Ashwagandha has been helping people relieve stress, increase energy, and improve concentration for more than 3,000 years.1
It’s considered to be the king of herbs in Ayurveda, the ancient system of medicine from India. Ayurveda is Sanskrit for “Science Of Life.”
Modern science classifies ashwagandha as a powerful adaptogen. Some adaptogens help the body resist stress on physical, chemical, and biological levels.
Ashwagandha has been proven to reduce stress, but new studies show that ashwagandha provides even more benefits for the body and brain.
This guide shares the most updated research and provides all the answers surrounding ashwagandha - what it is, how it helps, and where to find the best ashwagandha in the world.
Table of Contents
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a small, woody shrub that grows in India, North Africa, and the warmest parts of the Mediterranean.
Its botanical name is Withania somnifera. It’s also called Indian ginseng or winter cherry because of the annual red berries it produces.
But the roots hold the real power.
Ashwagandha roots are full of active ingredients.
The most important are withanolides.
Withanolides are natural steroids that can help reduce inflammation in the body.2
An extra bonus:
The roots are also full of choline, amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamin A.
This combination makes a big difference in overall health and wellness.
So big that ashwagandha is classified in Ayurveda as a rasayan, meaning “life extender”.
A Life Extender
The word “ashwagandha” is Sanskrit for “smell of the horse.” This is partly because of the unique plant smell, but it also refers to its unique ability to increase strength. In fact, ancient texts actually describe the roots as holding the “strength of a horse.”
Although it has been proven to increase strength and muscle3, it's really considered a "life extender" because it is an adaptogen.
Adaptogens are a class of herbs that support better mood, energy, focus, and immunity, while smoothing out and soothing natural stress responses in the body.
Adaptogens make you more resilient.
This makes sense because adaptogens are the strongest plants on the planet. They survive and thrive in extremely stressful environments, under harsh conditions, in brutal temperatures, with little to no water.
Adaptogens are tough, strong, durable, resilient, flexible, adaptable.
And they pass these powers on to you.
What Does Ashwagandha Do?
That's the short answer.
The longer answer:
Ashwagandha helps you stay calm and focused during stressful times.
But how does ashwagandha do this? How does ashwagandha specifically affect the body to provide strength
It's all about the power of adaptogens...
The Power of Adaptogens
Every change in your life causes change in your body too.
Although change can make life more exciting, it can also make it more stressful.
Your health is directly impacted by stress, or rather, how you react to stress.
Adaptogens help you cope better with stress by changing your reaction to stress.
Or more simply:
Adaptogens help you adapt to change.
Adaptogens are herb plants that are:
- Lower stress
Besides ashwagandha, other adaptogen plants include ginseng, rhodiola, holy basil, shilajit, schisandra, licorice, eleuthero, and codyceps.
But, ashwagandha is considered to be the "King of Herbs" when it comes to adaptogens.
So far, research shows that adaptogens affect two areas of the body:
1. HPA Axis
The HPS Axis refers to the interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands. This relationship determines how you feel when you are stressed.
Basically, when stress is perceived by your brain (hypothalamus), it sends a warning to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland produces a hormone (ACTH) that travels through the bloodstream until it reaches your adrenal glands. This triggers your adrenal glands to release cortisol, a stress hormone that provides energy for the body to deal with stress, what ever that may be.
Adaptogens help balance the interactions between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.4
2. Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls the most important parts of your body like your heart beat, your breathing, your digestion, and even sexual arousal.
It's made of three divisions: sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric.
The enteric nervous system is related to the gastrointestinal tract and immunity.
The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the "rest and digest" functions that happen when you are calm and relaxed.
The sympathetic sympathetic nervous system controls the "fight-or-flight" response that happens when you are feeling stressed.
Adaptogens have been shown to support the rest-and-digest functions while toning down the fight-or-flight response.5
The Benefits of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is used in traditional Ayurvedic healing medicine for:
- Blood Sugar
- Brain Function
In fact, it's been used for centuries but there hasn't been much scientific research or human studies until more recently.
