Another historical Nootropic and a member of the Adaptogen family of natural performance enhancers which empower Biohackers to live vigorously.
Organic Ashwagandha as a Nootropic helps with anxiety, insomnia, aging signs and as an adaptogen to manage stress.
This article is mostly going to focus on decoding what the human studies are saying about Ashwagandha and how this squares up with the anecdotal experiences of the Biohackers online. For more of my own personal experiences, thoughts and comparisons please see the written and video reviews in the sidebar.
While many of most notable studies have been done in the subcontinent of it's origin, it's been studied world wide and has been the subject of 202 articles of human research that can be found on Pubmed, in comparison Rhodiola has 180 articles and Panax Ginseng has 550.
It's another historical performance enhancer, coming out of Ayurvedic traditional medicine, thus it's sometimes referred to as Indian ginseng.
The Ashwaghanda actually means smell of horse; from the book Adaptogens:
this herb also gives its users the stamina and strength of a stallion. In ayurvedic medicine, this herb is considered a rasayana and is used for prolonging life, stimulating the mind, and enhancing vigor and sexual prowess as well as for its recuperative powers.
From the book The Rhodiola Revolution:
In India, where its use dates back more than 2,500 years, it is considered a rasayana— the term for herbs that increase resistance and longevity and improve general health and well-being.
It's regarded as a Yang tonic: meaning that it promotes masculine, aggressive yang energy.
Originally it was found in India and Africa. Now it's grown in the North America.
The Paradox of Anxiety
We tend to think of anxiety as kind of a problem of wimpy people, we hear anxiety and we think of...
- The lady who just locks up when she has to speak publicly in a meeting.
- The college graduate who is paralyzed by nervousness before a big job interview.
- The shy guy who is afraid to introduce himself to the pretty girl he fancies.
- The grumpy old man who watches too much television and is always angry and worried about politics.
But these are not the only manifestations of anxiety, anxiety is also an inevitable side effect of ambition. I will suggest that if you don't suffer from a little anxiety you not really ambitious.
Risk and reward are inextricably entangled, meaningful accomplishment entails danger and brilliance requires getting rid of the safety net.
If you are doing something that really matters there is a very real chance of failure and this naturally produces anxiety. If failure in the pursuit to which you dedicate yourself is not a weighty enough possibility that it has actually disturbed your sleep in recent memory, then what you are pursuing is insufficiently ambitious (unless you are really just an elite sleep hacker). You may have some great redeeming qualities but if you are not at least moderately fearful about your future, you are not ambitious.
Entrepreneurs, politicians and business people are infamous for how they self medicate for their anxiety...
Booze and marijuana
Cocaine and hard drugs
Medication and pharmaceuticals
You might say...
So anxiety is just part of the deal. If you want to do something that matters in the world anxiety and stress will be your companions.
If you were living at any other time in history that sentiment would be spot on - the cold undeniable reality of the human condition (especially for men) - but you more fortunate than you know to be living in 2017 and it's not really true anymore...
With the Biohacking tools and strategies we have at our disposal today the high performance Biohacker maintain a healthy relationship with their ambition induced anxiety...
- Meditation or a mindfulness practice.
- Exercise or weightlifting.
- Yoga, martial arts or some flow state inducing activity like surfing.
- Sleep hacking.
- Heart rate variability training.
- And Nootropic Adaptogens like Ashwaghanda.
There's obviously a lot anxiolytic drugs that people use to deal with anxiety but the problem with almost all of them is that they also blunt performance and retard cognition; 500 milligrams of Phenibut will marvelously clear your head of all your worries in about 30-45 minutes but it will have a detrimental effect on your ability to do intellectually challenging work.
This is why the Adaptogens are worth the attention of truly ambitious people, they actually modulate your stress hormones without sedating your motivation or capacity for genius. Adaptogens have such a profoundly helpful effect on the resilience and flexibility of our nervous system that when I meet Biohackers who are NOT using Adaptogens I think this guy is NOT really serious about his Biohacking!
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
In the three double-blind, placebo-controlled human studies done, it seems that consistently it takes a loading period of several weeks to really have a beneficial effect on those tormented by chronic stress or anxiety.
