Get the ingredient 101 on ashwagandha, a powerful Ayurvedic herb noted for it’s role as a “stress-reducer” from registered dietitian Mia Syn.
As a practicing registered dietitian, I value food for both taste and functionality. Food holds the power to promote optimal health, while also reducing the risk of disease through various mechanisms, like soluble fiber’s ability to lower cholesterol thus minimizing heart disease risk. In many ways, food is “medicine.” This is certainly the case in Ayurveda and with the widely studied herb, ashwagandha, which has the ability to promote balance and combat stress in the body. Ashwagandha and other adaptogens are getting a lot of buzz recently around their power as “stress-reducers.” Let me share with you some of the research and facts behind ashwagandha’s rise to fame.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is one of the oldest healing sciences, originating in India over 3000 years ago. It is based on the use of herbs, diet and lifestyle to treat disease, promote optimum health, and maintain balance in the body and mind. Still a prevailing health care system in many parts of the world, India’s government and several institutes continue to support clinical and laboratory research surrounding Ayurveda.
Adaptogens: Herbs That Heal
Stress arises from external physical or mental overload that can lead to feeling nervous, anxious and reduced ability to deal with everyday demands. Adaptogens are herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine that help improve an individual’s ability to cope with stress by normalizing physiological processes and minimizing damage. These herbs have demonstrated the ability to help reduce stress-induced impairments related to the immune system and neuroendocrine system, which is responsible for maintaining balance in the body.
Ashwagandha: A Stress-Reducing Herb
Ashwagandha is one of the most commonly used and studied adaptogens. Native to Southern Asia and cultivated in dry climates including Pakistan and India, it is a member of the nightshade family, related to tomatoes, eggplants and bell peppers. Ayurveda prizes ashwagandha for its therapeutic uses and effects on numerous systems of the body including neurological, immune and endocrinal.
Several clinical studies have shown ashwagandha to safely and effectively improve an individual’s resistance towards stress. Cortisol, a hormone that is elevated under stress, has been shown through various studies to decrease in participants taking ashwagandha.
The herb contains a range of chemical compounds including withanolides and sitoindosides, which may be attributed to its stress-reducing activity.
Benefits of Ashwagandha
In Western medical research, there have not been enough well-controlled clinical trials and systematic reviews to prove herbs as a form of medical treatment. However, because ashwagandha is a well researched adaptogen, there are several studies that suggest its ability to:
- Improve symptoms of stress
- Reduce anxiety and depression
- Boost immunity
- Promote memory and cognition
- Support reproductive health
- Increase stamina and endurance
- Lower blood sugars
How Ashwagandha Can be Enjoyed
Ashwagandha is available in powdered form, capsules and in tea. Numi Organic Tea features this ancient healing ingredient in one of their latest Holistic Herbal Teasans, Gratitude. Deliciously blended with a variety of other organic herbs and flowers, the herbal tea is intended to help settle you into an affirming state of gratitude for all of life’s gifts.
It is best to consult with a practitioner before taking ashwagandha if you are on other medications. Additionally, pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised not to take it as it may disrupt hormones during the pregnancy.
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