What are the longevity benefits of taking Ashwagandha?

What are the longevity benefits of taking Ashwagandha?

18th Oct 2023

Ashwagandha and Longevity: Research behind the Benefits

In the world of Ayurveda, several medicines claim to have longevity benefits. One of them is the roots of the Withania somnifera plant, commonly known as Ashwagandha, Ashwagandha is a herb native to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and has been used for health for more than 3000 years.

In Ayurveda, the traditional health system in India, it’s used both alone and with other herbs for joint health and as a tonic to increase energy, improve overall health and longevity, as well as promote health in athletes and older adults. It’s said to have a variety of benefits, including enhanced memory, improved cognition and long life.

But is there any research backing up Ashwagandha benefits?

A 2017 study had an artificial intelligence program scan over 800 natural compounds to determine which would be best to slow the aging signalling pathways in humans, and Ashwagandha was at the top of the list. This shows just how important this supplement can be to human health and why it’s constantly being studied.

Ashwagandha helps to improve attention, focus and memory, maintain our body’s hormonal balance, improve our sleep quality and support healthy blood sugar levels.

There is always interest in natural remedies for living a long life, so let’s dive into the research behind Ashwagandha.

The Science Behind Ashwagandha and its Longevity Claims

Adaptogenic Properties

Ashwagandha extract has had positive results in reducing stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

In an animal study, rats were injected with Ashwagandha root extract and then placed in water. The rats who had the injection swam nearly twice as long as those that didn’t, showing an increased ability to handle stress and increased stamina. This means that Ashwagandha is good for reduced exhaustion and building energy reserves.

Another study had ashwagandha taken orally by rats for seven days before swimming, which found near-normal cortisol (a stress hormone) levels compared to those who didn’t receive the supplement. This suggests it increases the dopamine receptors in our brain, reducing the effects of noradrenaline, a neurotransmitter in the brain that affects attention, cognitive function and stress reactions.

Studies in humans have found similar results so far. In two 2019 studies (here and here), where humans took a daily dose of 240mg in the first and between 250mg to 600mg in the second, both found reduced stress levels as well as lower cortisol levels.

Ashwagandha supplements have also been found to significantly reduce anxiety. Both root and leaf extracts have been found to have anti-stress and anti-anxiety effects in animals and humans, as well as improved symptoms of depression and insomnia, two factors that can shorten lifespans.

Animal studies found that those given 100mg/kg of ashwagandha extract fell asleep faster, woke up less and had more total sleep, even when disturbed. This means that taking Ashwagandha can help those who have difficulty sleeping, with adequate sleep being a major criterion for a long and healthy life.

Cellular Protection and Anti-Aging Effects

A 2013 research study found that Ashwagandha does increase lifespan when it tested on C. elegans, or roundworms. It’s also been found to help the body remove damaged proteins through autophagy, where the body reuses its old and damaged cells.

On a study on mice, withaferin A showed a 39 per cent decrease of age-related protein damage in the spinal cord and a 60 per cent decrease in age-related protein damage in motor neuron cells — the cells that transmit movement signals from our brain, through the spinal cord and to our muscles. What’s more, mice with age-related protein breakdown in their nervous systems had their lives extended by 5.6 per cent when supplemented with withaferin A.

In terms of direct longevity, a study has found that human cells treated with KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract showed a significant increase in telomerase — an enzyme responsible for maintaining the telomere shortening in DNA that happens as we age, accelerating the aging process — activity. These findings suggest that Ashwagandha root extract has anti-aging potential.

Ashwagandha has also been found to significantly improve both immediate and general memory in adults with mild cognitive impairment, as well as improved executive function, sustained attention and the speed at which we take in information.

Anti-Inflammatory and Immune-Boosting Benefits

Ashwagandha has been found to help with inflammation in joints and muscles, with reduced inflammation potentially benefiting conditions like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis. It can act as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant reducing the arthritic effects in collagen-induced arthritis, as well can potentially protect against skin inflammation.

Animal studies have found withaferin A could reduce levels of inflammatory proteins, with some evidence it might reduce inflammatory markers in humans too. In 2021, people with COVID-19 were given a drug with Ashwagandha and other herbs twice a day for seven days, and they experienced reduced inflammation.

Ashwagandha can also help improve our body’s immune function when faced with allergens. Studies also found it helped with bone marrow cellularity, increased body weight and normal intestinal cells when used alongside cyclophosphamide, a chemotherapy drug. This means it can create a major change in immune cell activation, with significant increases in white blood cell and platelet counts. This is an exciting find as it suggests that Ashwagandha has potential for helping improve immune systems for cancer patients. Human trials still need to be conducted on these benefits.

The herb has also been found to help with weight loss; a 23 per cent reduction in weight and fat mass compared to the group with no withaferin A. This was due to the group of overweight mice reportedly naturally eating 60 per cent less food, therefore seeing an increase in leptin, the appetite suppression hormone, making them feel full from less food. This increase in leptin levels is due to autophagy, where the withaferin A consumes the damaged proteins in the body.

There has been a study that may suggest Ashwagandha has benefits on heart health, too, where it could enhance a person’s cardiorespiratory endurance, which, in turn, could improve their heart health.

Considerations when taking Ashwagandha

Choosing the Right Ashwagandha Supplement

When looking for Ashwagandha supplements, make sure the product has been tested for quality and purity and is free from heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic. Double check that it specifies the content of withanolides, the active compound, with a higher concentration meaning the product is more potent.

Ashwagandha comes in capsule or tablet form, as a powder you can mix into drinks and food, or in liquid form like an extract or a tea. Use whichever suits your lifestyle and preferences and ensure you’re consistent and take Ashwagandha long term to fully receive the benefits.

Recommended Dosage and Usage

How much of the herbal supplement you should take depends on your age, health and the reason you’re taking it. For stress, anxiety and overall health, some research suggests about 250–600mg of high-concentration Ashwagandha extract, once or twice a day is recommended. Others have used higher doses.

Capsule doses often contain between 250 and 1,500mg of Ashwagandha. In terms of powder, the typical dose depending on the condition treated, commonly ranges between 1 to 6g daily.

Before taking the supplement, make sure to consult with your healthcare professional for their targeted advice about dosage.

Potential Side Effects and Precautions

Studies of Ashwagandha supplements have generally been conducted in small to medium doses, and not enough long-term studies have been made to fully determine any side effects. So far, taking large amounts of ashwagandha can possibly cause digestion issues, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. Some rare cases may experience allergic reactions.

Start with a lower dosage to see if you’re tolerant to the herb. If you experience an upset stomach, it might help to take Ashwagandha with meals, and while it can be taken at any time of the day, it might help with sleep and relaxation if taken in the evening.

Ashwagandha should be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women as it may cause some distress to the baby and premature labour. Ashwagandha might cause the immune system to become more active, so those with autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis should use it cautiously.

If you’re on any medication, make sure you consult with your healthcare professional before taking Ashwagandha, as it may interact with certain medications. For example, it may enhance the sedative effects of certain drugs and may amplify the effects of antihypertensive drugs due to its potential effect on blood pressure.

As with any supplement, Ashwagandha is not a substitute for a balanced diet, regular exercise, quality sleep and other healthy lifestyle habits.

Ashwagandha has some exciting potential when it comes to longevity. While there is more scientific research to be made, in terms of Ashwagandha and longevity, there are signs the herb may help with maintaining our stress and anxiety levels, may provide anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting benefits as well as may help protect our cells and have anti-aging effects. Always make sure you read enough scientific research before incorporating a supplement into your lifestyle and make sure to talk with your healthcare professional to see if Ashwagandha is right for you.

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