Imagine being in rural India 3000 years ago, feeling anxiety, and prescription drugs a completely unknown concept. For many ancient Indians in this situation, the answer was Ayurvedic medicine and ashwagandha in particular. This herbal anxiety reducer has seen continued usage in India until the present and modern science is vindicating our ancestors’ claims.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is an herb and Ayurvedic drug that is used to treat anxiety, depression, and improve cognitive performance.
The main bioactive ingredient is withaferin A, which helps create some of the psychoactive effects . This drug is popular because it has a long history in traditional Indian culture. Ashwagandha is considered the “king of Ayurveda” in some sources .
Traditional Ayurvedic medicine noted many benefits of ashwagandha and modern science has shown anxiety-reduction , improved neuroprotection , and even anti-cancer protection as well . There is some evidence that it can also help to improve focus and concentration, but the primary use of ashwagandha is for anxiety-reducing properties.
Typically the root extract is the psychoactive part of the plant, which confers mental health benefits. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen and is one of the most popular herbs still used in Indian medicine today.
Also Known As
Withania Somnifera, Indian Ginseng, Smell of Horse, Winter Cherry, Dunal, Solanaceae
History of Ashwagandha
In traditional Indian cultures, ailments and diseases fell under different categories as did the medicinal plants and herbs that treated them. In early recordings the herb was classified as a general tonic to aid in health (i.e: an adaptogen) , but also a strength promoter and aphrodisiac .
Given the many classifications and uses of ashwagandha, it was dubbed the “king of Ayurveda” in some colloquial sources .
Benefits of Ashwagandha
The primary benefit of ashwagandha is as a stress and anxiety reducing compound. In a anxiety disorder study, patients were given ashwagandha for 8 weeks and noticed 56.5% reduction in their anxiety compared to only 30.5% by the placebo  (a difference of 26%).
While this study was based on subjective tests of their anxiety levels (hence the placebo increases), another study analyzed cortisol levels (an indicator of stress) and found a 27.9% reduction . Thus both types of studies found between a 25 – 30% anxiety reduction in their respective measurements. Imagine what you could do feeling ⅓ less stress in your life.
Ashwagandha Anxiety Reduction Techniques
The average dosage for ashwagandha anxiety reduction is around 3 – 500 mg per day. This is assuming that you have a standardized extract, such as KSM-66. Taking 3 – 500 mg per day is going to help to reduce anxiety levels, which can help you to increase mental performance whether it is on tests or just daily tasks.
One study found that ashwagandha could reduce cortisol levels by 27.9% (an indicator of stress) . Other studies showed that giving patients ashwagandha for 8 weeks could reduce their total anxiety levels by around 56.5% .
By taking the dosage recommendation that we have provided (and no higher than 3000 mg per day), you will have a much better chance of handling your difficulties with anxiety. People that take even the lowest dosage range find that it is an effective nootropic for this purpose.
Ashwagandha for Fatigue
Another benefit, owing to the adaptogenic properties, is anti-fatigue. High dose ashwagandha was tested in chemotherapy patients over 6 cycles and proved more effective in increasing general function and reducing fatigue .
There are subjective wellbeing benefits of using ashwagandha as well. This is a downstream effect of reducing anxiety, but one 60 day study including 98 patients recorded increases in their overall mood and feelings of well being  (synonymous with happiness).
Benefits of Ashwagandha for Men
For men specifically, ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that can help to increase virility and specifically increases in testosterone in infertile men .
Testosterone and Ashwagandha Benefits for Men
There is some evidence that ashwagandha can be a useful testosterone booster in men. The major study that looked at this treatment used 5 grams of basic ashwagandha root powder for 6 months, which showed increases in testosterone in three infertile groups by 21%, 40%, and 14%. All of these were relatively positive effects for men.
Another study looked at testosterone in men who were taking only 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract daily and found that benefits were around 15% .
Both of these studies show that there are a plethora of benefits of taking ashwagandha both from the perspective of anyone trying to improve cognitive performance and remove anxiety can utilize this awesome drug.
How Does Ashwagandha Work?
In scientific conversation the question “how does ashwagandha work?” is called the “mechanism of action”. With this herb, the mechanism of action is still unknown after 3000 years, but scientists have a pretty solid theory. The nootropic seems to have GABA-mimicking behavior, which is considered the main mechanism for how ashwagandha works as an anxiety reducer .
Also, one of the main compounds found in ashwagandha is called “withaferin A”, which is a strong anti-inflammatory agent .
Side Effects of Ashwagandha
Despite ashwagandha being a natural herb used for thousands of years, the active ingredient can still cause some side effects. One of the studies showed that rats taking extremely high doses of ashwagandha increased their food intake as well .
Some of the higher doses (such as 5 grams compared to the 300 mg dosage recommendation) can also create topical ashwagandha side effects. A case study showed a burning / itching sensation on a male’s penis as a result of 10 days of elevated supplementation . This is obviously rare and specifically when taking over 15 times the recommended dosage.
As with many herbs, there are anecdotal reports that people experience nausea and gastrointestinal distress as a result of using ashwagandha as well. While it can be rare, it is still something to keep in mind.
Ashwagandha has been used in many forms over the centuries, but the root extract is now the standard. The ashwagandha root extract is optimal and the acute dosage is in the 3-500 mg range. However, there are people who use an optimal dose of 6,000 mg per day divided into 3 (2,000 mg) doses.
Like many nootropics, the ashwagandha dosage will depend on your goals. For the purpose of improving stress and reducing anxiety, doses as low as 50 – 100mg.
How and Where to Buy Ashwagandha
Given the popularity of ashwagandha, it is popular and can be found in many grocery and health food stores. Due to the common nature of heavy metals in Ayurvedic products, it is important to have a trustworthy source of the compound. If you buy ashwagandha from GNC or a local store, there is no telling what could be in that product. It is better if you spend the time researching different ashwagandha for sale online to get a safer product.
There are established, tested, and effective extracts that can help you to avoid this problem. For example, Pure Nootropics ashwagandha uses KSM-66, which is a trademarked and heavily regulated extract for ashwagandha. This is the recommended product if you want to buy ashwagandha powder or if you are interested in ashwagandha capsules.
Obviously, it is much safer and a better long-term health decision to avoid heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and mercury. All of these have disastrous effects on the human body and despite regulations, there is evidence that up to 20% of the Ayurvedic herbs on the market are filled with higher than desired levels of heavy metals.
Selected Community Experiences
“This stuff god rid of my brain fog, got rid of my stress, and got rid of some of my anxiety. When I take it with stimulants, it feels like my mind is smooth and clear. I've been testing this stuff out at my workplace.”  – DeitruS
“This would be my 4th day, and I can tell that from the first day, after 1 or 2 hours it had a positive effect on anxiety. I observed that my head has less disturbance, that I'm less prone to anger, and thinking requires less effort.”  – Coz7
Author's Thoughts on Ashwagandha
I’ve never tried ashwagandha as I’ve always turned to lemon balm for anxiety reduction. If I was just starting out with nootropics and wanted to reduce anxiety and improve other aspects of cognition, ashwagandha would be my suggestion (along with bacopa monnieri).
Mansal Denton, Nootropedia Contributor
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