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?