There’s no doubt about it — stress is a part of life, and it takes a toll on your mind and body. In fact, according to a 2017 study by The American Institute of Stress, more than 70 percent of people in the United States experience physical and psychological symptoms as a result of stress. When it comes to stress management, there’s no shortage of supplements, exercise routines, and diets to help. When taken orally, ashwagandha is another herb that claims to aid in stress reduction.
Want to know more about how can this hard-to-pronounce herb can help you? We asked a few experts to give us the details on the benefits of ashwagandha. Here’s what they had to say.
What Is Ashwagandha?
It’s a mouthful to pronounce, but ashwagandha — otherwise known as Withania somnifera — packs a lot of benefits. Sara Chana Silverstein, a registered master herbalist and author of MOODTOPIA, explained that the herb, which is part of the nightshade family, has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine.
“It is one of the most commonly used and extensively researched herbs,” she says, and “is now becoming popular in the United States as a result of its adaptogenic properties that help balance stress and anxiety.”
Ashwagandha has been widely studied for its numerous purported benefits. One study showed it can reduce stress and anxiety by as much as 44 percent. The herb has also shown to have anti-cancer properties and even an ability to improve brain function.
Wait, What Are Adaptogens?
“Ashwagandha is well known for its adaptogenic properties, meaning it can help the body adapt to stress in any way that it needs and balance your body’s stress response,” says Sara Cullen, the founder of GEM, a plant-based multivitamin that contains a 130-milligram dose of ashwagandha.
Chana Silverstein says the same goes for other adaptogens, like holy basil, maca and rhodiola: “Adaptogens help balance, restore and protect the body.”
What Are the Benefits of Ashwagandha?
Dr. Saman Faramarzi, a naturopathic doctor and founder of SAFA Wellness, says ashwagandha is a pro at zapping your body’s response to stress.
“We’re all stressed in some way and everyone’s body manages it differently by producing various stress hormones from our adrenal system,” says Faramarzi, who is also a naturopathic advisor at BareOrganics. “When we’re under a lot of stress, all of our systems shift to allow the adrenal system to make more cortisol, the stress hormone that’s responsible for our body’s flight or fight response. [Ashwagandha] works to balance our cortisol levels to bring the body back to balance by helping our body adapt to stressful conditions.”
Ashwagandha primarily works with your adrenal glands, which regulate your fight-or-flight response by producing hormones (i.e. cortisol) and interacting with other hormones in your body (i.e. insulin), Cullen says.
“In addition to adrenal support, ashwagandha is considered to be an immune system tonifier and inflammation fighter activating antioxidant defense systems that can help with everything from learning and memory to physical endurance and anti-aging,” Cullen says.
Chana Silverstein adds: “It builds the system in a gentle way.”
How Do I Use It?
Ashwagandha is available in tea, capsule, powder and tincture forms. Silverstein says she most often uses it as a tincture (liquid form) because she finds it to be more effective and efficient. “I suggest that people dilute anywhere from 25 to 40 drops in a liquid and taken two to three times a day,” she says. “This herb can be taken with or without food.”
It’s also important to note that different parts of ashwagandha serve different purposes. For instance, flowers from the herb can have purifying and detoxifying effects. The most commonly used part of the herb is the root.
If you are looking for a powdered or capsule form of ashwagandha, then Faramarzi says you’ll want to make sure it’s USDA organic and free of fillers. “Root herbs absorb a lot pesticide,” she says.
Check out the BareOrganics Organic Ashwagandha Root Powder, which you can mix into your favorite beverage or scoop into a capsule to take as a supplement.
Any Reason Someone Shouldn’t Use It?
If you are intolerant or allergic to vegetables in the nightshade family — including tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and chili powder — then Silverstein says you’ll want to steer clear of ashwagandha, which is also a nightshade. According to Dr. Amy Myers, symptoms of a nightshade sensitivity include bloating, gas, fatigue and joint swelling; an allergy, on the other hand, can cause hives, difficulty breathing and/or anaphylaxis.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also check in with their healthcare professionals before using ashwagandha. If you’re curious about how to make ashwagandha a part of your everyday routine, then Faramarzi recommends consulting a naturopathic, ayurvedic or traditional Chinese medicine doctor.
Otherwise, there really isn’t a reason to not take an adaptogen, she says, adding that “it’s great for anyone who needs support in managing stress levels — which is everyone.”