Height is a factor in beauty with significant cultural relevance for many. Tall is beautiful, tall is useful, tall is powerful. Tall men are strong and have an advantage in many walks of life. Tall women fit more classical depictions of beauty, and height is sought-after by many.
All of this has led to a health craze where millions of people – mostly women, but many men too – seek out any means they can to increase their height. They try everything from high heels and platform shoes to painfully invasive surgeries to herbal supplements.
Some of them work! Height-enhancing shoes increase your visible height, though the effect is temporary (it ends when you take off the shoes.) Height-increasing surgeries work too, though they are painful, dangerous, and require physical therapy to restore function. Not to mention the risk of infection!
It's no wonder that people tend to turn to herbal supplements and nutritional concoctions for their height-enhancing needs. They're cheap, they're plentiful, and they're not dangerous, most of the time. The only question is, do they work?
How Human Height Works
One of the most common go-to herbal supplements for height is ashwagandha. Millions of people, predominantly women, take ashwagandha supplements to try to increase their height.
Before we get into analyzing whether or not it works, let's talk about how people think it works. Here's how human height works, in a simplified way. We're not biologists, so if you want a more robust rundown than this, feel free to talk to a specialist.
Part one: Hormones. Human growth, from the time of conception to the end of puberty and the "peak" of growth, is controlled primarily by HGH, or Human Growth Hormone. Human Growth Hormone is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland.
HGH is important for a vast array of growth throughout the human body. In terms of height, it stimulates the production of cartilage between existing bones. That cartilage eventually ossifies, or turns into bone, and hardens to become part of the bone it previously existed between. New cartilage grows to replace it, maintaining joint lubrication and smooth function.
This happens to most joints and is a key part of growing from childhood to adulthood. It's a factor in your overall height, particularly in the knees, but also to a certain extent in the spine. It also applies to hands and feet, elongating fingers and toes and increasing shoe sizes.
Part two: Growth Range. Humans grow for the first few decades of life, though the amount of time it takes to reach maturity varies according to an array of factors. In men, growth typically stops around age 25. Before that, you can still grow taller, though once you've reached puberty and your adolescent growth spurt, you're usually around your full height. You might add an inch or two, but that's about it.
For women, height is one of the first areas of growth to "complete", and many women reach their full height around ages 14-16. Growth can continue until around 21, though it's the same as for men; you might add an inch or two, but nothing more significant than that.
Unfortunately for most people, you're usually not concerned about height, positively or negatively, until your 30s or later. By that point, it's pretty much too late for herbal supplements or changing hormones to help.
Part three: GABA. GABA is Gamma-aminobutyric Acid and is an amino acid your body uses for a variety of purposes. One of those purposes is a hormonal inhibitor, preventing the body from hormonal reuptake. In other words, it stops you from absorbing certain hormones, leaving them in your system longer, where they have their effects more strongly.
Do you see where this is going already? GABA prevents the reuptake of HGH, leaving HGH in your system longer, where it can stimulate more growth. Thus, higher amounts of GABA mean higher amounts of HGH, which mean higher amounts of growth.
Thus, the theory goes, anything that promotes more GABA in the brain will also promote more HGH, which in turn promotes more growth. Many ascribe ashwagandha with this effect.
Part four: Nutrition. Nutrition is strongly correlated with growth. Malnourished children don't grow as tall, as fast, or as strong. Severe malnutrition, of course, can be deadly. However, chronic malnutrition at a sub-fatal level can lead to stunted growth.
Studies have shown that around 20-40% of a person's height comes from nutritional factors. The remaining percentage is largely genetic. If you have tall parents, you're more likely to be tall; if you have shorter parents, you'll be shorter. Oh, there are always genetic abnormalities that lead to a child standing feet taller than their parents, but that's the exception, not the norm.
Eating a better, more robust, and nutritious diet throughout childhood is correlated with taller heights in adolescence and adulthood. In other words, the better your diet as a kid, the taller you're more likely to become. Remember, though, that this is specifically about malnutrition, not nutrition. It's more like "you have a full potential, and eating a poor diet as a child can prevent you from reaching that potential."
Where Ashwagandha Fits In
Now let's talk about how ashwagandha can, supposedly, affect this process. Various proponents will tell you that it's a beneficial ingredient every step of the way, but is that true? We'll dig into the science in a moment, but first, let's present the theories. If you can poke a hole in this, let us know in the comments.
Part one: HGH. Ashwagandha is identified as an adaptogen, which helps reduce stress and facilitates your body's ability to deal with negative influences. As the theory goes, somehow this impacts your brain's ability to produce human growth hormone. Maybe by reducing stress, your pituitary produces less cortisol, allowing it to produce more HGH instead? It's unclear. (Note: cortisol, the stress hormone, is produced by your adrenal glands, not your pituitary.)
Part two: Age. We can tell you one thing for sure: ashwagandha does not prevent or slow down your aging. Oh, it might be able to prevent some of the outward signs of aging, like wrinkles and fatigue, but it doesn't slow down your physical aging. It also won't extend your puberty or adolescence. It might be a great herbal supplement – and we believe it is – but it's not the fountain of youth.
