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Zaheera Swing
Nutritional Therapist & Herbalist BSc Hons Nutritional Science + NTPD

Why This Herbalist Uses Ashwagandha For Anxiety

 

As an herbalist, Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has long been one of my favorite herbs to work with for anxiety. I've seen its life-changing effects on mental health firsthand, not just within myself but in the clients I've recommended it to, and I believe it should be an essential in any herbal tool kit. 

The history of Ashwagandha use dates back thousands of years, with generation after generation reaping the benefits of this sacred plant. Although Ashwagandha root may be an ancient remedy in Ayurvedic medicine, its application in modern-day living is more relevant than ever, thanks to the rise of anxiety and chronic stress across the globe.

Statistics show that over 280 million people worldwide suffer from anxiety. [1] According to The American Institute of Stress, around 77% of people experience stress that affects their physical health, and 48% experience stress that negatively impacts their sleep. [2] 

In this article, we’ll be diving into how Ashwagandha can offer much-needed relief for symptoms of anxiety and stress.

 

 

What happens in the body when you’re feeling anxious or stressed?

 

 

When you feel stressed or anxious, your body activates the sympathetic nervous system, known as the “fight or flight” response. This response happens automatically and has evolved to help you survive by reacting quickly when in danger or a threatening situation. However, the body can also initiate this response to non-life-threatening conditions like work, family issues, studies, or financial pressures.

When the fight or flight response is activated, it triggers a cascade of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This results in a series of physiological changes that increase your oxygen intake, pump blood to your muscles and give you a quick burst of energy so you can either run away or confront the threat head-on. 

 

Some of these physical responses include:

  • Raised blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Release of stored glucose and fatty acids into the bloodstream
  • Reduced blood flow to the gastrointestinal system

Our bodies are well equipped to handle short-term, occasional stress and anxiety. However, if the stress response keeps on firing day after day, it can have detrimental effects on our physical and mental health by increasing the risk of:

  • High blood pressure
  • Inflammation
  • Poor sleep 
  • Depression
  • Digestive issues
  • Headaches

... And more!

[3] [4] [5] [6]

 

 

 

How can Ashwagandha help with anxiety?

 

In the context of anxiety, Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is considered an adaptogen and a nervine. Adaptogens are plants that help provide the body with resiliency to cope better with both physiological and psychological stress. 

Adaptogens have a modulating, normalizing, or regulating effect on the nervous and endocrine systems or the “HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis.” This can help to support the body's natural circadian rhythm so that energy is stable throughout the day and sleep is deep and restful. [7]

In traditional herbalism, nervines are considered herbs that provide calming support for the central nervous system, naturally alleviating anxiety levels. 

Its species name, “somnifera,” actually means sleep-inducing in Latin, further reiterating its relaxing action (not to mention its beneficial effect on sleep quality!) 

Used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, it's considered a rejuvenating herb or “Rasayana” thanks to its nourishing and restorative effect on so many bodily systems, including the thyroid and adrenal glands. Sometimes it's also called Indian Ginseng; even though it's not related to the ginseng family, it likely gets this name thanks to its energizing properties.

Withania somnifera is native to India, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. It's resilient to harsh, challenging growing conditions, which beautifully demonstrates its adaptogenic qualities in a different light.  

Ashwagandha contains potent bioactive constituents known as withanolides. Withanolides are the main bioactive phytochemicals within the plant, providing Ashwagandha with its amazing health benefits.[8]

 

Let’s take a look at the main ways in which Ashwagandha may help alleviate anxiety and stress.

 

1. Ashwagandha extract lowers cortisol levels

Multiple research studies have consistently shown that Ashwagandha supplementation may lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. 

 

One of these studies was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that found after 60 days of supplementing with Ashwagandha, participants in the treatment group had a remarkable 27.9% decrease in cortisol compared to baseline levels, while those in the placebo group only saw a 7.9% decrease in cortisol compared to baseline. [9]

 

These results are impressive and have been shown time after time in multiple studies over the years. [10] [11] [12]



2. Ashwagandha extract reduces anxiety scores

 

Research shows that Ashwagandha supplementation may significantly reduce scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (also known as HAM-A). This test is a widely used and well-validated tool for assessing the severity of anxiety individuals may struggle with by examining the number of physiological and psychological symptoms experienced and their severity.

