In the world of supplements and alternative medicine, some herbs come up time and time again. One of them is ashwagandha, also known by names like Indian Ginseng and Winter Cherry. The herb is part of traditional Indian medicine, known as ayurvedic medicine, and has been used for centuries.
Like many herbal remedies, ashwagandha has been used to cure or treat pretty much any disease or condition known to man. How effective it is at treating various ailments depends a lot on the ailment, however.
So what can ashwagandha do, and is it safe to mix with caffeine?
All About Adaptogens
Ashwagandha is one of a growing number of herbal remedies in the category known as adaptogens. Adaptogens are a health trend and a new way of categorizing herbal remedies based on their effects.
A short version is this: adaptogens are herbal medicines that help your body and mind adapt to your circumstances. They have a range of different effects, from stress relief and calming effects to anti-anxiety and anti-depression to balancing energy levels, blood sugar, and even cholesterol. They balance the thyroid, they manipulate insulin, they adjust brain chemistry, and more. All of these effects are aimed at reducing your body's overall stress levels and making it easier for you to live your life.
The overall model for adaptogens is promising but doesn't have a lot of scientific study behind it yet. Trials are ongoing and studies are forthcoming for many of the adaptogen herbs on the market. Some have well-known, well-defined effects, but others are relatively new to the market.
If their benefits are proven, adaptogens may open up an entirely new realm of herbal medicine that can help with all manner of generalized anxiety and stress disorders.
Ashwagandha is one of many adaptogens. It's part of a class of adaptogens that focuses primarily on long-term stress. Alongside holy basil and Asian ginseng, it can help manage stress levels in every-day life. Overall stress and cortisol levels can be decreased through these herbs, and you may find that your general day to day life is easier to handle.
Acute stress and anxiety – panic attacks, stress episodes, and major stressful events – have another set of adaptogens. Siberian ginseng, Rhodiola, and Schisandra have all been used as part of acute treatments throughout history, and show promise as modern treatments. They help regulate your adrenaline and the fight-or-flight response that is triggered in times of stress and anxiety.
This set of herbs has also been known to boost energy, memory, performance, and liver function.
Yet another set of adaptogens, including ashwagandha, ginseng, and the reishi mushroom all have minor effects of bolstering the immune system. The healthier your immune response is, the less likely you are to get sick, which is a whole other realm of stress you want to avoid.
Overall, adaptogens are potentially potent herbal remedies, though a lot of study needs to be done to figure out whether or not they work, how they work, and what specific compounds or phytonutrients are responsible for the effects. Don't be surprised if such research leads to the development of better synthetic drugs as well as concentrated forms of the herbs.
The Benefits of Ashwagandha
The scientific name of ashwagandha is Withania Somnifera. The second part of that phrase indicates one of the observed effects of the plant. Somnifera comes from the Latin "somni", which means sleep; somnifera is sleep-inducing. In other words, ashwagandha is a sedative.
The herb surprisingly has a lot of potential value. Modern science has taken to studying herbal remedies to isolate potentially beneficial compounds and has found a few potential benefits from ashwagandha. These include:
- Blood sugar control. It has been observed that people who take ashwagandha as a supplement have an easier time controlling their blood sugar, and their blood sugar tends to be overall lower than people who don't take the supplement. It does this in two ways; by increasing insulin production in the body, and by making tissues more sensitive to insulin, allowing your body to better control blood sugar levels.
- Stress relief. Ashwagandha has been observed to combat and control the hormone cortisol, which is also known as the "stress hormone" because it is produced in the body when you're in a stressful situation, and the decay of the hormone produces many of the effects of stress, you feel, like tiredness and hair loss.
- Anxiety relief. For the same reason that ashwagandha can combat stress, it can combat some of the effects of anxiety. It has some promising research pointing in the direction of an anti-anxiety effect, which may help some people with a generalized anxiety disorder. It won't solve breakout anxiety attacks but can keep day to day generalized anxiety lower.
- Depression relief. Anxiety and depression are closely interlinked, so anything that treats one is often used to treat the other as well. Ashwagandha may have the ability to slightly affect depression, though more research is needed to see what doses are needed to achieve what level of effect.
- Some studies have shown that ashwagandha may have the ability to boost fertility, particularly in men. Whether this is due to the stress relief effects or something more direct requires more study.
It's worth mentioning that ashwagandha's effect on stress is small. It's more of a "take some every day for overall lower stress levels" kind of medicine. It's not effective at, for example, stopping panic attacks or treating PTSD. It simply helps to lower day to day stress levels and fight ongoing stress.
Mixing Ashwagandha and Caffeine
Given what you've read above, do you think ashwagandha can be mixed with caffeine safely? Initial impressions may point you to "yes".
Luckily, that seems to be the truth.
Ashwagandha can be useful as a nootropic that can help counteract some of the negative side effects of caffeine. High levels of caffeine can increase or induce anxiety and can lead to jitters and stress. Caffeine is a stimulant, and while it can help give you more energy, it can increase overall stress levels.
