Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ashwagandha as a Nootropic – Experiment Update

The search for nootropic herbs continues.
The search for nootropic herbs continues. (Photo by Jim Brekke)

It's time for an update on my self-experiment with Ashwagandha, which began earlier this year in February. The herb in question, also known as Withania somnifera, is one of the many used in Ayurvedic medicine. Since many people use it as a nootropic, being a fan of cognitive boosting I figured I had to try it myself.

While Ashwagandha is commonly used for its relaxing properties, a review of the literature shows that it has a range of benefits. I've gone through the nootropic effects of Ashwagandha in detail in my previous post, so I'll only list them briefly here:

  • Activates the GABA receptor
  • Inhibits acetylcholinesterase (AChE)
  • Reduces alcohol and morphine addiction
  • Decreases stress
  • Improves sperm count and motility
  • Increases testosterone and reduces prolactin levels
  • Improves memory function in mice
  • Regenerates nerve fibers and dendrites
  • Little or no risk of toxicity
  • Negative effects on libido at very high doses

An impressive list, as you can see – but note that some of the results are from rodent studies or studies on humans suffering from high stress. The fact that Ashwagandha has been shown to bring things back to normal, so to speak, doesn't necessarily mean that it'll improve things beyond baseline in healthy people. Indeed, Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen, which refers to herbs that supposedly normalize the body's functions.

For the purposes of my experiment, I bought a bottle of NOW Foods' Ashwagandha extract, which contains 450 mg of the root extract (standardized to a minimum of 4.5 mg withanolides) per capsule. My evaluation was based on subjective effects on mood, libido and stress.

The bottle is now finished, and I'm somewhat disappointed to conclude that I didn't notice much effects from the product. I tried various approaches: taking a capsule in the morning, during the day, or in the evening, but none of them resulted in anything clearly noticeable. The only possible effect I saw was more vivid dreams when I took Ashwagandha before going to sleep, but even then the results were inconsistent. All I can say is that the combination of magnesium and Ashwagandha before bed seemed to give me a good night's sleep.

As for boosts in mood or cognition, I didn't see any. Neither did I notice a difference in my libido or stress levels. I did try taking two or three capsules at once to see if a larger dose would help, but as far as I can tell, it made no difference. At least there were no negative effects either.

To be clear, I'm not saying that Ashwagandha is useless, just that this particular product at these doses didn't do anything for me. NOW Foods has very reasonably priced products, but there are probably several ways of making a herbal extract and a wide range of effectiveness between brands, so I'm tempted to try a couple of different brands before concluding the experiment.

The active ingredients in Ashwagandha are supposedly the withanolides, so in theory, any product that contains a sufficient amount of them should give similar results. Nonetheless, based on other people's experiences, some brands may be more effective than others. If you have personal experiences (positive or negative) with Ashwagandha, please share them in the comment section. Specifically, if you can recommend a brand that worked for you – preferably one that is available at iHerb – I will consider trying that product next.

For more information on nootropics and cognition, see these posts:

60 Minutes on Boosting Brain Power
Nootropic Battle Conclusion: Acetyl-L-Carnitine vs. Ginkgo Biloba vs. Taurine
Green Tea Protects from the Psychological Effects of Stress in Rats
Does Ginkgo Biloba Improve Cognitive Performance?

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20 kommenttia:

qualia November 23, 2010 at 5:36 PM  

i tried several dozens of classic herbs and supplements to boost brain or physical performance and ashwagandha never did something that was of use to me. if i want boost mood, i take st. john's wort or SAMe, and if i need a brain or physical boost i take a potent ginseng mix ("ginseng complex" 600mg from vitamin shoppe for example is awesome), or green tea extract (also VS), or NADH, or ribose. there is a ton of other stuff that is far more impressive than ass-wagandha.. ;)

US_Taxpayer November 27, 2010 at 11:00 PM  

It's great that someone is willing to publish these experiments for the benefit of everyone else, and that you're honest and rational about the outcomes and your expectations.

If it helps, what I've found has worked for me is botox + retin-a, although this may be expensive. I'd say it's been effective in making my horizontal forehead lines fade out. This treatment runs me about $80 USD for botox (I got < 20 units) + $10/month retin-a with insurance.

Looking forward to more experiments!

Jan November 28, 2010 at 12:24 AM  

Some claim it reduces or stops hair loss. Did you notice any effect on your hair?

elamison December 1, 2010 at 4:38 PM  

Have you tried Korean/Red Ginseng? I have been doing a similar experiment and so far have noticed no difference. I'm still giving it some time, though.

Looking forward to reading results on the soy/cayenne experiment.

JLL December 1, 2010 at 4:44 PM  


After trying Korean red ginseng for hair growth, I did try it a few times for any nootropic benefits too. Didn't notice anything special, though. But it wasn't a rigorous experiment.


Anonymous December 2, 2010 at 3:41 AM  

This is "nootrope" from imminst.org again. Thanks for the update. I've found ashwagandha very useful. Some of that may be the placebo effect, but there are also some very specific side-effects I've experienced that I experience only when I take it (I sometimes wake up with the feeling that I smell something burning).

It may be that you were on a low dose for you. The Sensoril brand has 8% withanolides (you used 1%). Though the pills half half the mg of the root compared with the formulation you used, that still comes out to 4 times as potent.