 

For example, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that over the course of the 60-day intervention, participants receiving an Ashwagandha extract had a 41% decrease in their HAM-A scores, which was statistically significant compared to the placebo group. [10]



3. Ashwagandha extract improves sleep


We all know that anxiety can make it difficult to sleep, but did you know that sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety too? As you would imagine, this can result in a vicious cycle that can seriously affect your mental and physical health. [13]

 

The great news is research has shown that Ashwagandha may help to improve sleep specifically, alongside its anxiety and stress-relieving benefits. 

 

A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found that Ashwagandha supplementation significantly improved overall sleep. This was assessed using measurements like sleep onset latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep), total sleep time, wake time, total time in bed, and sleep efficiency. [14]



4. Ashwagandha extract supports focus and cognitive function

A symptom that many people with anxiety struggle with is difficulty concentrating. This can be incredibly frustrating. Whether you’re at work, studying, or just trying to get things done around the house, it can definitely limit your productivity. 

 

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that when stressed healthy adults took an Ashwagandha supplement for 90 days, they experienced enhanced focus, memory, mental well-being, and reduced stress levels compared to the placebo! [15]



5. Ashwagandha and meditation 

Another way that Ashwagandha root may assist with anxiety is by supporting your meditation practice. Meditation is one of the most powerful lifestyle tools that can be harnessed to ease anxiety symptoms, alleviate chronic stress and elevate your mental health. 

Taking an Ashwagandha supplement has made a huge difference to my own meditation routine. I feel less overcome by distracting, looping thoughts that usually elevate my anxiety levels, making it easier to go deeper into a more healing meditative state and find a genuinely restorative break from day-to-day stress. 

Many of us struggle to meditate, especially when feeling anxious. Sitting with yourself without any of the usual distractions can be daunting. If this is something you're struggling with, it's definitely worth giving Ashwagandha supplementation a try. 

Our NutriRise co-founders, Basim and Ramsha Mirza, are passionate about the Maharishi effect, which proposes that individual consciousness affects collective consciousness. It suggests that if just 1% of the population meditates, this could have a significant positive impact on the quality of life of the whole population. [16] 

 

 

 

What is the exact Ashwagandha dosage for anxiety?

The typical dosage of Ashwagandha used to support symptoms of anxiety and stress in most research studies ranges from around 240 mg - 600 mg per day of a standardized Ashwagandha extract. 

We’ve got you covered with our high potency Ashwagandha 1300mg and Ashwagandha 1950mg capsules derived only from the root of the Ashwagandha plant to ensure they contain the perfect, safe amount of bioactive withanolides. 

At NutriRise, we’ve also taken it a step further by formulating our premium Ashwagandha capsules with 15mg of black pepper extract per serving - a well-researched bioenhancer shown to support absorption and bioavailability so that you get the most out of this incredible ancient herb!

 

 

Can Ashwagandha stop panic attacks?

While there is no research focusing specifically on the use of Ashwagandha root extract for panic attacks, one may assume that its beneficial effects on anxiety symptoms, perceived stress, and cortisol levels could potentially help to reduce the severity and frequency of panic attacks and support mental health and well-being.

 

 

 

What are the side effects of Ashwagandha supplementation?

Most people tolerate Ashwagandha supplementation just fine without any side effects.

When taking high doses, a few individuals may experience symptoms like digestive upset, nausea, diarrhea, and dry mouth.

While Ashwagandha is generally considered safe, it should be avoided during pregnancy and in those with hyperthyroidism. Remember, discussing any new supplements with your healthcare provider is always a good idea, especially if you struggle with any medical conditions. 

 

 

What's the difference between Ashwagandha powder and Ashwagandha extract? 

Ashwagandha powder is simply the root (and sometimes leaf) of the Ashwagandha plant that has been dried and processed into a powdered form. While Ashwagandha has been traditionally consumed in this way for many years, the onset of modern technology has enabled us to extract the important constituents from the Ashwagandha root, i.e., the withanolides to ensure that each dose contains the optimal amount of these bioactive phytochemicals for the most powerful Ashwagandha benefits!



Note: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.

 

Zaheera Swing
Nutritional Therapist & Herbalist BSc Hons Nutritional Science + NTPD
As a qualified Nutritional Therapist (BSc Hons Nutritional Science + NTPD), Zaheera Swing has a deep passion for restoring balance and harmony to the body through the modalities of nutritional science, herbalism, and holistic lifestyle practices. Using the functional medicine model coupled with wisdom from ancient paradigms, she aims to provide insight into the underlying root causes of poor health and the holistic tools we can harness to enhance the well-being of mind, body, and spirit.
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