Stress is an inevitable part of modern life. While not all forms of stress are bad (since some even drive you to do your best), long-term stress that exhausts you or steals your interest from the joys of life must be treated. It’s all right to feel distracted, tense, or irritable for a few days. You’ll be fine when the immediate stressor – an exam, a rough patch in the relationship, or an urgent project – vanishes. But it’s not okay if you have been feeling low, tired, and irritable for months now. Long-lasting stress or chronic stress can cause depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, hypertension, and premature aging. This is all due to the buildup of the stress hormone, cortisol. Too much cortisol suspends some body functions, like digestion or immunity, and disrupts glucose metabolism. It also damages the hippocampus, the memory store of the brain.1
Ayurveda recommends the rasayana or a rejuvenating herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) or Indian ginseng for stress reduction and prevention of stress-induced diseases. Modern research finds it an excellent remedy for stress and other disorders of the nervous system, along with diseases such as cancer, tumor, and thyroid and kidney disorders. Ashwagandha acts as an adaptogen (a combination of amino acids and vitamins) that helps the body adapt to stress and boosts energy, stamina, and endurance, thus improving overall health, thanks to antioxidant chemicals called withanolides and sitoinsides.2
1. Can Reduce Cortisol Levels By 28%
A study on patients of stress showed that ashwagandha root extract capsules for 60 days brought down the cortisol levels of the test subjects by 28%, which can be considered a huge improvement.3
What makes stress a difficult condition to cure is that it can be both a cause and an effect of several other disorders. So while chronic stress can lead to diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, depression and anxiety, insomnia, premature aging, and even nerve-damaging disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, most of these in turn can worsen stress. Ashwagandha can both prevent stress and cure its after-effects.
2. Treats Depression And Anxiety
A prolonged state of acute stress will eventually lead to anxiety and depression. Clinical trials on animals have proven that ashwagandha is as effiective as standard anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs in alleviating the symptoms.4
3. Promotes Sleep And Cures Insomnia
High cortisol levels can lead to fragmented sleep, decrease deep sleep, or even lead to insomnia or sleep apnea. Lack of sleep, in turn, affects health and becomes a source of constant anxiety. Ashwagandha promotes restorative sleep and balances the energy in the body without acting as a sedative and helps treat insomnia better than sleeping pills in the market.5
4. Prevents Premature Aging
Stress can make you age faster by shortening the telomeres. Let us explain. Telomeres are located at the end of each chromosome in your body. With each cell division, telomeres shorten; and as telomeres shorten, you age. Chronic stress increases the production of reactive molecules called free radicals, which go on to damage the DNA in your cells. Soon, the natural antioxidants in the body cannot counter and repair this damage. As a study found, the telomeres are affected the most by such oxidative damage, which leads to their rapid shortening.6
Ashwagandha has an anti-aging effect that can be attributed to its chemicals called glycowithanolides. In a study, ashwagandha extract was daily administered by researchers 1 hour before a stress-inducing procedure. The results showed that the potent antioxidants in ashwagandha could reduce the free radical damage.7 This in turn would halt the rapid aging caused by telomere shortening.
5. Prevents And Treats Nerve Damage
As chronic stress increases the production of free radicals, it also leads to nerve-degenerating conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.8 The antioxidants in ashwagandha fight the free radicals, reduce inflammation, and protect the nerves from damage. Ashwagandha also repairs damaged nerve cells and reconstructs the synapses between nerves. This reconstruction of neuronal networks is a major step toward healing the disease.9
6. Treats Diabetes Caused By Stress
Ashwagandha can both cure and prevent type 2 diabetes by reducing cortisol levels. High cortisol levels slow down glucose metabolism and suppress insulin production. Ashwagandha has been found to lower blood glucose levels by 12% and increase insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes. In this, it was as effective as standard glucose-lowering drugs.10 11
7. Lowers High Blood Pressure
Cortisol is a hormone responsible for regulating blood pressure, but in excess, it leads to high blood pressure or hypertension.12 A study on patients suffering from hypertension showed that ashwagandha root powder mixed with milk could bring down the systolic and diastolic readings.13
Research also suggests that because of its heart-protecting functions, ashwagandha can help prevent cardiovascular diseases.14
Ashwagandha Dosage For Stress Relief
Given that ashwagandha has powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-oxidative properties, it is one of the best herbs for people looking at alternative therapies. It is also preferable over drugs like benzodiazepines and other prescription stress medications, which have adverse side effects, including depletion of nutrients.
Take a daily dose of 1–2 teaspoons (3–6 g) of dried ashwagandha root powder.15 Don’t take larger doses. It can affect your digestion. It’s best to avoid ashwagandha if you’re pregnant as large dose may induce abortion.
Of course, ashwagandha will help, but here’s what you can do too. Set a routine, follow a healthy diet, and exercise well – running is a great remedy for stress. Do not rely on alcohol, smoking, and caffeine as ways of coping with stress. Rather, build emotional strength and adopt a positive outlook.
|↑1||Randall, Michael. “The physiology of stress: Cortisol and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.” Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science 13, no. 1 (2010):22-24.|
|↑2||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).|
|↑3||Chandrasekhar, K., JyotiKapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty. “A prospective, randomised 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|
|↑4||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.|
|↑5||Umadevi, M. “Traditional and medicinal uses of Withania somnifera.” The Pharma Innovation 1, no. 9 (2012).|
|↑6||von Zglinicki, Thomas. “Oxidative stress shortens telomeres.” Trends in biochemical sciences 27, no. 7 (2002): 339-344.|
|↑7||Kiefer, Dale. “Ashwagandha stress reduction, neural protection and a lot more from an ancient herb.” Life Extension Magazine (2006).|
|↑8||Srivareerat, Marisa, Trinh T. Tran, Karem H. Alzoubi, and Karim A. Alkadhi.”Chronic psychosocial stress exacerbates impairment of cognition and long-term potentiation in β-amyloid rat model of Alzheimer’s disease.” Biological psychiatry 65, no. 11 (2009):918-926.|
|↑9||Kuboyama, Tomoharu, Chihiro Tohda, and Katsuko Komatsu. “Neuritic regeneration and synaptic reconstruction induced by withanolide A.” British journal of pharmacology 144, no. 7(2005): 961-971.|
|↑10||Andallu B and Radhika B., “Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root.”, Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, 38 (2000): 607-9.|
|↑11||Anwer, Tarique, Manju Sharma, Krishna Kolappa Pillai, and Muzaffar Iqbal. “Effect of Withania somnifera on Insulin Sensitivity in Non Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus Rats.”Basic & clinical pharmacology & toxicology 102, no. 6 (2008): 498-503|
|↑12||Kelly JJ, Mangos G, Williamson PM, et al. Cortisol and Hypertension. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 1998;25:S51–6.|
|↑13||Kushwaha, Shalini, Agatha Betsy, and Paramjit Chawla. “Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root powder supplementation in treatment of hypertension.” Ethno Med 6, no. 2 (2012): 111-115.|
|↑14||Ojha, Shreesh Kumar, and Dharamvir Singh Arya. “Withania somnifera Dunal (Ashwagandha): A promising remedy for cardiovascular diseases.” World J Med Sci 4, no. 2 (2009): 156-158.|