Stressed out & anxious? These expert-approved ashwagandha supplements could help

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More commonly known as ashwagandha, the Withania somnifera plant has been used in Ayurvedic medicine in Asia for thousands of years to help relieve stress and anxiety, boost energy levels, and improve cognitive functions. It has also earned the support of dozens of clinical studies that prove its effectiveness. But to zero in on the best ashwagandha supplements, you'll want to look for options that are made from the root of the plant, have a declared withanolide content (in your preferred concentration), and have been evaluated by independent laboratories.

Withanolides

The bottle you choose should clearly indicate the level of withanolides contained (usually from 2 to 10%). This active ingredient is where the "magic" of this herb comes from, according to Maria Sorbara Mora, a registered dietician and founder of the New York-based practice Integrated Eating. Mora tells Mic that the "dense concentration" of withanolides inside the plant are so powerful that they are believed to to help fight inflammation and the growth of tumors.

Of course, it's important to talk to your doctor to get the OK before starting any new supplement — especially if you have any underlying health concerns. That said, beginners and those with more sensitive stomachs may want to opt for a lower dosage to start as two of the potential side effects of ashwagandha are upset stomach and diarrhea.

Root vs. leaf extracts

Ashwagandha can be extracted from both the leaves and the root of the plant, but you'll want to narrow down your choice to one that's drawn from the roots only. Leaves are less likely to be standardized as safe and don't come with nearly as many verified health benefits.

Manufacturing transparency

The final step in ensuring you're buying an effective and pure product is to look for options that have third-party testing done by independent labs and are made in facilities that have been registered as meeting Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) by NSF International.

Whether you're looking for a mild supplement to start with, or the maximum concentration, you'll find four of the best ashwagandha supplements below.

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01

The expert-recommended one

Each capsule inside this DailyNutra supplement bottle has 600 milligrams of organic, root-only ashwagandha via a special proprietary KSM-66 extract. This is Mora's top choice because it comes with the data to back up its claims. "Not only is this extract high-potency, with 5% of withanolides, but it's also been clinically proven to aid in anxiety relief and thyroid support," she explains.

In studies, the KSM-66 extract has also been shown to boost athletic endurance and stamina. The 100% organic supplement also has 3 milligrams of black pepper in each capsule to aid in absorption. On top of that, it's vegetarian and gluten-free, as well as completely free of any fillers, preservatives, or synthetics (but it's not free of dairy). This option is made in GMP-certified facilities and is also independently tested by certified labs for purity.

One reviewer says: "Great product! It's hard to find an organic full-spectrum root extract with 5% withanolides. I track my [basal body temperature] and can see that it's much more steady when I'm taking Ashwagandha. My TSH has also come down. My SO takes a testosterone booster and the main ingredient is Ashwagandha and he's had a huge increase in his testosterone levels, bringing him into the normal range. He's switching over to this product and we will both continue to take it on a daily basis after seeing lab test confirmation that this stuff really work."

02

The potent one

The highly concentrated root extract used in the Toniq ashwagandha supplements boasts a 10% withanolide content, making it one of the highest available on the market. Two capsules (the recommended dose) deliver 1,300 milligrams of ashwagandha and 10 milligrams of black pepper extract to further increase the supplement's bioavailability.

Amazon reviewers were especially impressed with this formulation's ability to help with any sleep or anxiety concerns, with one fan writing, "the reduction in anxiety is so significant it's blown my mind." The supplements are free of wheat and gluten and are made in a GMP-certified and NSF-approved facility, which ensures their safety and quality. Each batch is tested for quality and purity both during and after manufacturing. Though they're "vegan-friendly," per the brand, it's unclear whether the extract used in this supplement has gone through a milk pre-treatment.

One reviewer says: "I have been using it for 3 weeks and I feel the good difference in my sleep. My natural sleep pattern has always been fragmented with many awakenings. When using this supplement, I sleep longer and deeper, and have very complex and intricate dreams, like my brain is integrating data and processing information and emotions. The following day my concentration, memory, focus and critical thinking ability are better."

03

The vegan one

This root-only vegan KSM-66 ashwagandha is extracted without the milk pre-treatment traditionally used in making the supplement, but it still has a dependable USDA-certified organic formula with 5 % withanolides. The capsules themselves are also vegan and made from plant cellulose and are free of gluten, soy, and preservatives. The supplements are produced in the USA in a GMP-certified facility. The brand recommends starting at a 600 millimeter dose, taking one capsule in the morning, and one at night, with the option of adding a second morning capsule.

One reviewer says: "I have been using this for couple of weeks. I am taking 2 caps a day once upon rising and the other before bed. I have definitely felt an energy boost [...] Also feel more rested every morning! I will be buying a new bottle as soon as this one finishes"

04

The mild one

If you're new to ashwagandha or just find that a smaller dosage is best for your needs, this Pure Encapsulations supplement has a milder 2.5% withanolide content in each 500 milligram capsule. Formulated with ashwagandha root extract only, the brand states that its supplement's raw ingredients and plant cellulose capsules are gluten-free, non-GMO, and vegan, though it's not clear whether it's produced using the traditional milk wash. The ingredients and the capsules are third-party tested at an independent laboratory for heavy metals, solvents, and contaminants, and the brand's manufacturing facilities are NSF-certified and inspected regularly.

One reviewer says: "I will say I am sleeping 'better' it did take a few weeks to start noticing at least a 1/2 hour more of deep sleep vs light sleep according to my Fitbit Flex and I am not as aggravated during the day. I haven't been having heart palpitations before I go to sleep so I think it's helping to calm me down."

Expert source:

Maria Sorbara Mora, RD, founder of Integrated Eating

Studies referenced:

Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 34(3), 255–262. https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7176.106022

Sharma, A. K., Basu, I., & Singh, S. (2018). Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 24(3), 243–248. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2017.0183

Cooley, K., Szczurko, O., Perri, D., Mills, E. J., Bernhardt, B., Zhou, Q., & Seely, D. (2009). Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974. PloS one, 4(8), e6628. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0006628

Choudhary, Bakhtiar & Shetty, A & Langade, Deepak. (2015). Efficacy of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera [L.] Dunal) in improving cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy athletic adults. AYU (An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda). 36. 63. 10.4103/0974-8520.169002.