Broadband January 10, 2011 at 11:58 PM  

Yes, there these and many other benefits for Ashwagandha. As a 50+ person, I can tell you it works! Here is where I get my supplies, this company makes their products in USA and have Organic Ashwagandha:

Anonymous March 14, 2011 at 1:06 PM  

my two cents is that you should try a quality extract or a milk/ghee tea (as in ayurveda)

Anonymous June 9, 2011 at 8:06 PM  

Ashwagandha is a legitimate herbal supplement. Brand is IMPORTANT. I've tried brands that don't work and brands that do. Usually, if it works WELL, it smells HORRIBLE (in Sanskrit, Ashwagandha means something to the effect of "Smell of the

Anonymous July 7, 2012 at 5:45 PM  

I am using ashwagandha root (not extract) from a bulk herb supplier at one gram per day split morning and night. I am loving it. I would not have post at all on any forum before ashwagandha.

Anonymous February 27, 2013 at 9:45 AM  

iam a anxiety disorder patient.I have tried ashwagandha.It triggers my anxiety.Actually it is suppose to calm me,but it gives a reverse effect and it triggres anxiety.I do not know how or why.

Anonymous May 31, 2013 at 10:51 AM  

Anonymous 270213: I've experienced the same thing. It seems to do that to some people. Similar to rhodiola in that respect but rhodiola makes me feel much more manic. Try combining it with a good quality reishi (which is calming). I've found having dragon herbs reishi in the evening (1 gram) and organic India ashwagandha in the morning (half a gram) a great combo. More energy and focus but chilled at the same time. Also check out magnesium oil for anxiety. Good luck.

Anonymous February 26, 2014 at 3:11 PM  

I'm a 31 year old man who is on disability pension due to dysthymia, a form of depression. Around last Christmas after unusually low mood for several months I started on Rhodiola rosea again but this time rather large dosage of 600mg/day. I take it in mornings. I hadn't taken it in six months and before took lower dosages, 200-400mg day. Ashwaganda was new to me and I started taking it before beftime, two tablespoons per day. That's about six grams.

I use the Cocovi brand of powdered, organic stuff. Again, rather high but I was aiming for the 'pharmacological' dose to treat a disease rather than to help get by that project in work or something like that. Effects have been dramatic. There is no depression. Fatigue is gone. I can concentrate and get things done. On the side effects, there is one but I call it a positive side effect. It, or them, have made me a sexual tyrannosaurus. But I rather feel energetic and think sex 24/7 rather than lie on the couch feeling nothing.

As what comes to cycling them I take two weeks in a row then one week off.

LW June 6, 2014 at 5:18 PM  

Hi LW here, I'm being treated for adrenal burnout from severe past stress. I tried 400 mg of ashwagandha yesterday late afternoon when I felt my adrenals crashing, forcing me to take a nap. This was the first time I tried just ashwaganda by itself at that doesage (my naturiopathic doc has me on Phyto-ADR which has 150mg of ashwagandha, 50mg of rhodiola and some other roots). At first I felt really weird, but then it seem to do it's job of normalizing my adrenals and fatigue went away, which helped to wake up my brain. I had been "needing" a shot of brandy every night to settle my nerves, but didn't need it last night. It did cause vivid dreams that night. Basically, it made me feel really "normal" which is awesome because I haven't been sometime...nerves always felt wrecked. Granted that was one try and I don't know how long term usage would do. But, all in all, it seems to really vary in its affect from person to person.

Anonymous November 4, 2014 at 11:27 AM  

As far as i can see the writer used only one capsule a day .
Herbs/nootropics, I think, need another approach then the usual chemicals from the industry .
You have to find out what is the right dose for yourself and experiment with brands too.
Ashwagandha absolutely works! I havre great experiences with this herb also in terms of more libido.

Anonymous November 12, 2014 at 12:30 PM  

I started using ashwa 10 days back and iam taking 500mg in night . With the use i sleep less ( 6 hrs )because i feel so active that i can not sleep . My brain seems to be full of energy and i feel like doing all that i missed in life , iam more focussed , energetic , good mood , happy , lively and just pure positive . I want to retain this feeling for life .. let us see how it goes .

Bruce wayne January 7, 2015 at 12:56 AM  

For the best results use Ashwagandha from sandhu products, as they use genuine ashwagandha roots

Quinky Girl April 1, 2015 at 4:30 AM  

So, if you happen to find this comment, I can tell you that you chose a poor brand. I've worked for years in the dietary supplement industry, and although NOW makes some good products, their herbs aren't all that great. I've tried many brands, and my favorite is R-U-Ved. You'll have to order it online unless you live in the Pacific Northwest. Now, that being said, you might fare better with Rhodiola. New Chapter makes a good one called Rhodiola force, in 100 and 300 mg potencies. Generally, the 100 is recommended for mental focus, the 300 for athletic and physical stamina.

Anonymous May 25, 2015 at 5:03 PM  

You can try Ashwagandharishta instead of to get the positive result. Good wishes

Allison Khan October 24, 2015 at 8:54 PM  

I make and use tinctures of medicine. I would also suspect that NOW doesn't have any root or ashwaganda in there. I was surprised by my own tinctures. Roots smell. They are the strongest medicine of the plant as it is all concentrated in there. When I buy somone else's tincture, it does not smell. I wondered why that was? Valarian stinks. Garlic is extra garlicky! Onion--uck! But the worst smell in the universe is Asafoetida. It smells like a mechanics' shop. So the question is, what are they selling you if they don't smell? Either they extend it or the ingredient they put in it is not in there at all. I would buy tinctures from a reputable maker. I make it at home in small batches. Look for those. It is a concentrate made in 6 weeks. Don't buy a one weeker!

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