J Med Food. 2022 Aug 18. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2022.0042. Online ahead of print.
Stress, anxiety, and depression, along with feeling overwhelmed and exhausted have been widely reported by college students as factors that negatively impact their academic performance, and overall well-being. Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that has been used historically to support healthy responses to stressors, but has recently gained popularity in the United States for its ability to support well-being for populations who experience chronic stress. To our knowledge, there have not been any human trials evaluating the efficacy of ashwagandha on stress in the United States. No studies to date have used qualitative research methods to consider the experiential impact of ashwagandha supplementation. Our purpose was to explore the lived experiences of college students participating in a double-blind randomized control trial evaluating the impact of ashwagandha as an intervention to support college students’ well-being. Participants were college students (N = 60) age 18-50 years, who were randomized to either intervention or placebo group to take one capsule twice a day for 30 days. Intervention group participants took 700 mg of full spectrum extract of ashwagandha root per day, whereas those in the placebo group took glycerol capsules. Qualitative data included daily affect check-ins and focus groups. Data were analyzed using Dedoose qualitative coding software and thematic analysis. Four themes resulted regarding energy levels, mental clarity, sleep dynamics, and stress. Our findings demonstrated that ashwagandha increased college students’ perceived well-being through supporting sustained energy, heightened mental clarity, and enhanced sleep quality, through a moderate dose of ashwagandha for the course of 30 days. Clinical Trial Registration number: NCT05430685.