Ashwaganda is an herb used by practitioners of Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine in India. The root of the plant is thought to have many health benefits, including the ability to decrease stress and anxiety.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a plant that’s native to North Africa and India. For thousands of years ashwagandha has been very important in Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine in India. You may also see ashwagandha referred to as Withania somnifera (its botanical name), or Indian ginseng (while not actually a type of ginseng, it has many similar health benefits). While the leaves, seeds, and root have all been used in Ayurveda medicine, it’s the root that has recently become popular in the Western world.
The health benefits of the ashwagandha root are many and varied.
People take ashwagandha to improve memory, lower cholesterol, reduce blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and a host of other reasons. What this root is most well-known for, though, is being an adaptogen: a medicinal plant that gives your body the ability to adapt to stress.
Ashwagandha Reduces Anxiety and Stress
There are a number of plants, including Rhodiola, Bacopa, and ginseng, that are thought to help your body adapt to stress. Of all these adaptogens, though, ashwagandha is considered to be the most powerful.
Stress comes in a variety of forms, be it emotional, psychological, or physical. The interesting thing about an adaptogen is that it has a way of reducing the symptoms of stress no matter what type of stress a person is experiencing. That mostly has to do with a hormone called cortisol.
There’s a good reason cortisol is referred to as the “stress hormone.” Cortisol doesn’t cause stress, but instead is released by the body in response to stress. It’s job is to assist the body in preparing and reacting to stress of any kind. Cortisol does its work in a variety of ways, from pumping more glucose in the bloodstream and increasing alertness to ready the body for a “fight-or-flight” response, to forcing the body to cut back on less essential functions to allow the body to focus on functions crucial to reacting to stress.
In the fight against stress, cortisol is vitally important. If cortisol levels remain high even after the period of stress has ended, though, this hormone becomes a liability. Having your body in an extended period of “fight-or-flight” mode leads to decreased testosterone levels, an inconsistent sleep cycle, weight gain, and anxiety and even depression. Not good!
Ashwagandha has the ability to lower cortisol levels in your body. That’s the main way it reduces stress. Because stress and anxiety are strongly related, reducing stress levels reduces anxiety. This ability to lower cortisol and reduce stress isn’t just a theory — it’s been backed up by studies. In one such study 60 participants displaying symptoms of anxiety were given either 300 mg of ashwagandha or a placebo twice a day for eight weeks. For those subjects who took the ashwagandha supplements, stress and anxiety were significantly reduced, and sleep quality was improved.
Improving sleep quality is a real plus in the fight to minimize anxiety. A poor sleep cycle can make a person tired throughout the day, anxious, moody, and unable to concentrate. In combination, these factors can easily lead to anxiety. Ashwagandha has been shown to be a big help in regulating sleep patterns.
High levels of cortisol plays a role in sleep disturbances. Ashwagandha lowers cortisol levels. Additionally, ashwagandha increases your body’s levels of acetylcholine. This hormone plays an important role in promoting REM sleep — the periods of sleep when you dream the most. A lack of REM sleep can interfere with normal daytime functions of the body, causing stress and anxiety.
The Best Way to Take Ashwagandha Supplements
Ashwagandha supplements are sold as root powder and root extract. The root powder is sold in bulk form — powder in a jar or bag. The root extract is sold as capsules. The powder form is the result of grinding and drying the entire root of the plant. The root extract also involves grinding and drying the root, but then only the most beneficial elements of the root are extracted and saved. Most people prefer the extract because it’s more concentrated.
There’s no fixed size dose of ashwagandha that works best for everyone. A dosage is generally in the range of 300 mg to 600 mg daily. For treating the symptoms of anxiety, 600 mg per day may be the most popular. Whatever size dosage you choose, split it into two doses per day: take one dose in the morning and one in the evening. Whether you take each dose with a meal or not is up to you — the effectiveness of the supplement isn’t dependent on whether you take it with food.
For thousands of years the ashwagandha herb has been an important part of Ayurveda medicine in India. In recent years the root of this plant has gained popularity in health-conscious people who normally relied only on the practices and medications of Western medicine.
The root of the plant is considered an adaptogen — a medicinal plant that assists the body in adapting to stress. Ashwagandha does this mostly by reducing the levels of the body’s stress hormone cortisol. By reducing stress, anxiety is also reduced. Many people who suffer from stress, and even depression, have benefited by taking ashwagandha root extract supplements.