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  • Writer's pictureRayki Goh, MSc

Ashwagandha, sleep, hypertension, high blood pressure and diabetes

Struggling with stress, anxiety, poor sleep quality, and overall vitality deficiency? Despite having a rich 3,000-year history in Ayurvedic medicine, modern health and nutrition have somehow overlooked Ashwagandha. This powerful herb is known for its numerous health benefits, including boosting vitality. You can easily incorporate Ashwagandha into your daily meals and beverages, including your morning coffee or tea and even a chicken stew at lunch or simply as Ashwagandha gummies. If you are already taking Ashwagandha, how do you know if it's of the best quality or a fake?


Ashwagandha

Dear Food People,


In this article, I felt like I have plunged 11 kilometres deep into the 'Mariana Trench' of Ashwagandha, excavating all available information about this powerful herb known for its medicinal properties that help combat stress and anxiety from your toxic boss (welcome to corporate!). But that's not all. I also evaluated the information against scientific studies from reliable sources to ensure its validity.


So, fortunately—or unfortunately—here’s your secret weapon. It has a more direct positive effect on you than your protection crystals, helping you keep calm and carry on with your high-paying job, comforted by the fact that Ashwagandha is fairly affordable and accessible in different forms.

 

Researchers have extensively studied ashwagandha, a traditional herb, for its health-promoting properties. Recent research has highlighted a variety of potential benefits for both men and women, including neuroprotective, sedative, adaptogenic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, cardioprotective, and anti-diabetic effects, particularly type 2 diabetes.

 

So yes, ashwagandha is good for diabetes if that’s your question.

 

Studies have found that consuming Ashwagandha root powder helps people with diabetes control and reduce their blood glucose levels. It increases insulin secretion and enhances insulin sensitivity in muscle cells, thereby improving the body's ability to utilise glucose and lowering blood sugar levels. Although ashwagandha cannot cure diabetes, it can serve as a complementary therapy alongside conventional treatment to effectively manage blood sugar levels and symptoms.

 

Researchers have also investigated its role in enhancing the quality and duration of sleep, reducing stress and anxiety, and offering anticancer properties against several cancer cell lines.


 

The History and Discovery of Ashwagandha

Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient healthcare practice from India, has a rich history with Ashwagandha. The use of Ashwagandha dates back over 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest known medicinal herbs. People have revered Ashwagandha for its wide-ranging health benefits, which include its ability to help the body manage stress, improve energy and mental focus, and offer rejuvenating effects.


Several foundational Ayurvedic texts, such as the Charaka Samhita and the Sushruta Samhita, historically described Ashwagandha and recommended it for its general vitality-enhancing properties as well as specific ailments ranging from arthritis to insomnia. The herb’s name, "Ashwagandha," comes from Sanskrit and translates to "the smell of a horse," indicating that the herb imparts the vigour and strength of a stallion and was traditionally believed to help one maintain youthful energy and vitality.

 

Modern historical records don't detail the specific discovery or first documented use of Ashwagandha because, like many traditional herbs, oral traditions passed down its usage before ancient texts recorded it. Ashwagandha has remained a staple in Ayurvedic medicine over the centuries, and it has gained increasing attention in the global scientific and health communities for its potential health benefits.


 

The Health Benefits of Ashwagandha and What is it Good for?

 

The active compounds called withanolides, along with other phytochemicals like alkaloids and saponins, primarily contribute to the biochemistry of Ashwagandha (scientific name: Withania somnifera). These compounds play a crucial role in the herb's therapeutic effects.

 

Withanolides are a group of naturally occurring steroidal lactones considered the most bioactive components in Ashwagandha. They are believed to mimic the activity of the body's hormones, allowing them to help regulate important physiological processes. They are known for their anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-stress, antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and neuroprotective properties. Several studies have shown that the most studied withanolide, withaferin A, inhibits cancer cell growth and reduces inflammation.

 

Alkaloids in Ashwagandha include compounds like withanine, somniferine, and withananine, which contribute to the herb’s sedative and calming effects. It is believed that they influence the central nervous system, offering respite from stress and anxiety. Research indicates that saponins can enhance the immune system and shield cells from free radical damage.

 

What Does Ashwagandha Do?

When ingested, these compounds interact with key signalling pathways in the body. They can modulate the activity of neurotransmitters such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin, which play roles in mood and anxiety regulation. This modulation helps promote a calming effect and improve stress resistance. Ashwagandha is known to influence the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a central part of the body’s stress response system. By regulating this axis, Ashwagandha can help maintain cortisol levels, which are critical to stress response and energy balance.

