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ASHWAGANDHA BENEFITS: What Ashwagandha Is And How It Works

August 21, 2019


– [Dorian] I can’t be the only one who sometimes dreams what it would be like to live in a different time period until I remember the healthcare. (classical music) (coughing) Definitely the common cold. Don’t worry, three leeches for 30 minutes will fix you right up. (snarling) Well some things have
definitely changed since then. I think sometimes people over blow how backwards traditional medicine was. Joke about how medieval
doctors used leeches to cure injuries all you want, but explain why modern-day doctors are now beginning to use them
too as studies demonstrate leeches are able to
stimulation circulation and draw out contaminated blood. I think part of the
problem lays in the fact that leeches don’t come in
that little orange drug bottle, which in today’s world
means one thing, results. While leeches actually
have medical backing, that orange bottle is so powerful that when given blank sugar pills and told it was a pharmaceutical drug, patients still reported feeling like there were reductions
in their symptoms. A drug is simply a chemical
substance of known structure which has been proven to treat a disease. All that’s special about it is
that it has been standardized and researched conclusively. But here’s the thing, many
of these chemical structures are actually inspire by
chemicals found in nature. Don’t believe me? For thousands of years
willow bark was gathered and used as a pain reliever. We now know that it contains the chemical
substance salicylic acid. We know this because centuries later salicylic acid from willow bark
was being extracted and sold as acetylsalicylic acid, better known by its brand name aspirin, now one of the most
popular drugs in the world. While the idea of drinking
some willow bark tea for your achy joints
might seem like nonsense, I doubt you’d think twice about the efficacy of aspirin, why? Because thousands of research
studies and testimonials speak to the fact that it works. This is what is key to remember
when we discuss ashwagandha. For thousands of years ashwagandha root was one of the staples of
traditional Indian medicine and what I want you to remember is just because it doesn’t
come in that orange bottle doesn’t mean that the
chemical compounds within it are any less effective. In this video we are going
to take a scientific approach looking at the substances within the root, the research-backed
benefits of consuming them, and how this simple root
has helped so many people. The name itself comes from the
translation smell of horse, which is attributed to the root itself smelling a bit like a horse
and the idea that the root is supposed to give you
the strength and virility of a wild horse. More on that later. In traditional Indian medicine it is classified as rasayana, meaning it is believed
to lead to a long life. Similarly, in more modern times, medicine tends to classify
it as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are compounds
which all the body to deal with the physical and
chemical effects of stress. It’s no surprise then that one of its most celebrated benefits is an apparent reduction
in feelings of anxiety and a boost in mood. As people began to understand
the importance of hormones, claims began to surface that ashwagandha possesses
the direct ability to reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Ayurvedic medicine also
classifies it as bhalaya, signifying a belief it increases
strength and as vajikara, which means something
works as an aphrodisiac. In a similar vein, the strength
and bodybuilding communities often float claims that it
directly increases testosterone, which could potentially lead to greater strength and fitness. There are also claims
surrounding a benefit to male fertility. Today, we’re gonna look at
all of these common claims and check what the
published research says. Beyond that though, let’s
go a little bit deeper and understand what the
key chemical structures are within the root, which endow ashwagandha with its medicinal properties. So your first question may be, how could a root even
have medicinal properties? Isn’t is just made up of root molecules? Well, as it turns out plants are just a little
more complicated than that. See inside plants are an
array of special compounds known as phytochemicals. Because plants can’t move
around to meet their needs, these secondary metabolites
exist to perform specific tasks. Some act as an immune system, responding to and
attacking disease molecules if their soil becomes contaminated. Some are designed to deter
insects from eating them as the plant can’t exactly run away. And certain phytochemicals simply help the plant
grow fast and strong. In any given plant species,
there are between 200,000 and a million unique chemical compounds. When you have an organism with so many potential phytochemicals, every so often these molecules
can overlap with ones which activate pathways in our own bodies. In this way, they can have a very
meaningful effect on our bodies when consumed, just as the
chemicals in willow bark can trigger receptors and pathways which dull the sensation of pain. What makes ashwagandha
special is that it contains an unusually high number of phytochemicals which positively influence
systems in our own bodies. Worth special attention is a family of approximately
40 phytochemicals which ashwagandha contains. They’re a class of steroidal
lactones known as withanolides. Don’t let the word steroid
confuse you though. In our bodies there are a bunch of
naturally-occurring steroid hormones, which do everything from
suppressing inflammation to helping us heal from
injury and build muscle. One of the most common
claims regarding ashwagandha is that it helps to reduce levels of the stress
steroid hormone cortisol as well as the resultant feelings