Here's what we have learned about ashwagandha's benefits so far:
Ashwagandha Relieves Stress
Most people reach for ashwagandha when they are stressed out. It doesn't take long to feel a clear sense of calm after taking some.
Several human studies revealed Ashwagandha reduces stress.
One double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study in India revealed big results.
64 people were asked to complete a General Health Questionnaire (GHQ)
Perceived Stress Scale Questionnaire (PSSQ) and the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale Questionnaire (DASSQ). Wow that is a mouthful.
Then they were split into two groups:
- Half were given 300 milligrams of a highly-concentrated, full-spectrum extract made from the root of the ashwagandha plant.
- Half were given a placebo with no ashwagandha.
After 60 days, their cortisol levels were measured and they took the trio of questionnaires again.
The ashwagandha group "exhibited a significant reduction" in stress with no "adverse events" reported...
The researchers felt ashwagandha “safely and effectively improves an individual's resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.6
A different double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study divided 60 people into three groups.
- 600 milligrams of ashwagandha was given to 20 people every day.
- 250 milligrams of ashwagandha was given to 20 people every day.
- A placebo with no ashwagandha was given to 20 people every day.
After 60 days, "the treatment with ashwagandha root extract was considerably effective compared to the placebo."
"The study group that received ashwagandha 600 mg showed a statistically significant reduction in all the components used for stress and anxiety and statistically significant improvement in sleep quality."7
Both of these studies also revealed a connection between ashwagandha and anxiety.
Ashwagandha Helps Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are closely connected.
Stress is usually caused by frustration or nervous feelings. It can be positive or negative, but it’s more short-term or based around an event.
Anxiety is usually caused by stress, especially continued stress.
Anxiety lasts longer than stress and it’s far more serious.
Since they are so closely related, most of the research on stress and ashwagandha also considers the effects that ashwagandha has on anxiety.
In fact, the same study that discovered ashwagandha “effectively improves an individual's resistance towards stress” also realized ashwagandha “exhibited a significant reduction in anxiety.”8
Beyond that, there have also been studies focused solely on anxiety and ashwagandha.
Their results are promising.
One study gave 250 milligrams of ashwagandha every day to people who had been previously diagnosed with anxiety.
After six weeks, 88% of the people who took ashwagandha reported a significant reduction in anxiety, compared with 50% of those who took the placebo.9
Canada tried a different approach.
Doctors noticed more people were being diagnosed with anxiety. It was adding pressure to the entire health care system and forcing companies to pay more insurance and sick time for employees. 10
So they gathered 75 people from the workplace, who had been diagnosed with moderate to severe anxiety.
They split them into two groups:
- One group received 300 milligrams of Ashwagandha every day.
- The other group unknowingly received a placebo every day.
After 8 weeks, “significant differences between groups were observed in mental health, concentration, fatigue, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life”.11
The ashwagandha group experienced the greatest benefit.
How does it change the body and the mind so you can avoid these feelings?
This is the real science behind ashwagandha’s benefits...
Ashwagandha Conquers Cortisol
Ashwagandha helps you feel less stress and anxiety because it can control cortisol levels.
Cortisol is a hormone that gets released by your adrenal glands during stressful times.
It fuels your “fight-or-flight” response.
It can save your life during a crisis like running from a bear or a burning building. Big stress.
However, your adrenal glands don’t know the difference between big stress and little stress.
Now replace that bear with a crappy boss or a rocky relationship and life still feels stressful. This keeps the adrenal glands on alert, pumping a constant rush of cortisol into your body.
Soon that little stress builds up to big problems:
Chronic stress, adrenal fatigue, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and weight gain.
The research on ashwagandha shows it can help reduce cortisol levels or at least keep them more balanced.
In fact, the same study that showed Ashwagandha can shrink stress and anxiety also showed it could lower cortisol too.
“The serum cortisol levels were substantially reduced in the Ashwagandha group, relative to the placebo group.”12A different study included 100 chronically stressed adults split into two groups.
One group was given 250 milligrams of Ashwagandha.
A second group received a placebo.