From a 2012 double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 64 Indians
Adaptogens are herbs that help in combating stress. Ayurvedic classical texts, animal studies and clinical studies describe Ashwagandha as a safe and effective adaptogen...
A total of 64 subjects with a history of chronic stress were enrolled into the study after performing relevant clinical examinations and laboratory tests...
The findings of this study suggest that a high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual's resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.
This study found that 300 milligrams of Ashwaghanda lowered serum cortisol by 27.9%. I find this study relevant to Biohackers because the Indians in the study were aged 18-64 and otherwise healthy other than having chronic stress.
A 2009 Canadian study compared naturopathic care using Ashwaghanda to psychotherapy intervention as solutions for moderate to severe anxiety:
"Anxiety is a serious personal health condition and represents a substantial burden to overall quality of life...
Blinding of investigators and participants during randomization and allocation was maintained. Participants in the [naturopathic care] group received dietary counseling, deep breathing relaxation techniques, a standard multi-vitamin, and the herbal medicine, [300 milligrams of] ashwagandha...
Significant differences between groups were also observed in mental health, concentration, fatigue, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life with the [naturopathic care] group exhibiting greater clinical benefit.
The notable finding from the Canadian study was that...
Deep breathing relaxation techniques
Outperformed (nearly doubling the effectiveness of...)
Deep breathing relaxation techniques
So this brings into question the value of classic psychotherapy at least in regard to chronic anxiety.
I perused several hundred user reports of people who used it to deal with their debilitating anxiety, while the studies indicated that it took between weeks to months to really achieve it's helpful effect the user reports indicated that sometimes it's tranquilizing effect takes a lot less time:
Some Biohackers enthusiastically reported a helpful effect on confidence right away, like within a few minutes even in some instances.
Others reported that they did not notice anything for several days or a week and then the effect became really apparent.
This is NOT a herbal alternative to Phenibut; you should not assume that it's going to have a near instantaneous effect on your anxiety or confidence in 30-60 minutes.
One Biohacker reported:
"Before ashwagandha it was very hard for me to speak in front of people during the meeting. This bad and extremely strong feeling of anxiety, hart beat, sweating and and panic before important meetings or presentations was so intense...
With ashwagandha all this disappeared like it never existed. No panic attacks, no anxiety, completely normal hart beat, confidence and self esteem. I feel completely calm, but in the same I'm motivated and full of energy during the day. It is just amazing that one herb in the same time makes this effect of calmness and energy."
Ashwagandha is an important tonic for people who are generally stressed-out. Rather than being overstimulating, it has a mild calming effect. In animal and human studies, this root was found to stimulate the thyroid, making it useful for hypothyroidism.
In a human trial done in India, ashwagandha wine was given to thirty patients with anxiety neurosis. Moderate improvements were noted in symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, dyspepsia, anorexia, and irritability. The most profound improvement was noted for “nervousness.”
Interestingly, I noticed that a handful of studies which demonstrated a helpful effect in humans were using Ashwaghanda in combination with various forms relaxing breathing techniques. So if you want to maximize the anti-anxiety benefits of Ashwaghanda, you'll want to checkout How to Breath like a Jedi (Taoist Breathing).
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 64 Indians in Hyderabad found that 300 milligrams daily improved the symptoms of depression by 77-79% in 60 days
The study concluded
The findings of this study suggest that a high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual's resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life."
The beneficial effect on depression seemed to be limited to those who also suffered from moderate to severe stress. Not all depressed people are stressed.
A Testosterone Hack
On the Internet you can find an confusing abundance of "testosterone hacks"
Apparently shining special lights on your junk helps...
One very proven way of increasing testosterone is lowering stress, the hormones cortisol and testosterone have an inverse relationship.
From a study of 22 men out of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill:
"In conclusion, the present findings give credence to the hypothesis suggesting a linkage between the low resting testosterone found in endurance-trained runners and stress hormones, with respect to cortisol."
