What is Ashwaganda and how does it help with stress relief?

What is Ashwaganda and how does it help with stress relief?

Ashwagandha’s role in stress relief 

If you follow ingredient trends like we do, you’ve certainly heard all of the craze around Ashwagandha.  It’s definitely one of the hottest ingredients in 2021 due to its reported benefits on mood, stress, and testosterone among other things.  In fact, it’s the number one ingredient we get questions about that isn’t in Virtue’s Anxiety + Stress Relief formula.  So why didn’t we include it?  And what really are the benefits of Ashwagandha?  We’ll walk through the benefits of this ingredient and what to look for if you’re shopping for Ashwagandha.



What is Ashwagandha? 

Ashwagandha is an evergreen plant that is most often found in Asia and parts of Africa.  While it’s reputation has increased quite a bit recently, it has actually been used in Ayurveda medicine in India dating back to 6000 BC.  In Ayurveda, it has been used for a wide variety of medical conditions including arthritis, tumors, extending lifespan, respiratory issues, anxiety and more (Monq).  Recent medical studies have actually started looking at its effects on memory, cognition, testosterone, depression and others.  Sounds like an amazing ingredient, right?  To understand just how Ashwagandha works, we need to dive a little deeper.

Like many herbs, there is a subset of components that are believed to be the actual active components that drive ashwagandha’s benefits.  These are grouped into four main categories: alkaloids, steroidal lactones, saponins and withanolides (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center).  For the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus mostly on withanolides as they are believed to be the biggest contributor to many of the studied benefits that supplements focus on.

So the understandable next question, what’s a withanolide?  Without getting overly technical, think of withanolides as a type of steroid where the steroid is bound to a lactone (or derivative thereof) molecule.  As if that weren’t complicated enough, there are at least 16 different ones commonly found in the roots and leaves of ashwagandha (Science Direct).  A few have been studied for their ability to treat anxiety, some for their ability to treat depression, some for their ability to improve testosterone levels, some for their ability to improve focus, and more recently, for their ability to treat cancer.  

So how do you know which withanolides or how much of which you’re getting when you buy an ashwagandha supplement?  Good question!  

What to look for in your Ashwagandha supplement

Luckily, there are some tricks to getting the best ashwagandha supplement for your specific concern.  Let’s walk through what to look for, and what to avoid!

Generic Ashwagandha - What’s generic ashwagandha?  If you go to Amazon and type in Ashwagandha, chances are that most of the results will fall in this category.  These products will just be labeled Ashwagandha without any brand name.  You’ll also typically see big dosage levels of 1000mg, 2000mg, 5000mg or more!  More is better, right?  In this case, probably not.  When a brand labels a supplement as Ashwagandha, all they have to do is give you the herb.  In fact, they typically use all of the parts of the plant to help save cost, not only the roots and leaves which have the highest withanolide concentration.  There is no telling what withanolides are present, in what quantities and if that specific ashwagandha has ever been clinically studied.  So while it’s really tempting to buy massive amounts of something for less than $20 on Amazon, we would recommend to steer clear of these products as you have no idea what you’re getting and probably won’t see any real benefit.

Luckily, there are three great choices for trademarked and clinically studied ashwagandha we would recommend you look for based on what your specific need is:

KSM-66 - KSM-66 is a trademark version of ashwagandha made by Ixoreal Biomed.  It’s hard to talk about ashwagandha without mentioning KSM-66.  Unlike other ingredient companies that offer a wide array of different ingredients, Ixoreal Biomed has focused all of their efforts and R&D (research and development)  on ashwagandha.  This form of ashwagandha is standardized to at least 5% withanolide content.  They claim this version is the result of 14 years of R&D and has been tested in 22 different human clinical trials (KSM-66 website).  Some of the most compelling studies they had for us were around improved male fertility and testosterone levels (Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine).  KSM-66 did conduct studies on stress and anxiety.  Different from the immediate effects of Virtue’s Anxiety and Stress Relief, the study demonstrated a reduction in stress after taking a repeated daily dosage over 60 days (Indian Journal of psychological medicine).  The dosage levels were 675mg / day for the male testosterone / fertility study and 300 mg  twice / day for the stress study so be sure if you purchase a supplement with KSM-66, it contains the appropriate dose to align to the benefit you’re looking for.

Sensoril - Another trademarked version of Ashwagandha is by Natreon, called Sensoril.  This form of ashwagandha is unique in that Natreon standardizes their form to three key bioactives (Withanolide glycosides, Withaferin A, Oligosaccharides).  They also guarantee that their ashwagandha contains at least 10% withanolide glycosides which allows it to be used in lower dosages than other forms (11 studies were performed with as little as 125mg / day, however others were performed with as much as 500mg / day) (Natreon website).  The most compelling data around stress and anxiety was their study on generalized anxiety disorder that showed that subjects taking 125-250mg / day showed reductions in anxiety as measured by the HAM-A scale and drops in cortisol after 60 days (humanclinicals.org).  If you’re looking to purchase a supplement with Sensoril, ensure it has at least 125mg as its daily dose.

Shoden - The most recent entrant into the branded ashwagandha space is Shoden, introduced in 2019 by NutriScience and Arjuna.  Most generic ashwagandha doesn’t see withanolide glycoside content above 2.5%.  KSM-66 is at least 5%.  Sensoril is at least 10%.  Shoden comes in with a whopping 35%!  Shoden also comes with clinical studies supporting increases in testosterone and decreases in cortisol (Nutriscience website).  Perhaps the most interesting study is a recent one published that shows the benefit of Shoden at 120mg / day on improving restorative sleep (Sleep medicine).  As with the others, be sure if you look to purchase a supplement with Shoden that it has at least the 120mg studied dosage.


While we at Virtue formulated our Anxiety + Stress Relief formula to give relief in under an hour, some of these clinically studied forms of ashwagandha show good benefits after 60 days of continued usage.  If you choose to add an ashwagandha supplement to your daily supplement regimen, always check to make sure the dosage is right and avoid the generics!

In Conclusion

We believe that Ashwagandha is an effective natural stress relief ingredient, but we don't add it to our Anxiety + Stress Relief Formula. Why? It's not the most effective ingredient and people often use ineffective levels of Ashwagandha or the wrong form of the herb altogether. Virtue Supplements' Anxiety + Stress Relief Formula uses ingredients like PharmaGABA and lemon balm extract (which has been shown in studies to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality) instead of using ashwagandha for this reason. If you're looking for a formula with real research behind it, try ours!
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