Ashwagandha’s history can be traced back to around 6,000 BC, where it finds mention in the Ayurveda, India’s well-known ancient tradition of medicine.1 Then, it was considered to be a powerful herb that rejuvenated the system and improved lifespan.
In the Ayurveda, ashwagandha is used to remedy a range of health issues including arthritis, anxiety, tumors, respiratory ailments, and more. However, modern medicine is looking at the potential for this herb to address issues related to memory and cognition. Furthermore, as a powerful stress buster, ashwagandha may help with symptoms of anxiety and stress.2
Ashwagandha extract has also shown promising results in improving cognition and psychometric performance.3 As more and more people rediscover the gift of ancient healing practices, they are also discovering ashwagandha.
Overview of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is commonly known as the Indian ginseng or winter cherry. Native to India, it is a small flowering shrub. In Sanskrit, the word Ashwagandha means “smell of the horse,” which is perhaps a reference to its sharp small and potential properties as a strength enhancer.
Ashwagandha, especially its root, has enjoyed an important and exalted position in Ayurveda, where it is described as a general health tonic that anybody can use.4 Today, ashwagandha is commercially available as an extract or powder and is used to treat a wide number of ailments.
History and Importance
Ashwagandha’s history is essentially intertwined with the history of Ayurveda, as it is considered one of the most important Ayurvedic herbs. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word where Ayur means “life” and Veda means “knowing.”
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The word can be fully translated to mean “science of life.” It is a holistic system of medicine which has been practiced in India for more than 5,000 years.5
Hindu saints recorded their knowledge of healing practices in the Vedas, a collection of the oldest known sacred texts of Hinduism. It contains essential knowledge about plants and their uses during that time period.
The earliest known mention of ashwagandha was in the Rig Veda, which was compiled around 6,000 BC.6 The benefits and uses of ashwagandha are frequently mentioned and well-documented in the Vedas.
Ashwagandha is considered important because of its versatile nature and its long list of therapeutic benefits. The knowledge of Ayurveda is spread across several Vedas, one of which describes ashwagandha as a health tonic, strength enhancer, and an aphrodisiac.7
Ayurveda preaches a holistic approach to living, which is achieved through the balance of the mind, body, and spirit using herbal ingredients in conjunction with yoga, meditation, and proper diet.8 Today, it is widely adopted as a system of alternative medicine.
Nootropic Benefits of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is still recognized for its health benefits today. It can help combat fatigue, relieve stress and anxiety, and boost stamina and energy. In other words, it can totally rejuvenate you.
It is precisely for this reason that it is known as a “rejuvenating herb.” In recent years, several studies have been conducted to evaluate ashwagandha’s effectiveness in treating remedying several health issues—a welcome move considering ashwagandha’s long history as a trusted medicinal herb. Among some of the most significant benefits of ashwagandha are its nootropic (cognitive-enhancing) benefits, some of which are highlighted below.
There have been many human studies that have demonstrated ashwagandha’s ability to reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety. In one 60 day trial, 64 individuals who suffered from chronic stress reported a 69 percent reduction in anxiety and improvement in sleep quality after being given ashwagandha.9
Supplementing with ashwagandha has also shown great promise in controlling cortisol levels and consequently regulating stress. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and it is released by the adrenal glands when an individual faces stressful situations or when blood sugar levels become too low. However, excess cortisol release over prolonged periods of time has been linked to a range of health issues, making this particular benefit especially important.
Glycowithanolide, one of the many active compounds in ashwagandha, is primarily responsible for the stress-reducing properties of this herb. In fact, one study found that glycowithanolide lowered cortisol levels by up to 30 percent.10
If you or someone you know is constantly stressed, ashwagandha might be able to be of assistance in fighting these anxious feelings.
Improves Memory and Concentration
Ashwagandha’s history shows that it was used as a memory booster in Ayurveda. Now, there is research to show that ashwagandha may, in fact, promote brain health by improving memory.
The reason behind this is because of ashwagandha’s antioxidant activity, which protects nerve cells from harmful free radicals. Free radicals are dangerous, highly reactive groups of atoms that can cause damage to the cells, resulting in memory loss and impaired brain function.
Studies have shown ashwagandha to be effective for improving general memory, reaction time, attention, and performance during tasks.11 Additionally, ashwagandha offers neuroprotection, which may prevent the onset of memory-related disorders.12
Another study observed healthy men who took 500 mg of ashwagandha daily for two weeks. By the end of the study, these participants demonstrated improvements in reaction time and performance.13
In a different clinical trial, 50 adults took 300 mg of ashwagandha for eight weeks. They reported improvements in general memory, better task performance, and increased attention and focus.14
A Safe Nootropic
Ashwagandha is a safe medicinal herb that has been around for thousands of years and has been used for a multitude of purposes. In fact, very few side effects have been attributed to it.15 If you are on the lookout for a nootropic that has a range of health benefits and few demonstrated side effects, ashwagandha might be the one for you.
Ashwagandha’s history spans thousands of years, throughout which it has been hailed as a powerful herb with many therapeutic gifts. Today, people have the resources to fully understand the range of benefits this herb has to offer, especially when it comes to the cognitive-enhancing benefits.
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