Ashwagandha root is the little black dress of herbal medicine. No, seriously! This herb is incredibly versatile and multipurpose.
Anything that makes us happier and a little less stressed is worth some attention, right? Ashwagandha benefits for women include: lowering stress, improved libido and hair growth.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a century’s old Ayurvedic herb. Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems (1). Starting in India over 3,000 years ago, this type of medicine emphasizes the mind-body-spirit connection.
You may also see Ashwagandha named as Withania somnifera or Indian ginseng. The literal meaning of the word “ashwagandha” is “smell of horse.” The name stems from the belief that a person taking the herb may develop the strength and energy similar to a horse.
The ashwagandha plant is actually a shrub that grows primarily in India and the Middle East. It is from the nightshade family, like tomatoes, bell peppers, and potatoes. While other nightshade foods may get a bad rap, ashwagandha has the opposite reputation!
Ashwagandha has been used for centuries in alternative medicine. In the past thirty years or so, Western medicine has begun to study this herb as an antidepressant, stress reliever, anti-inflammatory, and memory enhancing herb (among many others).
The research is still quite new and ongoing, but ashwagandha does show promise!
Ashwagandha Lowers Stress Hormones
Whether you’re a parent, student, young professional, or all of the above, you’ve probably experienced stress. Chronic stress affects us both physically and mentally. While many of us feel stress loud and clear, it can also hide in different signs and symptoms.
Here are just a few signs of chronic stress: (2)
- Weight gain
- Food cravings
- Hard time concentrating
- Digestive problems
- Mood swings
Left untreated, long-term stress leads to serious medical conditions like depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, and more!
Why does stress affect our body so much?
Some researchers believe that women are more susceptible to stress than men. Women often find it hard to say no to requests. They spend less time nurturing their own emotional and physical needs. Throw some hormone surges in there, and you’ve got the perfect storm! Being a woman is a blast, right?
When we’re stressed, we release a hormone called cortisol from the adrenal glands on top of our kidneys. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! We need high cortisol levels to help us handle those modern day “fight or flight” situations. Things like car accidents, jumping when we see a snake, or protecting ourselves from intruders. Once these situations are over, our cortisol should return to normal levels.
When we get overwhelmed by the daily stresses of life (like sitting in traffic or scrambling to meet a deadline at work), our bodies react by continuously releasing cortisol. Basically, cortisol starts to act like the friend that inappropriately overreacts to every little thing!
Unfortunately, many of us turn to unhealthy habits for comfort. We grab that pint of Ben and Jerry’s or that glass (ok, bottle) of wine to calm us down. Have you ever argued with your significant other during stressful times? This is also a common trend! Nearly 60 percent of people report feelings of irritability when they’re stressed (3).
How can ashwagandha lower our stress in a healthy way?
Finding a healthier way to manage stress is crucial. Ashwagandha may help. Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen. This term is a category of plants that improve and calm our body’s response to stress. Think of adaptogens as stress stabilizers, or nature’s own “chill pill.”
Ashwagandha nicely tells us to chill out by lowering cortisol levels (4). Remember, some cortisol is healthy, but chronically high cortisol levels bring us the bad side effects! Appropriately balanced cortisol levels allow us to relax by lowering blood pressure, aiding in sleep and concentration.
Although other stress reduction methods are key in managing stress, an essential ashwagandha benefit for women involves lowering this cortisol level.
Ashwagandha Enhances Sexual Desire
When you’ve got a million things on your do to list, getting into “the mood” seems impossible. While movies like 50 Shades of Grey portray a risqué and spontaneous sex life, the reality is that almost 50 percent of women say their sex drive is lower now than in the past (5). 93 percent of women recognize that low sexual desire affects their relationships.
Why do nearly half of women experience low libido at some point?
Doctors and researchers say there are multiple factors. Self-esteem, communication, and hormone shifts are big considerations (thanks a lot, menopause). However, stress and low energy are generally the most common factors contributing to low sexual desire (6). Working all day, running errands, driving the kids around, and financial problems just are not sexy, amiright? Luckily, ashwagandha root may help fix low libido, and enhance sexual desire in women.
There are two methods in which ashwagandha root benefits libido
The first method relies on ashwagandha’s ability to lower stress levels.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can block the release of important female hormones like FSH, estrogen, and progesterone (7). As annoying as this may seem, it’s actually a build-in protection mechanism.
