Updated: Nov 12
Withania somnifera, Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is one of my top adaptogens. In fact, it is probably part of most of my prescriptions in one form or another focusing on supporting women's health and hormone balance in my clinics.
Why, is ashwagandha so special. ? It is a calming adaptogen that helps to regulate the HPA axis, the hypothalamic pituitary axis. An adaptogen is a herb ( or medicinal mushroom) that can modify our stress response in order to increase our resistance to stress.
What is the HPA axis? Thinks of it as the stress control centre of the brain, which influences so many functions in the body. It controls a huge range of physiological and hormonal functions. Modern day living is full of stressors.. this means that the HPA axis is often overstimulated and out of balance. Adaptogens, and especially ashwagandha, have a powerful role in supporting endocrine balance through the HPA axis and regulating the central nervous system and pathways that control and dictate much of our physiology, mental state and overall wellbeing.
The Wooly Mammoth of the 21st Century on Replay : Chronic Stress
The big woolly mammoth that our ancestors had to beware of only chased them occasionally. You would be a very unlucky caveman if you came across these big creatures on a daily basis. Being chased by these creatures triggered a series of useful reactions often called “fight or flight” which increased the heartbeat, enabling us to run faster, and ultimately, these dynamic physiological changes, saved many lives.
Our modern daily life is full of similar ‘stress’ triggers that spark biochemical reactions and adrenal hormone pathways: the alarm going off in the morning, the first cup of coffee, rushing to work, traffic jams, commuter war, work emails constantly going off all day, mobile phone activity, sugary snacks at 3pm, social media notifications, and the list goes on… Unlike our cavemen ancestors, it is challenging to escape the modern-day woolly mammoth because our daily stress triggers are constant and unrelenting and can be the underlying cause of the unpleasant symptoms below...
Chronic insomnia eg Waking at three a.m. and then not being able to get back to sleep
Menstrual disturbances such as, PMT, Oestrogen dominance, Irregular periods
IBS, microbiome imbalances and digestive issues
Feelings of overwhelm,
Enter Ashwagandha - a nurturing, calming antidote to the stress, anxiety, and modern-day living
Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera, fam. Solanaceae), commonly known as ‘Indian Winter Cherry’ or ‘Indian Ginseng’, is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine as a Rasayana for its wide-ranging health benefits. A Rasayana is described as a herbal medicine that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and expands happiness.
Ashwagandha has a very restorative and nourishing effect on the nervous system. It is great for those people who are suffering from signs of anxiety, panic attacks, and stress-induced insomnia. It is the perfect antidote in stressful times and is considered a Raysana so can be taking as a tonic on a longer term basis too.
It is also great for those people suffering from extreme fatigue with anxiety where 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 the mother rushing around after young children but equally beneficial for perimenopausal and menopausal times in a woman’s life when tiredness and anxiety can be a real struggle.
Research and Stress
Ashwagandha's unique properties mean that it can calm the nervous system without causing drowsiness. There are numerous studies that have shown it has a anti anxiolytic and nervous system regulation effect.
In a clinical study, people complaining of high amounts of mental stress were given 300mg of 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.
K Chandrasekhar, J Kapoor and S Anishetty (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/
A number of mechanisms appear to contribute to the adaptogenic and anxiolytic properties of ashwagandha. Preclinical research has shown that ashwagandha extracts have γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) ergic action, although neither withaferin A nor withanolide A, the better researched constituents appear to be responsible for this action.
Research and Sleep
Good quality sleep is ultimately one of the most important way we can stay healthy and reduce inflammation. Often during times of hormonal imbalance, and higher stress, sleep can be disrupted and the important physical and mental recovery, provide by deep and REM sleep does not take place.
Ashwagandha has been shown to be beneficial in sleep quality and duration in many recent studies.