After two months, people in the Ashwagandha group experienced a 30% reduction in cortisol on average, compared with the control group.13
This had a direct effect on their stress and anxiety levels too.
"Our findings indicate the Withania Somnifera Extract reduces experiential feelings of stress and anxiety at all dosage levels tested supports the traditional claims of Withania Somnifera antistress-adaptogenic effect."13
Ashwagandha Smooths Out Blood Sugar
Cortisol is like an army general. It marches through the body, barking orders for more energy and more action. It tells your heart to pump faster and commands your liver to release glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream.
However, if you feel stressed all the time, this constant stream of cortisol pumping through your veins can lead to high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
Several human studies have shown ashwagandha can lower blood sugar levels.
In fact, the same study that showed ashwagandha can curb cortisol levels, also showed a “reduction in fasting blood glucose concentration.”13
A smaller study gave ashwagandha to people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. After 30 days, ashwagandha caused a “decrease in blood glucose was comparable to that of an oral hypoglycemic drug.”14
Israeli researchers studied ashwagandha at the cellular level and found that it increased insulin secretion and improved insulin sensitivity in muscle cells.15
All of these ashwagandha benefits help to calm the emotions and reduce stressful feelings in the body.
But ashwagandha even has a beneficial effect on the most complex organ:
Just as ashwagandha helps to calm the body, it can also help relax the brain.
The key is GABA.
GABA, or Gamma-Aminobutyric acid, is an amino acid produced naturally in the brain. When a brain gets over excited - especially due to fear or anxiety - GABA clings to the brain neurons and calms them down.
It’s like GABA gives big warm hugs to your brain.
Most anxiety medications, including Xanax and Valium, bind to the same neuron receptors as GABA in a synthetic attempt to help them relax.
Research shows ashwagandha may also hold these same “pharmacological effects.”
The University of Texas Health Science Center studied this and determined that ashwagandha “contains an ingredient which has a GABA-mimetic activity.”16
Unfortunately, that exact ingredient has still not been found and prescriptions for anxiety medications continue to rise.
Ashwagandha deserves more research - especially its influence on the brain.
Better Brain, Better Life
Although it is known to improve focus and memory, only a small amount of studies have looked at ashwagandha and brain performance.
One double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 2014 had men take 500 milligrams of ashwagandha root extract for two weeks. The researchers had originally focused on changes in testosterone levels, but they also discovered “significant improvements were observed in reaction times” and brain performance.17
The promising results from this study led to more research in 2017.
This time the researchers wanted to see exactly how ashwagandha affected the “cognitive and psychomotor performance in healthy human participants.”
They split 50 adult men and women into two groups:
- The first group received 300 milligrams of Ashwagandha every day.
- The second group unknowingly received a placebo every day.
After two months, the ashwagandha treatment group had improved memory and “demonstrated significantly greater improvement in executive function, sustained attention, and information-processing speed.”18
All of the new research is revealing the many benefits of ashwagandha.
It's also exposing something else:
The best form of ashwagandha.
The Best Form of Ashwagandha
Not all ashwagandha is the same.
Little things make a big difference.
There are three small details to look for when you are shopping for the best ashwagandha supplement.
1. Organic Ashwagandha Root Powder Extract
2. Withanolides with Low Withaferin A
3. HPLC Analysis
The Root of the Matter
The power of ashwagandha is in the roots.
This is the most important thing to check when you are shopping for ashwagandha.
Some manufacturers ground up the roots. Just plain powder.
Some manufacturers ground up the roots and add some leaves. Extra fluff powder.
Some manufacturers ground up the roots and extract only the most potential compounds. Most Potent powder.
This is the best:
Organic Ashwagandha Root Extract
For thousands of years, only the root has been known to calm the mind and body. Extracting the most potent compounds makes them even more powerful and effective.
Science supports this too.
The most impressive clinical studies only use ashwagandha root extracts with no leaves.
In fact, all of the traditional Ayurveda books as well as Indian, British, and American Pharmacopeias base their ashwagandha specifications on the roots and not the leaves.
