Ashwagandha, also known as Withania somnifera or Indian ginseng, is a medicinal herb native to India and North Africa. It has been used for over 3,000 years to relieve stress, as well as to increase energy levels and improve concentration. A recent study published in the journal Cureus suggests it may hold the key to treating insomnia.
A team of researchers from Patil University School of Medicine, Vedantaa Institute of Medical Sciences and Prakruti Hospital conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to determine the effects of ashwagandha root extract in patients with insomnia and anxiety.
A total of 60 participants were randomly divided into two groups: 40 were placed in the test group and given a capsule containing 300 mg of high-concentration ashwagandha root extract, while the remaining 20 formed the placebo group. Those in the placebo group received capsules containing starch twice a day over a period of ten weeks.
The researchers used Sleep Actigraphy to assess sleep onset latency (SOL), total sleep time (TST), sleep efficiency (SE) and wake after sleep onset (WASO). Other factors that the research team looked at were total time in bed, mental alertness on rising, sleep quality, Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) and the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale.
According to the researchers, SOL, SE and sleep quality were visibly improved after ashwagandha treatment, along with other sleep parameters. (Related: Ashwagandha: Discover the health benefits of this popular ancient adaptogen.)
Their findings suggest that ashwagandha can be used to improve sleep in patients with insomnia and anxiety, although further large-scale studies are needed.
What other benefits does Ashwagandha offer?
There’s more to ashwagandha than just being a natural sleeping aid. According to studies, this highly-valued medicinal herb is also capable of the following:
Ashwagandha can help reduce blood sugar levels
In several studies, ashwagandha has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity. Because of this, many believe that ashwagandha can be of great help to people with diabetes, although studies are still needed to prove this.
Ashwagandha might have anti-cancer properties
According to several animal and test-tube studies, ashwagandha may be effective against several types of cancer. This is because withaferin, a bioactive compound in ashwagandha, helps disrupt the functions of cancer cells, causing them to become more prone to apoptosis, or cell death.
Ashwagandha can help reduce cortisol levels
An important hormone, cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress, as well as low blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, cortisol levels may become chronically elevated — as is the case with people suffering from chronic stress. This is considered to be quite dangerous, as elevated cortisol levels can lead to abnormally high blood sugar levels and increased fat storage in the abdomen.
Ashwagandha, according to several studies, may help address that. A randomized controlled study found that chronically stressed adults who supplemented with ashwagandha experienced significant reductions in their cortisol levels.
In addition, ashwagandha may also be responsible for the following health benefits:
- Ashwagandha may help reduce symptoms of depression.
- Ashwagandha may help boost testosterone and increase fertility in men.
- Ashwagandha may help increase muscle strength and mass.
- Ashwagandha may help improve cognitive health and memory.
- Ashwagandha may help lower cholesterol and triglycerides in the body.
As noted in several studies, taking 100 to 500 milligrams of ashwagandha is enough to experience its health benefits. However, no standard dose has been set for this herbal supplement.
Ashwagandha is available in various forms, but it is traditionally taken in powder form. To maximize the benefits of ashwagandha, consult with a natural health practitioner for proper dosage.