At times of stress, we all need a little help in helping us cope better, and while relaxation and breathing techniques, sleep, and diet can all synergistically offer greater benefit, another great tool is the use of adaptogenic herbs such as Ashwagandha.
Renowned and used for over 2,500 years in Ayurvedic medicine, adaptogenic herbs are the most commonly used and extensively researched herb and one of the leading herbs that are scientifically well supported is Ashwagandha. It’s valued for its thyroid-modulating, neuroprotective, anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and anti-inflammatory properties, which are just some of the many ashwagandha benefits.
In India, ashwagandha is known as the “strength of the stallion” because it has traditionally been used to strengthen the immune system after illness. It has also been referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its ability to enhance stamina and work as a natural stress reliever.
In fact, it’s ashwagandha’s ability to work as a stress-protective agent that has made it such a popular herb. Like all adaptogenic herbs, ashwagandha helps the body to maintain homeostasis, even in moments of emotional or physical stress. But the many ashwagandha benefits don’t stop there. This powerful herb has shown incredible results for lowering cortisol levels and balancing thyroid hormones. Plus, it’s been used for mood disorders and in the prevention of degenerative diseases.
Ashwagandha is important because it serves many purposes and benefits many-body systems, including the immune, neurological, endocrine, and reproductive systems. The primary goal of Ayurvedic medicine is to help people stay healthy without the need for suffering, prescription drugs, or complicated surgeries.
According to research published in Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy, “Ayurvedic medicinal plants have been the single most productive source of leads for the development of drugs.” Many adaptogenic plants like ashwagandha, have proven to be useful in relieving several health concerns.
In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is characterised as a “Rasayana,” which means that it’s used to promote your physical and mental health, to defend your body against disease and damaging environmental factors, and to slow down the ageing process. In India, ashwagandha has been used as a broad-spectrum remedy for centuries, but more recently scientists have proven that it possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that play a major role in the many ashwagandha benefits.
Studies have reviewed the numerous benefits of Ashwagandha. Here are just a few:
1. Improves Underactive Thyroid Function
One of the most incredible aspects of adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha is that they help improve thyroid problems. In particular, sluggish thyroid for people diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, or underactive thyroid, which is alarmingly common, contributing to ongoing unexplained fatigue. For the millions of people who are struggling with thyroid problems, many of whom don’t even know it, ashwagandha may serve as the solution they’ve been waiting for.
In a 2017 pilot study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, ashwagandha benefits for helping patients with subclinical hypothyroidism were evaluated. The 50 participants were diagnosed with thyroid disorder but didn’t display obvious symptoms of thyroid deficiency.
2. Relieves Adrenal Fatigue
Research shows that ashwagandha may be useful in supporting adrenal function and helping you to overcome adrenal fatigue. Your adrenals are endocrine glands that are responsible for releasing hormones, specifically cortisol and adrenaline, in response to stress.
If your adrenals are overtaxed due to an overabundance of emotional, physical, or mental stress, this can lead to a condition referred to as adrenal fatigue. When your adrenals become exhausted, this can also disrupt other hormones in your body, including progesterone, which can cause infertility and lower levels of DHEA, a hormone that’s tied to longevity and maintaining a strong body.
3. Combats Stress and Anxiety
One of the most well-known ashwagandha benefits is its ability to work as a natural remedy for anxiety. In a 2009 study published in PLOS One, ashwagandha was shown to be comparable to common pharmaceutical drugs lorazepam and imipramine, without the side effects.
In the 12-week controlled study, 75 participants with anxiety were divided into two groups, one that received naturopathic care and another that received standardised psychotherapy intervention. The naturopathic care group received dietary counseling, deep breathing relaxation techniques, a standard multi-vitamin and 300 milligrams of ashwagandha twice daily. The psychotherapy intervention group received psychotherapy, deep breathing relaxation techniques, and placebo pills twice daily.
When anxiety levels were measured after the 12-week period, the group who received ashwagandha had anxiety scores that decreased by 55 percent and the psychotherapy group’s scores decreased by 30.5 percent. Significant differences between the two groups were also found in mental health, concentration, social functioning, vitality, fatigue, and overall quality of life, with the ashwagandha group displaying greater clinical benefits.
In addition to these positive findings, researchers indicated that no serious side effects occurred in either group. A major ashwagandha benefit is that there are no or minimal adverse reactions when taking it, compared to antidepressant and antianxiety medications that may cause drowsiness, insomnia, loss of sexual desire, and increased appetite, among other side effects.
4. Improves Depression
Not only does ashwagandha benefit people who deal with anxiety and chronic stress, but it can also be helpful for people who experience signs of depression. Ashwagandha improves our resistance towards stress and studies show that it thereby improves people’s self-assessed quality of life. As stress is a known cause of depression, as are hormonal imbalances, ashwagandha can potentially work as a natural remedy for depression.
5. Balances Blood Sugar Levels
Another area that ashwagandha has been evaluated for its anti-diabetic effects, which are possible because of the presence of phenolic compounds, including flavonoids. Research shows that flavonoids possess hypoglycemic activities and a study concluded that both ashwagandha root and leaf extracts helped to achieve normal blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Ashwagandha is readily available from your local chemist or health shop. For further information speak also to your healthcare professional to determine your suitability and dose.