by Dr. Bill Rawls
Last Updated 11/01/16
Native to India and Africa, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an herb derived from a plant root that’s a distant relative to tomatoes and potatoes.
Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years in traditional Ayurvedic medicine as a revitalizer.
Did You Know?
- In Sanskrit, ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse.” While the root has a strong odor, ashwagandha was believed to give the user the strength and stamina of a steed.
- Ashwagandha has many names: Rennet, Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry, and winter cherry.
- In its natural state, ashwagandha is a shrub with rounded leaves and yellow flowers. Its fruit is bright orange-red and roughly the size of a raisin.
How Ashwagandha Works
When you feel stressed, your body goes into a “fight or flight” response. It secretes increased amounts of cortisol and adrenaline. This secretion occurs through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a central hormone pathway.
Prolonged stress can disrupt the body’s hormone levels. It can also lead to a host of stress-induced symptoms. Ashwagandha enables a subtle balancing effect on all the systems of the body. It soothes the hypothalamus, which regulates important functions (hormone levels, temperature, weight, and sleep cycles).
The Benefits of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is considered one of the most effective herbs for balancing hormones and reducing the effects of stress. Studies have shown that ashwagandha:
1. Improves stress resistance
Ashwagandha helps normalize the entire HPA axis, which is the conduit for stress hormones. This fortifies the body’s ability to deal with stress.
2. Improves sleep quality and reduces fatigue
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb. It supports the body’s response to its environment and circumstances. In Ayurvedic healing, powdered ashwagandha is sometimes added to hot milk as a nighttime beverage to help with sleeplessness and stress.
3. Reduces brain fog/improves focus
Stress can have such damaging effect on the brain and the nervous system. Studies have shown ashwagandha may protect brain cells from degeneration.
4. Helps balance normal thyroid function
Ashwagandha is believed to reduce lipid peroxidation by encouraging the scavenging of free radicals that cause cellular damage to the thyroid.
5. Normalizes and balances mood
As ashwagandha soothes the hypothalamus, it helps bring mood into balance as well.
6. Reduces cravings for sugar and carbohydrates
Ashwagandha has been used for many years as a way to aid in limiting or suppressing sugar cravings.
7.Reduces night sweats and hot flashes
Since these symptoms are often linked to stress, which ashwagandha helps reduce, the herb can also help minimize these nighttime annoyances.
You should also consider supplementing your support against stress with techniques to reduce or eliminate stress from your life.
What are the Side Effects of Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is appropriate for adults and adolescents. Though it has a general sedating effect, ashwagandha may cause mild stimulation in some individuals.
One note of caution: Ashwagandha contains iron. Individuals with hemochromatosis (iron retention) should avoid ashwagandha.
As with any natural supplement, check with your healthcare provider before using ashwagandha if you’re pregnant.