of anxiety and depression resulting in an overall
improved feeling of well-being and a new positivity towards life. I saw a YouTube comment the other day which backed this up saying, “I always feel anxious and
stress for no reason at all “and ashwagandha takes me
off the fight-or-flight mode. “I don’t behave like a squirrel. “I’m more chill and much happier.” But this of course is just anecdotal. I’m sure many of you
are wondering like I was whether these results are real or just that placebo effect,
which we talked about earlier. In 2008 a clinical trial was conducted to address exactly this question. They found 98 chronically stressed out but otherwise healthy participants and had participants complete a survey to measure the degree of their stress. The survey was based on a Bengali version of a modified Hamilton
Anxiety Scale for stress and had participants
rate symptoms of anxiety on a five-point scale. Zero meaning they never
experienced that symptom and four meaning they feel that
symptom to a severe degree. They divided the participants
into four groups. The placebo group, which
would consume a pill without ashwagandha in it,
one group which would consume one daily dose of 125 milligrams
of ashwagandha root powder, one group would consume
250 milligrams each day, and the last group would
take 500 milligrams of the root powder each day. The researchers were smart to use a standardized ashwagandha extract. This ensured that the
root powder was tested and verified to contain enough
of the key withanolides, removing some of the guesswork. That’s actually why I
also personally choose to take a standardized extract. I put a link in the description
to the one I take myself but any standardized extract
should work similarly well. This way they could see if ashwagandha would truly have the desired
effect on the participants. After 30 and 60 days, they re-administered the questionnaire to see if any of the symptoms had reduced. What they found was pretty amazing. In the lowest dose group by day
30 their average total score dropped by 39.5% and by
day 60 it had dropped 62.2% compared to the placebo group, which saw no significant change at all. The groups taking larger
doses of ashwagandha saw even greater decreases in their scores in a dose-dependent manner,
leading to the conclusion that not only is ashwagandha effective but 500+ milligrams seems
to be the optimal amount for maximum benefits. Reductions like this make
it sound like ashwagandha is almost too good to be
true, begging the question how are the chemicals in the root able to have such profound effects? While the research is far from complete, there are some very promising theories backed by some additional
findings in the previous studies which I haven’t mentioned yet. You see, while the questionnaires provided evidence of an effect, the researchers also
measured biological changes. At the start of the study they took baseline levels
of several hormones including cortisol, DHEAS,
and C-reactive protein to name a few. What happened after the
60 days to these levels provides a strong clue as to how ashwagandha is
exerting its powerful effects. To fully understand though, we need a quick bio
lesson on free radicals and their impact on your
health, brain, and mood. Bear with me here, as
understanding this is key to helping everything else make sense. If you don’t really care
about the mechanisms behind ashwagandha reducing
anxiety and depression you can skip ahead to learn
about the rest of the benefits. In past videos, we’ve
talked about how our bodies turn the nutrients in the food we eat into energy our cells can use. This usable energy is a
specific chemical called ATP. ATP molecules are comprised
of adenosine and a chain of three phosphate molecules. Think of ATP molecules as
our body’s energy units. Our cells create ATP within themselves by combining oxygen with
other precursor chemicals. ATP is great because once it
is time to use this energy the third phosphate on the
chain of the ATP molecule can be released, resulting in a burst of
energy being given off. (pop) This energy powers our cells and by extension our entire body. One of the main processes of
creating these energy units is called the electron transport chain, which involves a complex
series of chemical reactions which create ATP as well
as various byproducts. One of the byproducts of the
system are excess electrons, hence the name. Now, usually this isn’t a problem. Through a series of oxidation
reduction reactions, the electrons can be brought
to an oxygen molecule which is then combined with hydrogen to produce simple, harmless water. However, in anywhere from
.1% to 2% of electrons passing through the
chain there is a glitch where oxygen is instead prematurely and incompletely reduced, creating the superoxide radical which is definitely not harmless. superoxide is a type of free radical. Think of these free radicals
like the chemical emissions car engines give off when they misfire as they become older and less efficient. Only unlike the accidental chemicals that come out of your car exhaust, which can damage the
world outside your body, these free radicals can damage
the systems inside your body. Free radicals can begin causing havoc, binding with chemicals
they aren’t meant to, reacting with harmless chemicals turning them into toxic
ones, even causing DNA damage which can lead to cell death. This is why people will warn you about the dangers of free radicals. They are hurting your
body at a molecular level. What’s worse is because they
originate in the mitochondria, that’s often the place
they damage the most. If this energy center is damaged it can become less
efficient in creating ATP, leading to the creation of
even more free radicals. While energy generation is
the most abundant source, environmental factors can also lead to the