For our ancestors, stress stemmed from diseases, searching for food, and avoiding animal predators. They needed to deal with these life-threatening issues, so their bodies temporarily ignored reproductive needs. These days, our stress comes in the form of technology, finances, kids, and more. With constant uncontrolled stress, our body disregards the balance of our sexual hormones.
Ashwagandha continuously shows benefit in reducing cortisol levels and lowering perceived stress response (8). By lowering cortisol with ashwagandha, we can get our sexual hormones back on track. In one study, ashwagandha proved to enhance arousal, lubrication, and orgasm scores more than the placebo (9). #Winning!
Reason #2- by increasing testosterone
Don’t panic! Testosterone isn’t just for men. Women depend on a balanced level of testosterone to support a healthy sex drive. It’s no coincidence that libido tends to lessen as we age. Testosterone levels drop as the years pass, leading to sexual dysfunction and decreased desire (10).
Ashwagandha is considered an aphrodisiac in Ayurvedic medicine. So, it’s no surprise that this herb can improve sexual health. Plus, the act of sex is a proven, natural stress reliever. Now that’s one fire we can keep fueling!
Ashwagandha Can Lessen Anxiety
Uncontrolled stress can lead to increased anxiety. With nearly 30 percent of Americans reporting anxiety at some point in their life, this condition is the most common mental disorder (11).
Symptoms of anxiety are very similar to symptoms of stress. The symptoms of anxiety include:
- Restlessness or nervousness
- Feeling easily tired
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbances (like difficulty falling or staying asleep)
- Breathing rapidly
- Increased heart rate
Many different types of anxiety exist, and these conditions may ebb and flow throughout your life.
What causes anxiety?
Different things may lead to anxiety. The most common factor is related to a stressful environment. Whether you’re stressed from work, finances, relationships, or a traumatic event, these circumstances may cause your brain to “rewire” in a way that promotes feelings of anxiety.
For some people, anxiety may have a genetic component. Sometimes it’s related to different medical problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome or thyroid disorders. Certain personalities are more prone to anxiety too (shout out to the other “Type As” in the world!).
One major ashwagandha benefit for women is its ability to lessen feelings of anxiety.
How does ashwagandha root help anxiety?
A large review of studies showed that taking ashwagandha significantly reduces anxiety scores (12). One study actually decreased participants’ anxiety by over 56 percent! In fact, ashwagandha may have comparable benefits to the common anxiety drug called lorazepam (Ativan). If you’ve ever taken anxiety medication, you know that it can cause some symptoms, like brain fog and fatigue. Fortunately, ashwagandha may reduce anxiety without these unwanted symptoms.
When life feels like it’s moving at 100 miles per hour, any way to feel more calm is a win in our book. Ashwagandha is thought to reduce anxiety because it mimics a calming neurotransmitter in our brain called GABA (13). GABA is basically the brakes of our brain, telling us to unwind and calm the heck down!
We already know that ashwagandha can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Well, guess what? This helps our anxiety, too! Since symptoms of constantly high cortisol are similar to that of anxiety, taking ashwagandha may kill two birds with one stone.
Ashwagandha Promotes Better Sleep
Women are more likely than men to experience sleep problems. A surprising 57 percent of women report symptoms of insomnia at least a few times per week! Sleep deprivation is pretty much a given during the early baby days. For the rest of the time, we should be advocating for a restful night whenever possible.
Why does our body depend on adequate sleep each night?
Sleeping is the time when our body presses the “reset button.” Our temperature slightly drops, the muscles relax, our breathing slows, and tissue repair begins. When we sleep, our body even releases growth hormones that are essential for restoring muscle.
Without adequate sleep, our bodies have a harder time doing the everyday tasks we ask of it. When we go long periods of time under poor sleep conditions, other areas of our health begin to decline.
For example, people with insomnia are twice as likely to have medical conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression/anxiety (14). Quality of life is also reported to be lower in these people. Additionally, inadequate sleep significantly affects our weight and metabolism. Many studies show that people who do not get enough sleep actually weigh more than their well-rested counterparts (15)! So technically, we NEED to sleep to lose weight.
For most adults 18 and over, the body requires about 7-9 hours of mostly uninterrupted sleep each night.
