Ashwagandha... the most versatile herb you’ve never heard about


Ashwagandha... the most versatile herb you’ve never heard about

If someone asked me to eat an ancient herb with a name that translates to “the smell and strength of a horse” I would most likely pass on the offer. However, I might reconsider after learning that ashwagandha (pronounced aash-wuh-gaan-duh) has over 300 published research studies investigating its multifaceted efficacy for health and athletic performance.

Eziah Syed

Table of Contents

If someone asked me to eat an ancient herb with a name that translates to “the smell and strength of a horse” I would most likely pass on the offer. However, I might reconsider after learning that ashwagandha (pronounced aash-wuh-gaan-duh) has over 300 published research studies investigating its multifaceted efficacy for health and athletic performance.

What is Ashwagandha?

If someone asked me to eat an ancient herb with a name that translates to “the smell and strength of a horse” I would most likely pass on the offer. However, I might reconsider after learning that ashwagandha (pronounced aash-wuh-gaan-duh) has over 300 published research studies investigating its multifaceted efficacy for health and athletic performance.

Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogenic herb, a category used to denote herbs that counteract the effects of stress on the body. Whether that stress originates from a hard physical workout, an overabundance of work causing mental stress, or emotional stress, it induces changes in the body.

Sometimes these changes can be beneficial, such as how muscles increase their strength after consistent resistance training. However, the adaptation can also be detrimental, such as an increase in the hormone cortisol when coping with stress. Adaptogenic herbs have properties that aid in the body’s adaptation to stress, develop resistance to future stress, support metabolic processes, and return to homeostasis (1, 2).

Ashwagandha, specifically, has been studied for its ability to act as an: anti-diabetic (3), anti-inflammatory (4), anti-stress (5), neuroprotective (6), antioxidant (4), cognitive function and memory enhancer (7), anti-fatigue (8), pain reliever (9), and many more. For these reasons, ashwagandha can be beneficial for athletic performance, mental clarity, and health.

Ashwagandha’s status as an adaptogen lends it to being incredibly useful for a wide variety of applications. When assessing its benefits for health, it has been shown to effectively: fight stress, reduce anxiety, improve heart health, and reduce blood sugar.

Athletic Performance

Athletes are constantly searching for ways to get an edge on their competition. Supplements are a common way for athletes to enhance their performance. Their supplement of choice will vary depending upon the adaptation that the athlete is looking to enhance. Adaptogens, like ashwagandha, are a great choice for both endurance and strength athletes since they help the body to adapt to any kind of stress.


Athletes seeking to increase their ability to lift weights are focused on increasing: muscle size/growth, nervous system recruitment, and recovery (10).

Ashwagandha aids in the increases in muscle size/growth via an increase in testosterone and a decrease in cortisol. Testosterone is a sex hormone responsible for multiple physiological functions, one of which is the addition of muscle mass. Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. It is released as a type of alarm to signal the body to recruit energy stored in the muscle when the body is under physical or emotional stress. In this way it is a catabolic hormone, meaning that high cortisol levels prevent the body from being in an anabolic (muscle-building) state. By significantly reducing cortisol levels, ashwagandha allows the body more time to be in a muscle-building state. Ashwagandha’s impact is intensified by its ability to increase the concentration of the anabolic hormone testosterone.

Strength athletes rely not only on the size of their muscles but also on how quickly they can contract these muscles. The nervous system controls both the size and speed of motor unit recruitment (11). Thus, by improving the intensity and speed of a contraction, ashwagandha significantly improves reaction time (7).

Speed of recovery is an important variable for athletes to consider since the faster an athlete can recover from a workout, the more frequently they can perform high-quality training. The higher the training volume, the greater the potential for strength gains. Ashwagandha has been shown to speed up recovery time (10). While the mechanisms behind this speedy recovery are not completely understood, it may be due to combining ashwagandha’s ability to act as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and pain reliever (12).

One study assessed all of the aforementioned strength and recovery variables by following individuals for 8 weeks while they underwent a resistance training program and consumed 300 mg of ashwagandha twice daily. This group was compared to a resistance training group that did not consume ashwagandha. The results showed supplementation to increase muscle strength, muscle size, and testosterone level while decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and percentage body fat (10).

Mental Clarity

Mental clarity, having a focused and clear state of mind, sounds like an unattainable dream for most people with stressful days filled with work, errands, family, and recreational activities. Ashwagandha has historically been taken to improve memory and mental clarity (7). Studies have shown that taking 300 mg twice a day significantly improves general memory, task performance, and attention (7). These beneficial outcomes can be attributed, in part, to ashwagandha’s ability to promote antioxidant activity (7).

