Ashwagandha: What It Is and Its Health Benefits

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If you keep up with the latest wellness trends, it might seem like ashwagandha is everywhere these days. This adaptogenic herb is native to India and has been widely used for millennia.

Now, you can find ashwagandha on trendy coffeehouse menus — sometimes mixed with chai for a chilled-out latte — as well as in powders, capsules, tinctures, and other supplement forms.

What Is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha (pronounced ahsh-wuh-gahn-DUH) is an herb also known as Withania somnifera, Indian ginseng, or winter cherry.

Its name is a mash-up of two Sanskrit words: Ashva means “horse,” while gandha means “smell,” a nod to the unique scent of fresh ashwagandha root.

This plant is also a member of the nightshade family and is a distant relative of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

“Many people like to take ashwagandha for its adaptogenic properties,” says Emily Kyle, MS, RDN, CLT, and owner of EmilyKyleNutrition.com. “This means the herb has traditionally been used to help the body adapt and respond to the effects of stress.”*

What Are the Benefits of Ashwagandha?

“Historically, ashwagandha has been used for a variety of conditions,” says Kelcie Harris, ND, a naturopathic physician based in Redmond, Oregon. “It has been used in the Ayurvedic tradition — one of the world’s oldest holistic practice systems — for thousands of years.”

In addition to extensive traditional use, this plant has also been studied for its effects on stress, sleep, and cognition.*

Initial results are very promising, though more research is needed.

“At this point there’s just not enough research that’s been repeated,” says registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD., “especially with newer benefit areas.”

1. Stress management

“The best evidence out there is related to taking ashwagandha to help with stress adaptation,” Giancoli says.

In one study of more than 100 participants, those who took ashwagandha felt less stressed than those who took a placebo. A 2014 literature review reported that taking it yielded robustly better results than a placebo in some cases.*

2. Sleep support

Another fun fact about ashwagandha? The species name somnifera means “sleep-inducing” in Latin.

So it only makes sense that healthy sleep is among ashwagandha root’s traditional Ayurvedic uses, says Harris, and some modern research backs that up.

“Ashwagandha supports healthy sleep” she says.*

3. Cognition

Ashwagandha is also associated with healthy cognitive function. Participants in a 2014 study, who were administered the herb twice daily, recorded significant improvements in response time during a series of cognitive tests.

“Participants who supplemented were able to complete the tasks faster while maintaining accuracy, suggesting that ashwagandha may help support focus and attention,” says Beachbody Senior Scientist Paul Falcone.*

What Are the Downsides to Ashwagandha?

pills ashwagandha benefits
Thinking about adding ashwagandha root into your supplement routine? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

“Ashwagandha is usually well-tolerated, but proceed with caution when starting any new supplements or botanicals,” Harris says.

“For instance, ashwagandha may interfere with some medications,” Harris adds. “I recommend speaking with a licensed naturopathic doctor for personalized advice regarding herbal medicine before beginning supplementation.”

That’s a good rule of thumb with any new-to-you herb. You should also consult with your physician before taking any new supplements.

How Can I Take Ashwagandha?

How you take ashwagandha is a matter of preference. It can be made into a tea, decoction (an herb extracted in water — like a strong tea), tincture (an herb extracted in alcohol), capsule, or in the case of Beachbody supplements FIRST THING and LAST THING, powder.

As for serving size, always read the label and abide by the suggested use listed there.

If you’re adding ashwagandha powder to food or drinks or drinking ashwagandha tea, remember its signature scent.

“Many people find it difficult to consume because of its very bitter taste and rely on the supplement form to consume this adaptogen,” says Kyle. “However, there are many recipes that incorporate this powerful herbal supplement in a way that makes consuming it delicious and enjoyable.”

She suggests mixing the powder into your favorite tea or golden milk lattes. Because it comes in a powder form, it is easy to incorporate into other recipes such as smoothies or energy bites, she says.

How to Shop for Ashwagandha

The sheer number of ashwagandha products out there can be overwhelming: ashwagandha supplements, ashwagandha powder, ashwagandha tea.

Which one should you choose, and how do you pick the best quality?

“It is important to remember that not all products are created equal,” cautions Harris. Unfortunately, some companies make false claims.

Anytime you shop for a supplement, consider these questions:

  • Do they contain artificial sweeteners or synthetic colors?
  • Is the company reputable?
  • Do they have high quality standards?
  • Are they making claims that sound too good to be true?

Keep in mind that supplement companies have to abide by specific regulations for their claims, which are enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission.

Of course, there’s the one-two ashwagandha punch of FIRST THING and LAST THING, a pair of revolutionary mind-body supplements to help sharpen focus and quiet your mind.

In addition to supporting your immune system and helping promote a deeper more restful night sleep, this dynamic duo helps you defend against stress, nourish brain health, and support cognitive function.

They can also help you wind down at the end of your day, thanks in part to the efficacious amounts of ashwagandha contained in both of these amazing formulas.*

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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