Ayurveda has used ashwagandha as a rasayana (rejuvenator) for centuries to improve physical and mental health and increase longevity. And modern medical science has found that ashwagandha can treat almost all disorders that affect human health.1 And it now has reasons to recommend the use of ashwagandha for anxiety and depression.
Clinical studies on animals and humans have found that ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng, is an adaptogen – it makes the body adapt to stress. It is indispensable in treating various central nervous system (CNS) disorders, particularly epilepsy, stress, and neurodegenerative diseases.2
Let’s see why you should use ashwagandha for anxiety and depression.
Ashwagandha Reduces Stress Which Causes Anxiety And Depression
Stress is an inescapable part of your daily life, and your body deals with it by producing the hormone cortisol. But if the stress-causing factors – say a disease or environmental toxins – are present for a long time, cortisol levels rise above normal. This situation is known as chronic stress. High cortisol brings down levels of other hormones and mood-lifting neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. It slows down your metabolism, makes you gain weight, and starts affecting your mood and brain function. If chronic stress is not treated, it gives rise to anxiety and depression.
Chronic stress causes anxiety and depression. Ashwagandha can prevent these by reducing the stress hormone by up to 28%.
Ashwagandha can help you cope with stress. In a study on people suffering from chronic stress, it was found that ashwagandha roots could bring down the cortisol levels by 28% in just 2 months. It could improve the symptoms of stress, and in some cases, even prevented stress.3
Researchers credit 2 chemicals – sitoindosides and acylsterylglucosides – in ashwagandha as the anti-stress agents.4
Ashwagandha Improves Symptoms Of Anxiety And Depression
When stressed, you may feel sad and lose your appetite, concentration, sleep, and ability to perform simple daily chores. You may also want to detach yourself from others. These are fine for a few days. But experiencing these symptoms severely for more than 2 weeks, feeling unreasonably guilty, and nurturing the thought of suicide are symptoms of clinical depression. Chronic stress often builds up to depression.
Depression is not just a long spell of sadness; it’s a disease that affects your mental and physical health, particularly, your heart.5 Across the world, almost 1 million people of all ages are victims of depression-induced suicide.
Anxiety disorder, which often occurs with depression, has visible symptoms such as dry mouth, sweating, increased heart rate, butterflies in the stomach, and panic attacks. Anxiety too is a major cause of suicides.6
1. Can Reduce Severe Depressive Symptoms By 68%
A human study on 64 patients of chronic stress made the participants take 300 mg capsules of ashwagandha or a placebo (a substance without any medicinal value) twice daily for 2 months. The participants were then asked to answer 3 questionnaires they had also filled at the beginning of the study.7 The difference in their scores was remarkable. In the ashwagandha group:
- The stress score went down by an average of 44%.
- The physical symptoms score decreased by 76.1%.
- Anxiety and insomnia score dropped by 69.7%.
- Social dysfunction score decreased by 68.1%.
- Severe depressive symptoms score dropped by 79.3%.
What these figures mean is that people taking ashwagandha felt calmer and more in control. They had fewer physical symptoms of anxiety and depression and slept better. Their productivity also increased.
2. Acts As A Mood Stabilizer
In two animal studies, ashwagandha root extract or its bioactive ingredient glycowithanolides (WSG) acted as a mood stabilizer and had an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect on rats suffering from anxiety and depression.
In one, its effect was comparable with that of diazepam, a standard anxiolytic drug. When given in low doses, ashwagandha even improved the effect of diazepam.8
In the other, the effect of WSG was comparable with that of the standard anxiolytic drug benzodiazepine lorazepam and the antidepressant tricyclic imipramine.9
3. Reduces Insomnia Caused By Anxiety And Depression
Anxiety and depression block some of your body’s natural coping mechanisms. While a good night’s sleep is a great stress reliever, patients of anxiety and depression often suffer from disrupted sleep or insomnia. As the insomnia can further worsen the symptoms, you are caught in a vicious cycle.
