You may have heard about this herb as an “adaptogen” that can be used to minimize stress. Well, what you heard is true! Ashwagandha is a popular adaptogen that can help the nervous system respond better to stress. Before we go any further, you may be asking ‘what is an adaptogen?’
Adaptogens are herbs/natural substances that help reduce some of the harmful effects that result from the body experiencing stress. This stress can be mental/emotional or physical. Some common signs you may benefit from adaptogens include:
Fatigue (even though you slept well enough)
Lack of focus
Anxiety/Nervousness and more.
Some other common adaptogens that you might be familiar with are Rhodiola, Holy Basil, Ginseng, Maca, Licorice and more. Each adaptogen acts differently, so consulting with a practitioner is the best way to know if what you are taking is right for you.
What Ashwagandha does…
Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) is an excellent adaptogen to help with stress. The main way Ashwagandha is able to help with the negative effects of stress is its ability to reduce cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone released by the body to help us in times of stress. However, long term stress keeps cortisol high in our body, and eventually this can create a number of health issues.
Another benefit of ashwagandha is its ability to help support the thyroid. Thyroid dysfunction is very common nowadays, and high cortisol levels impede thyroid functioning even further. Ashwagandha helps in two-ways when it comes to thyroid health.
It reduces overall cortisol, which will help thyroid hormone bind to receptors throughout the body.
It promotes release and conversion of T4 into T3, so it can be an excellent support for people in a subclinical hypothyroid state.
As with all substances, there are some cautions when using Ashwagandha. Due to its support of getting more thyroid hormone working in the body, for people with Hyperthyroidism, Ashwagandha would not be the best option. Furthermore, it is theorized to have an enhancing effect on barbiturates (phenobarbital). Also, although we may tend to focus on the adaptogen effects of Ashwagandha, it has many other effects on the body as well. Some of these include modulating immunity (so it should be used cautiously for people taking immune modulators). With less clear effects, Ashwagandha has been also known to help with issues of decreased libido in both men and women. In males, it has been demonstrated to mildly improve sperm counts.
Overall, Ashwagandha is considered very safe and mild acting in proper doses, so definitely speak with your Naturopathic Doctor about whether Ashwagandha would be beneficial in your case.
Sources for Ashwaganhda: