June 03, 2021 6 min read

What is Ashwagandha and what does it do?

Ashwagandha, also known by it's Latin name "Withania somnifera", as "Indian Ginseng", or occasionally "Winter Cherry", is a highly regarded herb within Traditional Indian Medicine (Ayurvedic) as well as one of the most popular herbal supplements in the industry. Traditionally used to promote general wellness, muscle strength and endurance, generally associated in the Indian culture with "youthful vigour". It is grown wild and farmed in abundance throughout Africa, Southern and Central Asia.

In modern human clinical trials, the most efficacy for Ashwagandha is found in altering stress and anxiety responses for chronically stressed adults, these are usually associated with its effect in decreasing cortisol levels.

"Stress is a general term defined as the nonspecific response of the body to any demand for change. It is a major exacerbating factor for both hypertension and diabetes which are major killers worldwide.High stress is also a common trigger for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression." [2]

When it comes to supplements, you will most commonly find Ashwagandha included in anti-stress and sleep formulations, as well as some preworkout and fat burner formulations. As well as unbranded extracts, KSM-66®, Sensoril®, and Shoden® are all widely available in single-ingredient capsule or powder forms.

Because Ashwagandha is a popular herb, there is also a fair amount of human clinical trials run on it. To date, evidence for functions it works on include:

  • demonstrated testosterone increase in males with consistent use;
  • demonstrated cortisol decrease in both males and females with consistent use;
  • beneficial for reducing stress and anxiety;
  • beneficial for improving sleep quality;
  • beneficial as a source of anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory action;
  • beneficial for immunomodulatory action;
  • beneficial for enhancing cardiorespiratory endurance, improving muscle strength and recovery, and effective in general bodyweight management;

But sometimes clinical trials don't always translate to real world day to day life, so to put it in perspective to successful use cases we see at The Cave, most outcomes are:

  • Managing chronic stressors, such as a busy work schedule;
  • Supporting a feeling of vigour, that bounce out of bed well rested and "ready to crush the day" sort of feeling. This is likely through supporting testosterone levels;
  • Calming down after workout, or in the evening before bed.

    How does Ashwagandha work?

    As with any herbal extract, there are always many different compounds at work, working on different mechanisms. However when it comes to Ashwagandha, the key bioactive ingredient accredited to the main benefits of Ashwagandha is the "Withanolides".  

    Over 35 different withanolides have been isolated from the roots of Ashwagandha, but the bulk of the content is made up of withanoside V, withaferin A, withanolide A and withanolide B, and only the latter two have demonstrated good bioavailability. So, how does each work in the body?

    Withanolide A

    Withanolide A is expected to be the main component of Ashwagandha responsible for cognitive health, with some evidence for promoting axonal outgrowth and neurite repair. It also has notable evidence for the anti-stress and anti-anxiety functions as well as the immune support function. 

    Withanolide V

    Withanolide V has demonstrated strong neuro-regenerative properities for nerve growth.

    Withaferin A

    Withaferin A has anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, apoptotic,and anti-inflammatory activities.

    The proprietary extracts

    While each proprietary extract of Ashwagandha is at the heart an Ashwagandha ingredient, there are notable differences between sourcing, processing and end concentrations of the extracts. Knowing the differences between each is important when considering them in a supplement.

    "KSM-66 Ashwagandha is a branded, full-spectrum extract, with the highest concentration of all major root only extracts available on the market today. It is produced using a unique proprietary extraction process, based on “Green Chemistry” principles, without using alcohol or any other chemical solvent."- from the makers of KSM-66
    Key Qualities:
    • Standardised to 5% Withanolide concentration;
    • Using root extracts only, no leaves;
    • Applying Traditional extraction processes to a modern clinical process, including milk extraction;
    • Full start to finish sourcing control, KSM-66 run the full operation from the farming of Ashwagandha to manufacturing;
    • KSM-66 has been evaluated in 22 “Gold Standard” (double blind, placebo controlled) human clinical trials;
    • By far the most consumer tested Ashwagandha extract, having been on the market since 2012 and is likely most commonly used branded extract.
    • Vegetarian, Organic, Non-GMO, Kosher, GRAS Affirmed, Halal, and more.

     "Sensoril® Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogen derived from a unique blend of both leaves and roots of the Withania somnifera plant to provide optimal efficacy and bioactive diversity." - Natreon Inc, the makers of Sensoril

    Key Qualities:
    • Standardised to 10% Withanolide concentration;
    • Using both leaf and root extracts;
    • Water extraction;
    • Sensoril has been evaluated in 12 clinical trials;
    • Vegetarian, Organic, Non-GMO, Kosher, GRAS Affirmed, Halal.

    "Shoden® is an innovative new, clinically proven, and patented, high potency extract from the leaves and roots of the Ashwagandha plant. With an industry leading 35% Withanolide Glycosides (as measured by HPLC), Shoden® offers high bioavailability and demonstrated activity even at low doses." - Arjuna Natural, the makers of Shoden

    Key Qualities:
    • Standardised to 35% Withanolide concentration;
    • Full spectrum extract;
    • Using both leaf and root extracts;
    • Ethanol & water dual extraction;
    • Shoden has been evaluated in 3 human clinical trials;
    • Most recent extract on the market, utilising more modern extraction processes and research;
    • Non-GMO Verified, Kosher, Halal, Vegan, Gluten-Free

    Choose the best tool for the job.

    When  it comes to choosing between each of these Ashwagandha extracts there isn't really a wrong choice. Each has their own pros and cons, but really when it comes down to it, all will perform the general role you would look to Ashwagandha for. 

    • KSM-66 has the most proven efficacy for destressing and testosterone support within athletic communities.*
    • Sensoril has the most proven efficacy for improving sleep quality.*
    • Shoden has the most proven efficacy for supporting brain health.*

    *Note that some of this evidence difference will be just because that's where the company has directed their research, rather than demonstrating that one is neccisarily better than another at a role.

    Dosage

    And of course regardless of which tool you pick, it's always important to ensure correct dosing with your supplement protocol which does vary significantly due to the large differences in relative Withanolides potency of each extract. For example:

    a common "introductory" dose to Ashwagandha for each would be:

    • ~500mg KSM-66 Ashwagandha;
    • ~250mg Sensoril Ashwagandha;
    • ~70mg Shoden Ashwagandha;

    but for experienced users who have tested their response, dosage ranges might then go between:

    • ~500 - 1000mg KSM-66 Ashwagandha;
    • ~250 - 500mg Sensoril Ashwagandha;
    • ~70 - 200mg Shoden Ashwagandha;

    For practical reasons, if you regularly feel the need to dose even higher than these, then there is probably other lifestyle or supplements to change. Or perhaps a different herb or compound would be a better choice for your desired goal.


    Ashwagandha supplements available at The Cave

    "Ashwagandha" by Head Honcho Supplements

    The Head Honcho Ashwagandha is using the Sensoril® Ashwagandha extract combined with goMCT® oil powder to aid the absorption of the bioactive components.

    60 Scoops of 250mg Sensoril® Ashwagandha.

    "Ashwagandha" by Strom Sports Nutrition

    The Strom Sports Nutrition Ashwagandha is using the KSM-66® Ashwagandha delivered in capsule form as a standalone supplement.

    120 Capsules of 500mg KSM-66® Ashwagandha.

    See here  for all our supplements that include Ashwagandha.


    References

    [1] Evaluation of the bioavailability of major withanolides of Withania somnifera using an in vitro absorption model system. (October 2015), Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology and Research.

    [2] An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract. (September 2019), Medicine. 

    [3] Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study. (December 2019), Cureus Journal of Medical Science.

    [4] Efficacy and Tolerability of Ashwagandha Root Extract in the Elderly for Improvement of General Well-being and Sleep: A Prospective, Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study. (February 2020), Cureus Journal of Medical Science.

    [5] An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract. (September 2019), Medicine (Baltimore).

    [6] Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. (November 2015), Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition.

    [7] Efficacy of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera [L.] Dunal) in improving cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy athletic adults. (Janruary 2015), Ayu.

     


    GOT QUESTIONS?

    Any questions at all, just shoot an email over at thomas@thecavenutritionstore.co.nz and myself and the team will gladly help out in anyway we can.

    - Thomas

    Aotearoa Caretaker for The Cave Nutrition Store

     


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