Podcast Episode 65 Transcript – Ashwagandha

Aidan (00:08):

Hello, and welcome to the Ideal Nutrition podcast. My name is Aidan Muir, and I am here with my co-host Leah Higl. And this is episode 65, where we are going to be talking about ashwagandha. And ashwagandha is a pretty niche topic. It comes from… I don’t know if I’m pronouncing this right, but Ayurvedic medicine, an Indian form of medicine or alternative medicine.

My interest in ashwagandha first came from a client who asked me if they could take it, about two years ago. They weren’t asking, “Should I take it?” They were just asking-

“Can I? Is there any reason why you want me not to take it?” And I remember at the time being, I actually hadn’t heard of it at that time. I looked into it. I read every study that I could find on it, and I just went massively down the rabbit hole. The thing that made me go down that rabbit hole was that it looked too good to be true to me at the time. And I was like, why hadn’t I heard of this? Why is this not a popular thing? It seemed to be pretty promising for things like stress and stuff like that. I got a bit of interest in it, particularly because I also see stress as a common factor amongst a lot of my clients as well. So, I’m like, “This could be an easy win.”

But I didn’t start recommending it to people for a long time, because there’s a few reasons I was sus on it, which we’ll probably talk through a little bit today. I couldn’t find anything really negative about it. So I was like, “Oh, it’s just something on my radar.” But then, over the last two years, like I said, since then, I’ve been seeing more and more people in the evidence-based space recommending it pretty freely. So, my interest really picked up. From that point onwards, I have used it with quite a few clients in that stress space, and they have noticed improvements. But it’s really hard to say because of that whole placebo concept as well.

Leah (01:55):

Yeah. Even just looking at the research though, I think ashwagandha and stress, that’s really where it shines when it comes to stress reduction generally. And whether it’s a placebo or not, maybe that’s still out for debate, but I still think there is enough research to say that, yeah, it might be helpful for some people who do have higher stress levels or more stressful lives, in terms of just maybe taking the edge off in a way that isn’t prescription medication, if you’re not quite up to that yet.

The evidence is pretty inconsistent for anxiety though. So, stress and anxiety are obviously quite different things. And when we look at the research around ashwagandha and anxiety, and then going on to depression, doesn’t seem like it’s that helpful. And even the research, it’s a little bit weird.

So, there’s a few things that we’re going to talk about with ashwagandha research being a little bit strange. But there was this one study, and they did claim that depression levels were reduced by 77% within this study, in taking ashwagandha. But then they-

Aidan (03:09):

Looks super promising, hey?

Leah (03:10):

Yeah. You’re like, “Whoa, 77%. Crazy stuff.” There was no one with depression in this study.

And I’m like, I just don’t know how they came to that conclusion when they went out of their way to not put anyone in this study with clinical depression. So, that was quite interesting. And then, even just in terms of anxiety, they didn’t have anyone with anxiety disorder in this study, yet they did claim that it helped with anxiety.

Aidan (03:40):

Yeah. So that study was titled… it’s a long title, but the end of it is what matters. It was, A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety-

And then they very clearly say that they chose not to put anyone with mental health, and that they got excluded from the study if they had any mental health issues like depression or anxiety. But why did you put anxiety in the title?

Leah (04:09):

It makes you wonder what their definition of anxiety was? Is it just slightly? Yeah, it’s just a really weird study and weird outcome considering, yeah, no one in that study had depression or clinical anxiety.

Aidan (04:23):

And the reason why this study matters so much, is because a lot of people do point to it. I don’t want to name names. So, there’s even like reputable websites who have used that depression level reduction of 77% and have used that as evidence that helps with depression.

They measured it in the placebo group as well. And the placebo group reduced their depression levels by 5%. So, it’s like 77% versus 5% looks incredible until you factor all of this in.

Then the next one we’re talking about is sleep quality/quantity, so just how does it help sleep? Once again, the research is pretty promising, in that it helps a little bit, so it’s nothing crazy, but it seems to help a little bit. There’s only a small amount of research. As you can expect, it seems to help a little bit more in insomnia than it does just with general improving sleep. But my personal interpretation of this area of research is that if the benefits are real and consistent… Because obviously with a small amount of research, we can’t say for sure that it’s a thing that it really, really does do. But if they are real and consistent, the benefits are probably due to reductions in stress, because that reduction in stress seems to be pretty consistent across the research. If you reduce how perceived stress you are, like you’re perceived levels of stress, does that improve your sleep? It probably does improve sleep a little bit.