generation of free radicals. One of the biggest of these sources is ultraviolet rays from the sun, which when they impact your
skin can knock into molecules, breaking the electrons free which then causes the cell and DNA damage, which we’ve come to expect
from too much sun exposure. Seeing as how this can be a problem, our bodies have a complex
antioxidant defense system which is usually able to clear
away these free radicals. Enzymes, such as superoxide
dismutase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase all exist to neutralize free radicals. In addition, there are
non-enzymatic defenses; vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc,
and copper to name a few. However, sometimes, whether
it’s due to your diet, lifestyle, or simply genetics these defenses can get worn down leading to an overabundance
of free radicals. This is both a major problem but also a major
opportunity for ashwagandha. Once I get to it, this
will all make sense. See, not only do free radicals destroy DNA and cause cell death, but they also trigger
immune and stress responses, both of which lead to the key
which ties this all together, the inflammatory response, one of the oldest protective
mechanisms in our body. In fact, elements of it existed even before the development
of our nervous system. Our stress response and immune response evolved from this primitive
inflammatory response. This is why pathways, which activate during
stress and immune responses, will trigger inflammation. If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction which led to swelling that’s an example of the immune system mistaking something harmless
for a dangerous pathogen and when the immune system triggers it also lights up the
inflammatory response. Here is where it gets crazy though. If you’re antioxidant defense
systems are worn down, levels of free radicals
can easily get out of hand. These free radical levels
trigger the immune response because high levels of free radicals often indicate cell damage. The immune system thinks
there’s a pathogen damaging your body and what
comes with the immune response, the inflammatory response. Just like how an allergic
reaction can cause swelling on the outside of your body, these free radical
triggered immune responses can cause low levels of
inflammation within your body. The brain is especially
susceptible to this inflammation because it has one of the highest mass-specific oxygen
consumption rates in the body. So even the smallest imbalance in antioxidant defense mechanisms can be damaging to brain cells. Brain regions in the limbic
system, both play a large role in controlling symptoms
of depression and anxiety and also seem to be strongly impacted by the damaging effects of free radicals. More and more researchers are beginning to make the connection that continual low-grade systemic
inflammation in the brain, termed neuro-inflammation,
is deeply involved in the pathophysiologiy of feelings of depression and anxiety. One piece of evidence for this link is in levels of C-reactive protein. C-reactive protein is produced during an inflammatory response. Doctors actually use elevated
levels of C-reactive protein as an indicator of an
inflammatory condition. An analysis published
by JAMA Psychology found increasing CRP levels were also associated with increasing risk for psychological distress and depression. Let’s now look back at
the last clinical trial on ashwagandha which saw
subjects report major improvement in feelings of anxiety and depression. After 60 days consuming ashwagandha there C-reactive protein levels were down by about a third across the
different dosage groups. Meaning the consumption of ashwagandha reduces neuro-inflammation which is increasingly being recognized as causative in feelings
of depression and anxiety. The role neuro-inflammation
plays in these conditions and the evidence that ashwagandha is able to
reduce neuro-inflammation provides a solid explanation of how it is able to have
such a positive impact on the subjects. Science is still figuring out exactly how ashwagandha is able to do this but a study on rat brains has demonstrated the consumption of
ashwagandha is able to boost the body’s natural antioxidant defenses showing increases in levels
of glutathione peroxidase, superoxide dismutase, and catalase. Through reducing neuro-inflammation and thereby baseline levels
of immune and stress hormones, it would make sense that the brain would
also be less sensitive to stressful events
through day-to-day life. As I said, stress and
inflammation are closely linked, so much so that some of the same
neuropeptides control both. An example of which is the
nuclear factor KB pathway which when activated
leads to both inflammation and the release of various stress hormones through activation of the HPA axis. Ashwagandha has been shown in studies to be able to disrupt this NF KB pathway. This explains why the clinical trial which saw reductions in C-reactive protein also logged reductions in the levels of the
stress hormone cortisol. So it seems that claims
regarding ashwagandha reducing feelings of anxiety,
depression, and stress are confirmed. Unsurprisingly, through these
positive effects on stress ashwagandha can decrease many of the secondary symptoms of stress. Studies have shown
decreases in blood pressure and heart rate as well as increases in social
functioning and motivation. Since oxidative stress is
also a component of aging and many degenerative diseases like arthritis and Parkinson’s, the traditional beliefs about
improving life expectancy could have some actual merit. While it’s beyond the scope of this video, I should also mention
there has even been study into the cancer-fighting abilities of some of the active
chemicals in ashwagandha. Studies in live mice have
shown growth inhibition in various types of tumors, leading more research to
