27 December 2018
SUPPLEMENT IN THE SPOTLIGHT #2: KSM-66 ASHWAGANDHA ROOT EXTRACT
WHAT IT IS Ashwagandha belongs to a class of compounds called adaptogens, so called because they help the body adapt – or, more technically, they positively modulate the body’s response to stress. Speaking more subjectively, adaptogens generally reduce stress, and can have other benefits as well, including improved cognition, decreased fatigue, and increased testosterone. The KSM-66…
WHAT IT IS
Ashwagandha belongs to a class of compounds called adaptogens, so called because they help the body adapt – or, more technically, they positively modulate the body’s response to stress. Speaking more subjectively, adaptogens generally reduce stress, and can have other benefits as well, including improved cognition, decreased fatigue, and increased testosterone.
The KSM-66 root extract is simply an extract standardized to a particular level of active constituents, to ensure the desired level of effectiveness . KSM-66 is a so-called “full spectrum” extract, in that it attempts to mirror the naturally-occuring broad spectrum of active compounds present in the ashwagandha plant, and is standardized to 5% or more of withanolides – a particular class of compounds believed to be disproportionately responsible for ashwagandha’s beneficial effects. Because extracts vary in their standardizations, the KSM-66 extract is the one to look for when choosing an ashwagandha supplement if you want to be confident in experiencing the desired outcomes.
WHAT IT DOES
Per the available literature , ashwagandha (the KSM-66 extract in particular) radically reduces subjective measures of stress, anxiety, and depression. Indeed, in the best-designed trial on the KSM-66 extract, these measures were reduced by approximately 40% on average compared to placebo . In practice, this represents a very, very drastic reduction in stress and anxiety – again, we’re talking about a reduction of nearly half – and anecdotal reports are overwhelmingly consistent with such a reduction. Indeed, there are even rare reports of ashwagandha reducing stress so much, it abolishes the minimal level of stress necessary to compel you to take care of daily obligations. While this is far from a common response – or one, in my opinion, to be genuinely worried about potentially experiencing – I do think it underlines the strength of effects of this compound.
HOW IT WORKS
Unfortunately, the mechanisms underlying the effectiveness of ashwagandha have not been as well-elucidated as more common supplements such as caffeine or the somewhat-related (in its relaxing properties) compound theanine. However, it’s clear ashwagandha does have one very strong mechanistic effect: cortisol reduction .
For those who are unaware, cortisol is often described as “the” stress hormone. Indeed, while it would be an oversimplification to regard cortisol as the singular hormone responsible for, or indicate of, stress, it’s of sufficient significance to make for a good physiological proxy for subjectively-experienced stress. In other words, if one’s cortisol is high, it’s generally safe to say they’re stressed, and if one’s cortisol is low, it’s generally safe to say they don’t perceive themselves as being under much stress.
By directly lowering the production of cortisol, ashwagandha serves to reduce stress even with all external stressors remaining the same. In my view, this is of profound significance, as it allows one to experience less stress while making no behavior changes beyond taking a KSM-66 supplement. As such, the person who, perhaps, finds themselves constantly stressed out as a result of overwhelming and conflicting obligations, but who doesn’t presently feel able to actually remove any of these obligations, could potentially supplement with ashwagandha to better cope with their daily demands – without actually changing them. Again, I think this represents an incredibly impressive and desirable result.
HOW TO TAKE IT
Because the KSM-66 ashwagandha root extract is, as the name suggests, a plant extract, it’s not something you can expect to get by eating or drinking a particular food or beverage. As such, I recommend supplementing with it, ideally in capsule form to avoid potentially undesirable taste. Always remember to seek out the KSM-66 extract, as this is the extract shown in the literature to generate the most positive results, and one cannot reasonably assume that other ashwagandha supplements are standardized to the same level of the desired active constituents.
WHEN TO TAKE IT
Unfortunately, whether or not there exists an ideal time of day to take ashwagandha appears not to have been investigated in the existing scientific literature. Instead, although ashwagandha might have acute – immediate – effects, it seems to operate more in the vein of a supplement like creatine, in that it takes time to generate a positive result. Thus, the best science-based recommendation is simply to take ashwagandha on a daily basis, in the way one might take a daily multivitamin.
However, it’s worth noting that acute effects have been anecdotally reported. As such, it might be worthwhile to take ashwagandha at the time of day you feel most stressed – perhaps in the morning if you have stressful days, and/or at night if you struggle to relax before bed.
HOW MUCH TO TAKE
The literature on this is clear: the dosage used in the aforementioned study with the strongest favorable results was 600mg/day. Although this is lower than dosages used for ashwagandha more broadly, I think this is reasonably reflective of KSM-66’s standardization.
I will note that there doesn’t appear to be a side effect profile associated with higher dosages of KSM-66, and I’ve gone up to 3000mg per day with no ill effects other than noticeably increased sex drive (likely mediated by ashwagandha’s positive influence on testosterone levels). Thus, if you find that 600mg/day seems insufficient after at least a full week of supplementing, consider increasing to 1200mg/day with split morning/evening dosing. On the basis of my experience, I would suggest a cap of 2400-3000mg/day, primarily as a function of diminishing marginal returns; such a dosage is already extremely aggressive.