depression to weight loss, memory improvement, thyroid regulation to name a few. Here, we focus on the benefits that arise from the use of Ashwagandha churna.
Can reduce cortisol levels and lower stress
Cortisol is a hormone that is released by the adrenalin glands in response to stress. Cortisol is also released when your blood sugar becomes too low. When cortisol levels become chronically high due to an experience of chronic stress, it can also lead to high blood sugar levels and increased abdominal fat storage. Ashwagandha can help reduce the cortisol levels in chronically stressed people. It has adaptogen benefits – it helps the body adapt to a variety of emotional and physical stress.
Fighting Anxiety and depression
Due to the proven effectiveness in reducing cortisol and managing stress, Ashwagandha powder may also be useful in improving your ability to deal with stress-related problems like anxiety and depression. Its adaptogen qualities aid in reducing symptoms of stress-related conditions.
Fighting High blood pressure
Ashwagandha can improve your ability to deal with stress and stress-related problems like high blood pressure. Stress increases the secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) which elevates the cortisol levels (stress hormone) in the body. Ashwagandha powder reduces the level of cortisol, therefore, helping reduce stress and associated conditions resulting from it like high blood pressure.
Fighting Diabetes mellitus (Type 1 & Type 2)
Ashwagandha can keep blood sugar levels in control for diabetic patients by increasing insulin production and improve insulin sensitivity. Studies show that Ashwagandha makes the cells less resistant to insulin, thereby improving insulin sensitivity and increasing glucose utilization by the cells. Ashwagandha also protects and increases the number of the insulin-producing cells thus increasing insulin secretion. This is how it helps to manage the risk of diabetes.
Helping sleep better and fighting insomnia
Ashwagandha is considered to help sleep better and relieving sleep-related disorders like insomnia. Rather than acting as a sedative, Ashwagandha calms the nerves which in turn helps the body to sleep. Being an adaptogen herb, Ashwagandha also improves the individual’s ability to deal with stress-induced insomnia. Stress increases levels of cortisol levels in the body. By reducing the cortisol levels, Ashwagandha helps to reduce stress and stress-related problems like insomnia.
High levels of TSH or thyroid-stimulating hormone in the blood leads to a condition known as underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism. Ashwagandha contains alkaloids, steroidal, and saponin. These compounds are essential in balancing thyroid hormones. Also, due to its strong antioxidant property, Ashwagandha powder helps reduce oxidative stress in the thyroid gland and helps improve overall thyroid activity.
Ashwagandha can help in reducing pain associated with arthritis. The roots and leaves on the herb contain withaferin A which stimulates the production of pain mediators.
Rich in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are essential for weight loss and overall well-being, they speed up your metabolism and lower inflammation. Ashwagandha is known to have strong antioxidant properties.
Ashwagandha is an aphrodisiac and might be of help in stress-induced male infertility by improving the level of testosterone. Due to its antioxidant property, Ashwagandha helps to fight against the free radicals, preventing the damage and death of sperm cells. This leads to better sperm count and quality. In this way, Ashwagandha helps to lower the risk of male infertility and enhances male sexual health.
Controlling Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease is caused due to damage of nerve cells. This condition affects movement, muscle control, and balance of the body. Ashwagandha prevents nerve cell damage due to its antioxidant properties and thus may help reduce the risk of Parkinson and other associated problems.
Managing Hair loss
Due to its ability to control cortisol levels and control stress, Ashwagandha can help fight hair loss and promote better hair health. We will look at this in a little more detail in a subsequent section.
Helping Lose weight
Ashwagandha powder for weight loss is an effective approach. By lowering cortisol levels, it relieves stress-related weight gain that is caused due to behaviour such as stress eating.
Building muscle mass
Increasing muscle size and function can be achieved by increasing the level of testosterone. By reducing stress-related hormone cortisol and improving levels of testosterone due to its antioxidant properties, Ashwagandha helps in building muscle mass and making your workouts more effective. By promoting anti-anxiety, Ashwagandha powder also helps in promoting focus and concentration. This leads to better coordination and recruitment of muscles.