Part three: GABA. Much like HGH, GABA is part of the hormonal chain that stimulates height, indirectly. So, the theory goes, ashwagandha can either stimulate the production of more GABA, or it can act as a supplemental pseudo-GABA, having the same effect on your hormonal system.
Part four: Nutrition. Ashwagandha is a nutritious herb, so consuming it helps you get the trace minerals and nutrients you need to avoid malnutrition, thus indirectly increasing height by reducing the likelihood of stunted growth.
The Truth About Ashwagandha for Height
So, you have the theory. Do you have ideas of where it doesn't work? Let's break it down.
First, HGH. Does ashwagandha have any impact on your body's production or absorption of human growth hormone? Well, one study was performed on the effects of ashwagandha versus those of a placebo. You can read it here. Here are some pertinent details.
- There was very little difference in effects between placebo and ashwagandha.
- The study primarily looked at symptoms suffered by aging males in their 40s and 50s.
- The study did not look directly at HGH or height, but it did look into testosterone and other natural steroids, which serve a similar purpose.
- The sample size was quite small, with under 30 participants on both sides.
So, while height wasn't looked at, you can assume two things. First, ashwagandha in this scenario had little difference from sugar pills. Second, the impact on HGH is minimal at best. Of course, given that this is a small study, not directly comparing heights, and only a short-term experiment, it doesn't have a ton of relevance one way or the other.
Second, age. We know for sure that ashwagandha does not prevent aging because nothing prevents aging. The slow but inexorable march of time comes for us all, and there's not any way to stop it. We can prolong our time in the world through diet, exercise, supplementation, medical treatment, and safety precautions, but nothing halts our progress in age.
Third, GABA. Now, this one has been studied directly. Here's a study. So, what are the results? We think the quote speaks for itself:
"Concentration-dependent inward ion currents were elicited by 'aqWS' in micro-transplanted oocytes with an EC50 equivalent to 4.7 mg/mL and a Hill coefficient (nH) of 1.6. The GABAA receptor antagonist bicuculline blocked these currents. Our results show that 'aqWS' activated inotropic GABAA channels but with lower efficacy compared to the endogenous agonist GABA. We also demonstrate for the first time that 'aqWS' is a potent agonist of GABAρ1 receptors. GABAρ1 receptors were 27 fold more sensitive to 'aqWS' than GABAA receptors. Furthermore, 'aqWS' activated GABAρ1 receptors eliciting maximum currents that were no significantly different to those produced by GABA (paired t-test; p=0.533). The differential activity on GABAA and GABA ρ1 receptors and the reported lack of significant GABA presence in WS root extract indicate that the GABAergic activity of 'aqWS' is not mediated by GABA. WS's main active components, withaferin A and withanolide A were tested to determine if they were responsible for the activation of the GABA receptors. Neither compound activated GABAA nor GABAρ1 receptors, suggesting that other constituent/s in WS are responsible for GABAA receptor-mediated responses."
Okay, so we threw that one in as a curveball. It's all science-speak, but you can translate some of it. 'aqWS' is aqueous Witheria Somnifera, aka "ashwagandha in water." All that stuff about GABAA and GABAp1 are just different mechanisms for the body to absorb GABA. A more plain English summary of the results can be found on the study page.
Essentially, "ashwagandha may have the potential to simulate the effects of GABA, and might be worth looking into as a form of treatment or a source of a potential medication that can be used to treat GABA uptake disorders such as sleep disruptions, seizures, and anxiety."
So. There's evidence to suggest that the GABA bit is true, but it alone doesn't impact your height.
Fourth, nutrition. Is ashwagandha truly nutritious? It's high in carbs, high in fiber, and high in protein, but low in fat. It has some vitamin C and some trace amounts of iron and calcium. It's not a superfood, though. A robust natural diet is better than an unhealthy diet where you rely on ashwagandha only to pull you out of malnutrition.
Reading the Results
So, what can we determine about this? CAN ashwagandha help you be taller?
The answer is, well, yes and no.
There are two ways in which ashwagandha might help you grow taller.
The first is if you're taking it when you're young, in adolescence, or earlier. When you're actively growing as a pre-teen and teen, your body is susceptible to all manner of variance. Promoting HGH through the use of more GABA-like amino acid compounds might be able to help keep your body growing. You would have to take large amounts, consistently, while you're a child, though.
The trouble is, most people aren't concerned with their height until long after this period is passed. If you're 25-30 and you're starting to get concerned about your height and its impact on your love life, beauty, or place in society, well, it's already too late.
The second-way ashwagandha can increase your height is, well, by standing on it. Anything you stand on makes you taller, right?
The truth is, for the vast majority of people, ashwagandha will have exactly zero impact on your height. It's only in rare, specific cases, more likely forced on a child by a parent, where height could be impacted.
Ashwagandha otherwise has a whole lot of benefits! It's useful for anxiety and depression, it can benefit your blood sugar, and can control several other health aspects to give you an overall better life. If these potential benefits sound interesting to you, be sure to check out our Golden Ashwagandha!
Ashwagandha is a great herbal remedy, but unfortunately not a height-changing miracle.