Buzzworthy Herb: Ashwagandha is a supplement to watch

BY Mary Fergus

A new health trend is hitting the U.S. supplement market with vigor. Ashwagandha (withania somnifera) is the much-buzzed-about herb that’s dominating the interest of supplement consumers. Before it was the punchline on “Saturday Night Live” in 2019, it was a staple in Ayurvedic medicine, a trusted practice for more than 5,000 years. Why is it receiving all this fame? Ashwagandha is known as an effective stress reliever.

With more people struggling to cope with stress—especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic—the demand for stress-relief products has greatly increased. Sales for ashwagandha have steadily grown in United States markets, with a 66% increase from 2018 to 2019, according to Nutritional Outlook.

Michael Kehoe, president of North Phoenix’s Mdrive, carries a high opinion of the herb.

“Ashwagandha is a very popular herb that has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine,” says Kehoe, whose company provides natural testosterone support for men looking to increase energy, strength and drive.

Ayurveda, the primary traditional medical system of India, is known for its holistic practices and is often where these super supplements are sourced from to begin with.

According to Kehoe, the herb works to “get your body back to a natural and healthy balance.” By preserving homeostasis, it helps to regulate the body’s natural stress response in a safe and effective manner. He likes to think of it as a stress thermostat for the body, leveling and maintaining physiological responses to stressors.

Though he believes balance in one’s lifestyle is what cultivates successful stress relief, Kehoe notes that incorporating ashwagandha into one’s diet can produce many wide-reaching health benefits. Safe for men and women, this adaptogenic herb is proving to be a front-runner for mainstream supplement sellers.

Studies conducted within Mdrive and its partners have shown ashwagandha’s effectiveness in “managing stress, keeping testosterone levels in the healthy range, improving energy, muscle mass and strength, improving sleep and cognitive functions,” Kehoe says. The key proprietary ashwagandha ingredient in Mdrive, KSM-66, has more than 22 clinical studies that have produced noteworthy results and continue to merit the tracking of ashwagandha in daily life.

Kehoe has been closely following this herb and its holistic effects in the hopes that the findings will keep producing positive results.

While this adaptogenic herb has been around for a long time, it is just now catching the eye of casual consumers in the larger, global market. Nutritional Outlook cites that in 2018, ashwagandha’s reputable health effects allowed it to snag a spot as one of the top 40 herbs sold in the United States. Mainstream sales landed around $13.3 million in 2019. In natural retail stores, such growth has been increasing since 2015.

With interests turning toward more natural, the niche for supplements like ashwagandha continues to expand. Consumers are learning more about stress hormone balance and the options they have when it comes to treating their stress. Adaptogens are taking the spotlight, as they are all relatively safe to use, rendering this type of treatment trustworthy and successful. While Ayurveda has been using adaptogens long before they were given such a title, the market for casual supplement shoppers has only been recently explored and expanded.

According to Nutritional Outlook’s 2020 List of Ingredients to Watch, further research into ashwagandha is predicted to draw many investments as media coverage for this superb herb continues to spark international interest and popularity. The dietary supplement industry stands to gain a major opportunity with ashwagandha with its potential ability to aid in healthy sleep habits. Ashwagandha will be piggybacking off the success melatonin has amassed for natural, supplement-treated sleep issues.

Other industries looking to bump elbows with the adaptogen include the hemp cannabidiol (CBD) industry and the probiotics industry.

Due to its increasing popularity, the demand for ashwagandha is rapidly rising and manufacturers are struggling to keep up. In 2019, a shortage in the supply caused by poor weather conditions exposed how susceptible this market is to economic adulteration. Kehoe warns of suppliers selling low-quality supplements with even lower-grade ingredients, all to make some quick cash from this health trend.

When determining a product’s legitimacy, Kehoe would recommend buying supplements from reputable companies and looking for products with ingredients that have certifications, like KSM-66.

KSM-66 is a brand for which Kehoe has high praises, as their products all possess the highest quality and their certifications are valid and trustworthy. Their company also possesses a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status, which is a distinguishing achievement amongst supplement brands. Certifications that make it onto his checklist include those granted from NSF International, USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project, Gluten-free Certified, Kosher, Halal, along with several other ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certifications.

His message to those who might be interested in incorporating ashwagandha into their diet and lifestyle?

“Look at several ways to bring your body back to balance,” Kehoe says. “Supplementation with ashwagandha is definitely one of those ways, but eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep are all very important, too.”