During this time of increased stress, I felt compelled to write a more in-depth article about a herb that I referred to in my article about chronic stress. An ancient and revered botanical backed by numerous studies; this Ayurvedic herb has been used for thousands of years to naturally support and balance body and mind. This powerful, rejuvenating herb is called Ashwagandha.
A hardy plant, its ability to thrive in dry conditions and poor quality soil, accurately reflects its adaptogenic properties. But it’s not just stress that this herb can support, so let’s take a look at the top 7 incredible health benefits of Ashwagandha…
Supports Adrenal glands to reduce stress and anxiety
By far the most well-known of all the benefits of Ashwagandha, is its ability to lower stress. Ashwagandha has been well-researched in this regard with numerous studies supporting its effectiveness in managing and increasing the body’s resilience to the effects of stress. Acting directly on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis it modulates the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, from the adrenal glands. In addition it also has the ability to strengthen an exhausted nervous system whilst also calming it.
Interestingly, as ashwagandha supports the adrenal glands, it also has an indirect effect on improving thyroid function as well. Early studies demonstrate ashwagandha’s positive impact on thyroid function by stimulating thyroid hormone activity.
Increases energy and stamina
"Studies show it significantly enhanced athletic performance"
Known as a rejuvenating herb, ayurveda has prized Ashwagandha for its energy boosting properties for thousands of years. Used to alleviate fatigue and improve general wellbeing, it has also been shown to increase stamina and endurance. Studies show it significantly enhanced athletic performance by not only increasing energy levels, but also by improving heart and lung capacity. Ashwagandha can be a real support to those experiencing a lack of energy, as well as those who struggle with fatigue-related conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
Prevents stress prematurely ageing the skin
An added bonus of taking ashwagandha is its ability to protect the skin. Stress plays a significant role in skin damage by producing high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. And it is cortisol which blocks the production of important proteins, necessary for healthy skin. One of these proteins is collagen, which supports the skin's firmness and elasticity. Research has shown that supplementing with ashwagandha reduces cortisol levels allowing collagen production to work effectively.
"studies show that Ashwagandha aids in relaxation"
Along with blood sugar imbalances, stress is often one of the root causes of sleeping problems. By supporting and strengthening a weakened and over-stimulated nervous system, studies show that Ashwagandha aids in relaxation, calming us sufficiently in order to get a better night’s sleep. Whilst our cortisol levels are supposed to naturally fall in the evening (and rise again in the morning to get us out of bed), stress can override these rhythms and cortisol can stay elevated into the night and prevent quality sleep. Ashwagandha, by modulating the production of stress hormones, allows our bodies to retain natural sleep / wake rhythms.
Boosts immunity and reduces inflammation
Most adaptogenic herbs have a positive action on our immune system and ashwagandha is no exception. Ayurveda used it to support a weakened immune system and it has now been shown to increase anti-inflammatory and white blood cells that help to ward off illness. Whilst more research is needed, early studies are promising. A 2009 study resulted in a major change in immune cell activation after taking ashwagandha.
Improves brain function and memory
The nootropic effects of Ashwagadnha are also of interest. Ashwagandha has traditionally been used to boost memory in Ayurveda, supported by research showing it promotes antioxidant activity that protects nerve cells from harmful free radicals. In one study, healthy men who took ashwagandha daily reported considerable improvements in their reaction time and task performance, compared with men who received a placebo. Furthermore, an 8-week study of 50 adults showed that supplementing with 300mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily significantly improved overall memory, productivity, and attention span.
Enhances libido and sexual performance
Stress causes an increase in adrenalin, which in turn places pressure on our adrenal glands and organs. Ashwagandha regulates the amount of adrenalin produced and supports organs, improving stamina as well as increasing sperm count and motility in men, and improving libido in women. One study showed that women who supplemented with a daily dose of ashwagandha for 1 month saw marked improvements in sexual arousal and achieving orgasm. But aside from decreasing the impact of stress, it was theorised that ashwagandha’s role in increasing testosterone is also key as this is a factor in androgen deficiency syndrome, which in turn is also associated with female sexual dysfunction.