The only research that has used leaves in medical studies was paid for by a manufacturer - that uses leaves in its ashwagandha root extract.
We should recognize that ashwagandha leaves are not all bad. They have been traditionally used on the skin to soothe burns, but never eaten.
Ashwagandha leaves are not good to eat.
Which leads to the next thing to consider before buying ashwagandha...
Withanolides With Low Withaferin A
Withanolides are the natural steroids in ashwagandha that can reduce inflammation.
However, not all are created equal.
And one should probably be avoided: Withaferin A.
Withaferin A is cytotoxic. This means it’s toxic to living cells.
In fact, Withaferin A is so toxic that it can even "inhibit tumor growth."19
That may be helpful, but it doesn’t support your cells with stress, energy, immunity, or focus.
Withaferin A is mostly found in ashwagandha leaves. It’s also mostly found in ashwagandha powders that also include the leaves.
You have to ask:
Why use leaves?
The simple answer is marketing.
Withaferin A is one of the strongest withanolides in ashwagandha.
More witherafin A = larger withanolides levels.
Since most of the witherafin A is found in the leaves, if you add more leaves to the powder, you get a higher percentage of withanolides.
And these bigger numbers look more impressive on the product labels.
You can bet that ashwagandha powders with more than 10% withanolides include leaves...and higher witherafin A levels.
It’s stronger - but is it safer?
Ashwagandha powders that contain 5% to 8% withanolides is really the sweet spot for effective stress relief and healthy energy.
Measuring withanolides is important.
Even more important, is how the withanolides are measured.
The Best Way to Measure Withanolides in Ashwagandha
There are two ways to measure withanolides in ashwagandha:
2. High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC)
The majority of ashwagandha manufacturers use gravimetry to measure the withanolides in their ashwagandha.
It’s cheaper and keeps the price lower, but gravimetry is not as accurate as HPLC.
In fact, an extensive research study found that gravimetry can overestimate by as much as 5%.20
That’s too much when the effective range of withanolides is 5% to 8%.
Gravimetry is a little sloppy. Basically, the process bundles withanolides with other compounds during analysis. This causes different results from one test to another.
Gravimetry inflates the total withanolides amount.
HPLC is different.
HPLC separates, identifies, and measures each compound at the molecular level. This creates consistent testing and far more accurate results.
That means better results for you.
It’s important to know exactly what you are putting in your body.
When you want the best ashwagandha, ask these five questions:
1. Is it organic and tested?
2. Is it made from only roots?
3. Was it extracted with water?
4. Does it have 5-8% withanolides?
5. Was it measured with HPLC analysis?
There is only one ashwagandha root extract that answers “YES” to all of these questions.
It’s called KSM-66 Ashwagandha.
The Best Ashwagandha Root Extract
KSM-66 Ashwagandha is the most potent ashwagandha in the world.
It’s a highly-concentrated root extract made in India by Ixoreal Biomed.
They only grow one thing: ashwagandha.
They only make one thing: KSM-66 Ashwagandha.
KSM-66 refers to the 66 experiments Ixoreal Biomed attempted before they perfected their extraction method. Their process creates a concentrated ashwagandha root extract that maintains the same natural balance of compounds found in the original raw roots.
And they do it without the use of chemicals, synthetic solvents, or alcohol.
Just pure sun-dried Ashwagandha roots, some science, and a lot of love.
It starts with their organic farm in Rajasthan, India.
Seeds are sown during the rainy season in August. By March, the plants are two feet tall, the leaves are yellow, and the roots are about the size of a carrot. Time to harvest.
As they have for centuries, local villagers pull up the ashwagandha plants using a simple hand pick. The leaves are chopped off and dropped to mulch the soil. The roots are brushed clean and dried in the sun.
At the end of the day, the roots head south to the modern facilities in Hyderabad. They they are washed clean and dried in a warm air oven. When they are fully dry, the roots are ground into a fine powder.
The final production stage is the patented water-based extraction process.
KSM-66 Ashwagandha is made using WHO-cGMP and US-FDA GMP standards. The final product is organic, non-GMO, vegetarian, and Halal certified.
