Ashwagandha is one of the most popular dietary supplements on the market in the US right now . Maybe you’re here because you’re curious about its sudden boom in the market, or maybe your interest is specifically in ashwagandha for stress. Here is some information that may help you decide if an ashwagandha supplement is the right choice for you.
Ashwagandha is the name of a particular species within a category of plants and fungi known as adaptogens. Adaptogens are herbal pharmaceuticals that help the body adapt to different kinds of stress. Substances from their roots, stems, or leaves can offer systemic benefits to homeostasis and general human health when consumed.
Ashwagandha, specifically, has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine as a “Rasayana”, or rejuvenator herb. Rasayana herbs can help rejuvenate the body and promote the health of all the tissues by eliciting a complex network of changes throughout the body . One of many benefits backed by modern science, however, is ashwagandha’s ability to help the body respond to stress and feelings of worry.
More About Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is also known as “Indian ginseng”, “winter cherry”, or by its scientific name Withania somnifera. It’s a herbal shrub used for its medicinal properties.
Aside from its benefits to stress and occasional anxiety, ashwagandha can support healthier glucose (sugar) and triglyceride (fats) levels in the circulation, promote focus and memory, stimulate female sexual function and male fertility, maximize the effects of exercise, balance immune response, and promote healthy inflammatory response, with specific benefits to the joints [2,3].
There are different forms in which you can take ashwagandha. You may see it in capsules, pills, tinctures, or drops, or as an ingredient in food and drinks. While root-only extracts have the most extensive history of research, more recent publications conclude that the leaves of the Ashwagandha plant may carry similarly beneficial properties to the root . This is a boon to the industry, as harvesting the root of the plant otherwise lays waste to the portion growing above ground.
What are the Active Compounds in Ashwagandha?
As noted above, ashwagandha does not elicit one specific pharmacological mechanism. The processes it catalyzes in the body and the benefits that result are more holistic and complex.
Adaptogens are herbs that normalize physiological processes in times of increased stress . Adaptogens reduce stress-induced damage and exhibit stimulating effects, but they are also innocuous, do not interfere with any bodily functions, and do not cause any negative effects or withdrawal symptoms .
A recent review summarizes about 140 specialized compounds isolated from ashwagandha . Half of the compounds on this list are a complex group of steroidal lactones, or withanolides.
Withanolides can protect against damage from environmental toxins , exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on human cells , and promote the proper differentiation and growth of cells, in vitro . It is likely the withanolides (and withanosides, alkaloids, and other phytocompounds) in ashwagandha triggering physiological reactions that leads to positive outcomes throughout the body.
Ashwagandha for Stress
Root and leaf extracts of ashwagandha (including phytoconstituents) promote anti-stress and anti-worry effects in both human and animal studies .
Stress can cause functional and structural changes within the brain. Stress has been implicated in the development of many mental health and sleep issues . The mechanisms by which stress contributes to these disorders include hyperactivity of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis and dysregulation of the immune system .
Regular supplementation with ashwagandha can actually reduce the activity of the HPA axis in response to stressors [4,7].
The evidence for this effect of regular ashwagandha use (versus a placebo) is reduced stress hormones (such as cortisol) and significantly improved scores on standardized scales for assessing mental health .
The dosage of daily ashwagandha for stress has ranged quite a bit in different clinical studies. Talk to your doctor about appropriate dosage before you begin taking daily ashwagandha for stress.
If you are here reading the Nutrition Alert Blog, you are likely already a Metabolic Maintenance customer. If you are a loyal Metabolic Maintenance customer, you already know about Metabolic Maintenance’s commitment to pure, high-quality ingredients, and professional-grade products. You may also know that we employ third-party testing before and after encapsulation. You may be excited to hear Metabolic Maintenance has recently released two new ashwagandha-containing blends, Balanced Response and Ashwagandha Plus. Read more about these new products in our blog post here.