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Withaniasomnifera or Ashwagandha, also known as Indian Ginseng, is known for its analgesic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-stress, anti-diabetic, neuroprotective, immunoprotective and cardioprotective effects.
Ashwagandha belongs to the family of herbs that are referred to as adaptogens. Adaptogens are herbs that contain phytonutrients that regulate metabolism under situations of stress. It has been shown in several studies that ashwagandha improves muscle strength or coordination, and cardiorespiratory endurance.
An 8-week, randomized, prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, evaluated the effects of ashwagandha root extract consumption on muscle mass and strength in healthy young men undergoing resistance training. Fifty seven young male participants, aged 18-50 years, with limited experience in resistance training were allocated into two groups - treatment group with 29 subjects and placebo group with 28 subjects. Those in the treatment group were given ashwagandha root extract twice daily, while the control group was given starch placebo. Baseline measurements were done and both groups were subjected to resistance training for 8 weeks and measurements were repeated at the end of week 8.
In comparison with the placebo group, the group treated with ashwagandha demonstrated significantly greater increases in muscle strength on the bench-press exercise (Placebo: 26.4 kg vs. Ashwagandha: 46.0 kg) and leg-extension exercise (Placebo: 9.8 kg vs. Ashwagandha: 14.5 kg). They also exhibited significantly greater muscle size increase at the arms (Placebo: 5.3 cm2 vs. Ashwagandha: 8.6 cm2) and chest (Placebo: 1.4 cm vs. Ashwagandha: 3.3 cm). Significantly greater reduction of exercise-induced muscle damage, indicated by the stabilization of serum creatine kinase (Placebo: 1307.5 U/L vs. Ashwagandha: 1462.6 U/L), significantly greater elevation in testosterone level (Placebo: 18.0 ng/dL vs. Ashwagandha: 96.2 ng/dL), and a significantly greater reduction in body fat percentage (Placebo: 1.5 % vs. Ashwagandha: 3.5 %) was noted in the ashwagandha group.
Ashwagandha supplementation has clearly been noted to yield significant increases in muscle mass and strength. Ashwagandha supplementation could thus be a potential adjunct to resistance training.