First off, I want to remind you what an adaptogenic herbs actually means. Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants: They help balance, restore and protect the body. An adaptogen doesn’t have a specific action: It helps you respond to any influence or stressor, normalizing your physiological functions. Adaptogens promote balance in many systems of your body. Remarkably, they can calm you down and boost your energy at the same time, without over-stimulating you
The term “adaptogen” comes from Dr. Nikolai Lazarev, a Russian scientist, who first coined the term in 1947, but Isreal Brekham, PhD and Dr. I. V. Darymovhe created the formal definition in 1968. The formal definitely includes the following criteria:
1. An adaptogen is nontoxic to the recipient.
2. An adaptogen produces a nonspecific response in the body—an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical, or biological agents.
3. An adaptogen has a normalizing influence on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor.
In other words, adaptogens must be safe, work by reducing your body's stress response, and support overall health by helping the body achieve balance which is known as homeostasis.
Ashwagandha is frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its rejuvenating properties, even though botanically, ginseng and Ashwagandha are unrelated.
Belonging to the same family as the tomato, Ashwagandha is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers. It bears red fruit about the size of a raisin. The herb is native to the dry regions of India, northern Africa, and the Middle East, and today is also grown in more mild climates, including the United States.
Why Use Ashwagandha?
Each part of the ashwagandha plant – the roots, leaves, and fruit – has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for a variety of treatments. The leaves and fruit are applied externally to the skin to treat wounds, tumors, back pain, and carbuncles (cluster of boils). The tuberous ashwagandha root is most often used orally to help improve brain function and alertness, relieve stress and anxiety, and reduce pain and swelling. Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen, a substance that enhances the body’s adaptive response to stress and balances normal body functions.
Animal studies have found constituents of the herb, including alkaloids, steroidal lactones, and saponins, to reduce inflammation and calm the nervous system. In one clinical trial of people with moderate to severe anxiety, researchers compared the effects of a mixture of 300 mg standardized to 1.5% withanolides, prepared from root, to psychotherapy. After the eight-week trial, the group that received the ashwagandha mixture had decreased anxiety and fatigue and increased concentration, compared to those who had psychotherapy.
The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database found insufficient evidence to rate the effectiveness of ashwagandha for a variety of conditions including tumors, tuberculosis, liver problems, fibromyalgia, and infertility.
Do any of these common symptoms sound familiar?
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
Ashwagandha contains many useful medicinal chemicals, including withanolides (steroidal lactones), alkaloids, choline, fatty acids, amino acids, and a variety of sugars. While the leaves and fruit have valuable therapeutic properties, the root of the Ashwagandha plant is the part most commonly used in Western herbal remedies.
Medical researchers have been studying Ashwagandha for years with great interest and have completed more than 200 studies on the healing benefits of this botanical. Some key examples of the healing effects of Ashwagandha are:
- Protects the immune system
- Helps combat the effects of stress
- Improves learning, memory, and reaction time
- Reduces anxiety and depression without causing drowsiness
- Helps reduce brain-cell degeneration
- Stabilizes blood sugar
- Helps lower cholesterol
- Offers anti-inflammatory benefits
- Contains anti-malarial properties
- Enhances sexual potency for both men and women
In Ayurveda, there are specific herbs with adaptogenic benefits, Ashwagandha is one of them. Adaptogens are substances (a combination of amino acids, vitamins, and herbs) that modulate your response to stress or a changing environment. Adaptogens help the body cope with external stresses such as toxins in the environment and internal stresses such as anxiety and insomnia.
How to Add Ashwagandha to Your Daily Diet
According to Ayurveda, our bodies are woven from food. The nutrients we ingest are metabolized into the energy and information that form our cells, tissues, and organs. Every day our bodies need essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to maintain our body’s delicate balance. Taking an Ashwagandha supplement is a highly effective way to create that balance.
Ashwagandha is available in powder and tablet forms, and as a liquid extract. The traditional use is as a powder, mixed with warm milk and honey, and taken before bed, calming vata and fostering healthy sleep patterns, reproductive system, and strength. A general dose can be 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon once or twice daily. Traditionally ashwagandha is taken with ghee and honey (equal parts) anupans for overall nourishment and rejuvenation. Adding sugar (cane or sugar candy) adds a cooling effect and can even be substituted for the honey, particularly in the summer months. It can also be used with ghee and sugar to support the female reproductive system and joints.
Although it was traditionally used as a powder modern times find that Ashwagandha is typically ingested in capsule form. The typical recommended dose is 600 to 1,000 mg. twice daily. For people who suffer from insomnia and anxiety, having a cup of hot milk that contains a teaspoon of powdered Ashwagandha before bedtime is beneficial.
Ashwagandha has become of interest to a number of researchers, particularly as it grows in popularity.
- It has been the subject of studies looking at the benefit on the immune system, including possible support of the immune system during radiation and chemotherapy.3
- Used in combination with licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), Safed musli (Chlorophytum borivillanum), and sesame seeds (seeds of Sesamum indicum), ashwagandha has shown to support healthy cholesterol levels and antioxidant properties.7
- Other studies done on ashwagandha can be reviewed on PubMed.
Medical Caution: Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before using Chopra Center signature supplements if you have any health conditions. Ashwagandha is not recommended for women who are pregnant.