Following a Ketogenic Lifestyle has changed the approach towards food. It’s not just bacon, cheese & a bar of butter, it’s a focus on eating more whole foods (healthy fats, lean meats & vegetables), staying away from highly processed food-like substances, sugars, and grains. Making this change in a scientific-like manner to make an evaluation on whether this lifestyle makes sense for me or not… it’s this type of experimentation that brought me to the Ashwagandha root
Ashwagandha is a shrub from the Solanaceae or nightshade family native to India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa sometimes known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry. Extracts or powder from the plant’s root or leaves create an herb used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, typically to improve energy levels, overall health, longevity, and a variety of other benefits. It was developed more than 4,000 years ago in India.
What are the benefits of Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, a form of alternative medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing. The word “Ashwagandha” is Sanskrit for ‘the smell of a horse’ which refers to its ability to bring the essence of a horse…strength, stamina, endurance & virility… or maybe because it’s earthy scent resembles that of a sweaty horse.
Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen, an herb that supports the body’s natural ability to deal with stress. They are called adaptogens because of their unique ability to “adapt” their function according to the specific needs of the body.
Benefits of Ashwagandha
Excepts from report by Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE – A registered dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with expertise in carbohydrate-restricted diets for diabetes and weight management. Link to full report
- Reduce blood sugar levels – Studies show that ashwagandha can reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics as well as healthy people. Link to study
- Reduce cortisol levels – One study in chronically stressed adults, those who supplemented with ashwagandha had significantly greater reductions in cortisol, compared with the control group. Those taking the highest dose experienced a 30% reduction. Link to study
- May help reduce stress, anxiety & depression – This is what Ashwagandha is best known for. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine: A full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life – Link to study
- May boost testosterone and fertility in men – Maybe there’s more to the ‘essence of a horse” reference beyond the odor – Link to Study
- Increase muscle mass and strength – Strong as a horse? This study suggests that ashwagandha supplementation may be useful in conjunction with a resistance training program. Link to Study
- Reduce inflammation – A potent anti-inflammatory properties it is very useful in painful conditions such as arthritis. A study shows that it ishas been effective in patients with rheumatoid arthritis – Link to study
- May lower cholesterol and triglycerides – One study in rats found that ashwagandha lowered total cholesterol and triglyceride levels by 53% & 45% – Unfortunately, the rats also don’t like the horse odor, lol… Link to study NOTE: Similar studies on humans yielded less dramatic results
- May improve memory and brain function – Several studies in both rats & humans that support this claim. Here is an excerpt from the Journal of Dietary Supplements: Ashwagandha may be effective in enhancing both immediate and general memory in people with MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) as well as improving executive function, attention, and information processing speed. Link to study
With a list of possible benefits like this, it’s easy to see why this could intrigue anyone, but certainly someone looking to reduce blood sugar & cortisol levels (Like someone on the ketogenic diet). However, there are questions that come along with these benefits, like….
What are the side effects of Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a safe supplement for most people and is readily available over the counter from an herbalist or health food store (I get mine from Amazon, click here). However, there are
some precautions that should be taken.
According to Web MD, these are the possible side effects Link to Web MD full overview of ashwagandha
When taken by mouth: Ashwagandha is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken for up to 3 months. The long-term safety of ashwagandha is not known. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting.
When applied to the skin: There isn’t enough reliable information to know if ashwagandha is safe or what the side effects might be.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: It is LIKELY UNSAFE to use ashwagandha when pregnant. There is some evidence that ashwagandha might cause miscarriages. There isn’t enough reliable information to know if ashwagandha is safe to use when breastfeeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Diabetes: Ashwagandha might lower blood sugar levels. This could interfere with medications used for diabetes and cause blood sugar levels to go to low. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar closely.
High or low blood pressure: Ashwagandha might decrease blood pressure. This could cause blood pressure to go to low in people with low blood pressure, or interfere with medications used to treat high blood pressure. Ashwagandha should be used cautiously if you have low blood pressure or take medications for your blood pressure.
Stomach ulcers: Ashwagandha can irritate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Don’t use ashwagandha if you have a stomach ulcer.
Auto-immune diseases: such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Ashwagandha might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using ashwagandha.
