If you’re a fan of adaptogens—nutrients that can help your body combat stress—you might have heard about ashwagandha. This ancient medicinal herb is an adaptogen, proven to have numerous health benefits. It’s also known as “Indian ginseng” or “winter cherry.” Ashwagandha commonly comes in tablet, powder and liquid form.
Three of the most important ways ashwagandha can help your body include boosting your thyroid gland, brain and muscle health. If your body could use a little help fighting off the ravages of time (what body couldn’t?), this herb might just help you look and feel better than ever.
Your thyroid is a big part of your metabolism, but it also helps direct growth development and contributes to your bone health. The thyroid uses three main hormones: thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). If your T3 or T4 levels are too low, your pituitary gland will release more TSH to try to bring the levels into balance.
When your thyroid is over-productive, it’s called hyperthyroidism. This is associated with mysterious weight loss, hair loss, fatigue and an irregular heartbeat. When the thyroid is underproducing, however, it’s called hypothyroidism. You may suffer from constipation, weight gain, goiters and dry skin.
According to Healthline, “An 8-week study in 50 people with hypothyroidism found that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha root extract daily led to significant improvements in thyroid levels, compared to taking a placebo.”
This may be due to the fact that ashwagandha lowers cortisol levels, which are associated with chronic stress. When your body is experiencing chronic stress, your cortisol levels are high while your T3 and T4 levels are low. Reducing cortisol can boost your thyroid levels.
Of course, this is not a substitute for synthetic thyroid hormone, especially if you’re dealing with Hashimoto’s disease or other serious thyroid conditions. Talk to your doctor before starting an ashwagandha regimen.
Speaking of stress, lowering your stress levels doesn’t just benefit your thyroid. It also helps protect your brain. Cell degeneration from chronic stress can lead to neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Dr. Axe, ashwagandha contains withaferin A and withanolide D, which are “the two main withanolides in ashwagandha that are used to improve cognitive function. Withanolides are naturally occurring steroids that are commonly present in plants of the nightshade family.” Research has shown that these natural steroids “promote cell outgrowth, reverse behavioral deficits and plaque buildup, and reduce amyloid beta burden, which is crucially involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.”
It’s not just for fighting stress and protecting your brain, though. Ashwagandha has been shown to help improve memory and cognitive function. Anyone can use the extra boost, whether you’re studying for a major exam or are just tired of walking into a room and forgetting why you’re there.
If you’re trying to bulk up or improve your strength, ashwagandha can help there, too. Taking 600 mg of ashwagandha per day helps make more impressive gains than people who do not use the supplement. It can also support your joint health, which is important when you’re engaged in strenuous exercise. That may have something to do with the fact that ashwagandha is known to help reduce rheumatoid arthritis pain.
As you may know, when you increase your muscle mass, your body is able to burn fat more efficiently—which is why ashwagandha and exercise can lead to a significantly lower body fat percentage.
But wait, there’s more
Whether you’re looking to improve your brain function, regulate your thyroid hormones or get pumped up, ashwagandha is a very promising supplement. Those are just three of ashwagandha’s major benefits, however. Scientists are studying this herb to find out whether research can back up centuries of cure-all claims. So far, it’s looking pretty good—ashwagandha may help boost your fertility and sexual function, fight cancer, relieve depression symptoms, balance your blood sugar and boost your immune system.
While we’re waiting for the results, check with your doctor to find out if ashwagandha is right for you. So far, it is not known to have any deleterious side effects—but you should know whether it will interact negatively with any medications you use. Your doctor will also be able to recommend a safe dosage for you.