What is Ashwagandha?
- May 31, 2019
- Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Coping with stress, fatigue, or nervousness? Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a plant-based herb classified as an adaptogen, meaning it supports the body’s ability to adapt to physical and psychological stressors.
Ashwagandha is native to Africa, India, and the Mediterranean region, and is the most highly prized adaptogen used in India’s old tradition of Ayurvedic Medicine.
Ashwagandha’s Health Benefits
The active compounds in ashwagandha are known as withanolides, which are unique to ashwagandha. More than 35 different withanolides have been isolated and studied and possess differing benefits.
Because of Ashwagandha’s nervine and adaptogenic functions, it’s very effective for the following situations:
- Antioxidant protection
- Stress and balanced behavior
- Thyroid function
- Healthy sleep and trouble sleeping because of stress
- Brain health
- Immune function (hyper or hypo)
- Supporting a normal inflammatory response
Ashwagandha for Stress Support
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which is amazing for helping the body adapt to stress and support the body’s ability to cope more effectively with stress. Most adaptogens are stimulating, but ashwagandha is unusual because it is calming.
Adaptogens work to support the body’s reaction to stress and promotes normal release of stress hormones in the body, particularly from the adrenal glands. They do this by supporting the normal function of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis).
Stressor –> Hypothalamus –> Pituitary –> Adrenal cortex –> Stress response
When we experience a stressor, whether physical or mental, our body goes through what’s called General Adaptation Syndrome, which is a three-stage response: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Adaptogens help us stay in the resistance phase longer, via a stimulating effect that holds off the exhaustion. Instead of crashing in the midst of a stressful moment, task, or event, we attain equilibrium and soldier on.
Iron in Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is rich in iron and can be used to support hemoglobin formation when taken as a powder in milk mixed with molasses. Women, who are seven to ten times more likely than men to develop anemia, can benefit from this herb. It also supports some perimenopausal symptoms such as muscle pain and cloudy thinking.
Tincture (1:5): 30-40 drops, 3 times per day
Capsules: One 400-500 mg capsule, with 2% to 5% withanolides, twice per day.
To support healthy sleep habits, consider taking 1 capsule of ashwagandha thirty minutes before sleep. For those with more serious insomnia, stress or nervousness, consider upping the dose. Start low and work up in the dose of ashwagandha.
Powder: Start with ¼ teaspoon and slowly work your way up to 1 teaspoon at a time.
Ashwagandha capsules, powders, and tinctures, can all be found on our Healthy Goods website.
Personally, I prefer the powdered or tinctured form of adaptogens because I find them more potent and effective. The herb is also commonly featured in adaptogen blend formulas, which may contain other adaptogenic herbs like ginseng and rhodiola.
Ashwagandha can also be incorporated into recipes, such as Ashwagandha-infused Moon Milk, Ashwagandha Chocolate Chunks and Ashwagandha Hot Chocolate.
How Often to Take Ashwagandha
Given that ashwagandha is a tonic herb, you have to take it daily to obtain the desired effect. Ashwagandha is not a strong stimulant nor is it a strong depressant. It appears to act as a tonifying balancer. Who wouldn't want that in our stressed-out, fast-paced society?
Interactions with Ashwagandha
Avoid ashwagandha if you are sensitive to plants in the nightshade family, have hemochromatosis (excess iron), or hyperthyroidism. Ashwagandha can increase the effect of barbiturates. Large doses may also cause miscarriage, so ashwagandha should not be taken by pregnant women. Consult your healthcare professional to discuss whether Ashwagandha is right for you.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
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