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Is Ashwagandha a Nootropic? (Explained by a Nutritionist)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Methodology
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The potential benefits of ashwagandha make it a serious consideration for many fitness clients looking for natural ways to improve their mental and cognitive health.

The increasing trend of including ashwagandha in nootropic supplements prompted me to sit down with our nutritionists and take a deeper look at this fascinating Indian plant.

Curious about ashwagandha? Read on to learn more.

Quick Summary

  • Ashwagandha is a nootropic plant used in traditional Indian medicine to reduce stress and increase energy.
  • There are two branded forms of ashwagandha commonly found on supplement labels.
  • Ashwagandha is a potent adaptogen.

Is Ashwagandha a Nootropic?

Top view of powdered ashwagandha nootropic in a bowl

Ashwagandha is a nootropic in that it has nootropic-like properties, with many believing it improves cognitive function, reduces stress and anxiety, and enhances overall well-being.

Recent scientific research confirms the nootropic benefit of ashwagandha that Ayurvedic medicine discovered thousands of years ago [1].

Let's take a closer look.

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is a plant that has been around for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, an Indian system of medicine that dates back more than 5,000 years, and is considered as an organic nootropic.

Interestingly, Indian ginseng is another term for ashwagandha, probably due to its rejuvenating properties, but it is not ginseng.

It is in the same family as the tomato, with yellow flowers and red fruit the size of a raisin.

When reading supplement labels, you will likely come across two patented forms of ashwagandha, KSM-66 and Sensoril.

Let's briefly discuss the two.

KSM-66 vs. Sensoril

Top view of different variety of ashwagandha

KSM-66 is a patented, specialized extract from the plant's root that closely matches raw ashwagandha.

KSM-66 producers use a process they believe is in line with ancient Ayurvedic medicine by pre-treating the roots with milk, allowing them to get the highest purity [2].

Sensoril is a patented extract from both the root and the leaf of the ashwagandha plant and seems to have more calming effects that promote reduced stress and improved sleep quality and can improve cognitive function [3].

“Ashwagandha supplements may improve memory, reaction time, and the ability to perform tasks in certain populations.”
- Jillian Kubala, M.S., R.D

How It Works in the Brain

Ashwagandha is a nootropic that helps with stress because it works in the brain by modulating the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

The HPA axis regulates the body's stress response [4].

Additionally, ashwagandha appears to affect levels of cortisol, heat shock proteins (Hsp70), and c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK-1), which are all activated by stress [5].

Essentially controlling these responses to stress can help combat anxiety, depression, weight gain, fatigue, and many other health problems like high blood pressure [6].

Curious about the optimal dose? Read on.

How Much Should I Take?

Ashwagandha and powder

How much ashwagandha to take varies significantly, with my research showing dosages ranging from 200 to 600 mg daily.

It is critical to consult your doctor before beginning any new supplement to discuss interactions with health conditions and current medications.

This discussion is vital for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Additionally, if you are new to ashwagandha, it's best to start with a conservative dose so you can determine your tolerance level.

Related: When is the Best Time to Take Ashwagandha?

What is the Best Form of Ashwagandha?

The best forms of ashwagandha are KSM-66 and Sensoril, both branded, organic, full-spectrum, and potent extracts offering the highest quality and possibly efficacy over generic brands.

However, ashwagandha comes in capsule, powder, and liquid form from countless manufacturers.

Potential Side Effects of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is usually well-tolerated by most healthy adults when taken in small to medium doses. Higher doses can lead to some adverse side effects, likely due to the irritation of the intestinal mucosa [7].

These side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Digestive upset

FAQs

Is Ashwagandha a Nootropic or Adaptogen?

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen with nootropic-like properties. The plant can significantly impact your body's response to stress and has been doing such in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.

Is Ashwagandha a Safe Nootropic?

Ashwagandha is a safe nootropic with potent adaptogenic effects when taken in small to medium doses. Larger doses can lead to some bothersome digestive issues. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid ashwagandha.

Final Thoughts on Ashwagandha as a Nootropic

Many people use the term nootropic and adaptogen interchangeably, and many herbs contain both properties.

My research shows it is not unreasonable to label ashwagandha as both an adaptogen and nootropic.

Many of the top nootropics we have reviewed and approved contain ashwagandha in their formulas alongside other cognitive-boosting and stress-reducing ingredients.

If you want to become calmer and more focused, check out our lists of top nootropic supplements we thoroughly tested for safety and efficacy.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26361721/
  2. https://ksm66ashwagandhaa.com/ksm-66/what-is-ksm-66/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3897003/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6750292/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6979308/
  6. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318407
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