Ashwagandha is garnering new interest for those coping with Covid PTSD. Even if you’re not strung out by the catastrophe of life changes in the last two years, stress from other sources may leave you feeling sluggish and anxious. There may be plenty of self care resources and ways to help yourself chill out, from chamomile tea to prescription sedatives. Now people are adding ashwagandha to their list of solutions.
What is ashwagandha? Here’s a quick summary:
● Ashwagandha is a shrub found mainly in India, harvested for the leaves and the roots.
● The name means “horse smell” in Sanskrit; it’s also called “Indian ginseng”.
● It’s been a part of Ayurvedic traditions for centuries as a way to relieve stress, promote better sleep quality, and improve men’s sexual health.
● Ashwagandha has found popularity among Western consumers in the last few years.
● As an adaptogen, it works by helping the adrenal glands balance themselves, which has the effect of lowering cortisol levels.
● Take it as a pill, or get it in powder form to mix into drinks or smoothies.
Why are people so interested in Aswagandha herbal supplement
It hasn’t been popular with Western consumers until recently, and this can be partly attributed to another trend that’s been gaining momentum – an interest in alternative medicine. Increasing numbers of people are looking for solutions that don’t involve prescription drugs, so ashwagandha ticks a lot of boxes for anyone who struggles with anxiety or constant fatigue.
Ashwagandha’s potential benefits are especially appealing to people who call themselves “biohackers.” These individuals often experiment with changes in lifestyle, diet, or supplement regimens, and then track the results to see how their bodies are responding. Western consumers may be interested in all things ashwagandha, but the scientific community is still playing catch-up. However, there are a few studies that have shown promising results, and it’s likely that there will be plenty more in the future.
Here’s how ashwagandha works
The two big selling points of ashwagandha – reducing stress and promoting sleep – both have to do with the stress hormone known as cortisol. Specifically, high cortisol is implicated in both anxiety and insomnia, and ashwagandha can help lower it – ideally resulting in restful nights and calmer days.
It’s not that cortisol is the bad guy, exactly; after all, it’s just trying to do its job. Humans originally needed the stress hormone to deal with high-octane situations, like getting chased by a predator. You would get a quick burst of energy, and this would help you avoid becoming lunch. After a while your system would return to normal, including your cortisol levels.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, and most people are getting constant little bursts of cortisol throughout the day. Just got an email from your intimidating boss? Now you’re stressed. Did you spill some coffee on the carpet? More stress. If you’re never able to unwind, your body will constantly be stuck in high gear, and that will definitely affect your mood and energy levels.
Unplugging from life in general probably isn’t an option, and that’s why people try using ashwagandha to manage cortisol instead. It may help your body manage its stress response, so you won’t be as affected by all the little things that you normally deal with. If you’re calmer during the day, you may be able to sleep more soundly at night, meaning you’ll have more energy to face whatever challenges life throws at you.
What practical benefits can result from lower cortisol levels
It goes beyond needing less caffeine to wake up in the morning. Regular users of ashwagandha have reported effects such as:
● Lower blood sugar
● Improved sleep
● Avoidance of weight gain due to high cortisol
● Fewer migraines
● Feeling less irritable
● Reduced anxiety or depression
Men, in particular, could benefit from using ashwagandha; research has indicated that this plant may boost testosterone, increase libido, and improve sperm count. What the research didn’t show was whether these are just more benefits of lowering cortisol levels, or if it’s a separate effect.
The above benefits are definitely linked to ashwagandha, but scientific research has uncovered other possible benefits that definitely merit more study. They include:
● Enhanced cognitive abilities
● Reduced inflammation
● Lower cholesterol
● Increases in muscle mass
● Higher daytime energy levels
● Possible cancer-fighting benefits
Potential side effects
From prescription drugs to herbal teas, medicinal substances come with their own side effects or contraindications – and ashwagandha is no exception. Most people can take it without any problems, but some users have reported nausea, diarrhea, or headaches at higher doses.
We still don’t know a lot about ashwagandha’s potential side effects because of the relative lack of research. This plant is classified as a “dietary supplement” like other herbal remedies, so it’s only minimally regulated by the FDA. This means you can buy it from health food stores, drug store retailers, or online vendors. However, it isn’t advisable to start taking ashwagandha without consulting a healthcare professional first; they’re the ones who can tell you about any potential contraindications related to other supplements or prescription drugs. One final note: ashwagandha isn’t recommended for pregnant or nursing women, since the medical community doesn’t know enough about it to ensure complete safety during these stages.
How long does it take to work
Results vary among users, but the majority of them report noticing positive effects between 15 and 30 days after beginning a regimen of daily doses. You may start noticing that you’re sleeping more soundly at night, or that you’re less flustered about small annoyances. You could keep a progress journal, and measure your sleep cycles using a sleep app. If you really want to know how you’re doing, you could start tracking your cortisol levels to see how they’re affected by the ashwagandha. Another good biomarker to measure would be melatonin, the sleep hormone. There are all kinds of different ways to track your results, and it can be encouraging to check back on the last month’s progress and see how much you’ve improved. Whether you consider yourself to be a biohacker, or you just want a good night’s sleep, ashwagandha may turn out to be your next favorite supplement.