Menopause ushers in a range of physiological changes and emotional fluctuations. From disruptive hot flushes and night sweats to mood swings and sleep disturbances, these menopausal symptoms can significantly impact a woman’s quality of life.
As a dietitian specializing in midlife nutrition, I like to take a food-first approach but there are a few supplements that I routinely suggest. Ashwagandha is one of them.
With roots deeply embedded in ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha has been revered for centuries for its potential in supporting overall well-being. In this article, we will look at the emerging science and its potential role in helping with menopause symptoms.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha, scientifically known as Withania somnifera, is a small evergreen shrub found in dry areas of India, the Middle East as well as parts of Africa. As an adaptogenic herb it has been used in traditional medicine systems for centuries.
Over the past decade or so the health benefits of Ashwagandha have received more attention from Western medical researchers.
Traditionally, Ashwagandha has been employed as an adaptogen—a substance that helps the body adapt to stress and restore balance. It has been used to support overall well-being, enhance vitality, and promote longevity.
Additionally, Ashwagandha has been utilized to address various health concerns, including low energy levels, anxiety, insomnia, and reproductive health issues.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens belong to a category of medicinal plants that enhance our body’s ability to withstand and manage stress. They come in various forms, and each type has its own distinct way of working within our bodies.
Some adaptogens have stimulating effects, while others have a calming influence. They can support hormone balance and boost our immune system.
Adaptogens work by targeting a part of our body called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This system controls how we react to stress and affects things like digestion, mood, body temperature, and immunity. By acting on the HPA axis, adaptogens help us become more resilient to stress and promote our overall well-being.
How does Ashwagandha work for Menopause?
The number of clinical trials looking at Ashwagandha for women are pretty sparse at the moment. And those specifically with women during menopause is even worse. But what data we do have is pretty promising.
Ashwagandha supplements may have positive effects on symptoms of menopause and help to improve overall quality of life through the transition.
Relieves Stress and Anxiety
Ashwagandha is perhaps best known for its stress-relieving properties. Using a variety of self-assessment scales as well as measuring cortisol levels, studies have shown that ashwagandha helps to significantly decrease stress and anxiety levels.
A recent placebo-controlled study with menopausal women found that after 8 weeks of taking 600 mg of Ashwagandha, women had an improvement in their quality of life, particularly in reduced anxiety, irritability and depressive symptoms.
Reduced hot flashes
That same study found that women who supplemented with ashwagandha experienced a significant reduction in their severity of hot flashes and sweating compared to the placebo group.
Enhancing Sleep Quality and Combating Insomnia
Sleep disturbances and insomnia are common challenges faced by women during menopause. Ashwagandha’s potential to enhance sleep quality and support restful sleep can be attributed to its calming and anxiety-reducing properties.
By promoting relaxation and modulating stress hormones, Ashwagandha may help individuals fall asleep more easily, experience deeper sleep, and wake up feeling more refreshed.
In a systematic review of 5 random controlled trials with a total of 400 participants 600 mg of ashwagandha per day had a small but significant effect on overall sleep. The improvements in sleep were most noticeable for those who previously reported they had insomnia. Ashwagandha extract was also found to improve mental alertness and anxiety levels on rising.
Sharpens Focus and Memory
Cognitive function changes, such as difficulty with memory and concentration, can be frustrating symptoms experienced during menopause. This herb has neuroprotective properties, which means it may help protect our brain cells and support overall brain health. Additionally, Ashwagandha has cognitive-enhancing properties, meaning it may help improve memory and concentration.
Small studies(in both men and women) have shown that ashwagandha had a significant positive effect compared to placebo in improving how quickly participants could think and respond to instructions in tests that measured their mental abilities. Another found that ashwagandha made a big improvement in participants’ attention spans, immediate memory, and overall memory when tested in different ways.
Improves sexual function
Sexual dysfunction during menopause can include low libido (sex drive), vaginal dryness, and difficulty achieving orgasm. Ashwagandha may help address these issues by supporting hormonal balance and promoting overall sexual well-being.
According to a small clinical study of 50 women ages 21-50 years of age, ashwagandha was shown to have significant improvements in various aspects of their sexual experiences. These improvements included increased arousal, better lubrication, improved orgasms, and overall satisfaction. Additionally, the participants also reported feeling less distressed about their sex lives and sexuality.
While much more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms and efficacy of Ashwagandha for menopause symptom relief, these initial findings highlight the herb’s potential to managing menopause challenges.
Does Ashwagandha have side effects?
Ashwagandha is generally well-tolerated, and has been used safely in doses up to 1250 mg daily for 6 months in a wide variety of studies without adverse effects. Some individuals may experience mild side effects such as stomach upset, diarrhea, or nausea. These side effects typically don’t last long and tend to go away over time. Taking Ashwagandha with food or dividing the dosage throughout the day can also help minimize digestive discomfort.
When using any medication or supplement, it’s important to be aware of potential side effects and take precautions, especially if you have certain health conditions or take medications.
Everyone’s response to Ashwagandha may vary, and it is important to listen to your body and adjust as necessary.
If you experience persistent or severe side effects, it is advisable to discontinue use.
If you have autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or multiple sclerosis, it is important to be cautious when using Ashwagandha. The herb may stimulate the immune system, potentially exacerbating autoimmune symptoms.
It is generally not recommended for individuals with thyroid disorders as it can affect your T3 and T4 thyroid hormones.
It is also recommended that you stop taking Ashwagandha 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery due to it’s potential to interact with anesthesia.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult with their healthcare provider before using Ashwagandha supplementation, as there is limited research on its safety during these periods.
How much ashwagandha per day?
As mentioned above Ashwagandha has been safely taken in many different doses up to 1250 mg per day without any issues.
Dr. Stacy Sims, in her book Next Level: Your Guide to Kicking Ass, Feeling Great and Crushing Goals Through Menopause and Beyond, recommends taking 300 milligrams twice per day. (This is in line with the dose used in the menopause study mentioned above). She recommends looking for a supplement that contains withanolides, saponins and alkaloids (from the root), with a withanolide concentration of 5-8%.
Ashwagandha holds significant potential as a natural remedy for alleviating menopause symptoms and supporting women during this transformative phase of life. While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms and efficacy of Ashwagandha for menopause symptom relief, the initial findings are promising.
Check out this blog post to see what other supplements I usually recommend.