Health trendsetters are singing the praises of Ashwagandha, the new kid on the block in plant superfood land. But what is it and what are the benefits of taking it?

Ashwagandha is a plant native to India and North Africa. Also known as withania somnifera, Ashwagandha is one of the most popular herbs in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medicine system.

Historically, practitioners would dry the roots and sometimes the leaves too, then grind it down into a fine powder. Today, it is readily available in health food stores as a powder or capsule. Historians have been able to trace this traditional system of healing remedies as far back as 6,000 years ago!

We spoke to wellness expert and co-founder of Greenbox Paul Gurney to tell us some of the health benefits of Ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha in powder form

The Benefits

#1 Stress relief

Stress is a major component of modern life. Most of us are taught that we must simply deal with it. However, lifestyle decisions as well as natural, plant-based supplements can make a real difference to stress levels. A 2008 clinical study measured the effect of taking ashwagandha over 60 days on chronic stress.

Three randomised groups totalling 98 people completed the 60-day study. The researchers found that taking either 125 or 250 mg of ashwagandha extract daily “significantly reduces experiential and biochemical indicators of stress without adverse effects”. By day 60, total stress and anxiety scores fell by 60-75%, with the higher dose giving the strongest reduction.

 

#2 Improved muscle mass and strength

In ancient times there was some belief that taking this “smell of the horse” root extract could also make you as strong as a horse, too. Interestingly, there is now scientific support for this ancient belief.

 

#3 Reduced inflammation

Inflammation in the body can build up over time and contribute to a number of life threatening diseases. That’s why adding a healthy selection of natural, plant-based anti-inflammatories to a wellness routine is so good for overall health. Some studies show that this plant extract is a capable anti-inflammatory too.

 

#4 Improved brain function and memory

Are you the kind of person that is forever searching for your phone, or your keys, or both and everything in between? We’re talking about less than excellent spatial memory skills. This is what controls the ability to plan a route, remember where an object is, or where an event occurred. It can see improvement with memory games as simple as Snap, but it can have a helping hand from nature. too.

In 2012, researchers conducted a memory study. They tested whether ashwagandha extract could help fight oxidative stress in the brain which, in turn, might improve spatial memory. In conclusion, the study reveals that rats who receive the extract perform significantly better in the memory test. This was because the plant extract boosts the rat’s antioxidant system and helps to restore brain receptor density, and thus memory.

 

#5 Reduced cholesterol levels

The body needs cholesterol. However, high levels of cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. Fatty deposits can build up in the blood vessels. This, in turn, puts unwanted stress on the heart as it becomes harder to pump blood around the body. Eating less saturated fats can go a long way to solving high cholesterol. In addition, the same study which demonstrated ashwagandha’s stress-busting properties also showed it can fight cholesterol levels too.

 

How to take it…

This plant extract is so easy to add into the daily wellness routine. Because it comes in powder form, simply add it to your daily superfood mix or smoothie, add it to a glass of water with squash, or even add it to your daily coffee. To stop it from caking, it’s recommended you mix the powder with a little cold water first, then use a milk frother to mix it well. Then, just pour this into whichever drink you like and enjoy!

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