This natural remedy could help calm your busy mind, protect your immune system and so much more
Instant-messaging, food-to-go, flash sales and relentless emails are all factors contributing to the increasingly fast pace of modern-day life. “Staying calm before, and winding down after a busy day has never been trickier to master,” says Jo Webber, ayurvedic practitioner and head of herbal education at pukkaherbs.com. “All of us are beautifully unique and have different ways of managing a busy lifestyle but, if we need some extra help, there is a natural remedy out there to help restore calm and balance to our bodies and minds.” Classed as a modern-day ‘adaptogen’, ashwagandha adapts to the needs of the body, helping to support it by strengthening the endocrine and nervous systems. Jo takes us through 10 reasons why ashwagandha is a true hero herb.
Ashwagandha acts as a depressant to the central nervous system, exchanging feelings of anxiety for feelings of calm. Stress normally causes a surge in the adrenal hormones – adrenaline and cortisol – that increase alertness. Ashwagandha tackles the problem at the root, regulating the imbalanced cortisol and nourishing the adrenal glands. It acts directly on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis modulating the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, from the adrenal glands.
Psychological stress is often linked to weight-gain and obesity, as raised levels of stress hormones over long periods can lead to increased weight gain. Chronic stress may also lead to changes in eating behaviour – it is all too easy to comfort eat and reach for the biscuit tin in the face of stress. Ashwagandha can be used for body weight management in adults under chronic stress, helping them reduce the effects of stress on unhealthy food cravings and maintain more physical activity.
Ashwagandha’s botanical name, Withania somnifera, gives us a further clue as to its properties. The Latin word ‘somnifera’ is translated as ‘sleep-inducing’, reflecting its ability to support deeper sleep. By nourishing and strengthening a weakened and over-anxious nervous system, studies show that ashwagandha helps us to relax enough to get a better night’s sleep. It does this by controlling the production of stress hormones that can interfere with our natural circadian rhythm (the body clock that prepares us for sleep and wake).
As many as a third of adults in the UK have borderline diabetes (abnormally high blood sugar) according to the NHS. Studies have shown that ashwagandha can help by reducing blood-sugar levels in those with or without diabetes.
Ashwagandha regulates the amount of adrenaline produced and strengthens organs, improving stamina as well as increasing sperm count and motility in men, and improving libido in women. One study showed that women who took a daily dose of ashwagandha over a month saw significant improvements in achieving orgasm and sexual arousal due to a significant reduction in sexually related distress. Beyond decreasing the effects of stress, it was suggested that ashwagandha’s role in increasing testosterone was also key as this is a factor in androgen deficiency syndrome, which in turn is also associated with female sexual dysfunction.
Ashwagandha is also traditionally used to reduce muscle inflammation and to strengthen muscle tone. Studies support this traditional use, making it the perfect support to make those trips to the gym even more effective. In one study to determine a safe and effective dosage for ashwagandha, healthy men who took around one gram per day gained muscle strength after 30 days. In another, those who took ashwagandha had significantly greater gains in muscle strength and size. It also more than doubled their reductions in body fat percentage, compared with the placebo group. This quality of ashwagandha also makes it helpful for recovering from weakness in any postillness convalescence period.
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. An eight-week study in 50 adults showed that taking 300mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily significantly improved general memory, task performance and attention.
Most adaptogenogenic herbs have a positive effect on our immune system and ashwagandha is no exception. It is traditionally used to support a weakened immune system and it has now been shown to encourage anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting immune cells that help to ward off illness. More research is needed but early studies are encouraging, such as one showing a major change in immune cell activation after taking ashwagandha. In this light, ashwagandha can be used to support the immune system during treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Stress can play a large role in skin damage by producing high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which in turn, blocks the production of important proteins that are necessary for healthy skin. One of these proteins is collagen, which helps to keep skin firm and elastic. Research has shown that taking ashwagandha reduces cortisol levels allowing collagen production to work as it’s supposed to – helping to keep you looking and feeling good.
As a rejuvenating tonic, Ayurveda has used ashwagandha for centuries to alleviate fatigue and improve general wellbeing. It has been shown to significantly enhance athletic performance by improving heart and lung capacity, while increasing energy levels. This makes it a great support for those who struggle with energy levels or have fatigue related conditions.
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