Increasing energy levels
By regulating cortisol levels, Ashwagandha benefits the body's nervous system. This increases endurance and decreases fatigue. Being rich in iron, Ashwagandha also improves your blood circulation.
Some studies show that Ashwagandha might be helpful in cancer. It might be able to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.
How Does Ashwagandha Churna Work?
The unique properties of Ashwagandha are due to its chemical structure. Let us first understand specific compounds known as phytochemicals. Phytochemicals exist to perform, specific tasks. Some act as immune systems, others deter insects from feeding on plants. Some help stronger growth. If consumed, these chemicals can have a huge impact on your body. Ashwagandha has a huge amount of phytochemicals, which makes it very beneficial and affects the various systems in our bodies positively.
Ashwagandha churna use is multifaceted. Due to its ability to control cortisol and being antioxidant and adaptogen, can influence metabolism and body systems in various manners and relieve a variety of conditions and disorders that emanate from increased levels of cortisol or lack of antioxidants.
Use of Ashwagandha Powder for Hair
After enlisting the manifold benefits of Ashwagandha powder you must be faced with the question of how beneficial is the use of Ashwagandha powder for hair and if it is any good for hair loss conditions. The scientific view on this is positive. Ashwagandha does help to manage stress-induced hair loss. Stress increases the secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) in the body which increases the cortisol levels in the body. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that will improve your ability to deal with this stress. Ashwagandha powder reduces the levels of serum cortisol and also aids in the reduction of stress-related problems like hair loss.
According to Ayurveda, increased Vata Dosha is the reason behind hair fall. Ashwagandha balances the Vata dosha and prevents hair fall. Usage of Ashwagandha oil also makes the scalp oily and prevents breakage. Use Ashwagandha based hair oil preferably at night 3 times a week for at least six months for better results.
Ashwagandha has proven antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, that keep the scalp healthy. Ashwagandha powder is also a rich source of flavonoids that possess fatty acids, glucose, potassium, tannins, and nitrate. Tyrosine, an amino acid that is present in Ashwagandha, stimulates the production of melanin and prevents the loss of melanin in the hair.
Ashwagandha stops post-delivery hair loss. It is often used in shampoos to provide strength to the hair and help improve scalp circulation.
How to Use Ashwagandha Powder for Health and Hair?
Ashwagandha can be used in form of tablets or capsules prepared from the extract. Ashwagandha powder commonly known as Ashwagandha churna is a very commonly used form of Ashwagandha in India. Ashwagandha powder is essentially Ashwagandha root powder. However, the leaves, seeds, and even fruits are used to treat various conditions. There are various ways to consume Ashwagandha to benefit your hair. These include the following:
- Consuming it - Ashwagandha powder can be taken orally, as a supplement, or in the form of tea, mixing it in warm milk. We will discuss some of these in a later section below.
- Applying it - You can also directly apply the Ashwagandha powder to the hair and scalp. Create a paste with the powder and warm water and simply apply this paste onto sectioned hair and massage it into the hair and scalp with your fingertips. Cover your head with a plastic cap and a towel for 35-40 minutes before rinsing off.
- Adding it – Simply adding some powdered Ashwagandha or a few drops of oil to your shampoo will relieve scalp irritation and inflammation. It will also improve blood circulation on the scalp and promote healthier hair growth.
We try to list here for you some simple ways in which the Ashwagandha powder can be consumed:
- With milk and honey - Take a quarter to a half teaspoon Ashwagandha powder (churna) with milk or honey or as prescribed by the doctor. A variant can be prepared with warm water if you have vegan preferences.
- Ashwagandha Tea - Add one teaspoon of Ashwagandha powder to two cups of water. Bring it to a boil, until it reduces to half of the original quantity. Add some milk and honey to it.
- Ashwagandha Milkshake - Roast four tablespoons of Ashwagandha powder (churna) in one cup of pure ghee. Add one to two teaspoon honey to it. This mixture can be stored in the refrigerator and used when needed. To consume, add one teaspoon of this powder to one glass of cold milk. Blend it well and drink immediately.