What is interesting is that the subjects of this study were young, athletic college-aged men, even their testosterone was lowered by stress. Imagine what kind of effect it has on your testosterone. I suspect that Ashwaghanda doesn't have a direct effect on testosterone but that it's a downstream effect.
4 human studies totaling +370 men indicated that it has a helpful effect on testosterone:
Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males.
"To investigate the impact of Withania somnifera roots on semen profile, oxidative biomarkers, and reproductive hormone levels of infertile men...
Moreover, treatment also significantly increased serum [testosterone]."
Withania somnifera Improves Semen Quality in Stress-Related Male Fertility.
"Measuring various biochemical and stress parameters before and after treatment, suggested a definite role of stress in male infertility and the ability of [Ashwaghanda] to treat stress-related infertility."
Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial.
"The secondary efficacy measures were muscle size, body composition, serum testosterone levels and muscle recovery."
Efficacy Of Withania Somnifera On Seminal Plasma Metabolites Of Infertile Males: A Proton NMR Study At 800MHz
"Traditional Indian systems of medicine use roots of Withania somnifera for impotence, infertility treatment, stress, and the aging process. Although Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress, the molecular mechanism is not clear."
It did not have an overnight effect on testosterone, the studies indicated that it took 8 weeks to 3 months.
A Social Smart Drug
I think I first came across Ashwaghanda researching the Social Anxiety Protocol for Biohacking Confidence; it's highly recommended by a number of Biohackers as a social smart drug, I suspect this has a lot to do with it's effect on testosterone.
As any guy who has ever done 30 days of No Fap has found out, increasing your testosterone will make you quite a bit more social, talkative and motivated to go out and make friends.
Over 2 months 300 milligrams daily reduced social dysfunction by 68% in an placebo controlled study of 40 Indians:
"The drug was well-tolerated and did not occasion more adverse effects than did placebo. It is concluded that this ethanolic extract of Withania somnifera has useful anxiolytic potential and merits further investigation."
I would not really consider it a quintessential anti-aging herb, although one older study mentioned in Adaptogens was optimistic about it's use by middle aged men:
Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera dund.) on the Process of Aging in Human Volunteers (Kuppurajan et al. 1980). In this older, double-blind clinical trial, 141 men who were fifty to fifty-nine years old took this herb. Researchers noted increased levels of red blood cells, hair melanin, and hemoglobin. Sexual interest also increased, and serum cholesterol and red blood cell sedimentation rate decreased.
Ashwaghanda has a helpful effect on Pancreatic, Skin, Renal, Colon, Lung, Prostate, Stomach, Neurological, Sarcoma, Cervical and Immunological Cancers. Although, there is not enough from human studies that I would rely on it to treat or avoid cancer.
A 2013 study of 100 patients with breast cancer found that three doses daily of Ashwaghanda significantly increased quality of life and fatigue scores in comparison to placebo. It concluded:
"Withania somnifera has potential against cancer-related fatigue, in addition to improving the quality of life."
From a 2009 paper out of Tsukuba, Japan:
"Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic shrub that forms a common ingredient of health supplements, tonics, and Indian home remedies designed to promote health and quality of life...
In our efforts to characterize Ashwagandha activities and their molecular mechanisms, we initially prepared leaf extract of Ashwagandha (i-Extract) that showed tumor-inhibitory activity...
To the best of our knowledge, we provide the first example of phytochemical(s) (i-Extract and withanone) that have both anticancer and antiaging activities and point to the molecular link between aging and cancer."
From a 2012 paper which appeared in the anti-aging journal PLoS One:
"The medicinal plant Withania somnifera has been used for over centuries in Indian Ayurvedic Medicine to treat a wide spectrum of disorders. Withaferin A (WA), a bioactive compound that is isolated from this plant, has anti-inflammatory, immuno-modulatory, anti-angiogenic, and anti-cancer properties... Together our in vitro and in vivo studies suggest that [Withaferin A] suppresses [malignant pleural mesothelioma] growth by targeting multiple pathways that include blockage of proteasome activity and stimulation of apoptosis, and thus holds promise as an anti-[cancer] agent."