NOTE: One of the studies above on inflammation contradicts Web MD’s warnings here on rheumatoid arthritis (RA), in the same post Web MD also cites ashwagandha as possibly effective for RA, but lacking sufficient evidence. Consult a physician before trying ashwagandha if you have RA… safety first
Surgery: Ashwagandha may slow down the central nervous system. Healthcare providers worry that anesthesia and other medications during and after surgery might increase this effect. Stop taking ashwagandha at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Thyroid disorders: Ashwagandha might increase thyroid hormone levels. Ashwagandha should be used cautiously or avoided if you have a thyroid condition or take thyroid hormone medications.
Does Ashwagandha make you sleepy?
Ashwagandha can improve the quality of sleep and may help with the treatment of insomnia. Specifically, the leaves of the plant contain the compound triethylene glycol, which promotes sleep induction.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted at Prakruti Hospital, Kalwa, Maharashtra, India. This study concluded that Ashwagandha root extract has sleep-inducing potential, well-tolerated, and improves sleep quality and sleep onset latency in patients with insomnia at a dose of 300 mg extract twice daily. It could be of potential use to improve sleep parameters in patients with insomnia and anxiety Link to study
Does Ashwagandha cause weight gain?
It is claimed that ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic medicine, may support weight loss. A natural adaptogen in the body, fighting disease and reducing levels of stress hormones like Cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. High cortisol levels are linked to weight gain, nervous eating, and muscle loss.
A recent study concluded that: Ashwagandha root extract reduces psychological and physiological markers of stress, improves mental well-being, and reduces serum cortisol level and food cravings, and improves eating behaviors. A statistically significant reduction in body weight and body mass index were observed in patients treated with Ashwagandha root extract compared to placebo. Therefore, we conclude that Ashwagandha root extract can be useful for body-weight management in patients experiencing chronic stress. Link to study
How to take Ashwagandha
A quick internet search of Ashwagandha will reveal hundreds of products… so many that you’ll say to yourself “how did I not know about this before” & “which of these is the best to take?” Most of the Ashwagandha products that you’ll find online or at your local health food store will be in the form of capsules.
Advantages of taking capsules:
- Get specific on dosage – Depending on your needs and benefits that you are seeking such as; improved blood sugar, inflammation, mood, memory, stress, and anxiety, as well as a boost in muscle strength and fertility…dosage range of 250–500 mg per day for at least one month seem effective.
- Avoid the smell/taste – With a name that literally translates to “odor of a horse”, it’s not hard to imagine why taking the capsules is ideal for those that can’t get past the scent or the bitter taste.
- Extracts are more effective – Concentrated extracts are more effective than crude ashwagandha root or leaf powder.
Why do I only take the powdered form?
The entire journey into the ketogenic lifestyle involves a move away from highly processed foods to more whole foods and while there are certain benefits to taking capsule form, there is a synergy and satisfaction in staying close to the original plant. Using root powder also opens up countless ways to get creative with Ashwagandha. Routinely I’ll add Ashwagandha to:
- Fat bombs
I got some great recipe ideas form this site: 9 Ashwagandha Recipes for Anyone
Using the powdered form is solely personal choice and not a recommendation of powder over capsules or other forms of Ashwagandha.
Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine practiced in India and the use of Ashwagandha can be traced back to 6000 BC. That’s before the Ancient Greeks, before the Egyptian civilization, before the invention of the wheel… that’s an impressive history that is matched only by the countless studies done on the benefits and effects of Ashwagandha. The history, the studies, the fact that it is sold over the counter and the minimal/mild possible side effects outside of the examples listed above… how could you not give ashwagandha a try?
In my own personal journey of moving away from highly processed food-like substances and feeding the body more natural whole foods, as I researched the ancient ayurvedic root, the allure to add ashwagandha to my diet for 30 days and evaluate its effects on my overall well-being was too much to pass up. Over the last two years, I’ve gone on 30-day intervals of adding ashwagandha to my diet. Adding the root powder to coffee in the morning and to green tea mix in the day and to the occasional sleepytime tea in the late evenings. The effects for me have been subtle… I have an energized feeling when added to coffee (I’m on my 2nd cup today right now), but it’s not like I’m going to leap a tall building in a single bound. While it’s hard to put my finger on it, I do feel better when taking ashwagandha and I notice a difference when I stop taking ashwagandha. Perhaps the best testimony comes from my wife, who is not the least bit interested in the keto diet, ashwagandha, or any of the supplements that I test… “Bob, when are you going to get more of that stuff to make the goonie goo goo tea, it helps me sleep?”
What experiences do you have with Ashwagandha? Leave a comment and share your thoughts….