Ashwagandha for Healthy Hair
Ever look at old pictures and long for the luxurious locks you had in your younger years? By age 50, half of all women and most men have experienced hair loss. Age can cause your hair to start shedding faster than it grows back. For men, this begins as a receding hairline and a thinning crown, but women are more likely to see their hair thin gradually all over the scalp.
You can find plenty of drugs and topical treatments on the market that promise to stop hair loss or help hair grow back, but many of these options are expensive and come with side effects. Fortunately, there are more natural ways you can get at the root of hair loss and address its causes as well as its symptoms.
You may have heard about people using concoctions of egg yolks, avocados, or even coconut oil for thicker, softer, and shinier hair, but what about ashwagandha? Also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub that originated in the dry regions of India, parts of Middle East and northern Africa, but now grows worldwide. A hardy plant that belongs to the same nightshade family as tomatoes and peppers, ashwagandha has long been considered one of the most significant herbs in Eastern medicine, especially in the ancient Indian system of Ayurveda. Descriptions of the plant and its medicinal properties can be found in ancient texts dating back centuries.
In Sanskrit, ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” which refers to the scent of its roots and its reputation for giving those who ingest it the vigor and strength of a stallion. In Ayurvedic tradition, it’s known as a rasayana herb, a class of herbs believed to help maintain physical and mental vitality and promote longevity. Ayurvedic healers have used ashwagandha for more than 3,000 years as a tonic for a variety of ailments, including skin infections, rheumatism, constipation, exhaustion and nervous breakdowns. Though its leaves, seeds, and fruit have all been used medicinally, ashwagandha is most revered for its roots, which are typically dried and ground into a powdery herb.
Health and Beauty Perks of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is a staple herb in Eastern cultures, but it’s only recently started gaining a following in the Western world. Modern-day researchers have begun exploring its potential as an adaptogen, a class of natural substances believed to enhance the body’s adaptive response to the damaging effects of stress from physical, biological and chemical sources.
According to the Alternative Medicine Review Journal, ashwagandha “appears to exert a positive influence on the endocrine, cardiopulmonary, and central nervous systems.” Not only are the adaptogenic properties of the herb capable of counteracting stress and enhancing the function of endocrine organs such as the thyroid and the adrenal glands, but they may also have a balancing effect on hormones that regulate essential functions of the body.
In preliminary lab studies, researchers have found that ashwagandha has a mild depressant effect that helps calm nerves and relax the brain. Several clinical trials even show that ashwagandha is capable of lowering levels of cortisol - the stress hormone produced by the adrenals - and easing anxiety and depression brought on by stress.
Ashwagandha also contains free radical scavenging antioxidants that support immune health, along with properties that help to regulate inflammatory reactions in the body and disrupt the the growth of microorganisms.
So how do these properties help your hair? For starters, stress - and the hormonal imbalances that often result from it - can take a toll on your hair, making it brittle, dull and more likely to fall out. Persistent exposure to stress over an extended period elevates cortisol levels, which can alter the chemistry of hair follicles and disrupt the normal growth and rest cycle of hair. Having too many hair follicles in the resting phase at one time can cause more of your hair to fall out once the cycle is complete. When stress is reduced and cortisol levels revert to normal, it helps restore the normal cycle of hair growth.
Ashwagandha powder is often used in shampoos and conditioners not only because it supports healthy hair growth, but it also supposedly stimulates the production of natural oils in the skin and circulation in the scalp, resulting in shinier and healthier hair. Additionally, ashwagandha also has antioxidants, iron, and amino acids that help strengthen the hair shaft and minimize breakage. The herb also contains properties helpful for treating scalp issues such as dandruff, psoriasis, and itchiness.
There is even a small amount of evidence that ashwagandha may help with premature graying, which occurs when hair follicles produce less melanin - the pigment that gives hair its natural color. In one clinical trial conducted in India, middle-aged men who consumed 3 grams of ashwagandha powder daily for a year showed a higher production of melanin.
Very few studies have tested the effects of ashwagandha on hair production, so research is inconclusive. But an anecdotal report published in BMJ Case Reports in 2012 found that ashwagandha helped slow hair loss for a middle-aged woman with adrenal hyperplasia. After six months of taking the herb as a supplement, she experienced lower cortisol levels and a noticeable decline in hair loss from her scalp.
How to Use Ashwagandha
Want to give ashwagandha a try? There are several ways you can use it. Mix 1–2 teaspoons of ashwagandha powder with a warm cup of distilled water to make a paste you can apply to your scalp. Massage the mixture into your hair and scalp with your fingertips, then let it dry, covering your head with a plastic cap or a towel for 30 minutes before rinsing and styling. You can also add a small amount of ashwagandha powder or a few drops of the liquid extract to your shampoo before using.
You can also follow a number of recipes that use ashwagandha as an ingredient. blend a spoonful or two of ashwagandha powder or a few grams of the dried root into your smoothie or tea in the mornings. Mixing it with almond milk, honey, and spices helps temper the bitter taste. Capsule supplements of ashwagandha are also available in dosages starting at 300 to 500 milligrams.
However you choose to supplement your diet or beauty regimen with ashwagandha, it’s best to consult with your doctor before using it regularly. Consuming too much of the herb can cause side effects such as stomach upset, diarrhea, or vomiting. Avoid ashwagandha if you are pregnant, suffer from severe gastric irritation or ulcers, have a sensitivity to nightshade plants, or take drugs such as sedatives or immunosuppressants.
Ashwagandha won’t help your hair grow faster or change the texture or color of your locks, but you may be surprised by how much healthier your hair feels after trying it!