Around the Internet you'll find a lot of reports, like the one below, of people that found Ashwaghanda helpful in managing the chronic pain of Fibromyalgia
I regularly use this plant along with kudzu root (Pueraria lobata), cyperus root (Cyperus rotundifolia), and black cohosh root (Cimicifuga racemosa) for the chronic muscle pain of fibromyalgia. It also can be useful for neck and back pain, restless legs syndrome (when taken with magnesium), and arthritis.
However, there are no scientific studies published that evaluated the connection.
If our neurotransmitters were greek gods, GABA would be Dionysus; the deity of wine, fertility, ritual madness and religious ecstasy.
Ashwaghanda is a uniquely GABAergic adaptogen. Examine.com noted that...
Standard doses of Ashwagandha are known to possess anxiolytic effects secondary to GABAergic signalling, and low doses of Ashwagandha appear to potentiate the effects of any GABAergic anxiolytic; this includes drinking alcohol
Interestingly it's anti-anxiety effect is synergistic with alcohol and other GABAergic anxiolytics. Usually I advise against combining Nootropics and alcohol but the studies seem to indicate that Ashwaghanda will potentiate the GABAergic effects, so you would kind of get more pro-social mileage out of the alcohol.
If you really wanted to party all night (and not regret it!) I'd suggest a cocktail of Ashwaghanda, Phenibut, Nicotine and Rhodiola.
Researching Ashwaghanda you may find some dosage recommendations in the range of multiple grams as opposed hundreds of milligrams; this is referring to consuming whole root, as opposed to extracts. The majority of human studies done demonstrating a helpful effect where done using Ashwaghanda extracts. Here's the dosages suggested in the scientific literature:
If you do consume the whole root you'll want to take between 2 - 6 grams daily
Another great option is taking just a few drops in liquid form from an Ashwaghanda Tincture.
(1:5): 30–40 drops, 3 times per day.
The recommended dosage in liquid tincture form is about a dropperful three times daily.
It has a half life of just several hours; so you'll want to dose several times a day, take it with a meal for optimal absorption.
Adaptogens such as ashwagandha, Asian ginseng, rhaponticum, and rhodiola generally are safe to consume daily, but they have a medicinal taste that few people would enjoy or consider as a “beverage.”
CofactorsAccording to Jill Stansbury a prominent naturopathic physician adaptogenic stacks are an effective Biohack for alleviating the various unpleasant manifestations of menopause:
I often use adaptogens (ashwagandha, Asian ginseng, eleuthero, rhodiola) for perimenopausal women with stress symptoms, insomnia, and anxiety and emotional disturbance. I expect to see results within a week or so.
Blue vervain also is used with ashwagandha and skullcap for people with nervous tics, restless leg syndrome, mild Tourette’s syndrome (a tic disorder), and tardive dyskinesia (involuntary movements of the muscles and tongue). It especially is indicated for women who have premenstrual or menopausal anxiety or other issues related to hormonal fluctuations.
She was extremely driven to increase the company’s business and had been working at least twelve-hour days for about three years. Spelman gave her a tincture combination of ashwagandha, licorice, and reishi. After two weeks, she stated she was amazed at the increase in her energy level; she even had enough energy to cook for herself when she got home late in the evenings from a fourteen-hour workday.
Terminalia Arjuna for physical performance enhancement. From a 2010 paper:
"Our study showed that Withania somnifera increased velocity, power and VO2 max whereas Terminalia arjuna increased VO2 max and lowered resting systolic blood pressure. When given in combination, the improvement was seen in all parameters except balance and diastolic blood pressure."
Like many Nootropic herbs. it's pretty benign; you have to use it at pretty unreasonable dosages to run into trouble.
In vitro studies have suggested that it has no toxicity for humans at standard doses.
WebMD rates it as LIKELY UNSAFE for those who are pregnant.
Blood pressure. Along with it's effect on stress and cortisol it lowers blood pressure. So it should be used with caution in combination with blood pressure meds.
Diabetics will want to monitor their blood sugar levels while using Ashwaghanda as it may lower blood sugar.
Auto-immune diseases maybe exacerbated by Ashwaghanda as it stimulates the immune system.
Ashwagandha can enhance or increase the effect of barbiturates.