Ashwagandha plant

Mental Health

Ashwagandha for Mental Health: Benefits and How to Use It

Written by

Isha Team

published:

October 20, 2023

updated:

October 28, 2023

In an age where stress and anxiety seem to be constant companions, many people are turning to natural remedies to support their mental well-being. Ashwagandha, an ancient herb with a long history in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, has gained popularity as a potential solution for managing stress, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. In this blog post, we'll explore what ashwagandha is, its potential benefits for mental health, and how you can incorporate it into your wellness routine.

What Is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a small shrub native to India and parts of North Africa. Also known as "Indian ginseng" or "winter cherry," ashwagandha has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to promote overall health and well-being. The name "ashwagandha" itself is derived from the Sanskrit words "ashva" (horse) and "gandha" (smell), indicating that the herb's root has a strong horse-like odor and is believed to impart the vitality and strength of a horse to those who consume it.

The key bioactive compounds found in ashwagandha, including withanolides and withaferin A, are believed to contribute to its numerous health benefits.

What are the active ingredients of ashwaganda

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) contains a variety of bioactive compounds, with withanolides being the most well-known and studied. These active compounds are believed to be responsible for many of the herb's health benefits. Here are the primary active ingredients found in ashwagandha:

  • Withanolides: Withanolides are a group of naturally occurring steroid lactones found in ashwagandha. They are the most researched and prominent bioactive compounds in the herb. Withanolides are believed to have adaptogenic and anti-inflammatory properties, making them significant contributors to ashwagandha's therapeutic effects.
  • Withaferin A: Withaferin A is a specific type of withanolide found in ashwagandha. It has received particular attention for its potential anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.
  • Alkaloids: Ashwagandha contains alkaloids such as somniferine and somnine, which have a calming effect on the nervous system.
  • Saponins: Ashwagandha contains saponins, which are glycosides known for their adaptogenic properties and potential benefits for stress and anxiety management.
  • Tannins: Tannins are polyphenolic compounds found in ashwagandha with antioxidant properties.
  • Phytosterols: These plant sterols are found in ashwagandha and may have a role in supporting overall health.
  • Fatty Acids: Ashwagandha also contains fatty acids, including stearic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acid, which are essential for various bodily functions.

It's important to note that the specific composition and concentration of these active ingredients can vary depending on factors such as the plant's growing conditions, the part of the plant used (typically the root is the most potent), and the method of preparation. When choosing ashwagandha supplements or products, it's advisable to select those from reputable sources that provide information on the standardized content of withanolides to ensure quality and potency.

Potential Benefits for Mental Health

Stress Reduction:

Ashwagandha is often touted for its adaptogenic properties, which means it may help the body adapt to stressors more effectively. Research suggests that ashwagandha may reduce cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress, thus promoting relaxation and reducing feelings of anxiety.

A study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine in 2012 found that ashwagandha root extract demonstrated an anti-stress effect by significantly reducing cortisol levels in chronically stressed adults. [Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 34(3), 255-262.]

Anxiety Management:

Some studies have indicated that ashwagandha may be beneficial for individuals dealing with mild to moderate anxiety. It is thought to work by modulating the activity of neurotransmitters such as GABA, which have a calming effect on the brain.

In a randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology in 2000, ashwagandha extract was found to be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms in individuals with generalized anxiety disorder. [Andrade, C., & Aswath, A. (2000). A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy ff an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 42(3), 295-301.]

Improved Sleep:

Adequate sleep is crucial for maintaining good mental health. Ashwagandha has been linked to improved sleep quality and may help those struggling with insomnia or irregular sleep patterns.

A study published in PLOS ONE in 2019 investigated the impact of ashwagandha on sleep quality and found that participants who took ashwagandha root extract experienced improved sleep compared to those who did not. [Langade, D., Thakare, V., Kanchi, S., Kelgane, S., & Jadhav, P. (2019). Clinical evaluation of the pharmacological impact of Ashwagandha root extract on sleep pattern and velocity of muscular contraction and relaxation: A prospective, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. PLOS ONE, 14(1), e0218496.]


Enhanced Cognitive Function:

Ashwagandha may also have a positive impact on cognitive function. Some research suggests that it may support memory, focus, and mental clarity.

A review article published in Cureus in 2019 summarized the potential cognitive-enhancing effects of ashwagandha, suggesting that its neuroprotective properties may improve memory and cognitive function. [Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S., & Bose, S. (2017). Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions. Cureus, 9(9), e1409.]

Overall Mental Well-being:

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Research and Herbal Drugs demonstrated that ashwagandha supplementation was associated with significant reductions in perceived stress and improvements in overall quality of life in individuals with moderate to severe anxiety. [Cooley, K., & Szczurko, O. (2014). Naturopathic Care for Anxiety: A Randomized Controlled Trial ISRCTN78958974. PLoS ONE, 9(2), e89919.]


How to Incorporate Ashwagandha into Your Wellness Routine

・Supplements: Ashwagandha supplements are widely available in various forms, including capsules, powders, and tinctures. Follow the recommended dosage on the product label or consult with a healthcare professional for guidance.

・Herbal Tea: You can make ashwagandha tea by steeping the dried root in hot water. However, the taste can be quite bitter, so you may want to add honey or other herbal teas to improve the flavor.

・Ashwagandha Recipes: Some people incorporate ashwagandha into their cooking. You can find recipes for smoothies, energy bars, and other dishes that include ashwagandha as an ingredient.

Considerations and Precautions

While ashwagandha shows promise for mental health support, it's important to remember that it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. Individual responses may vary, and it may not be suitable for everyone. Before adding ashwagandha or any other supplement to your wellness routine, consider the following:

・Consult a Healthcare Professional: It's essential to consult with a healthcare provider, especially if you have pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medications. They can help determine if ashwagandha is safe and appropriate for you.

・Start with a Low Dose: If you decide to try ashwagandha, start with a low dose and monitor how your body responds. This can help you assess whether it suits your needs and whether you experience any side effects.

・Quality Matters: Choose a reputable brand when purchasing ashwagandha supplements to ensure you're getting a quality product that is free from contaminants.

Conclusion

Ashwagandha is a natural herb with a rich history of use in traditional medicine. While research suggests that it may offer various mental health benefits, it's important to approach it with caution and consult with a healthcare professional before adding it to your wellness routine. Remember that holistic approaches to mental health, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and stress management techniques, can complement the potential benefits of ashwagandha in promoting overall mental well-being.

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