Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an herb used for centuries in traditional Indian medicine, but it’s only been in the past few decades that it has been studied for it’s medicinal properties. You may have seen this stuff on the ingredients panel of anything from a testosterone booster to a fat burner to a nootropic (cognitive enhancer) to a…well, you get the idea. Is ashwagandha just another herb with a ton of folklore (i.e. plant sterols from Timbuktu), or does it actually have some scientific support?
A study performed in 1998 by the School of Life Sciences, D.A. University (Indore, India), investigated ashwagandha extract on the regulation of thyroid function. After 20 days, it was determined that ashwagandha increased the levels of serum 3,3′,5-triiodothyronine (T3) and tetraiodothyronine (T4), therefore stimulating and increasing thyroid activity. This is an important factor in weight control, as higher thyroid levels are associated with increased fat loss.
By 2010, Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University of India had published their findings on the use of this herb as a potential testosterone booster. What they found was that it boosted testosterone by 40%, as well as improving other reproductive parameters and hormones, while decreasing stress hormone levels:
Previously, in 1994, the Indian Drugs Research Association published a peer-reviewed study indicating that it has a potent anabolic effect, which may be due to it’s ability to reduce catabolic stress hormones, or it could be from it’s ability to elevate the highly anabolic hormone testosterone (as evidenced by the study published in 2010). Either way, this is a great herb, especially if you’re dieting, because it would seem to both improve the thyroid as well as produce an undeniable anabolic effect.
Another study published that same year, this one by scientists at Guru Nanak Dev University (*yeah, you guessed it – in India again) showed that healthy men and women using ashwagandha improved their maximum sprint speed by 3% (enough to go from a bronze medal to a gold one), and also boosted their VO2 max by a whopping 7%.
And most recently, in 2011, scientists at Newcastle University studied ashwagandha extract in test tubes with amyloid-β peptides (*which ultimately develop into fibroids that lead to amyloid plaque formation, which causes alzheimer’s). What they found was that the herb actually inhibited the formation of the plaque, therefore giving credence to the herb’s traditional use in Indian folk medicine as a tonic to restore memory and mental function.