Research suggests that ashwagandha can be used for insomnia, and to its credit, it isn’t a sedative. It helps the body address a stress-related condition rather than masking it with sedatives. It has a pronounced and positive effect on the nervous system, rejuvenating it and producing energy. This in turn eases stress and helps the body settle back into its normal state and sleep.10
4. Manages Weight In Chronic Stress Patients
A study on patients of chronic stress found that taking 300 mg ashwagandha twice daily for 4 weeks reduced weight. But that’s not all. Along with their stress, their food cravings also decreased significantly.11
5. Works Better Than Psychotherapy
In yet another study, patients with mild to severe anxiety were given a naturopathic treatment that included ashwagandha, a multivitamin, dietary counseling, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. This seemed to have greater effect than standard psychotherapy.12
6. Has No Side Effects Or Withdrawal Symptoms
Another study tested the effects of an ethanol extract of the herb on human anxiety patients. The results showed that it was well tolerated, with little adverse side effects. Even when the patients were taken off this abruptly at the end of the test period, none of them reported withdrawal symptoms.13
Dosage And Caution
Usually, a daily dose of 3–6 gm of dried ashwagandha root powder is recommended. Or if you prefer the liquid form, go for a 6–12 ml of a 1:2 water extract. Be warned that it’s bitter. It’s best to consult an Ayurvedic practitioner before you start taking ashwagandha supplements. The dosage and the duration may depend on your health profile.
- Don’t go overboard with it. Although it is generally considered safe, excessive consumption could lead to stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Don’t consume it alongside depressants like alcohol and sedatives.
- Don’t take it in large doses when you’re pregnant. Large doses may make it act as an abortifacient drug, inducing miscarriage.
|↑1, ↑2||Kulkarni, S. K., and Ashish Dhir. “Withania somnifera: an Indian ginseng.” Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology and biological psychiatry 32, no. 5 (2008): 1093-1105.|
|↑3||K. Chandrasekhar, Jyoti Kapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty, “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 (2012): 266-262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022.|
|↑4||Singh, Narendra, Mohit Bhalla, Prashanti de Jager, and Marilena Gilca. “An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda.” African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines 8, no. 5S (2011).|
|↑5||Jiang, Wei, Ranga RK Krishnan, and Christopher M. O’Connor. “Depression and heart disease.” CNS drugs 16, no. 2 (2002): 111-127.|
|↑6||Sareen, Jitender, Brian J. Cox, Tracie O. Afifi, Ron de Graaf, Gordon JG Asmundson, Margreet ten Have, and Murray B. Stein. “Anxiety disorders and risk for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts: a population-based longitudinal study of adults.” Archives of general psychiatry 62, no. 11 (2005): 1249-1257.|
|↑7||Chandrasekhar, K., Jyoti Kapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty. “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, no. 3 (2012): 255.|
|↑8||Gupta, Girdhari Lal, and Avtar Chand Rana. “Protective effect of Withania somnifera dunal root extract against protracted social isolation induced behavior in rats.” Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 51, no. 4 (2007): 345-353.|
|↑9||Bhattacharya, S. K., A. Bhattacharya, K. Sairam, and S. Ghosal. “Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study.” Phytomedicine 7, no. 6 (2000): 463-469.|
|↑10||Umadevi, M. “Traditional and medicinal uses of Withania somnifera.” The Pharma Innovation 1, no. 9 (2012).|
|↑11||Choudhary, Dnyanraj, Sauvik Bhattacharyya, and Kedar Joshi. “Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial.” Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine 22, no. 1 (2017): 96-106.|
|↑12||Cooley, Kieran, Orest Szczurko, Dan Perri, Edward J. Mills, Bob Bernhardt, Qi Zhou, and Dugald Seely. “Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974.”PLoS One 4, no. 8 (2009): e6628.|
|↑13||Andrade, Chittaranjan, Anitha Aswath, S. K. Chaturvedi, M. Srinivasa, and R. Raguram. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy of an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera.” Indian journal of psychiatry 42, no. 3 (2000): 295.|