The Ashwagandha plant is believed to help with stress levels, improve memory and could lower cholesterol. It may be a tiny shrub but is believed to offer big benefits, with stars including Meghan Markle and Jennifer Aniston said to be fans.
The plant, native to India and North Africa, has yellow flowers and is commonly used in Ayurveda medicine. The roots and leaves are usually dried and ground down to a fine powder, with fans claiming it aids stress relief, lowers cholesterol, improves memory and builds muscle. And it’s not just word of mouth that has made this plant so popular, there are also studies to back it up.
In 2008, a clinical study involving 98 people examined how taking ashwagandha over 60 days affected chronic stress levels. Experts found that ingesting 125 or 250mg of the extract each day “significantly reduces experiential and biochemical indicators of stress”, with anxiety scores falling by between 60 and 75 per cent.
A study conducted in 2018 saw a group of men take 500mg of ashwagandha each day for 12 weeks to see if there was a change in muscle mass and endurance compared to another group given a placebo. At the end of the study the men given ashwagandha were able to bench press an average of 13kg more than the placebo group.
Ashwagandha was also examined for its role in improving spatial memory skills. In 2012, a study revealed rats given the extract performed better in a memory test, with experts reporting the plant boosted the animal’s antioxidant system, which restored brain receptor density and led to improved memory skills.
Another 2008 study found regularly ingesting Ashwagandha led to a 17 per cent drop in cholesterol and an 11 per cent reduction in triglycerides – which harden artery walls and increase the chances of heart disease.
The plant is usually taken in powder form, so can be easily added to a glass of water, squash or a healthy smoothie.