Ashwagandha has been used for centuries, even before we truly understood how it works.
Traditional Indian medicine tapped into the stress-reducing benefits of Ashwagandha thousands of years ago. It was used throughout eastern cultures as a holistic treatment to release emotional tension and physical discomfort.
Fast-forward a few millennia, and we’re able to finally understand why this herb is so good at diminishing the effects of stress. The answer lies in its ability to reduce cortisol levels.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that plays an essential role in human survival and productivity, but having too much of it can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health.
Here’s what we know about elevated cortisol levels, and how Ashwagandha has been shown to help.
Why is High Cortisol Harmful?
When your brain perceives danger or stress, it calls on the adrenal glands to dump out a mega-dose of cortisol. This triggers your body to react in some very handy ways: heart rate increases, arteries restrict for faster circulation, and any glucose reserves in the body are sent to your large muscles to be used for immediate energy.
Normal levels of cortisol can help you wake up in the morning, focus on tasks, and stay alert throughout the day. Heightened levels of cortisol can help you run from danger or respond to a crisis. Less dramatically…it can also help you finish a project on a tight deadline.
If that last point feels a little out of place, it’s because it is. See, cortisol is the “fight or flight” stress hormone that helped our ancestors survive being eaten by predators. The fast-paced world we live in now presents us with a variety of stressors that are not life-threatening, but our brains often have a hard time recognizing that.
So while you’re worrying about negotiating for a raise or studying for a pass/fail final, your body is responding to stress by raising cortisol levels and preparing you to run for your life.
These cortisol spikes can happen every day if your stress levels are not properly managed, and over time, it takes a toll on your health.
Negative effects of chronic high cortisol can include:
- Increased blood sugar levels
- Lowered sleep quality
- Weight gain
- Lowered immunity
- Digestive issues
- Cardiovascular strain
Chronic stress harms your health, exacerbates anxiety, and can even interfere with your ability to function from day to day.
Lowering cortisol levels via stress management has never been more important than it is now, and it’s easier to do when you have the right nutrients on your side. That’s where Ashwagandha comes in.
How Ashwagandha Works to Lower Cortisol Levels
Ashwagandha is one of the most commonly used adaptogen herbs. Adaptogens are bioactive compounds that help your body deal with, or “adapt” to, the physical and chemical effects of stress.
The secret to Ashwagandha’s cortisol-reducing power is its unusually high concentration of steroidal compounds calledwithanolides. By working alongside the steroids your body produces naturally, withanolides support a variety of important bodily functions. This includes the balanced function of both adrenal and thyroid glands, which are crucial to the production of cortisol and other hormones.
When Ashwagandha encourages the normal function of these systems, it can help bring cortisol back into alignment, and alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety.
In 2008, a clinical trial was published that determined whether Ashwagandha root powder reduced feelings of anxiety in chronically-stressed participants.
Over the course of 60 days, the placebo group reported insignificant changes. Meanwhile, the group taking the highest Ashwagandha dose (500mg per day) reported a nearly 80% decrease in anxiety symptoms and experienced a30% reduction in cortisol levels, on average. Groups taking Ashwagandha also experienced decreased pulse rate and blood pressure.
This trial and numerous studies that came later strongly suggest that Ashwagandha root is a safe and effective calming herb that can reduce cortisol levels and support improved mood. It also shows that doses of 500mg or higher are likely to deliver the best results.
Besides cortisol reduction, there is one other way that Ashwagandha helps improve mood and stress levels. Studies suggest that it may be able to boost your body’s natural antioxidant production.
Antioxidants have the important job of fighting free radicals (those unbalanced molecules that damage your cells). The wearing down of your antioxidant defenses can lead to an unwanted overabundance of free radicals. When your immune system recognizes them as harmful invaders, it triggers an inflammatory response throughout your body and brain.
Chronic, low-grade inflammation in the brain may be deeply involved in the pathophysiology of anxiety and depression. By helping your body create more antioxidants, Ashwagandha can aid in eliminating excess free radicals, decreasing inflammation in the brain, and supporting overall calm and happiness.
What to Expect When Taking Ashwagandha
Stress and anxiety can change from day to day. You may not even notice a certain degree of stress if you’re encountering it regularly.
If you start supplementing with Ashwagandha to reduce stress, how will you know it is working?
Consistency is key with supplementation, and it can take 30-60 days for the benefits of Ashwagandha to be felt regularly. However, many users note feeling a difference in stress levels in as little as a few days.
Along with feeling more calm and relaxed, you may start sleeping better. Reduced stress can ease racing thoughts that make it difficult for your brain to settle down at bedtime. Many people use Ashwagandha to help with insomnia for this reason.
Ashwagandha is also praised by many as an energy-booster, due to its ability to support adrenal health and hormone production.
A newfound relief from mental fatigue may help you think more clearly, stay focused, and remember things better, too.
If you’ve ever found yourself raiding the bread bin when you’re stressed out, it’s easy to imagine why high cortisol levels can contribute to weight gain. By reducing stress, Ashwagandha can help your body restore its natural serotonin levels and curb emotional carb cravings, making you less likely to sabotage your diet.
The Soothing Adaptogen Herb
Science is beginning to connect the dots on what holistic practitioners have understood for years: Ashwagandha is a proven, powerful tool used to fight the mental and physical battle with stress.
No other adaptogen herb shows as much promise for stress reduction and mood improvement as Ashwagandha. Its unique ability to lower cortisol levels and reduce inflammation can support vital balance in body, mind, and spirit.