be conducted on this topic. Now there’s one major category which we haven’t touched on yet. These would be the claims
regarding boosts in testosterone, muscle size, strength, and male fertility. While luckily for us, there was also research on these topics. In 2015 a study was
published in the Journal of the International
Society of Sports Nutrition to take on the longstanding claims of ashwagandha boosting strength. The idea was to take 57 young men with little training experience and divide them into two groups. Subjects in the treatment
group consumed 300 milligrams of ashwagandha root extract twice daily while the control group
consumed starch placebos. They all tested their one-rep max strength on the bench press and leg extension then performed the same
resistance training program for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks they tested for changes
in one-rep max strength as well as measured for muscle size and testosterone level changes. Now, if you’ve watched my
channel for a little bit, you know I’m always skeptical
of the ability of a herb to significantly affect
muscular development, which is why I was
surprised with the results. Compared to the placebo group, the group consuming the ashwagandha gained significantly more strength while the placebo group packed on an average of 26.4 kilograms
onto their bench press over the two months. The group consuming ashwagandha added an average of 46 kilograms. A similar difference was also
seen on the leg extension. Additionally, the ashwagandha group also gained a bit more muscle size than the placebo group did. Now it’s well known that new lifters will usually make the
fastest gains in strength. So I’d be curious to
see how a similar study on trained individuals would turn out. But regardless, these numbers
really caught my interest. The authors of the study put forth several
explanations for the results. I’ll quickly touch on a couple. See the ability to hit a one-rep max lift can be broken into three components; the size of the muscles doing the lift, their ability to produce energy, and the central nervous system’s ability to recruit the muscles and coordinate them to generate the required force. While we already saw that
ashwagandha consumption can help with brain function through reductions in inflammation, it is reasonable to hypothesize that this might have a carryover benefit to the rest of the CNS as well. Also, from an energy production standpoint we know that the antioxidant
properties of the herb can have beneficial effects on mitochondrial energy
levels and functioning but the most interesting
element by far is muscle size. Based on the measurements
the researchers took, we already know that the
group consuming ashwagandha did see slightly more muscle growth. So for certain, this factor
is playing some role. There are two possible
explanations for this. One is that the boost
in testosterone levels led to greater muscle growth. After all, it’s well proven that super-physiological
levels of testosterone lead to increases in muscle size. My issue with that explanation though is that while the increase
was statistically significant and impressive for a herb, testosterone levels still
remained within natural levels. While the placebo group’s
serum testosterone levels increased to about 695
nanograms per deciliter, the treatment group’s
average level was 725. In my opinion, that isn’t enough alone to explain such a large
discrepancy in gains. So what is mediating the
ability of ashwagandha to promote muscle growth? I think the answer lies in the benefits we’ve previous covered. For one, the ability of ashwagandha to lower cortisol levels. We saw that cortisol
levels fell significantly in the subjects consuming ashwagandha. Cortisol is known to be
causative in muscle breakdown. Also, a recently conducted
population-based study found that higher levels of IL-6 and CRP increased the risk of
muscle strength loss. Ashwagandha, as you may
remember, both lowers CRP and suppresses the NF KB pathway, which is what produces IL-6. You can see how one study put it here. This means while ashwagandha
is promoting growth pathways, it’s also reducing the
activation of pathways which break down muscle. In terms of fertility benefits,
studies on infertile men have found improvements in
sperm health and quality. This coincides with both reductions in markers of oxidative
stress in testicles and improvements in
reproductive hormone levels. So now I hope you have a better idea of how ashwagandha really works. I had to read through countless papers to get to this understanding,
but now you won’t have to. One thing I should mention, if you’re interested in picking some up make sure you buy from a reputable brand. Some brands will dilute the root powder with material from other
parts of the plant, which haven’t been shown
to produce the same result. Some brands are doing it right though. They select strains of the plant to breed with potency in mind. They also test and standardize
all of their extract to ensure it contains
the active withanolides. I personally always go with these since it gives me a better
idea of what I’m getting. While there are few on the market, the most common one you’ll
see is called KSM-66. Developed by a lab in India, I like that it’s certified as USDA Organic and it’s what’s used in the ashwagandha
supplement I linked below, the one I take. Also, this channel just
has 5,000 subscribers, so if you wanna make sure
you see my next video, consider subscribing or
you may never see me again. Also, feel free to follow me on Instagram, shoot me a DM, like all my
pictures if you must insist, it’s up to you. Also, as we get closer
to 10,000 subscribers, I hope you’re all getting
hyped for my next PR video. You’re gonna be downing some
ashwagandha before that one. Until next time, D Man signing off.

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