Withania somnifera, or Ashwagandha, is a revered herb in Indian Ayurvedic medicine – referred to as the “Indian ginseng” and the “rejuvenator”. Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb used to increase the body’s resilience to physiological and psychological stress and improve the body’s state of health overall. Although useful for a wide range of other health conditions, Ashwagandha is particularly known for its adaptogenic properties and the regulation of hormones, reducing anxiety, improving sleep, and treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Regulation of Hormones
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb. This means that it supports the body’s systems, assists the body’s ability to adapt to stressors, and has a normalizing and balancing effect on the body. If a system is either under or over active, adaptogenic herbs like Ashwagandha will aid the body to restore its natural balance. Ashwagandha’s adaptogenic properties particularly benefit the endocrine system, which allows for the proper regulation of hormones. One study determined that Ashwagandha has thyroid enhancing properties and effectively regulates TSH, Free T4, and T3. This may be beneficial for those struggling with under or overactive thyroid glands, or for anyone looking to help balance their hormones.
Traditionally Ashwagandha has been most often used for anxiety relief. A number of studies have demonstrated its effectiveness as both an anxiolytic and an anti-depressant due to its chemical composition and its adaptogenic properties. The biologically active chemical components of Ashwagandha include sitoindosides and acylsterylglucosides, both of which are anti-stress agents. As well, because of its adaptogenic properties Ashwagandha improves an individual’s resilience to stress, and therefore improves overall mood. One study measured Ashwagandha consumption in stressed rats and found that serotonin levels went up with the use of Ashwagandha, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness. Another study on patients with alcohol addiction found that Ashwagandha significantly increased GABA levels, a neurotransmitter known to reduce anxiety. As made evident by these studies, Ashwagandha may be useful support for those experiencing anxiety, or for those looking to improve their mood and overall well-being!
Ashwagandha has also shown positive results in improving sleep and fatigue. One study measured mice with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), a syndrome characterized by persistent fatigue and exhaustion. The study determined that Ashwagandha improves fatigue by decreasing lipid peroxidation and restoring glutathione (GSH) levels. Most people that struggle with insomnia have lower GSH levels, as it is an antioxidant that helps produce melatonin and induce delta-wave sleep. Another study demonstrated that Ashwagandha is effective for insomnia by decreasing cortisol, as elevated cortisol levels are another cause of insomnia. Ashwagandha may be a good solution for those looking to improve sleep, reduce fatigue, and boost energy throughout the day.
Treatment of Alzheimer’s
Ashwagandha has been shown to be effective in improving memory and cognitive performance. Many recent studies have also shown its potential as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. It does this by improving cognitive abilities, which allows for improved motor and memory skills. One study showed that Ashwagandha inhibits the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, plaques found in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients. Another study demonstrated that it has cognitive promoting effects and is useful for children with memory deficit and those with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. It does this by helping restore memory loss, as it aids in the formation of dendrites which are necessary for synaptic processing in the brain. In addition, while Ashwagandha is particularly helpful for those experiencing memory loss and cognitive impairment, it is also useful for improving cognition in otherwise healthy individuals. In a 2014 double-blind study, subjects were randomly given either Ashwagandha capsules or a placebo and assessed on cognitive and psychomotor performance. Significant improvements were seen in the Ashwagandha group as compared to the placebo group. Although further research is still needed, these studies demonstrate that it may be an effective natural treatment for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, as well as support for improved cognition in general population.
Ask your naturopathic doctor for more information.
Wellness Naturopathic Centre, North Vancouver, BC
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