Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an adaptogenic herb that has been well-recognized in traditional practice and current research for its ability to help people remain energetic, focused, and better able to cope with stress.
Clinical research is still discovering all of the ways that ashwagandha helps this come about. A recent study found that it does this in a number of ways:
A clinical study found that ashwagandha significantly reduced stress in men and women, according to a common anxiety measurement scale. The researchers noted that it did this in four different ways:
1. Through the HPA axis: Ashwagandha may regulate how much cortisol and DHEA we generate in response to stressors. People taking ashwagandha have lower levels of these compounds in the morning, which suggests that it may be working to lower stress levels and, by extension, how much of these natural chemicals the body produces.
2. By stopping oxidative damage: Ashwagandha is a powerful antioxidant. The demands that free-radical damage does to the body and mind can’t be overstated. This herb puts a stop to that cycle.
3. By reducing inflammation: Ashwagandha is also a powerful anti-inflammatory. Inflammation and oxidation are two major factors in stress and depression.
4. By working directly with brain chemistry: Ashwagandha influences GABA and serotonin activity. Each of these actions working in synchronicity appears to be the reason this herb is so effective at helping people become resilient to stress.
Additionally, ashwagandha was found to boost testosterone levels in men but not in women. It seems to be a very smart adaptogen, indeed – providing exactly the support that’s needed depending on the individual.
Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019;98(37):e17186.
Background: Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) is a herb traditionally used to reduce stress and enhance wellbeing. The aim of this study was to investigate its anxiolytic effects on adults with self-reported high stress and to examine potential mechanisms associated with its therapeutic effects.
Methods: In this 60-day, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study the stress-relieving and pharmacological activity of an ashwagandha extract was investigated in stressed, healthy adults. Sixty adults were randomly allocated to take either a placebo or 240 mg of a standardized ashwagandha extract (Shoden) once daily. Outcomes were measured using the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A), Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale -21 (DASS-21), and hormonal changes in cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate (DHEA-S), and testosterone.
Results: All participants completed the trial with no adverse events reported. In comparison with the placebo, ashwagandha supplementation was associated with a statistically significant reduction in the HAM-A (P = .040) and a near-significant reduction in the DASS-21 (P = .096). Ashwagandha intake was also associated with greater reductions in morning cortisol (P < .001), and DHEA-S (P = .004) compared with the placebo. Testosterone levels increased in males (P = .038) but not females (P = .989) over time, although this change was not statistically significant compared with the placebo (P = .158).
Conclusions: These findings suggest that ashwagandha's stress-relieving effects may occur via its moderating effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. However, further investigation utilizing larger sample sizes, diverse clinical and cultural populations, and varying treatment dosages are needed to substantiate these findings.
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