 

The anti-inflammatory effects of Ashwagandha are partly due to its ability to inhibit nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) pathways involved in inflammatory processes. This action can help reduce the inflammation associated with various chronic conditions. Overall, Ashwagandha's bioactive compounds contribute to its diverse health benefits by interacting with biological systems in complex ways, promoting balance and normal function.

 


How to Use Ashwagandha?

 

You can incorporate ashwagandha into your diet in various forms, each offering a unique way to enjoy its health benefits. One of the most common ways to consume the root powder is by mixing it into smoothies, shakes, or warm milk before bedtime. Some people also like to incorporate it into homemade energy bars or sprinkle it over breakfast bowls, such as oatmeal or yogurt. You can make Ashwagandha tea by simmering the powdered or dried root pieces in water for approximately 15 minutes. This can be a soothing way to consume the herb, especially with a bit of honey or lemon for flavour.

 

For those who prefer a more convenient method, ashwagandha is available in capsule form. This is an easy way to take a consistent dose and doesn’t involve tasting the herb, which some find too earthy. You can take ashwagandha liquid extracts or tinctures directly under the tongue or mix them with water. It is believed that this form absorbs rapidly and facilitates easier dosage adjustment. Despite its rarity, you can use ashwagandha as a cooking spice, especially in savoury dishes. Its earthy flavour pairs well with lentils and vegetables.


How much ashwagandha per day?

When incorporating Ashwagandha into your diet, it’s important to start with small doses to see how your body reacts and then adjust accordingly. Most studies suggest staying within the range of 250-600 mg per day divided into two doses for general health benefits.

 

We recommend consulting with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, particularly if you have underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.

 


How do you know if Ashwagandha if of the best quality or a fake?

 

When evaluating the quality aspect of Ashwagandha, especially in its whole root or powdered form, several sensory characteristics are important. High-quality Ashwagandha roots should appear firm and fibrous, with a uniform light brown to beige colour. The powder is typically fine and beige. Any discolouration or signs of moisture could indicate poor quality or potential spoilage.


Ashwagandha has a distinctive smell often described as earthy, slightly pungent, and somewhat like horse urine, which aligns with its Sanskrit name meaning' smell of the horse' as shared in the earlier part of this article. The aroma should be strong and fresh; a stale or off odour can suggest degradation. People often describe Ashwagandha's taste as slightly bitter and astringent, with a hint of sweetness. If the bitterness is overpowering, or if other unexpected flavours are present, it may indicate spoilage or contamination.


In root form, the texture should be dry and hard. In powder form, it should be fine and smooth without any lumps or coarseness, which can suggest proper drying and grinding processes.

 

The typical colour of high-quality Ashwagandha powder is a light beige to sandy colour. If we were to approximate this with a Pantone colour code, it might closely align with something like Pantone 13-1106 (Tapioca), which represents a soft, neutral beige tone. When assessing the quality of Ashwagandha powder, this colour code serves as a visual reference to ensure it has not oxidised or become contaminated, which could alter its colouration.

 

When ashwagandha powder oxidises, it can change colour to a darker, more yellow-brown hue. A Pantone colour that might closely represent this oxidised state is Pantone 17-1044 (Autumn Maple), which is described as a tawny, russet shade. This colour suggests a prolonged exposure of Ashwagandha to air or moisture, which could potentially impact its potency and quality.

 

In several ways, oxidation can have a significant impact on Ashwagandha's safety and quality:


  1. Reduction in Potency: Oxidation can degrade the active compounds in Ashwagandha, particularly the withanolides, which are responsible for many of its therapeutic properties. This degradation reduces the herb's effectiveness, indicating that it may not provide the expected health benefits.

  1. Change in Chemical Composition: As the herb oxidises, chemical changes can lead to the formation of new compounds that were not originally present. Some of these new compounds might not be beneficial and could potentially be harmful.

  1. Safety Concerns: The oxidative process can also lead to rancidity, particularly in Ashwagandha's fatty components. Rancid products can produce harmful free radicals and other oxidative agents, which can be detrimental to health if ingested.

  1. Sensory Changes: As previously noted, oxidation affects Ashwagandha's sensory qualities, such as its colour, smell, and taste. These changes can make the product less appealing to use, as well as indicate a decrease in product quality and shelf life.

 

To minimise these effects, it is crucial to store Ashwagandha properly in airtight containers away from light, heat, and moisture. Ensuring good storage conditions helps to maintain its quality, potency, and safety for consumption.

