Ashwagandha has been turning heads as a superstar botanical.
Between February 2022 and 2023, the number of ashwagandha products in the US grew by over 30% to 811, with units sold up 15.9% to 8.49 million.1 Furthermore, SPINS retailer data recorded a 17.3% rise in sales for the four weeks to January 29, 2023.
This recent uplift is intriguing for an herb whose medicinal use can be traced back thousands of years in Ayurvedic healing. What’s behind this growing trend?
“Post COVID, people have suffered from anxiety and stress and they’re looking for a solution that works,” says Max Willis, chief innovation and science officer at Nutraceutical Corporation, a Better Being Company.
“We saw a massive influx of CBD in the industry, and that has softened as ashwagandha has picked up, both because of promotional activities and because it really works. And when something works, people share the good news with their friends and family and ashwagandha now is absolutely entering the mainstream in its credibility for efficacy.”
It’s fair to say that botanical’s health benefits which have been recognized for over four thousand years are steadily being corroborated by science. Traditionally, ashwagandha has been used as aphrodisiac and has been linked to improving sexual function in both men and women. It is also linked to cognitive function, promoting focus and alertness, as well as enhancing cardiovascular function.
As an adaptogenic herb with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, ashwagandha neither sedates nor stimulates, but rather is known for establishing homeostasis in the body, quelling mild to moderate anxiety. However, it’s ashwagandha’s ability to mitigate stress that is the crux of its biological benefits, helping the body to adapt to all forms of physical and mental pressures, and improve sleep quality.
Physical and mental stress
Stress is more than a nuisance – it can degrade all systems of the body and ruin health, sometimes with fatal consequences. Maintaining the human body and mind in a strong and healthy state depends greatly on the ability to mitigate stress.
The health benefits of ashwagandha are increasingly being evidenced by science. In the field of sports and active nutrition, it is valued for supporting glucose metabolism and can help improve performance.
While athletes each have their own nutritional goals from weight loss to increasing muscle mass or endurance, they all share one common factor: using nutrition and supplements to improve performance, because a faster recovery means being able to work out more frequently and harder. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of ashwagandha are known to play a part here.
According to the literature, increased quality of sleep and enhanced sleep efficiency are correlated with improved performance and competitive success.
Several studies were conducted using the KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract on stress, anxiety, and mental performance. A 2012 study examined the effects of KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract supplementation (600mg/day) for 8 weeks and found remarkable results in the reduction of cortisol and subjective measures of stress and anxiety.2 Also, a published study demonstrated that KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract supplementation resulted in improved scores on the perceived stress scale, reduction in serum cortisol, body mass index (BMI), and body weight.3
In another study, a low dose of KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract supplementation (125mg twice daily) for 8 weeks, also significantly reduced stress, and anxiety and improved sleep quality.4 A 2017 study, examined the effects of KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract supplementation on memory and cognition in adults. At the end of the study, KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract supplementation demonstrated significant improvements in sustained attention, information processing, and overall cognitive memory.5
Mental endurance – focus and alertness
In a 2015 study, a multistage 20-meter shuttle run test was used to measure distance covered over time as an indicator of aerobic fitness. A group of 50 healthy athletic adults took part in this 20-meter shuttle run endurance test; those supplemented with 300mg KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract twice daily for 12 weeks showed a significant improvement of 11.8% and 13.6% in cardiorespiratory endurance (VO2 max) at week 8 and the end of the study, respectively.6
In the 2021 study, Coopers 12-min run test was used to measure the aerobic fitness and endurance. Participants supplemented with KSM-66 ashwagandha root extract (600mg/day) showed significant improvement of 16.5% in VO2 max (cardiorespiratory endurance). 7
Another study into muscle mass and strength found that over an 8-week training programme, those taking supplementation of 300mg KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract twice a day noted significant improvements in muscle strength and muscle mass, in addition to the benefits associated with the training programme itself. Also, a significant decrease in exercise-induced muscle damage was reported.8
In a soon-to-be-published randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers evaluated the ability of 8 weeks of KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract supplementation on muscle strength and recovery in 80 participants (40 men and 40 women). KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract supplementation produced statistically significant improvement in muscle strength, muscle mass, endurance, and muscle recovery.9
While athletes can benefit, those who partake in physically strenuous activity once or twice a week only stand to benefit from ashwagandha more than professional athletes. “Based on mechanisms of action, that we know that weekend warriors have more muscle damage than professional athletes who are used to training,” says Doctor Ralf Jager, of Increnovo Llc, and who has authored a multitude of scientific papers on sports nutrition.
“People who work out on weekends are not [used to training], so they’re going to be in more pain, with more muscle damage.”
Differentiating the product offering
KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract is used in 1,500 products globally, accounting for around 67% of all ashwagandha root extracts from India. Only the root, the most valued part of the plant, is used, and it offers multiple opportunities for brands to optimize ashwagandha’s benefits and differentiate products in recipes for specific formulas, thereby appealing to consumers.
KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract is one such extract with the largest pool of research studies with 24 published studies, 9 additional studies completed and under peer review, and 17 ongoing studies. Apart from being backed by the most scientific research, KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract and its manufacturing have gone through the most extensive inspections and safety assessments in our industry and have 42 quality certifications, the highest of any botanical ingredient on the market.
The production of KSM-66 Ashwagandha root extract has tight vertical integration – from sowing seeds in the company’s own certified organic fields, all the way through to its extraction – guaranteeing complete control of the supply chain for quality, transparency and sustainability.
“Consumers today demand transparency, they want that sustainability – it’s one of the strongest trends,” says Nutraceutical Corporation’s Willis.
“Partnering with a company for a raw material that does it right from the beginning to end, and knowing exactly what goes in your product, is what companies should be interested in promoting, and what consumers should be demanding.”
And unlike with other botanicals, the effect of ashwagandha can be felt within the body. “You feel ashwagandha,” says author, educator and medicine hunter Chris Kilham. “You feel it in the relief of stress, in the refreshment from deep restful sleep. You feel it in the enhanced production of energy.”
“The experience is real. It brightens people up, it energises people. It fulfils a legitimate vitality.”
1. Amazon Stackline Trends for the 52 weeks February 28, 2022 to February 27, 2023.
2. Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). 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 in adults. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 34(3), 255–262. https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7176.106022
3. Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S., & Joshi, K. (2017). Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment with Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine, 22(1), 96–106. https://doi.org/10.1177/2156587216641830
4. Salve, J., Pate, S., Debnath, K., & Langade, D. (2019). Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study. Cureus, 11(12), e6466. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.6466
5. Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S., & Bose, S. (2017). Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions. Journal of dietary supplements, 14(6), 599–612. https://doi.org/10.1080/19390211.2017.1284970
6. Choudhary B.; Shetty A.; and Langade DG. Efficacy of Ashwagandha (Withaniasomnifera[L.] Dunal) in improving cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy athletic adults. Ayu.2015, 36(1):63-8. (Jan-March 2015)
7. Tiwari, S., Gupta, S. K., & Pathak, A. K. (2021). A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial on theeffect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera Dunal). root extract in improving cardiorespiratory endurance and recovery in healthy athletic adults. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 113929.
8. Wankhede S, Langade D, Joshi K.; et al. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Nov 25;12:43. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9. PMID: 26609282; PMCID: PMC4658772.
9. Unpublished data under peer review.