Ashwagandha, also known as Withania somnifera, is an ancient medicinal herb that has been used for over 3000 years in Ayurvedic medicine. The name “ashwagandha” comes from the Sanskrit words “ashva,” meaning horse, and “gandha,” meaning smell, referring to the distinct horsey odor of the plant's root.
Ashwagandha is prized for its adaptogenic properties, meaning it helps the body adapt and cope with stress. The root and leaves of the ashwagandha plant are used to make powders and extracts that offer a wide range of health benefits. But when it comes to ashwagandha supplements, which form is better - powder or extract?
What is Ashwagandha Powder?
Ashwagandha powder is made by drying and grinding the root, leaves, or both root and leaves of the ashwagandha plant into a fine powder. This powder contains all the natural phytochemicals found in the whole herb.
However, the concentration of active compounds like withanolides can vary widely in plain powders depending on the plant part used and preparation methods. Withanolides like withaferin A and withanolide D are believed to be responsible for many of ashwagandha’s therapeutic effects.
Ashwagandha powders are available in different forms:
- Root powder - Made only from the dried and powdered root of ashwagandha.Does not contain leaves.
- Leaf powder - Made only from dried, powdered ashwagandha leaves. Does not contain root.
- Root and leaf powder - A blend of both root and leaf powders.
Root powders tend to be preferred as they more closely mimic the traditional use of ashwagandha in Ayurveda. Leaves were traditionally only used topically.
Key Takeaway: Ashwagandha powder provides the complete phytochemical profile of the herb but is not standardized for withanolide content.
What is Ashwagandha Extract?
Ashwagandha extracts are highly concentrated preparations made by extracting specific bioactive compounds from the root, leaves or both using solvents like water, alcohol or glycerin.
The purpose of extraction is to isolate and purify the key phytochemicals that provide therapeutic benefits. Extraction produces a more potent product compared to simple powders.
Most ashwagandha extracts are standardized to contain a guaranteed minimum percentage of withanolides, usually between 1-10%. This ensures consistent potency and efficacy.
Common types of ashwagandha extract include:
- Root extract - Made from ashwagandha root only. Does not contain leaves.
- Leaf extract - Made from ashwagandha leaves only. Does not contain root.
- Root and leaf extract - A blend of root and leaf extracts.
Again, root extracts tend to be preferred as they have the clinical evidence to back their use over leaf extracts.
Some popular branded root extracts include KSM-66 and Sensoril, which are standardized to at least 5% withanolides.
Ashwagandha Powder vs. Extract: Key Differences
|Whole herb - root, leaves or both
|Isolated compounds from root, leaves or both
|Standardized to specific withanolide content (1-10%)
|Variable potency depending on plant part and preparation
|Highly concentrated and potent
|Can be added to foods, drinks
|Capsules, tablets or liquids for easy dosing
|Strong, bitter taste
|Odorless and tasteless
|Typically more expensive
Key Takeaway: The key differences between ashwagandha powder vs extract lie in standardization, potency, convenience, taste and cost. Extracts offer more consistency but powders provide whole herb benefits.
Ashwagandha Powder Benefits and Uses
Despite not being standardized, ashwagandha root powder still provides excellent nutritional and therapeutic value. Some benefits of ashwagandha powder include:
- Stress relief - Helps lower cortisol and manage anxiety and stress.
- Increased energy - May boost endurance and reduce fatigue.
- Cognitive support - Improves concentration, memory and cognitive performance.
- Immune boosting - Supports immune health and activity.
- Mood support - Alleviates symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Anti-inflammatory - Reduces inflammation involved in many chronic diseases.
- Antioxidant protection - Protects cells from damage by free radicals.
Ashwagandha powder is very versatile and can be easily added to foods, drinks and smoothies for a boost of nutrition and therapeutic benefit. Some popular ways to use ashwagandha powder include:
- Adding 1-2 tsp powder to morning coffee, tea, milk or hot cereal
- Mixing into a glass of juice, protein shake or smoothie
- Making ashwagandha ghee by simmering powder in ghee for 10-15 minutes
- Taking ashwagandha powder capsules for convenience
- Blending into chai tea, lattes, soups and stews
The standard dose of ashwagandha powder is 1-2 grams once or twice per day, or as directed by an Ayurvedic practitioner. It can be taken with or without food.