Beyond the high standards and certifications, KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract is tested by HPLC analysis daily. Every batch is measured for purity, potency, pollutants, and heavy metals.
This is important to us.
Beyond the daily tests, Ixoreal Biomed has a team of scientists that are studying ashwagandha for new discoveries and future health benefits.
Fortunately, KSM-66 Ashwagandha is already backed by strong science.
In fact, most researchers choose it for their studies because it is the highest quality ashwagandha.
Supported By Science
KSM-66 Ashwagandha has been tested for a number of different health conditions.
Stress relief is the biggest.
One study showed it could reduce your daily stress response by over 60%!
Overall, KSM-66 Ashwagandha has been clinically proven to:
- Reduce stress, anxiety, and cortisol levels.21,22
- Improve brain performance, focus, and memory.23
- Increase strength, endurance, and muscle structure.24,25
Research has also shown it can boost testosterone and make your sex life better.26,27The biggest discovery:
KSM-66 may help you live longer.28,29
Why is KSM-66 Ashwagandha proving to be so helpful to health?
It goes back to the withanolides.
Withanolides are natural steroids that can help reduce inflammation in the body.
And inflammation is thought to be the hidden link to most diseases and poor health.30,31KSM-66 has the most withanolides of any pure ashwagandha root extract available today.
How To Take Ashwagandha
For centuries, ashwagandha roots have been dried, ground into a powder, and mixed with some form of dairy, like milk or ghee, and a sweetener, like sugar or honey.
The milk and sugar work as anupans.
Anupans are substances taken with herbs that balance the effects and boost penetration deep into the cells.
Traditional Ayurvedic medicine recommends taking anupans with most herbs and formulas.
Most ashwagandha extracts are bitter and taste awful.
KSM-66 Ashwagandha is not bitter at all. It really has no taste, which makes it easy to mix in food and beverages.
One of the best ways to take ashwagandha is to mix the powder into a small cup of coffee with milk and sugar or tea with milk and honey.
Either drink is perfect in the morning because the ashwagandha helps to balance the caffeine rush and gives you calm energy for most of the day.
Ashwagandha is often taken at night, but we have found that KSM-66 Ashwagandha is too stimulating to take at night.
So we like to encourage people to take it in the morning. To make it even better, we have added it to our custom formula designed for better energy, mood, and focus: CHARGE. It helps you take charge of your life!
The Perfect Ashwagandha Dosage
To be honest:
There is no perfect ashwagandha dosage.
Most clinical studies showed the best results taking at least 600 mg every day. (300 mg twice daily.)
Some people benefit from more, like 700-1000 milligrams every day.
After years of testing it and taking it ourselves, we feel the most balanced with 700 mg each day:
350 mg after breakfast and 350 mg after lunch.
It gives steady energy and calm focus, but doesn’t interfere with falling asleep at bedtime.
CHARGE 2.3 includes 350mg of KSM-66 Ashwagandha per dose.
TIP: Crack open the CHARGE capsules and pour the powder into a cappuccino. The sweet, earthy flavor of CHARGE blends well with the coffee and creamer.
We recommend finding the lowest dosage you need to feel good, since there aren’t many side effects. A good way to do this is to start slow by just taking it in the morning. After a week, add a second dosage after lunch.
One More Thing...
Well, actually two more things...
There are two common mistakes people make when taking ashwagandha:
1. They don’t take enough.
2. They don’t take it long enough.
The first mistake was answered above:
300 mg dosage is often used in research but we prefer 350 mg to really feel good.
The second mistake is probably the most common mistake made with all natural supplements. For adaptogens, it is especially true.
Ashwagandha takes time to work its magic. The beneficial compounds need to be fully absorbed and used to replenish the body on a cellular level.
The benefits are cumulative.
Growth takes time.
About 60 days.
That’s how long you should consistently take ashwagandha before deciding how it works for you. This gives your body and your brain time to...well...adapt.
TIP: 60 days is a good marker to use for all natural supplements before deciding if they are helping you.