An excessive hair fall is a distressful event in an individual’s life. Hair loss affects confidence, self-image, and the overall physical outlook of a person. Some form of hair loss affects both men and women around the globe. One of the most common forms of hair loss is androgenetic alopecia, also called male pattern baldness. Ashwaganda for hair loss has been discussed by a lot recently, but does it work?
Hormonal imbalance and increased dihydrotestosterone (DHT) damages the hair follicles and cause the hair to fall out. Alopecia areata is another form of hair loss in which the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles resulting in hair fall.
Telogen effluvium is stress-related hair loss. Pregnancy, childbirth, medical treatments, malnutrition, and tension elevate stress hormones, disrupting the normal hair growth cycle and causing excess hair fall.
While many medical formulations have been developed to treat and reverse hair loss, herbal supplements or adaptogens are paving their way into the hair care industry.
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What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera is famous by the name ‘Indian Winter Cherry’ or ‘Indian Ginseng’. Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, a form of alternative medicine. This evergreen shrub originated from the Indian subcontinent and is widely grown in temperate regions all over the world.
The name ‘ashwagandha’ signifies horsepower and sleep, as it brings about tranquility and strengthens a person’s body. Ashwagandha is used as Rasayana or tonic in Ayurveda and has numerous health benefits. This herb is available for use in several forms and is known for boosting mental and physical health.
Ashwagandha reduces stress and stimulates inner peace. It also potentiates the immune system and helps the body fight off destructive pathogens. Ashwagandha has adaptogenic properties that protect the body from internal and external stressors as well as modulate the body’s processes.
The herb is non-toxic and promotes the overall wellbeing of an individual. These three attributes of ashwagandha qualify this herb as an adaptogen, according to the standard set by the Russian scientist, N.V. Lazarez.
History of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha has been used for its healing properties for over 6000 years. Since ancient times, ashwagandha powder, obtained by crushing roots of the plant, is used for different purposes. The paste formed by dissolving this powder with water is beneficial for arthritis, ulcers, and swelling.
When dissolved in milk, ashwagandha powder provides strength and immunity to children and older adults. Ashwagandha has been used for treating mental disorders including anxiety, hysteria, and memory loss. Along with the roots, ashwagandha leaves are also beneficial for treating fever and painful edema.
The flowers and seeds help with treating worm infestations. The herb has aphrodisiac properties that elevate libido. Moreover, the herb increases the sperm count and enhances fertility. Ashwagandha treats stress and anxiety as well as maintains hormonal balance in the body. This indirectly affects the hair follicles leading to increased hair growth and improved hair quality.
How Does Ashwagandha Work?
Ashwagandha houses many biologically active components that work together to improve hair growth. These components include alkaloids, saponins, flavonoids, and steroidal lactones. The steroidal lactones present in ashwagandha are withanolides and withaferin.
These compounds help reduce stress and combat hair fall associated with stress. Furthermore, ashwagandha accelerates the production and release of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) that has antioxidant properties. This substance protects the hair follicles and scalp from free radical damage.
Ashwagandha also stimulates the release of nitric oxide by increasing the activity of nitric oxide synthetase, which leads to arterial vasodilation and improved blood flow to different areas of the body. Not only does this vasodilation elevate the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the hair follicle but it amplifies muscle activity and increases an individual’s endurance.
The anti-inflammatory property of ashwagandha residing in the major ingredient, withanolide, is helpful for treating scalp conditions that are responsible for hindering hair growth.
Withanolides suppress the activity of cyclooxygenase 2, which reduces pain and inflammation. Ashwagandha contains glycoproteins that possess anti-microbial properties and protects the scalp from harmful microorganisms.
Benefits of Ashwagandha for Hair
Stress, anxiety, and hormonal imbalances lead to hair loss. This form of hair loss is known as telogen effluvium. As per Ayurveda principles, stress and hormonal imbalances occur due to loss of equilibrium among the three doshas – Kapha (earth and water), Pitta (fire and water), and Vata (space and air).