- Ashwagandha Laddoo - Take two tablespoons of Ashwagandha powder (churna). Add one tablespoon of jaggery powder to it. Add a pinch of black salt and pepper to the mixture to enhance the taste and knead the mixture evenly and properly. Make round laddoos that can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days.
- Ashwagandha Shrikhand - Take 250 grams thick curd and put the curd in a muslin cloth to drain all the water to get hung curd. Remove the hung curd from the muslin cloth and keep it in the refrigerator. Divide into four parts, add sugar/honey as per your taste, and one tablespoon Ashwagandha powder to each part. (You can also add some dry fruits and cardamom powder to enhance its taste) Knead each portion well to make it smooth and cool in the refrigerator for some time.
Let us also look at the timing of taking Ashwagandha. You can take Ashwagandha during the day or night as well. Each schedule will provide you with its benefits.
- Ashwagandha powder before sleep – It is best to tale Ashwagandha churna before going to bed by mixing it in warm milk. You can also take an Ashwagandha laddoo after dinner. This is proven to calm your nervous system, especially after a long tiring day. Ashwagandha churna will milk ensures that you sleep better and wake up reenergized and replenished.
- Ashwagandha powder after waking up – You can also take Ashwagandha churna in the morning to kickstart an energy-filled day and make sure you have enough energy to face the oncoming day. You can have Ashwagandha tea in the morning or take an Ashwagandha churna ball or laddoo.
Side Effects of Ashwagandha Powder
Ashwagandha is considered a safe supplement when taken in prescribed dosages. There have not been any cases of severe side effects. You are advised to keep few important things in mind before starting to consume Ashwagandha powder:
- Consultation with the doctor-
You are recommended to consult once with your doctor before using Ashwagandha powder
- Replacing existing medication-
You are not recommended to replace any ongoing medical treatments with Ashwagandha powder
Ashwagandha powder lowers blood sugar, decreases blood pressure and alters thyroid hormone levels. Thus, the underlying condition and existing medications may be impacted by the usage of Ashwagandha. Certain medications and condition that need to be considered before taking Ashwagandha powder are discussed below.
- Pregnancy – It is advised that Pregnant and breastfeeding women not take Ashwagandha powder. Although no adverse effects have been seen on lactating women, to be safe, they are advised to not use Ashwagandha powder.
- Thyroid medications - Ashwagandha may increase the hormone levels in some people. If you are taking any sich medications, you must avoid taking Ashwagandha powder.
- Autoimmune conditions - If you are suffering from autoimmune disease, you should avoid the usage of Ashwagandha powder unless recommended by the doctor. Ashwagandha can also increase symptoms of auto-immune diseases as it causes the immune system to become more active.
- Blood sugar and blood pressure medications - As Ashwagandha powder decreases the blood sugar and blood pressure levels, you may need to adjust the dosages if you are taking such medications.
- Medications impacting cortisol levels - It is recommended that you consult your doctor before using Ashwagandha powder if you have low cortisol levels or are taking medications that affect your cortisol level.
- Ashwagandha may increase the potency of barbiturates (drugs that depress that central nervous system), sedatives, and anxiety medication.
- Ashwagandha powder can adversely impact the gastrointestinal tract and cause common symptoms such as an upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhoea.
- Giddiness, blurry vision, a heavy sensation in the head are some common side effects.
Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb with multiple benefits and has been traditionally for centuries been applied for the treatment of various disorders. Also known as ‘Rasayana,’ it is believed to maintain your youth both physically and mentally.
Supplementing with an ayurvedic Ashwagandha powder can be an easy and effective way to elevate your overall health. We have discussed the various benefits of Ashwagandha powder and have also tried to include the possible caution that you might need to exercise before including Ashwagandha powder in your daily care routine.
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Dr. Shailendra Chaubey, BAMS
A modern-day Vaidya with 11 years of experience. He is the founder of Dr. Shailendra Healing School that helps patients recover from chronic conditions through the Ayurvedic way of life.