Leah (05:43):

Switching back to depression quickly. Outside of the study we mentioned earlier, there is minimal research on ashwagandha and depression, but there’s this other study that was involving schizophrenic patients that showed an improvement in depression levels. But it’s a real stretch to apply that to a general population when we’re talking about, specifically people with schizophrenia and a reduction in depression there. How much of an effect is that actually going to have on someone without that condition? And it is just one study at the end of the day.

Aidan (06:21):

Yeah. And this is a space where I see it as being a little bit less being like there’s clear evidence that doesn’t help with depression and anxiety. It’s more that there’s just no evidence.

It’s just not studied that well. Apart from that one example, that was only one I found on depression, where they actually had depression to start off with.

Leah (06:39):

I don’t think it’s a damaging thing, having kind of that idea of this particular ashwagandha supplement being helpful for anxiety and depression. If it’s generally helping with stress levels, even like in a minute impact on some people in regards to depression, anxiety. But yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch to maybe overemphasize it too much.

Aidan (07:01):

Yeah. The next one we’re going to talk about is testosterone. So, all the research on ashwagandha that has measured testosterone has shown an increase in testosterone in men and minimal difference in women. So, that’s pretty promising as well that there’s an argument that can be made to carry over to strength, and muscle gains as well, some people will say. A systematic review on the topic found an average increase of 17%. So once again, that sounds promising, but I’m unaware of any real mechanisms as to why this is happening or anything like that.

And if I was like reaching for a mechanism and making the assumption that this is a thing that consistently will happen if larger scale studies are done, if I’m making that assumption. I’m personally making the assumption, I’m like, “Is that linked to stress again? Are people with higher stress levels, do they often have lower testosterone? That does seem to be a common theme.” So I’m like, “Maybe that’s an indirect effect more than a direct one.” but it’s more of a, to me, a watch this space kind of situation, even though all the research so far has shown an increase in testosterone.

Leah (08:04):

Talking about strength and muscle growth, I do want to mention this one study we came across where the participants were given 600 milligrams of ashwagandha per day for eight weeks. All the participants in this study were untrained lifters to begin with. And it just showed some pretty crazy results of a 46 kilo increase in bench press, and then 26 kilo increase in the placebo group. So, 46 kilos on your bench press in eight weeks.

Yeah. I’d be putting in all of my lifters on ashwagandha tomorrow, if I felt that was something that could actually happen.

But that’s too crazy, too good to be true, really. We know that study is a little bit off the walls, just in the numbers that it’s presenting, and it hasn’t been backed up with a ton more research showing crazy results. So, you can tell this is an outlier.

Aidan (09:04):

Yeah. It is just too good to be true. Yeah. Even if somebody was taking steroids, I don’t expect a 46 kilo… I don’t know. You can’t say the ashwagandha caused that. And it raised a lot of questions just being like, “What did the bench press of those participants look like in session one when they tested a one-rep max?” And I got the chart up earlier and it was like, they seemed to bench press somewhere between 40 and 45 kilos at the start. And then, obviously, eight weeks later they increased by 46 kilos, so 85 kilos or whatever they got to. And that’s just crazy.

Leah (09:40):

Yeah. That kind of jump is just, yeah, not expected, even in the best scenarios, even in the case where you’re taking some less than legal things. That would be a huge jump. Maybe if you’re untrained, you’d see that kind of increase. But yeah, that’s huge.

Aidan (09:57):

And because that was the first study on the topic I saw, I’m like, “Oh, that’s too good to be true. I’ll look for some more.” There were other studies, the other one that I have written up there, they used recreationally active men. They didn’t say well-trained lifters, but it was at least people who did some form of training. They had a similar length trial from memory and they increased their bench press by 12 kilos, so a smaller benefit, and the placebo group increased by eight kilos, and that seems a little bit more realistic.

Yeah. It’s still a lot. It’s still like how many supplements give that kind of boost as well?

Leah (10:36):

Yeah. Like a four kilo difference to the placebo group, like it still seem-

Aidan (10:40):

When you put it in percentage terms, it’s a big percentage increase.

