It’s not every day I come across an herb so far-reaching in its potential for physical, mental, and emotional health. Some experts have even suggested that Ashwagandha might be the only nutritional support you’d need if stuck on a deserted island! Whether that’s true or not, discover the benefits it may hold for you.
Do you sometimes…
- Feel “burned out” and increasingly over-stressed?
- Notice it’s becoming more difficult to remember names?
- Crave sweets and junk food because you’re stressed out?
- Find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep at night?
- Feel blue or anxious?
- Wake up feeling tired and sluggish, and it lasts much of the day?
- Feel “wired” and unable to fully relax?
- Worry about your general health and well-being?
- Feel concerned over your fading sexual energy?
Stress can affect your body in many unseen – and devious ways. And we all know there is no shortage of stressors in today’s world!
So what can you do to cope?
Regular exercise, meditation, yoga, and emotional freedom techniques (EFT) are all tools I recommend. But sometimes many people feel like they need more…
That’s where ashwagandha – the king of the plant kingdom – comes in. One of the most potent adaptogens I’ve ever seen, this Ayurvedic herb surely belongs on your radar if you sometimes feel like your stressful lifestyle is getting the best of you!
Ashwagandha: Ayurveda’s Flagship Herb
Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, Withania somnifera, or winter cherry, is a plant that’s been used as a rejuvenative and daily tonic for many centuries.
Referred to as rayasana in the Ayurveda tradition – translated as “herb that rejuvenates” – it’s considered the number one, go-to herb in India’s traditional practice.
What is Ayurveda? Centered around herbs and spices, Ayurveda is an ancient holistic practice. It’s widely recognized as an authoritative source of knowledge and truth in natural health.
Ashwagandha has clearly withstood the test of time in this highly revered system.
A small evergreen perennial herb that grows to about two feet tall, ashwagandha’s light tan roots have been studied the most.
In India, the plants are harvested by hand, roots separated and then processed into a powdered extract. The leaves are traditionally used for tea.
Ashwagandha is a complex herb with many phytochemical constituents. In fact, it’s one of the very few herbs in the world with such a broad scope of phytochemicals. Here are just a few of the substances found in the roots:
- Alkaloids, including withanine, withananine, and beta-sisterol
- Steroidal lactones, including withanolides
- Phytosterols, including stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol
- Flavonoids, including saponins, sitoindosides and choline
- Coumarins, including scopoletin and aesculetin
- Essential oils, including ipuranol and withaniol
While ashwagandha’s alkaloids and withanolides are two of the most important bioactive constituents, Ayurvedic experts believe that the potential benefits of the roots come from a synergistic effect of all of the components.
Let’s take a look at how ashwagandha works in your body…
How Stress Affects Your Body… and How Ashwagandha May Help
Remember the list of stress effects that we discussed earlier?
Many of those concerns are linked to your adrenals, those workhorse endocrine glands located above your kidneys.
When you feel stressed – or even if your body simply perceives a situation as stressful – your adrenal glands release cortisol, your body’s “stress hormone”.
Your adrenal glands also release cortisol when your blood sugar level drops too low, another perceived threat to your well-being.
While cortisol is important for your body’s functions, too high of levels due to stress can cause problems.
High levels of cortisol can:
- Create an imbalance in your hormones and brain neurotransmitters, possibly leading to poor sleep, anxiety, and moodiness
- Impact your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and immune function
- Increase fat storage (a telltale sign of a cortisol excess can be an increase in fat storage around your mid-center)
Your adrenals perform other jobs, too. They regulate many bodily functions, including metabolism, and they release hormones essential for your physical, mental and emotional well-being.
The good news is, ashwagandha may help your body adapt and help protect against these negative effects of stress and cortisol.*
Could Ashwagandha Help Ease Your Stress and Anxiety?*
If you’re occasionally feeling battered by stress, I think you’ll find these study results intriguing…
In a double-blind study of 64 adults, one group received 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice a day for 60 days. The other group received a placebo.
The ashwagandha group experienced numerous benefits, compared to the placebo group:
- Had lower levels of cortisol*
- Scored lower on tests measuring stress, anxiety, and overall well-being (the lower the score, the less stressful effects)*
- They reported feeling more relaxed and mentally calm*
- Test scores showed they slept better, felt better physically and emotionally, and enjoyed improved interactions with others*
- They noticed increased productivity*
- They reported a “tremendous” improvement in quality of life*
What accounted for all these effects? The researchers believe they are a result of ashwagandha’s ability to regulate serotonin, an important neurotransmitter, and the stress hormone, cortisol.*
Relaxation and an Energy Boost, All from the Same Herb?
I know what you may be thinking… “How can one herb provide both calming and energizing benefits at the same time?”
The answer is simple: Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, and a potent one at that!
An adaptogen is a substance that helps restore or balance the normal functions of an organ or system. This is turn can help your body deal with internal and external stressors and support your immune system activity.
As an adaptogen, ashwagandha plays a balancing role in your body, and especially helps maintain harmony between your brain and hormone-producing organs.*
Ashwagandha helps balance your brain-adrenal axis as well as your thyroid gland.* You need proper balance in these areas to enjoy optimal adrenal and thyroid health, along with:
- A positive mood
- A healthy metabolism
- Abundant energy
- An optimally functioning immune system
- Normal, healthy sexual energy
Adaptogens help your body and mind adapt to stress. When you can resist the harmful effects of stress, you help strengthen your body’s systems and support your nervous system and adrenal health.
And by regaining balance, you can benefit from both greater energy and endurance and calm and focus!
Ashwagandha’s Stunning Ability to Help Support Healthy Brain Cells*
Researchers have discovered that ashwagandha increases an important antioxidant in your body called glutathione.*
Glutathione is essential for healthy cell development and your body’s detoxification processes.
Known as the “master antioxidant”, glutathione is especially needed for cells and tissues that experience lots of wear and tear and come into constant contact with free radicals.
Your brain certainly meets that criteria!
As you age, glutathione levels in your brain and blood flow to the central part of your brain (your hippocampus) decline. These two conditions create a “perfect storm” for damage to your brain cells.
In a recent rat study, researchers found they could raise levels of glutathione in the rats’ brains by feeding them withanalide – one of the key components of ashwagandha that we talked about earlier.*
Because glutathione is a key antioxidant protector that helps guard against the damaging effects of reactive oxygen species (ROS), ashwagandha with its naturally occurring withanalide may help protect your brain cells.*
Could Ashwagandha Potentially Help Your Memory and Mood, Too?*
Here’s an interesting discovery about ashwagandha…
Researchers don’t believe ashwagandha acts directly on your brain!
Instead, they’ve found that the herb boosts a protein in your liver that enters the bloodstream and travels to your brain. There, it may help clear toxic amyloid plaque that accumulates in your brain.*
Researchers have observed some important brain-supporting effects with ashwagandha extract:
- It helps slow down the deterioration of brain cells, thus supporting cognitive function*
- It helps rebuild nerve and brain cell synapses*
- It helps repair brain cell damage*
So what’s behind ashwagandha’s potential for improving memory?
Researchers suspect that ashwagandha’s calming properties may be responsible for its potential memory benefits. Stress, anxiety, and poor sleep can all affect normal cognitive function. So by easing them, memory and cognitive function may improve!*
And because ashwagandha helps ease mental and emotional stress, it may also help improve mood as well.*