Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issues in the United States. More than 40 million adults, or about 18% of the population reports anxiety issues every year.
Because anxiety is such a common mental health issue, the shelves of drug stores often include a wide variety of anti-stress and anti-anxiety supplement products. One of the more popular options is ashwagandha.
Fun as it is to say, there’s actually a lot more to ashwagandha than having a funny name. This little supplement may have some potent anti-stress properties. Read all about it here!
The History of Ashwagandha
The ashwaganda plant has been used in medicines for thousands of years. It has been a staple in Ayurveda, an ancient holistic healing system developed in India. Native to northern Africa, this little shrub has also been used in traditional African medicine. For the most effective healing properties, the root and leaves are pressed to make extract, or ground to make powder.
The name, ashwagandha, is derived from Sanskrit. It’s a combination of the word “ashva,” which means horse, and “gandha,” which means smell. Together, the word means “horse smell.” If you’ve ever taken a whiff of ashwagandha powder, you already know it has a strong, horsey smell.
It’s also known as “Indian Winter Cherry,” or “Indian Ginseng.”
Historically, ashwagandha has been utilized as a way to help, well, pretty much everything. Each part of the plant seems to have a different effect on the body. It’s roots been used for arthritis, mental disorders such as anxiety, bipolar, and ADHD. It’s also been used as an aid for sleep disorders, thyroid issues, and a way to reduce the side-effects of some medications.
Some people use Ashwagandha flowers to improve fertility and sexual desire. It’s also been used to fight inflammation, decrease the effects of aging, and improved mental clarity. The leaves are used to fight fever and swelling.
Apart from the historical use, Ashwagandha has some interesting scientific research to back up its efficacy:
A 2008 study found supplementation with Ashwagandha helped reduce stress in people who reported being chronically stressed. In this study, participants who took the highest dosage of Ashwagandha had the largest decrease in cortisol, a hormone released during stress that can be detrimental in high doses over long periods of time. Numerous other studies have found Ashwagandha may help reduce feelings of stress, especially in people who feel it consistently.
This reduction in stress can have huge impacts on overall health, from increased libido and fertility, to improved health markers, such as blood sugar levels, and decreased feelings of depression and anxiety.
And, although these studies have only been done in animals, some have found that supplementation with ashwagandha may improve overall brain function, possibly even in those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Ashwagandha may also be an important weapon against inflammation. Many of these benefits are touted due to the high concentration of withanolides. Withanolides are a naturally-occurring compound that have anti-inflammatory properties.
Ashwagandha the Adaptogen
Some people classify ashwagandha as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are called that because they are supplements that can “adapt” to protect the body against stressors. Adaptogens may work by allowing our body to resist stress by keeping it from falling into exhaustion and reducing cortisol levels.
The evidence for adding ashwagandha to your supplement regimen is good. Not only does it have thousands of years worth of evidence of healing, it’s been documented by modern science.
The best way to know if you’re getting enough ashwagandha in your supplement, is to look at the label. There’s good evidence for lowered cortisol levels with taking 125mgs, daily.
So, if you’re looking to de-stress a little bit, make sure the supplement you’re taking has at least 125mgs of Ashwagandha, and preferably, for more anti-anxiety properties, at least 300 mgs.