For most people, the standard approach for treating pain typically involves the use of basic medication, like aspirin or acetaminophen.
Yet, this practice isn’t as safe as many believe and even common over-the-counter painkillers come with significant risks.
These include the potential to increase the chance of a heart attack (1,2) and a range of gastrointestinal side effects (3).
As such, it’s no surprise that many people are turning to natural alternatives instead.
One key example of doing so is taking ashwagandha for knee pain. This is something that has been highlighted in recent research, with scientists finding that ashwagandha supplementation truly can be significant.
So, this post is going to take a look at that research and why ashwagandha supplementation may be relevant for knee pain and for health overall.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha itself is an herb, formally known as Withania somnifera. It has a history of being used in traditional medicine and is now relatively common as a supplement in the United States (4,5).
Interest in the herb is based on a number of properties and there are indications that ashwagandha may be associated with a range of health benefits (6).
These include the potential to help lower blood sugar (7,8), improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels (9,10,11) and even help combat stress (12,13). You can check out the article on Self Hacked for detail on all the benefits and current research.
But, those benefits aren’t the focus of this discussion.
Instead, we’re looking at the implications of ashwagandha for knee pain. And, by extension, we’re considering whether ashwagandha is relevant for treating other types of pain.
Ashwagandha and Knee Pain
The research study in question used a combination of root extract and ashwagandha leaves. There was a total of 60 participants, who were split into three even groups. Each group then received one of the following treatments:
- 250 mg ashwagandha
- 125 mg ashwagandha
- Placebo (i.e. no ashwagandha)
In each case, the supplements appeared identical, so participants had no way of knowing which group they were in. That practice helps to control for the placebo effect and promotes more reliable conclusions.
The study ran for a total of 12 weeks, with measurements being made at 4, 8 and 12 weeks. To measure outcomes, the authors made use of a specific index, known as the mWOMAC score.
A number is obtained by having participants fill out a survey that asks about the severity of pain and stiffness in a range of situations. A lower score means less pain and stiffness overall.
As such, the authors of the study looked at how much the score changed at the end of the study and their outcomes looked like this:
This shows that ashwagandha supplementation had a strong effect on knee pain and stiffness. Additionally, the larger dose resulted in a more dramatic change in mWOMAC score.
Based on the graph, a 250 mg daily dose of ashwagandha resulted in an average of around 25% less pain and stiffness than the placebo.
Now, this is just one study and each group only had 20 participants. So, more research is needed before we know how effective ashwagandha is and what the ideal dose is.
Still, the outcome of the study is extremely encouraging, especially as the herb is fairly safe as a supplement (14).
Why Ashwagandha Works
Using an herbal supplement to treat pain isn’t an especially unusual idea. For one thing, many of the painkillers in use today were originally derived from plants or were inspired by specific compounds within plants.
Likewise, there is considerable interest in the implications plants have for health overall. This includes herbs and also spices, such as turmeric and ginger. Some researchers have also focused on how supplements with multiple plant extracts could reduce pain and/or improve health (15,16).
Many of the benefits that plants offer come from compounds that they contain. These can interact with various systems in our bodies, promoting positive outcomes for health.
In this case, one particularly powerful outcome is the ability to fight inflammation.
Inflammation itself is a natural process but it doesn’t always occur when it should. Basically, this is the body’s response to a threat and often involves an area becoming red and sensitive to the touch. However, inflammation isn’t always visible, making it harder to detect.
Inflammation is significant because it causes pain. For that matter, many over-the-counter painkillers are known as NSAIDs. This includes aspirin and ibuprofen (e.g. Advil) (17).
The term NSAID stands for Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. So, these medications directly fight inflammation and that is how they reduce pain.
So then, it shouldn’t be any surprise that naturally reducing inflammation could have similar effects. Indeed, there are key compounds in ashwagandha that do help lower inflammation (18). For that matter, other herbal medicines are often used for a similar reason (19,20).
Additionally, ashwagandha may help to soothe the nervous system, also reducing the pain response (21).
Even though more research is needed, it’s clear that ashwagandha does have significant potential for treating knee pain. Likewise, supplementing with ashwagandha could be relevant for any inflammation-related pain. This alone makes it a good alternative to over-the-counter pain killers.
If nothing else, ashwagandha is certainly more natural – and it can offer other health benefits as well. It can also be one component in an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle. For example, the site Mind Body Green highlights 11 approaches you can use to decrease inflammation.
Implications of Ashwagandha
The outcomes of this study suggest that supplementing 250 mg of ashwagandha daily could help to reduce pain and stiffness in your knees - and that potential extends to other inflammation too.
At the same time, the conclusions highlight the importance of naturally reducing inflammation. This is more relevant than ever because many modern diet and lifestyle choices can serve to promote inflammation (22,23).
In turn, that pattern may contribute to the development of chronic diseases, many of which are associated with long-term low-level inflammation (24,25).
Thankfully, there are choices that you can make to lower inflammation levels. By doing so, you may be able to reduce overall pain and also improve your health. One simple approach is to cut down the amount of sugar and processed foods you consume, both of which have the potential to promote inflammation.
There are also many natural ingredients and supplements that you can use to help reduce inflammation. Ashwagandha supplements are one example. Additionally, olive oil, tart cherry juice and a range of other foods offer ways to lower your inflammation.
For that matter, some authors and researchers talk about relying on an anti-inflammatory diet. This type of diet would include a wide range of foods that help to lower inflammation, along with avoiding ones that promote inflammation. The site Well + Good offers more information about this idea.
Doing so could be particularly relevant for health overall and may even help promote weight loss – as the food selection would tend to be good for you and many options may be low in calories.
Want to Improve Your Health?
Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use.
Check out my recommended products to see where you can get started.
[feather_share show="google_plus, twitter, facebook,pinterest" hide="reddit, linkedin, tumblr, mail"]