Ashwagandha (latin name Withania somnifera) is an evergreen shrub that is native to the dry regions of the Mediterranean, South Asia, Central Asia, and Africa.
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Ashwagandha uses throughout history
Ashwagandha uses in ayurvedic medicine dates back thousands of years. Ashwagandha is a Sanskrit word roughly translated as “ashwa,” meaning “horse,” and “gandha were given as medicine dha,” meaning “smells like.” So as you can guess, the smell of the root is reminiscent of a horse. Traditionally, the roots and leaves of ashwaganto increase vitality, improve general health and longevity, and prevent disease — or basically give you the strength of a horse.
Western herbalism categorizes ashwagandha as an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens are a category of herbs that are traditionally considered nontoxic and thought to increase the body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning.
Ashwagandha’s benefits for hair
Over the last century, many scientific studies have been conducted to ascertain if there is justification behind the traditional ashwagandha uses. The results of these studies are promising and show that ashwagandha benefits a variety of systems and disease — ranging from musculoskeletal conditions to supporting healthy thyroid function; from supporting healthy antioxidant and inflammation levels; and from supporting a healthy immune system to decreasing anxiety and chronic stress.
So what does all this have to do with ashwagandha benefits for hair? High levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the hair follicles is known to impact the hair growth cycle and decrease synthesis while increasing the breakdown of important components in the skin. Further, in observations of primates in captivity, hair loss has been correlated with elevated levels of cortisol.
We can see that managing stress is very important for promoting optimal hair health. This is where the benefits of ashwagandha shine. A systematic review looking at human studies of ashwagandha used to reduce anxiety showed that ashwagandha performed significantly better than placebo on outcomes of anxiety and stress scales. Animal models also demonstrated ashwagandha’s ability to reduce chronic stress.
Where do I get ashwagandha?
The ashwagandha herb can be taken in powder or capsule form. Nutrafol’s line of Core supplements all contain ashwagandha powder, as does Nutrafol’s Stress Adaptogen. which has been extracted through a patented process and standardized. The extraction method used ensures that the active components of the herb are present and available for the body to absorb. Standardization is important to make sure that the amount of active components stays the same from dose to dose. As plants grow, the amount of different compounds they produce is influenced by the season, the weather, the soil, and many other factors. Thus, the amounts of active compounds can vary from batch to batch. This is why standardization is important to ensure consistency between doses.
When buying ashwagandha herb on its own, look for root and leaf extracts from manufacturers that standardize the amount of withanolides (one of the active components) present. Purchase ashwagandha only from reputable sources, and ask the manufacturer if they test their product for impurities, as various contaminants such as heavy metals and pesticides can be present in the growing process in certain regions.
How do I take ashwagandha?
Many of the active components of ashwagandha are fat soluble, so taking ashwagandha capsules with a meal containing quality fats is beneficial for improving absorption. Ashwagandha in powder form has traditionally been taken mixed in ghee (clarified butter), milk, and or honey.
How long does it take for ashwagandha to work?
When taking a dose of ashwagandha, one can experience a pretty immediate effect of feeling relaxed. However, to obtain the cortisol-lowering effects we are looking for in order to optimize hair health, ashwagandha needs to be taken on a daily basis for a period of at least 12 weeks. Continuing to take ashwagandha will continue to help keep cortisol levels at bay.
While traditionally considered safe, there are limited human studies looking at the safety of ashwagandha. In one study, healthy male patients were given three grams of ashwagandha with milk daily for one year with no adverse events reported. It is not recommended to use ashwagandha while pregnant or breastfeeding. People sensitive to nightshades (solonaceae) family of plants should not use ashwagandha. Use of sedative medications and substances such as alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, should be avoided with ashwagandha, because it has the potential to increase their actions.