Ashwagandha Extract Benefits and Uses
Ashwagandha extracts like KSM-66 and Sensoril have undergone extensive research with hundreds of studies demonstrating their safety and efficacy. Some benefits of ashwagandha extract include:
- Reduced stress and anxiety - Shown in multiple human trials to substantially lower cortisol and perceived stress and anxiety levels.
- Increased muscle mass and strength - Boosts testosterone levels and improves muscle growth and physical performance in athletes and untrained individuals.
- Enhanced memory and cognition - Improves immediate and general memory, executive function, attention and information processing.
- Better sleep - Reduces sleep onset latency, increases sleep efficiency and duration, and enhances sleep quality.
- Balanced thyroid function - Safely reduces TSH and increases T3 and T4 thyroid hormone levels in those with subclinical hypothyroidism.
- Lowered blood sugar - May improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood glucose levels in diabetics.
- Improved sexual function - Increases sperm quality and testosterone levels in men. Reduces sexual dysfunction in women.
Unlike powders, ashwagandha extracts do not have a strong flavor or odor. They are most commonly taken in capsule or tablet form for convenience and accurate dosing.
The typical dosage is 300-600 mg extract standardized to contain at least 5% withanolides, taken 1-2 times per day. For specific health conditions, dosages up to 1200 mg daily may be used under medical supervision.
Ashwagandha Powder vs. Extract: Which is Better?
So when it comes to ashwagandha powder vs extract, which form is the better choice? Here is a quick summary:
- Ashwagandha powders provide the full spectrum of compounds found in the whole herb. They are lower cost and can be easily added to foods and drinks. However, potency and taste can vary.
- Ashwagandha extracts like KSM-66 and Sensoril offer highly concentrated, standardized doses of active withanolides. They are more potent, convenient and tasteless. However, they are more expensive.
For most people looking to take ashwagandha for general wellness benefits, the convenience and potency of a standardized root extract may be preferred over plain powders. Those wanting a more traditional whole herb experience may opt for root powder. It's best to choose an organic, high-quality product from a reputable brand.
As with any new supplement, it's wise to start low and go slow when adding ashwagandha to your routine. Speak with your healthcare provider before taking ashwagandha if you have any medical conditions or take prescription medications. While generally very safe, ashwagandha may interact with certain drugs.
Can I take ashwagandha powder and extract together?
Yes, it is fine to combine an ashwagandha extract like KSM-66 with an ashwagandha root powder. This gives you the benefits of both the concentrated extract and whole herb powder. However, be cautious of excessive dosing and start slow. Speak to your healthcare provider before combining supplements.
Is ashwagandha extract better absorbed than the powder?
Extracts like KSM-66 and Sensoril are produced using extraction methods that break down the plant cell walls, which improves the bioavailability and absorption compared to powders. So extracts tend to show benefits with lower doses than plain powders.
Should I take ashwagandha powder or extract for anxiety?
For reducing anxiety, an ashwagandha root extract like KSM-66 or Sensoril may be more effective than the powder. These extracts have been clinically shown to substantially reduce anxiety levels at doses of 300-600 mg per day.
Can I take ashwagandha powder or extract daily?
Both ashwagandha powder and extract can be safely taken daily for extended periods, up to many months or years. However, long term safety has not been established scientifically. It's best to take a few days off each week from ashwagandha supplements and consult a healthcare practitioner for guidance on long term use.
Ashwagandha powder provides the full benefits of the whole herb but is unstandardized. Ashwagandha root extracts like KSM-66 and Sensoril offer maximum potency and efficacy thanks to their high concentration of bioactive withanolides.
For most people, the convenience and proven benefits of these standardized ashwagandha extracts make them a better choice over plain powders. However, ashwagandha root powder remains an excellent option for those wanting a more traditional whole herb experience.