Welcome to the Wellness One-oh-Ones, a digital encyclopedia for all your wellness needs. This series is geared to tackle those everyday questions you secretly ask yourself in wonderment when you hear about a new trend. Instead of pretending to know what people are talking about, come hang with us as we uncover the latest and greatest in the wellness industry. Check back every other Wednesday to pick up your refill — no doctor’s signature required.
We aren’t the only ones who felt only a little attacked watching SNL’s Goop segment, are we? Needless to say, the segment is hilarious and highlights the common issue of misinformation in the wellness industry, promptly followed by the introduction of this super root. Yes, they introduce it via Baskin Jones, a girl who can only say, “Ashwagandha is… number one” and is from Wakanda (which, for clarity, is a joke), but don’t let her lack of info stop you! With our pal Amanda Chantal Bacon, founder of MoonJuice, we got the lowdown on the real benefits of ashwagandha to help you decide if the two of you would be a perfect match.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is an ancient herb rooted in Ayurvedic medicine and, according to Amanda, is the most well-studied adaptogen. The most well-known effect of ashwagandha is its ability to “modulate our body’s response to stress”- see why so many people reach for it? It works to reduce stress simply by regulating our cortisol levels (and if you don’t know what cortisol is, it’s our stress hormone!). The benefits don’t stop there, though that’s enough reason for me. It’s also been studied to improve thyroid function, lower cholesterol, increase stamina, boost testosterone and increase fertility in men, improve brain function, reduce inflammation, increase muscle mass- the list goes on!
Does It Have Any Side Effects?
Since ashwagandha is primarily used internally, you’re sure to be curious if there’s any side effects or known conflicts to be aware of- I mean, there’s no point in adding it if it’s going to make you sick! Amanda notes that, luckily, “ashwagandha does not have any known side effects [because] adaptogens, by definition, are non-toxic.” She does suggest that “you should always check with your functional medicine doctor or herbalist to check for contradictions if you are on any medication.” To sum it up, small doses are safe, but we always say it’s best to speak to your doctor.
Pregnancy is whole other boat, though. Ashwagandha is not advised during pregnancy, as taking too much has the potential to induce abortion, according to the Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center. It’s highly recommended that you speak to a professional in this case.
What Will It Help With?
Back to the fun stuff: what exactly will ashwagandha help to heal? As mentioned above, it’s been studied to aid in numerous ailments, but we’re focusing on the most commonly asked benefits we think you want to know.
Ashwagandha has been proven to reduce stress in human and animal studies, primarily by regulating our cortisol levels. In fact, in one study, 88% of participants reported a reduction in stress and overall anxiety. I don’t think we need to sell you on this one anymore.
Though the studies in this field have only been done on animals, the results are too shocking to ignore and leave people hoping that it might have a similar effect on humans. Animal and test tube studies have found that ingesting ashwagandha both impedes the growth of cancer cells and increases the rate at which current cancer cells are killed. While it’s not proven yet for humans, many people still site this as a reason for incorporating the adaptogen.
We’d do anything to avoid that nasty winder cold, or even worse, the flu, so what’s adding another powder to our smoothie? It’s known that ashwagandha can increase your body’s white blood cell counts, which really are your body’s first responders to any sight of illness. If you ask me, this is a must for any city dweller.
Thyroid issues are rooted in stress (at this point, what isn’t caused by stress?!), so of course, ashwagandha lends a huge helping hand here, too. According to Amanda, “There have been clinical studies that show ashwagandha’s ability to modulate the HPT axis – reducing [thyroid-stimulating hormone] to normal levels,” thus reducing stress. Amanda adds that the adaptogen’s ability to regulate ‘cortisol and [thyroid-stimulating hormones] can help balance thyroid levels.” One important note is that this should not be taken in tandem with thyroid medication, as the two do not interact well. It is instead often used as an herbal fix, instead of a prescription.
Unlike turmeric, ashwagandha does not directly reduce inflammation. Instead, it helps shield the cells from the damage done by inflammation, known as lipid peroxidation. Of course, with reduced lipid peroxidation comes reduced symptoms of inflammation, meaning pain in the joints or on the skin, as well as redness and itchiness. It’s all a chain reaction, people!
Can I Use It Topically?
All of this is well and good, but I’m positive the skincare junkies out there are wondering what it can do to help us all achieve that coveted glow. Turns out, it’s great when applied topically! Ashwagandha “can help protect skin from the environment and increase skin’s resilience to oxidative stress,” according to Amanda. In this sense, it acts similarly to an antioxidant and will help reduce the effects of toxins and pollutants, and in turn slow down the aging process. Add some water to your powder, mix, apply, leave on for 10 minutes, and rinse it off. Your skin will be glowing and healthy, no doubt about it.
Feature Image via Hannah Smith