Ashwagandha balances the three doshas and treats hair loss. Following are the ways ashwagandha benefit a person’s hair:
Relieves Hair Loss
Cortisol is the stress hormone responsible for causing the destruction of the hair follicles and impeding healthy hair growth. Ashwagandha manages the cortisol levels in the blood and controls follicular damage.
By reducing stress and anxiety, this herb reduces hair fall and increases hair density on the scalp. Moreover, ashwagandha treats postpartum hair loss that occurs due to hormonal imbalance post-pregnancy.
Ashwagandha Strengthens Hair
Ashwagandha increases the production of DHEA, which is an antioxidant hormone in the body. This hormone reduces oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Reduction of free radicals and the associated damage ultimately leads to thicker and healthier hair.
Ashwagandha also causes vasodilation of arteries supplying the hair follicles that provide adequate nutrition for hair to be thick, strong, and resistant to breakage.
Ashwagandha Nourishes Hair and Scalp
In addition to the chemicals mentioned above, ashwagandha contains essential proteins, which are integral for hair structure, elasticity, and strength. Ashwagandha is also rich in vitamin C that has antioxidant properties, iron, tannins, glucose that nourishes hair follicles, potassium, nitrate, and other compounds. The vasodilating effects of ashwagandha further enhance the delivery of these components.
Hair and Scalp Conditioning
Ashwagandha potentiates the production of DHEA. This hormone stimulates the production of collagen and sebum release from the sebaceous gland, lying close to the hair follicles. Collagen repairs the dry and damaged hair whereas sebum nourishes the hair and the skin of the scalp. Collagen and sebum protect the hair and scalp from sun damage as well as lock the moisture in the skin.
Ashwagandha for Scalp Irritation
Various skin conditions cause scalp irritation and lead to hair loss. These conditions include eczema, dandruff, psoriasis, and allergy-mediated scalp irritation. Ashwagandha soothes the scalp and provides a suitable environment for optimal hair growth.
Premature Greying of Hair
Melanin is the pigment required for imparting color to the hair. A decrease in melanin production leads to premature graying of hair and may be associated with several skin conditions. Tyrosine, an amino acid, is an integral component of ashwagandha. Tyrosine is the precursor amino acid for melanin production in the skin and hair follicles. Using ashwagandha will replenish melanin stores and reverse the premature greying of hair.
Ashwagandha Regulates Thyroid Hormones
The thyroid gland is located in a person’s neck and produces two key hormones – thyroxine or T3 and triiodothyronine or T3. T3 and T4 regulate a wide variety of body functions. The imbalance of the thyroid hormones manifests as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism that disrupt the normal hair growth cycle. Ashwagandha balances the levels of T3 and T4, which eventually restores hair health.
Ashwagandha for Scalp Inflammation
Inflammation is a two-edged sword – it eliminates the disease-causing pathogen but also causes tissue destruction and widespread damage to body organs if severe. The inflammation also involves the scalp and the hair follicles. Ashwagandha modulates inflammation by suppressing the inflammatory mediators. This reduces scalp inflammation and the cell destruction in hair follicles, which eventually re-establish normal hair growth cycle.
Considerations Before Using Ashwagandha
An individual should consider the following prerequisites before using ashwagandha for hair:
- Ashwagandha is contraindicated in pregnant women. Using this herb during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm or early birth and fetal distress that may even result in fetal death.
- Breastfeeding women should also avoid using ashwagandha.
- Ashwagandha may be contaminated with heavy metals derived from the soil while cultivating the herb or during manufacturing the herb products. Ingestion of these heavy metals leads to severe health consequences. However, these metals do not impose a threat to health when present in minute quantities. Before using ashwagandha, one should ensure that the herb does not contain any harmful substance.
- Some individuals are sensitive to ashwagandha. Performing a patch test before using this herb will help prevent an allergic reaction.