Langade, D., Kanchi, S., Salve, J., Debnath, K. & Ambegaokar, D. (2019) Efficacy and safety of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root extract in insomnia and anxiety: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Cureus, 11, e5797
Langade, D., Thakare, V., Kanchi, S. & Kelgane, S. (2021) Clinical evaluation of the pharmacological impact of ashwagandha root extract on sleep in healthy volunteers and insomnia patients: A double-blind, randomized, parallel-group, placebo-controlled study. J. Ethnopharmacol., 264, 113 276.
Deshpande, A., Irani, N., Balkrishnan, R. & Benny, I. R. (2020) A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study to evaluate the effects of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep quality in healthy adults. Sleep Med., 72, 28–36. 40
Kelgane, S. B., Salve, J., Sampara, P. & Debnath, K. (2020) Efficacy and tolerability of ashwagandha root extract in the elderly for improvement of general well-being and sleep: a prospective, randomized, double blind trial
Ashwagandha is also 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 T4 into the active form T3 and therefore increases energy levels.
Sharma A, Basu I,, and Singh, S (2018)
Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 24:3, 243-248
Sexual health and libido
Ashwagandha has also been found to be beneficial in improving female sexual health and libido.
Ajgaonkar A, Jain M, Debnath K (October 28, 2022) Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract for Improvement of Sexual Health in Healthy Women: A Prospective, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. Cureus 14(10): e30787. doi:10.7759/cureus.30787
You can add ashwagandha powder to smoothies, hot drinks, raw chocolates.
You can take as a tincture or also as capsules.
Here's a one of my favourite ways to have ashwagandha, a gorgeously relaxing hot raw cacao drink with a good teaspoon of ashwagandha for a chilled autumn eve in front of the fire, reading or journalling.
Ashwagandha and raw cacao, a bliss moment!
I would recommend starting on a small quarter of a teaspoon of the powder then building up as necessary . I find I can get good results in lower tonic dosages from 250mg up to 1 gram daily.
Ashwagandhas' effects are not usually immediate but gradually build over time. I usually see benefits within 2 weeks or so when people report feeling calmer, less anxious and more able to moderate their stress response.
Hormonal balance appears to improve in over a cycle or two.
In some women I just give during the luteal and bleed. as in Harmony the hormone 4 phase supplement |I developed for the Adaptogenic apothecary.
For more info about Harmony and how to buy, check out Adaptogenic Apothecary here
Some people find ashwagandha suits them better in the evening before bed, so you can have in hot drinks or warm plant based milk with cinnamon.
Others find it helps them relax to start the day so may add it to smoothies, hot drinks or yoghurts.
Or you can split the dose an have it morning and evening.
My personal preference is using a whole root organic powder, as traditionally ashwagandha was taken in warm milk and it it absorbed and utilised better if taking in foods.
Ashwagandha is generally considered to be safe, with a few minor possible side-effects, although care should be taken alongside certain drugs or on any prescribed medications.
Always check with a Dr., herbalist or health practitioner if you have a chronic condition, or are on prescribed medications.
I do not advise Ashwagandha in pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding due to lack of clinical studies supporting safe use.
Calm, Organic Ashwagandha powder by the Adaptogenic Apothecary
I am super pleased to work with Paris and Jodie Welton @Adaptogenic apothecary and am consultant and formulator for the Adaptogenic Apothecary. We are delighted to introduce you to Calm. Calm is formulated from the finest organic ashwagandha root powder and ethically sourced from India. We use the whole root, not a concentrated extract, the way nature intended and used traditionally in Ayurveda. Extract can be highly concentrated and focus on certain constituents. Plants are complex symbiotic results of many 1000s of individual constituents. We prefer to use the whole plant for the full range of positive health benefits form this ancient plant. This is the same organic ashwagandha I use in my clinic and can vouch for its quality having tried and used many over the years.
Find out more about Calm and the Adaptogenic apothecary and you can buy here.
For more personalised and targeted support with health and hormone issues, either in clinic at the Tree of Life, Hove or to book a virtual consultation,
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