Leah (10:44):

I feel like there might be a positive result though, like a positive correlation here, but it’s probably not as big as these two studies are pointing out. But it’s not something I’m going willing to pass up on just yet, in terms of, maybe it’s slightly beneficial.

But these results seem too good to be true.

Aidan (11:02):

And all of the studies have been done on strength and muscle growth, because muscle growth did increase in the actual kind groups and all of these as well, and fat loss occur too. All of them have shown positive outcomes. But, once again, there’s just a lack of research still.

Watch this space. Yeah. So then, endurance athletes. So, there’s consistent research that ashwagandha improves VO2 max. So once again, another area that looks promising. There have been claims that improves endurance performance. There has been research on endurance performance, but not really anything that I would personally categorize as useful research on that. What I would love to see is a study involving insurance athletes doing a time trial in their sport that they do, where they compare placebo versus ashwagandha, and their outcomes over time or whatever. But that doesn’t really exist. A lot of the trials that were used were people doing a different sport to their sport.

For example, cyclist on a treadmill was one of the studies that I looked at, doing time to exhaustion. And time to exhaustion has been criticized a lot in the sports nutrition world because a lot of the times results look crazy good, like people will get a 60% improvement in their time to exhaustion, but then you’ll use that exact same supplement for a time trial, and there’ll be like a 1% improvement in their time trial. And it’s like, well, most sports are time trial or race-like conditions.

Leah (12:29):

So, if you are going to take ashwagandha, how would you take it? So, if you’ve kind of come away from this podcast and gone, “I think there’s enough reason for me to take it for my individual circumstances. This is what we would do.” So, research users between 200 to 1,000 milligrams per day typically, and the most common effective dosage is around that 600 milligram per Daymark split into two dosages, one in the morning and one at night. And that specifically, ashwagandha root extract, an example of a product fitting that description would be KSM-66. Where can you get that?

Aidan (13:16):

Just buy online.

Leah (13:17):

Buy online?

Aidan (13:17):

Yeah.

Leah (13:18):

Yeah. And then when consumed in normal dosages, there seems to be really minimal risk of side effects. So, I think that’s pretty promising in terms of it’s something that you just want to try. There’s very little, if any downside, so you can give it a go.

Aidan (13:33):

Yeah. So as a bit of a summary, I view ashwagandha as promising, but there’s massive gaps in research, and a lot of the positive studies have major flaws, which is why I’ve been so cautious of it, particularly recommending it strongly or anything like that. But as you mentioned, there is minimal downside to it. When consumed in normal dosages, there’s often minimal downside to it. So, it’s one of those things that’s like, it could have potential and it could be something that’s worth considering. Me, myself, I’m lucky enough that I have no stress in my life. So I don’t-

It is pretty nice. And it’s a little bit less appealing to me because I have no stress in my life, but it’s also something that I’ve taken indirectly through other products that I view as like a nice bonus. There’s some pre-workouts that I’ve taken that have it in there, almost as if it’s like designed to calm you down from all the caffeine in the pre-workout.

There’s recovery products that I’ve taken that have put it in there as if it was like a, you do your workout and then you try and get into the rest and digest space as quickly as possible. How much? Does that matter? Probably doesn’t really matter that much. But they’ve put it in there because it should calm you down or whatever. And I find that interesting just because I’m like, “Well, there is all that research on strength and stuff like that.” but it’s also not at the point that I’m taking it for those purposes or going out of my way to take it. Because I’d love to bench press 46 more kilos.

But if I thought it was going to give me five kilos on my bench dress, I would take it. But I’m personally not at that point, but I am still watching the space because it does seem promising.

Leah (15:04):

Even with someone like me who has generalized anxiety disorder and considers themselves a pretty stressed person, I’ve never gone out of my way to take ashwagandha. And I think that kind of shows that the research isn’t that set in stone, because even someone who’s looked at it. Suffers from these things, I’m not willing to part with my hard earned money for it just yet. So yeah, it’s kind of where I sit with it.

Aidan (15:26):

Awesome. Well, this has been episode 65 of the Ideal Nutrition podcast. As always, if you could please leave a rating and review, that would be greatly appreciated. But apart from that, thank you for listening.