Ashwagandha is receiving a lot of attention for its repute as a stress relieving remedy. However, most individuals are unaware of this herb’s traditional history and how it works. The ashwagandha plant is a botanical that is well-renowned in the Ayurvedic medical tradition where it is classified as a rasayana. To Ayurvedic practitioners this means that it has a reputation for invigorating the body and contributes to healthy aging by promoting a healthy lifespan. Often considered as a true elixir or panacea, the herb has a documented history of use dating to 6000 BC and is widely used to benefit a large number of health conditions. Often called Indian ginseng, ashwagandha falls into the category of adaptogens, herbs that help the body adapt to stressful situations and contribute to a feeling of balance. Traditionally, this balancing property is what lends to its ability to support health.
Ashwagandha Benefits for Women and Men
Ashwagandha has multiple documented benefits in both a traditional and a scientific setting. These benefits extend to both men and women. Its ability to balance the body’s stress response leads to its usefulness in treating or supporting multiple systems of the body that are impacted by the hormonal changes occurring that lead to stress. Thus, research has found that ashwagandha can benefit the mind and body by supporting healthy blood pressure, cognitive function, mood and anxiety, cardiovascular health, joint health, and even sleep. Ashwagandha benefits for women may also include support for the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.
Given its broad range of activity, ashwagandha benefits for men and women have the potential to impact health across the lifespan.
The Stress-Sleep Connection
Modern lifestyles have had a tremendous impact on the stress that individuals experience. Our “always on” and “always connected” mindsets have led to increased acute and chronic stress and adversely affected our ability to get quality sleep.
Chronic stress leads to the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, causing the body to be in a heightened alert and awake state. While normally, these hormones are most active during the day, the fact that our lifestyles have blurred the line between night and day, in many cases they are constantly elevated, leading us to be in a constantly alert state. This leads to detrimental effects on sleep and sleep quality. However, the stress-sleep connection is a self-perpetuating cycle that is often vicious. While stress leads to a decreased ability to get quality sleep, a lack of sleep also leads to heightened stress. The key is to break this cycle through lifestyle modification and taking steps to reset the normal cycle. In addition, an adaptogenic herb like ashwagandha that addresses stress and sleep through a comprehensive mechanism of action can be useful.
Stress Reduction and Mood Stabilizer
Studies on ashwagandha indicate that among the most active components found in the herb are compounds known as withanolides. While the root o the plant has most often been used traditionally, both the root and leaves are good sources of withanolides and both are useful for supporting health and wellness. A placebo controlled clinical trial conducted using an extract of ashwagandha from the roots and leaves of the plant rich in withanolides found significant benefits for reducing the effects of stress and enhancing mood.
The ashwagandha supplement was administered daily in participants experiencing chronic stress for a period of 60 days. The study enrolled 130 participants and found that ashwagandha extract had significant benefits over placebo for reducing stress levels, reducing serum levels of cortisol, reducing inflammation by lowering C-reactive protein (CRP), and reducing blood pressure levels. Furthermore, ashwagandha health benefits included a reduction in fasting blood sugar and blood lipids including cholesterol. This study indicates that ashwagandha reduces stress but is also useful for conditions associated with high stress levels and works to improve the body’s physiological ability to cope with stress.
Ashwagandha Dosage for Sleep
In addition to the above benefits seen in the study, participants were administered questionnaires regarding specific symptoms of stress and anxiety at baseline and 30 and 60 days after beginning ashwagandha supplementation. The results of the questionnaire found that ashwagandha reduced several symptoms including fatigue, loss of appetite, anxious feelings, and heart palpitations. Further significant findings compared to the placebo treatment were found in cognitive function, including less forgetfulness and increased ability to concentrate as a result of using ashwagandha.
In addition, ashwagandha use significantly reduced sleeplessness, indicating the usefulness of ashwagandha for sleep enhancement. All these effects were seen at a dose of 125 mg per day in study subjects and were likely a result of ashwagandha improving the body’s response to stress and tension.
What is clear from the research is that ashwagandha is an adaptogen with special qualities for improving the body’s response to stress. Clinical studies also indicate its utility in addressing several additional areas of health. As stress and health are intricately linked, a rasayana that is rejuvenating and invigorating such as ashwagandha is an indispensable herbal remedy for addressing the rigors resulting from our modern always on lifestyles.
- Fry A. Stress and Insomnia. Sleep Foundation. Accessed at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/stress-and-insomnia
- Paul S et al. Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal (Ashwagandha): A comprehensive review on ethnopharmacology, pharmacotherapeutics, biomedicinal and toxicological aspects. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy (143) 2021.
- Auddy B et al. 2008. A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. JANA (11)1.