Used for thousands of years in Ayurveda and other traditional forms of medicine, ashwagandha is a relative newcomer to the western wellness scene. But it’s making up for lost time: These days, no adaptogen is more popular.
So what is it, what is it good for, and what, specifically, should women know about ashwagandha? Read on to find out.
What Is Ashwaganda?
Also known as Indian Ginseng, ashwagandha is not actually related to ginseng at all. In fact, it’s a member of the nightshade family, along with potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Importantly, it is also part of the family of Ayurvedic herbs known as adaptogens, which help the body regulate stress.
The most common way to take ashwagandha is in supplement form, either as a pill or a powder. A number of supplements offer it as a part of a larger blend of supportive herbs.
What Women Should Know About Ashwagandha
While scientific studies on its effects are few, initial research shows that ashwagandha may be effective for in treating anxiety and stress, reducing inflammation, and slowing memory-related decline. It may also increase energy and boost fertility — and it can be especially helpful for women, says Brooklyn-based naturopathic doctor Lauren Geyman.
Fun fact: In Sanskrit, “ashwa” means “horse” and “gandha” means “smell” or “essential characteristic” and the supplement is believed to give your horse-like stamina. Its botanical name, Withania somnifera, alludes to its relaxing qualities; somnifera in Latin translates to “sleep-inducing.”
1. It can be helpful for fertility and menopause.
“Ashwagandha can be an amazing ally in female reproductive, perimenopausal, and menopausal years,” says Geyman. In our reproductive years,”it supports healthy libido and has been used by men and women to support fertility; in menopause, it may help inhibit osteoporosis associated with aging, and alleviate menopausal brain fog, headaches, and muscle pain.”
2. Pregnant and breastfeeding women beware.
On the other hand, if you have a fiery constitution, it make cause hot flashes and irritation in your stomach or liver. And, it is not recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Though there are some accounts of women using ashwagandha during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and those can be stressful moments, Geyman notes that there isn’t enough research to assure its safety during those times. Consult with your doctor, midwife, or other practitioner before using it.
3. It may support thyroid health.
Ashwagandha shows promise in other areas of women’s health as well. “A less-discussed medicinal benefit is how it can support healthy thyroid levels,” Geyman says. “The research here is quite new, but there is some evidence that ashwagandha may improve thyroid levels in patients with hypothyroidism. This makes sense since there is a connection between cortisol and thyroid function as well. It’s a great herb to support the entire endocrine system.”
4. It’s best to take it later in the day.
Though you can take it any time, Geyman recommends using ashwagandha later in the day because of its calming effect. “Mixing a teaspoon of ground ashwagandha root into a warm cup of your favorite milk makes a lovely latte-like beverage before bed,” she says.
5. It may interact with other medications.
As with all herbs, ashwagandha may interact with other medications, so it’s important to consult a doctor before you start taking it.