Ashwagandha supports healthy sleep when stress is a contributing factor.
Funny enough, the second part of the scientific name for ashwagandha “somnifera” literally translates from Latin to mean “sleep inducer.”
One of the main causes of insomnia is uncontrolled stress and/or anxiety. Our stress hormone cortisol is supposed to decrease at nighttime. Cortisol will gradually begin to increase in the early morning, which triggers awakening. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way! Untreated stress may lead to constantly high cortisol at nighttime, which gives us that “wired but tired” feeling when lying in bed.
It all comes back to that dang cortisol hormone! Ayurvedic medicine uses ashwagandha to rebalance the body’s cortisol levels, so it can quiet at nighttime and allow a restful sleep.
Our sleep patterns also depend on ashwagandha root benefits for neurotransmitters.
The GABA neurotransmitter we mentioned in the anxiety section can also help us sleep better at night. Without enough GABA, we cannot tell our brain to “shut-off.” Many common sleep drugs work by increasing, or enhancing, levels of this neurotransmitter.
Ashwagandha is thought to mimic the actions of GABA, which is why many Ayurvedic practices support its use as a sleep aid (16). For insomnia relief, some herbalists recommend mixing a teaspoon of powdered ashwagandha into a glass of warm milk for optimal benefit.
Promising animal research.
A few animal trials found that ashwagandha induced sleep. In particular, an active component in the leaves of the plant may promote better sleep and treat insomnia (17).
The advantage of using ashwagandha to correct insomnia, is that it does not just sedate the body like some medications. Ayurveda supports rejuvenating the body’s natural mechanisms. So, it works to rebalance cortisol levels, supporting calming neurotransmitters to give us a peaceful night of sleep.
Ashwagandha Benefits for Hair
If all that isn’t convincing enough for you, this last point may win you over! Ashwagandha has many benefits for your hair. Who doesn’t want healthier hair, right?
May prevent gray hair.
Melanin is a type of pigment found in skin, eyes, and hair. Ashwagandha may increase hair melanin when taken in high doses. One particular study included 3,000 mg of ashwagandha per day for one year (18). By increasing melanin, this herb can help prevent premature graying of the hair. Score!
Ashwagandha benefits for hair also include hair growth.
Have you ever cut your hair, only to regret it a few short months later? We’ve all been there. Fortunately, ashwagandha has many anti-aging properties! Some herbalists recommend mixing ashwagandha into a paste and massaging into the scalp directly. This process is thought to increase blood circulation, stimulating hair growth.
Hair loss be gone – taking ashwagandha may thwart hair thinning.
JThat’s right, your daily stress and anxiety may be causing or worsening your hair loss. Hormones and neurotransmitters that are released during stressful events may negatively affect the hair growth cycle (19). Ashwagandha has proven success in reducing stress hormones, lessening anxiety, and mimicking calming brain chemicals. So, taking this herb may help you relax AND prevent your hair from falling out. We can definitely get on board with this one!
How Can I Take Ashwagandha?
The root of the ashwagandha plant is most commonly used part in herbal remedies.
Ashwagandha is available in powdered form, dried into a pill, fresh root, or extract. Since the scent of it may be strong, try mixing the powder into a smoothie or drink to mask the flavor. Many people mix the powder into ghee, honey, or even water.
There isn’t a standard dosage that’s recommended. However, in many stress-related studies, the dosage is around 300 mg twice daily. One study looking at the safety of ashwagandha found that doses up to 1,250 mg/day were well tolerated and safe (20).
As with any new supplement or medication, please consult with your doctor before using. Ashwagandha is not recommended for women who are pregnant.
Stress is an Unavoidable Fact of Everyday Life.
We can’t control all the stressful parts of life. But, we do have control over our lifestyle. Embracing healthy lifestyle routines that reduce stress – exercise, meditation, a balanced diet, etc. – can support our body in dealing with stressful events.
Including botanical herbs, like ashwagandha, is a safe and helpful way to assist our body in these everyday tasks. While we know there’s no one magic pill or diet out there, this root has tons of benefits.
Whether you add a spoonful of ashwagandha root powder to your morning smoothie, or try in pill form, ashwagandha may reduce stress levels, benefit anxiety, and help you live a happier life.