Ashwagandha, meanwhile, can help relax and fight the stress in your body. Caffeine gives you energy and stress, ashwagandha takes away stress, so you're left with energy with fewer side effects.
One of the most common ways to take ashwagandha and caffeine together is by mixing the herbal supplement with your coffee. Coffee concoctions are nothing new, to us or you, so this should come as no surprise.
Coffee is a great way to consume ashwagandha because the herb itself is extremely bitter. It's difficult to hide the bitter undertones when you take it mixed with something like a smoothie, no matter what sweeteners or flavors you add to that smoothie. Coffee, of course, is already a naturally bitter beverage, so many people are used to that bitterness and don't mind a little bit more of it.
Another way to take the two together is with capsules. Caffeine capsules are easy to come by, and it's trivially easy to buy or package up ashwagandha powder in capsule form. Taking small doses – up to 250mg – of ashwagandha alongside your caffeine can help balance out the effects of both.
What Else Can You Add?
If you're interested in making a coffee beverage full of adaptogen herbs and other beneficial herbal medicines, you can certainly layer up their effects. Most herbal remedies work well with one another. Here are some options you can use to mix in with coffee alongside ashwagandha to make a powerful beverage.
Amalaki. Amalaki is another ayurvedic herbal medicine, also known as the Indian gooseberry. It's an anti-inflammatory and can help combat some of the spikier effects of caffeine, while also boosting the immune system and fighting off the effects of aging.
Cardamom. Another common spice, cardamom alkalizes your coffee and helps fight acidity, and can also help calm the stomach, especially when you're drinking your coffee first thing in the morning or are otherwise prone to digestive issues.
Cayenne. A little bit of cayenne powder adds a hint of spice to your morning brew. Capsaicin – if you can handle the spice – has a range of health benefits and is a powerful antioxidant. It's also part of traditional indigenous medicine.
Cinnamon. Cinnamon is a common spice and can be added both for its incredible flavor and for the antioxidant properties it carries with it. Some to help accentuate the flavors of coffee mixtures without overpowering them.
Cocoa powder. Yes, we're advocating adding chocolate to your morning coffee. A bit of cocoa can bring a wide range of beneficial effects to your beverage, without causing problems associated with traditional chocolate coffee beverages – namely, the spike in sugar that comes with chocolate syrup.
Coconut oil. Coconut oil is often cited as one of the healthiest fats you can consume. It's a better "creamer" than milk in terms of health benefits, and if you get processed oil you don't have to worry about a coconut flavor if that's not your thing. It's perfect for a Keto coffee but can go great in any coffee beverage.
Turmeric. The golden spice is a common and beneficial ingredient with a lot of powerful effects, primarily as an antioxidant, but also as a memory-booster.
And, of course, you're always free to add any other supplements you want to take throughout your day. Green supplements like spirulina can add some chlorophyll to your diet. Collagen supplements are a popular source of protein and can benefit your skin and hair. A whole range of vitamins and minerals can be added as well until you've essentially turned your coffee into a medicated beverage. Just make sure not to overload it too much; you still want to taste the coffee!
Side Effects and Interactions
As with many herbal remedies, you want to make sure what you're taking isn't going to interfere with anything else you're taking. Like how grapefruit can interfere with many different medications, it's possible that herbal remedies have similar effects.
Caffeine, of course, has a whole range of its own side effects. These are well understood, so we're not going to go deep into them here. Just remember that caffeine gives you energy whether you're using it or not, so if you drink it too late at night, you'll have trouble sleeping. It also builds up a tolerance quickly, so you'll need more and more of it to give you the energy you want, though ashwagandha may be able to make it a little more effective. And, of course, there are always issues with withdrawals if you stop cold turkey, which can lead to painful headaches and a loss of energy.
Ashwagandha is generally a safe herb, but it doesn't have a few interactions and side effects which you should be wary of.
- Ashwagandha can be dangerous for pregnant women. As with many herbal remedies, ashwagandha can cause uterine contractions, which can lead to miscarriage in some circumstances. Of course, caffeine should also be avoided during pregnancy, so the entire combination is something to avoid.
- Ashwagandha can interfere with immunosuppressants. One of the potential effects of ashwagandha is that it boosts the immune system. If you're taking immunosuppressants, such as for an organ transplant or chemotherapy, the herb may interfere with them. Avoid taking it in those circumstances.
- Ashwagandha can affect sedatives. Taking benzos or any other sort of natural or artificial sedatives as sleep aids or sedatives is relatively common. The herbal remedy is primarily used for its sedative and calming effects, which is fine, but you don't want to mix too many sedatives so you don't hurt yourself with them. Avoid taking ashwagandha if you're also taking medications like lorazepam, phenobarbital, or zolpidem.
As always, make sure you're getting your ashwagandha from a reputable source. All herbal remedies suffer from the potential that they come from a contaminated or adulterated source since they aren't heavily regulated by the FDA. Exercise due caution. As with all herbal remedies, start with small doses to make sure you don't experience adverse effects.