- Drug interaction is an important consideration before using ashwagandha. For instance, ashwagandha taken along with sedatives cause excessive drowsiness. Therefore, an individual should consult a doctor before using this herb.
- Individuals suffering from autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis shall not use ashwagandha, as it might aggravate the immune response and increase the intensity of symptoms.
- People who have surgery scheduled should not use ashwagandha as it potentiates the nervous system-depressing effects of anesthesia.
- Even though ashwagandha balances the levels of thyroid hormones in the blood, a doctor should be consulted first to avoid any complications.
How to Use Ashwagandha for Hair?
Ashwagandha supplements (capsules or tablets) and gummies can be consumed orally.
Ashwagandha hair masks are widely available. A person can also make the hair mask at home by making a paste of water and ashwagandha powder.
Ashwagandha oil or powder is to the shampoo to procure the related benefits.
Ashwagandha can be ingested by adding the powder to milk, honey, and tea.
Ashwagandha oil is massaged into the scalp to soothe the scalp and promote healthier hair growth.
What Is The Correct Ashwagandha Dosage?
The safe dosage of ashwagandha ranges from 300 to 6000 milligrams per day. The dosage is variable and depends on each individual’s need. The daily dose also depends on the form of the herb used. Lower doses of ashwagandha (500-1500 mg/day) are sufficient as compared to the root powder (1000-6000 mg/day). A person can consume ashwagandha anytime during the day, depending on the tolerance and the desired effects.
How Long Does Ashwagandha Take to Work?
Ashwagandha starts working immediately. However, the effects are visible after several weeks of regular use of the herb. Ashwagandha resets the cortisol hormone cycle and restores hair health that requires approximately 1 to 3 months to become noticeable.
Side Effects of Ashwagandha
Following are the side effects commonly observed in people consuming moderate doses of ashwagandha.
- Nausea, diarrhea, and indigestion are the most common yet tolerable side effects of ashwagandha.
- Drowsiness associated with ashwagandha use hinders routine activities, affects focus, and may even disrupt a person’s control while driving. This effect is more prominent in individuals who take sedatives alongside ashwagandha.
- Ashwagandha also causes a mild headache, which resolves with time.
- Individuals allergic to ashwagandha may experience skin rashes, itching, and irritation.
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Consequences of Ashwagandha Overdose
While most of the side effects associated with a moderate dosage of ashwagandha are tolerable, excessive use of Ashwagandha has many severe consequences.
- Excessive ashwagandha irritates the mucosal lining of the gut that aggravates the digestive symptoms.
- Ashwagandha lowers blood glucose levels. Diabetic patients who administer insulin tend to be at a higher risk of developing hypoglycemia and affecting neurologic activity.
- Liver injury and liver failure are rare complications of ashwagandha overdose. The liver injury is reversible upon discontinuing the use of Ashwagandha.
Availability of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha root powder, extract, oil, tablets, capsules, tea, and gummies are widely available in the market. Ashwagandha products are available online and in pharmacies such as Walgreens Company, CVS Health, Walmart, and Rite Aid Corp. One should always consult a physician before using ashwagandha to avoid harmful drug interactions, side effects, allergic reactions, and in case of suffering from chronic or autoimmune conditions.
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- Liao, Ly., He, Yf., Li, L. et al.A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide. Chin Med 13, 57 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13020-018-0214-9
- Tiwari R, Chakraborty S, Saminathan M, Dhama K, Singh SV. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Role in safeguarding health, immunomodulatory effects, combating infections and therapeutic applications: A review. Journal of Biological Sciences. 2014 Feb 15;14(2):77.
- Spritzler F. 12 Proven Health Benefits of Ashwagandha [Internet]. Healthline. 2019 [cited 9 January 2022]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-proven-ashwagandha-benefits
- ASHWAGANDHA: Overview, Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, Interactions, Dosing and Reviews [Internet]. Webmd.com. [cited 9 January 2022]. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-953/ashwagandha