Ashwagandha is a pretty damn impressive herb. Its adaptogenic properties enable it to have some really profound effects on the stress response. Read on...
At SuperFeast, we constantly hear from individuals suffering from a whole variety of issues. They arrive at our shop front, call or email us with their day to day struggles - fatigue, exhaustion, adrenal burn out, low libido, slow metabolism and an overall loss of that joie de vivre. And our herb specialists often come to a consistent root cause, or at least, a significant contributing factor… stress.
We've spoken about how damaging stress is and how it relates to our HPA axis, a quick recap:
The Damaging Effects of Stress
Stress is a daily occurrence and certain experiences require some stress for us to succeed and feel in control. The issues arise when there is chronic, low-grade stress, or acute stress that pops up often. In our Western lives, we downplay or are simply unaware of how every-day situations are stressful to our bodies (e.g. an argument with our partner, weaving in and out of traffic, getting tantrum-ing kids ready for school, being near loud construction noises, monthly review meetings with impossible bosses… the list goes on). The scientific research continues to build that exposure to chronic stress results in a vulnerability to several disorders.
Whatever the cause of stress, be it external or internal (how we react to life), an individual may experience anxiousness, feelings of pressure, trauma, tenseness and an overall feeling of being overextended (1). Research shows that prolonged stress leads to imbalances in the body, which can result in chronic states of cardiovascular and metabolic issues and high blood pressure (1).
We love this image, taken from Personal Stress Management
Along with personal practices, wholesome nutrition, good sleep hygiene habits, downtime with loved ones and movement practices, using tonic herbs and adaptogens can play a key role in lessening the nasty effects of stress. In particular, ashwagandha (also known as Withania somnifera) has shown to be extremely beneficial to improve an individual's ability to cope with stress.Ashwagandha is a very well researched adaptogen with a high safety rating - and it's super effective! We can bring you up to speed on the 101 on our SuperFeast Ashwagandha here, why ours is so potent and all the other health benefits you can experience.
Merriam-Webster states an adaptogen is: "a nontoxic substance and especially a plant extract that increases the body's ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning" (5).
Ashwagandha possesses these exact properties.
Ashwagandha really is the herb for modern times!
According to Singh et al. (2011), this adaptogenic herb promotes healthy reproductive system functioning, endocrine system balance, supports a strong immune system and demonstrates neuroprotective characteristics (3). And above all, as an adaptogen, it works by increasing the body's ability to adapt to stress.
Ashwagandha and Stress
There have been countless research demonstrating the normalizing effects ashwagandha has on the physiological markers in the body during stressful situations and experiences. Let's look at a brief selection of research:
- 64 high-stress individuals were split into a placebo control group; the second group was given full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract for 2 months. The results showed that the ashwagandha treatment group showed significant reductions in all stress-assessment scores, along with lower cortisol levels (compared to the placebo) (1)
- 19 individuals were assigned to a placebo group and 20 received an ashwagandha extract. The 39 individuals suffered from a range of anxiety disorders. The results suggested that after 6 weeks, ashwagandha had significant anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties and was a very safe anti-anxiety herb (2)
- In another study, 52 subjects suffering from chronic stress were given ashwagandha and assessed at the end of eight weeks. Across all measures, including serum cortisol levels, the Perceived Stress Scale and the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, significant improvements were shown (4)
These are small sample sizes, for sure, but we also have the ancient Ayurvedic system that has shown ashwagandha to be effective over and over again over thousands of years of use.
How Does Ashwagandha Alleviate Stress?
There are a few possible mechanisms through which ashwagandha promotes a down-regulation of the nervous system and a heightened ability to deal with stressful experiences. Andrade et al. (2000) suggest some of its chemical constituents are able to modulate GABA neurotransmission (GABA neurotransmitters are key players in levels of stress and anxiety) (2). Furthermore, the potent sitoindosides and acylsterylglucosides within ashwagandha are well-known anti-stress agents (3).
Unlike many aphrodisiacs, this is a nervine herb, aiding the nervous system to regulate to a parasympathetic state that leads to deep restoration of the entire system. For this reason, it is used for exhaustion, fatigue, insomnia from stress and neurasthenia (nervous exhaustion) (6).
Using herbs like ashwagandha to cope with stress and anxiety is a safe and healthy alternative to using synthetic chemicals, especially while we take measures to reduce our exposure to and reaction to stressors. This multipurpose herb positively effects most of the bodily systems (endocrine, reproductive, nervous, neurological) so it's a win-win in our books. If you are wondering how long before you might see results when taking SuperFeast Ashwagandha, check out our How Long Until I See Results Article.
As always, if you are dealing with chronic stress or anxiety, please work with your healthcare practitioner whilst incorporating ashwagandha into your lifestyle. If you are on medication, we recommend discussing the use of ashwagandha with your prescribing doctor.