 

When producing Ashwagandha in powder or supplement pill form, producers can employ several strategies to maintain the plant's quality and colour:


  1. Controlled Drying Processes: Properly drying Ashwagandha roots before grinding them into powder helps maintain their active constituents. Using low temperatures during the drying process can prevent the degradation of sensitive compounds and help them retain their natural colour.

  1. Stable Storage Conditions: Storing Ashwagandha powder in airtight containers away from light, moisture, and heat helps maintain its potency and prevents oxidation. Using opaque and UV-protective packaging materials can further aid in preserving the powder's quality and colour.

  1. Antioxidants: Adding natural antioxidants to the Ashwagandha powder can help prevent oxidative damage. These substances can stabilise the powder, extend its shelf life, and maintain its therapeutic properties.

  1. Encapsulation: For supplement pills, encapsulating the Ashwagandha powder in an inert atmosphere or using oxygen absorbers within the packaging can minimise exposure to air, thus reducing the risk of oxidation.

  1. Quality Control Measures: Producers should implement rigorous quality control measures during manufacturing, including testing for purity, potency, and contamination, to ensure the Ashwagandha powder remains safe and effective for consumer use.

 

By applying these measures, producers can effectively preserve the therapeutic qualities and appearance of Ashwagandha in its processed forms.

 

When purchasing Ashwagandha, especially in powdered form, it's essential to source from reputable suppliers who provide products tested for contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, and microbes to ensure safety and efficacy. Always check for certification marks or lab test results that can verify the product's purity and potency.

 


Is Ashwagandha safe? How do I consume Ashwagandha safely? What are the Side Effects?

 

When considering using Ashwagandha for health purposes, there are a few food safety concerns to keep in mind:


  1. Medication Interactions: Ashwagandha may interact with certain medications, including those for diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid disorders, and immune system modulation. It's essential to consult a healthcare provider before starting Ashwagandha if you are on any medications.

  1. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Due to potential risks, such as premature birth or miscarriage, experts generally advise against using ashwagandha during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

  1. Impact on Medical Conditions: Because it can increase testosterone levels, ashwagandha might not be safe for people with hormone-sensitive conditions, such as prostate cancer.

  1. Heavy Metals: The soil contamination where ashwagandha grows can lead to the presence of heavy metals in some herbal supplements. It's important to purchase supplements from reputable sources to minimise this risk.

  1. Allergic Reactions: Like any plant-based product, there's a potential for allergic reactions. Individuals with known sensitivities to nightshade plants might also react to ashwagandha.

 


How does Ashwagandha pair nutritionally?

 

Ashwagandha is quite nutritious, providing several essential macronutrients and micronutrients. Here's a breakdown of its nutritional content per 100 grams:


  • Calories: approximately 245 kcal

  • Carbohydrates: approximately 49.9 grams, including a significant amount of dietary fibre (32.3 grams).

  • Protein: approximately 3.9 grams

  • Fats: minimal, roughly 0.3 grams

  • Vitamin C: contains approximately 3.7 mg.

  • Iron: provides about 3.3 mg

  • Calcium: Around 23 mg

 

Particularly noted for its high fibre content, ashwagandha supports digestive health. It also offers iron, which is crucial for blood formation and oxygen transport, and calcium, which is essential for bone health and muscle function. Vitamin C contributes to immune defence and skin health due to its role as an antioxidant.

 

The list of benefits and uses of ashwagandha is based on both traditional knowledge and modern research. We understand that experiences and preferences can vary, and we welcome your feedback or contributions. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, feel free to drop us a message at me@obsideonmedia.com.

 

 

Further Reading:

  1. Langade, D. et al. (2023) 'Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis', PLOS ONE, 18(3), p. e0257843. [Online]. Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0257843

  2. Mikulska, P. et al. (2023) 'Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)—Current Research on the Health-Promoting Activities: A Narrative Review', Pharmaceutics, 15(4), p. 1057. [Online]. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4923/15/4/1057

  3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2023) Ashwagandha. [Online]. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Ashwagandha-HealthProfessional/

  4. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (2024) Ashwagandha. [Online]. Available at: https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/ashwagandha

  5. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2023) Ashwagandha. [Online]. Available at: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/ashwagandha

  6. Medical News Today (2022) Ashwagandha and diabetes: Benefits, risks, and more. [Online]. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/ashwagandha-and-diabetes#ashwagandha



 

The information provided in our articles is for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The content on our website, including articles, is not meant to endorse or promote any specific medical treatments, products, or procedures. The information provided is based on general knowledge and research at the time of writing. Medical practices and knowledge are constantly evolving, and what may have been accurate at the time of publication may not be current or applicable today.


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