Anxiety and stress

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 17.3 million adults in the US have experienced at least one major depressive episode (16). Thus, finding ways to reduce depressive symptoms can have a major impact on the lives of many Americans. By lowering cortisol levels (a stress hormone), ashwagandha decreases the severity of depressive symptoms and has the added benefit of reducing anxiety (17). Research has used dosages varying between 240 mg daily and 300 mg twice daily and demonstrated a reduction in symptoms of stress (18).

Heart health

Heart health is improved by the trifecta of reducing cholesterol, lowering triglycerides, and reducing blood pressure. Ashwagandha reduces LDL cholesterol (the unhealthy kind of cholesterol) and lowers triglycerides (a type of fat stored in your body) (19). Improvements in blood pressure were seen with a supplementation of 2 g of ashwagandha root powder (20). At the conclusion of a three-month study, participants showed a reduction in both systolic (maximum pressure the heart exerts while beating) and diastolic (amount of pressure in arteries between beats) blood pressure (20).

Blood sugar

Most individuals eating a traditional Western diet consume a high amount of processed food and sweets, leading to elevated fasting blood glucose concentrations (26). Ashwagandha can potentially aid in preventing negative health outcomes by lowering both postprandial and fasting blood glucose levels (27-29). While it is not completely clear how ashwagandha works, part of its efficacy can be attributed to it improving insulin sensitivity in muscle cells (30). This means that instead of blood sugar floating around in your bloodstream, ashwagandha helps take blood sugar out of circulation and put it to use for your working muscles.

Side effects

After all of the benefits we just discussed, it seems like there must be a catch, right? Surprisingly, the negative side effects of ashwagandha are few and far between. Due to its ability to lower blood pressure and blood sugar, individuals who already have low blood pressure or are diabetic should consult a physician before taking ashwagandha. Larger doses can possibly induce upset stomach, diarrhea, and vomiting, but these side effects are rare. In some individuals ashwagandha can cause drowsiness so if you are unsure how you will react, it might be prudent to take it in the evening.


Now that we know what ashwagandha does and the limited side effects, how do we know how much to consume? Let us start by acknowledging that ashwagandha does not work overnight. Consistent supplementation over at least four weeks will adequately build up levels in the body and effects will start to show, so be patient. Most people take ashwagandha with food, although it is not required. When searching for an ashwagandha supplement, the most effective supplement will be extracted from the root.

Research has tested a wide variety of different dosage protocols. The minimum effective dose appears to be between 250 to 500 mg per day (13, 19, 29). Research investigating ashwagandha supplementation for stress has shown 240 mg daily and 300 mg twice daily to both be effective (31). When seeking to increase muscle strength and enhance recovery 300 mg twice daily has been successful (10). Stay below 750 to 1250 mg/day, as this is the limit of what has been found to be tolerated and safe in healthy adults (29).

In summary

Ashwagandha is an impressive supplement. It has a wide range of applications from sport performance to mental clarity to health. Ashwagandha is generally a safe herb that has the potential to provide multiple benefits with an unlikely chance for side effects.

Mend™’s Perform: Daily Inflammation contains the clinically-studied effective dosage of 250 mg of ashwagandha as well as turmeric, tart cherry, and ginger root to maximize the inflammation-fighting effects. Plus, all of these ingredients are combined without the use of synthetic chemicals. The question is, with multiple health benefits and very few drawbacks, why not add this herb to your health tool belt?

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  2. Abascal K, Yarnell E. Increasing Vitality with Adaptogens: Multifaceted Herbs for Treating Physical and Mental Stress. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 2004;9(2).
  3. Chkwuma C, Matsabisa M, Ibrahim M, Erukainure O, al. e. Medicinal plants with concomitant anti-diabetic and anti-hypertensive effects as potential sources of dual acting therapies against diabetes and hypertension: A review. J Ethnopharmacol. 2019;235(10):329-60.
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  6. Yenisetti SC, Manjunath MJ, Muralidhara C. Neuropharmacological Properties of Withania somnifera- Indian Ginseng: An Overview on Experimental Evidence with Emphasis on Clinical Trials and Patients. Recent Pat Anticancer Drug Discov. 2016;10(10):204-15.
  7. Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, Bose S. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions. J Diet Suppl. 2017;14(6):599-612.
  8. Singh A, Naidu P, Gupta S, Kulkarni S. Effect of natural and synthetic antioxidants in a mouse model of chronic fatigue syndrome. J Med Food. 2002;5(4):211-20.
  9. Ramakanth G, Kumar C, Kishan P, Usharani P. A randomized, double blind placebo controlled study of efficacy and tolerability of Withaina somnifera extracts in knee joint pain. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2016;7(3):151-7.
  10. Wankhede S, Langade D, Joshi K, Sinha S, Bhattacharyya S. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12(43).
  11. Sandbrink F. Motor Unit Recruitment in EMG Medscape: WebMD LLC; 2019 [