As runners, many of us are looking for an edge, whether that’s a dietary tweak that brings on lasting health or popping a supplement that could help us sprint past the competition.
Used by traditional medicine practitioners for eons, ashwagandha brings with it a promise to promote youthful vigor, make life a little more stress-free, and give users nearly hulk-like strength. The herb is categorized as having “rasayana” or rejuvenating powers. And because of these high hopes, ashwangandha has become more mainstream.
Which begs the question: Is this trending supplement worth taking or is it just another example of something where the sales pitch outpaces the science? We took a deep dive into the science to find out what the legit health benefits of ashwangandha really are.
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha (botanical name: Withania somnifera) is gleaned from a small evergreen shrub used extensively in Ayurveda, a type of traditional medicine practiced in India that’s based on principles of natural healing. Native to India and North Africa, various parts of the plant are used for medicinal purposes, but the most common part found in supplements is an extract of its root. Also called Indian ginseng or winter cherry, “ashwagandha” is Sanskrit for smell of the horse, which refers to both its rather unique equine-like odor and purported ability to increase strength.
What Are the Health Benefits of Ashwagandha?
There is nothing concrete, but ashwagandha is surrounded by some promising science with respects to a handful of health and exercise performance measures.
If the thought of running into a headwind leaves you feeling too anxious to head out the door, perhaps taking ashwgandha can help. Ashwagandha is most often prescribed to help dampen stress and anxiety, with some research supporting this benefit. For instance, in a 60-day randomized, double-blind study in 64 people suffering from chronic stress, those in the group that supplemented with 300 milligrams of ashwagandha twice daily reported a greater reduction in stress symptoms including anxiety and insomnia compared to the placebo group. The ashwagandha users also had a 28-percent reduction in their levels of cortisol, a hormone released in greater amounts in response to stress and can contribute to poor health over time when chronically elevated.