Herbs for hormones: Ashwaghanda, a nourishing herbal adaptogen
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, fam. Solanaceae), commonly known as ‘Indian Winter cherry’ or ‘Indian Ginseng’, is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is used as a Rasayana for its wide ranging health benefits. Rasayana is described as a herbal medicine that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and expands happiness. It is one of my favorite herbal adaptogens and has a very restorative and nourishing effect on the nervous system. It is great for those people who are suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, and stress- induced insomnia. It is the perfect antidote to stressful times in people’s lives.
It is also great for those people suffering from extreme adrenal fatigue, when other adaptogens such as Panax ginseng can be too stimulating. I find I can prescribe it to the most depleted patient and within a couple of weeks they will start to feel much better. It is great for a mother rushing around after young kids but equally beneficial for peri-menopausal and menopausal times in a woman’s life when tiredness and anxiety can be a real struggle.
In a recent clinical study, people complaining of high amounts of mental stress were given 300 mg Ashwagandha root extract twice a day for 60 days. Test scores for physical-related stress symptoms (like fatigue) dropped by 76%, compared to only a 4.9% reduction in those taking the placebo. In the Ashwagandha group there was also a 70% reduction in anxiety and insomnia scores, a 69-% reduction in social dysfunction scores, and a 79-% reduction in depression scores, compared to reductions of only 11.6 %, 3.7 % and 10.6 %, respectively, in the placebo group.
Ashwagandha is ideal for those who have experienced chronic stress as the thyroid gland is often affected and they may show signs of subclinical hypothyroidism. It enhances the conversion of the inactive form of thyroid hormone T-4 into the active form T-3 and therefore may help increase energy levels.
I prescribe it as a tincture, normally combined with other herbs and also as a powder mixed with food or in smoothies. It usually takes two to three weeks to notice its subtle effects and it can be taken longer term as a nervous system tonic.
Chandrasekhar J., Kapoor K. and Anishetty; S. (2012) A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults Indian J Psychol Med. Jul-Sep; 34(3): 255–262 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573577/
Note: Do not self medicate with herbs if on prescribed medication or if you have a chronic health condition/ pregnant or breast feeding. Always speak to your healthcare provider before starting herbs. It is always recommended to consult with a medical herbalist before starting a course of herbal medicine for a specific health complaint.