Over the years, Ashwagandha or Indian Ginseng as it’s called, has taken on an almost magical prowess, and has been the cure-all for everything from sleep problems to increased fatigue. If you are seeing it popping up now more than ever, you can put this down to its immunity strengthening abilities, something that takes on even more importance in our quest for perfect health given the current pandemic scenario.
Classified as an adaptogen, Aswagandha helps the body manage stress. Other benefits include: reducing cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammation, blood sugar levels and cortisol levels; anti-carcinogenic properties; increasing muscle mass and strength; improving energy levels without stimulating your heart; boosting brain function; increasing testosterone and fertility in men; soothing muscle aches, pain and stiffness; and fighting symptoms of anxiety and depression. “Anolides present in this Rasayana herb are hormone precursors that can convert into human physiological hormones as needed, to help rebalance the body,” says Minal Shah, senior nutrition therapist, Fortis Hospital, India.
Sleep is another area where this Ayurvedic herb is said to help tremendously. Honey Thaker, Head Nutritionist, Fitness Science & Nutrition, Purenutrition.in, says, “Ashwagandha has shown positive results and plays a big role in promoting sleep on account of the fact that its leaves contain the compound Triethylene glycol.” Thaker herself has used Ashwagandha successfully to help her sleep better and manage her stress levels, and after seeing a change in just a few weeks, recommends it to her clients. Dr. Arun Namboothri, co-founder of Pure Cure + Co. agrees about its benefits for sleep. “Ashwagandha supports a healthy nervous system, reducing anxiety and the long-term physiological effects of stress such as chronic fatigue. Stress increases the cortisol levels in the body and this forces the body [to] respond to it more actively. When cortisol levels are constantly high, it compels the body to stay active, even against natural sleep rhythms. This is where ashwagandha comes in to help reduce cortisol levels,” he explains.
The traditional way that Ashwagandha is normally had is to mix the herb powder in a glass of warm milk sweetened by honey and drunk before going to sleep.
Thakar, however, prefers consuming a supplement that uses Ashwagandha KSM 666 as the core ingredient. “This is the best form of the herb, which is more standardized, and free of heavy metals. The dosage of such supplements varies based on one’s needs, but on average, 250-500 mg per day for at least a month can be effective. However, it is wise to consult your doctor before starting any supplement course, especially if you have an underlying condition,” she advises. Namboothri says that the herb starts showing benefits as soon as you start taking it unlike many other supplements, and it immediately reduces stress and increases energy during the day. He recommends 1-2 tablets, twice daily, after breakfast and dinner with warm water.
As with any supplement, you need to be careful. Shah breaks it down, “The following people should avoid having it: Pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with autoimmune diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, or with Type-1 Diabetes. It improves the immune response and should be avoided by those on immune suppressants. Also stay away from it if you are already on any sedatives to avoid excess sleepiness.”
The Beauty Angle
While we have delved into its numerous health benefits, did you also know that Ashwagandha can make a potent addition to your beauty cabinet? Herbal beauty pioneer and founder, chairperson and managing director of The Shahnaz Husain Group, Shahnaz Husain, has consulted with Ayurvedic physicians to use the herb in several of her products that help restore vitality and radiance. “Our Ayurvedic hair cleansers and hair conditioning powders contain Ashwagandha. It is also used in nourishing and anti-ageing creams, due to its ability to rejuvenate the skin and delay the visible signs of ageing,” she says.
Husain offers up some of her own DIY recipes:
- For glowing skin, take 2 teaspoons dried Ashwagandha powder to which you add one teaspoon dried and powdered lemon peels and one teaspoon dried ginger. Put these in a cup of water and allow it to boil. The powders will soften slightly. Cool the mixture and apply on the face. Wash it off after 15 minutes.
- For acne prone skin, take 2 teaspoons aloe vera gel and add one teaspoon Ashwagandha powder and ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder. Apply this paste on acne-prone spots. Wash your face after 20 minutes.
- To control premature hair greying, make a paste of Ashwagandha powder and warm water. Part the hair in sections and apply it on your scalp and hair. Wear a plastic shower cap and keep it on for half an hour before shampooing it off.