The stress from our daily lives and activities chronically activates the cortisol stress response, which in turn impacts delicate glucose and lipid balance as well as the nervous system function, vascular integrity and gastrointestinal membrane integrity. In simple terms, Cortisol is a stress hormone released from the adrenals that has evolutionarily helped the body to mobilize a "fight or flight" response to a perceived imminent danger, freeing up resources for a vigorous fight against an intruder or flight from danger. As such, it naturally follows a daily rhythm, rising in the morning to help mobilize the body's forces for the daily needs and lowering in the evening to allow the body to sleep and perform restorative processes. Cortisol is helpful as a short-term defense mechanism and as part of a natural daily rhythm. Adrenals is a healthy stress response that supports the healthy function of the whole body, so as to prevent the body from diverting its attention from other processes. In the Middle East, 6000 BC ago, a plant named Ashwagandha was discovered- this plant helps balance the body’s Cortisol levels. It does so by promoting a normal sleep pattern and encourages a healthy inflammatory response.
With a binomial name of Withania somnifera, Ashwagandha is a plant that belongs in the Solanaceae family and its organic form, organic Ashwagandha, is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers that bears red fruit about the size of a raisin, which is similar to other fruits in this family such as tomato. The species name somnifera means "sleep-inducing" and in Sanskrit Ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb has the potential to impart the vigor and strength of a stallion. The Ashwagandha root is also reported to have a smell reminiscent of horse sweat.
The Ashwagandha plant is one of the most powerful and popular herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. This adaptogenic herb is native to the dry regions of India, Northern Africa, and the Middle East, and today it is also grown in more mild climates, including the United States. For over 4,000 years, Ashwagandha has been traditionally used in native India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for rheumatism, constipation, insomnia, hormone balance and nervous conditions; hence, it is referred to as an Indian ginseng because of its rejuvenating properties that adds to life’s longevity.
Ashwagandha has been extensively studied over its four millennia of use and these studies have shown that itis a tonic and an adaptogen that helps the body adapt to stressful conditions, it also promotes balance in the nervous and the endocrine systems of humans. In addition, Ashwagandha has anti-anxiety effects that help reduce cortisol levels which may increase power output in untrained subjects during resistance exercises and anaerobic running. It may lead to small reductions in blood glucose level, blood pressure level, and LDL-cholesterol, while slightly increasing HDL-cholesterol. Lastly, it may modestly increase testosterone and sperm quality in infertile men. Below are detailed benefits of Ashwagandha-
- Ashwagandha and the Nervous System
Ashwagandha seems to support the structure and function of the nervous system, and it is also considered to be a neurosupportive and nootropic herb. It supports the healthy nervous system function by providing antioxidant support and it naturally stimulates the pathways in the brain for GABA, a neurotransmitter that's responsible for promoting calmness and regulating muscle tone.
- How Ashwagandha supports anxiety and Stress
Ashwagandha has been shown to promote healthy levels of cortisol and the healthy inflammatory processes that are stimulated in response to stress. This promotes healthy function of the immune, cardiovascular and nervous systems, as well as the brain, muscles and joints. Ashwagandha also supports the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis that controls cortisol release from the adrenals. Healthy, normal cortisol output also supports the adrenal glands, which naturally allows the body to focus on reproductive health.
- Ashwagandha and Reproductive Health
In the endocrine system, the adrenals play an important role; their functions are necessary for our survival while reproduction is not. As such, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and the stress response are naturally connected to sperm production and fertility in men and hormonal balance and fertility in women. The body produces cortisol from the same precursors used to make reproductive hormones, and, under stress, the body will preferably produce cortisol instead of testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. Maintaining healthy cortisol levels can free up those resources to be used for reproductive hormones. The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis also interacts closely with the body's production of thyroid hormones, and Ashwagandha seems to also support healthy thyroid function, although this has not been explored clinically.
- Ashwagandha benefits for Men
In untrained healthy men, performing resistance training consistently for a minimum of two months whilst consuming Ashwagandha root will support healthy muscle strength and recovery. Ashwagandha promotes healthy levels of creatinine kinase, which reduces the natural muscle damage that happens from exercises and in turn promotes muscle recovery. In men, Ashwagandha has also been shown to support a healthy stress response, healthy sperm levels and normal levels of testosterone.
- Ashwagandha and Fitness
Metabolically, Ashwagandha seems to have an overall anabolic action as it supports weight gain during the natural growth phase. Ashwagandha can be given to children as a fortified milk that helps support a healthy weight, as well as healthy total plasma proteins and hemoglobin levels. Studies have shown that Ashwagandha supports normal lean body weight and fat-to-muscle ratios. It may also promote healthy fat oxidation and support healthy blood glucose and blood lipid levels within normal ranges.
- Ashwagandha and Joint Health
Ashwagandha root has been studied for its support of a healthy inflammatory response and joint health. In human studies, it has been shown to naturally mitigate levels of C-reactive protein, which is a systemic marker for the body's inflammatory response. Ashwagandha has been shown to support occasional joint pain, stiffness, swelling and discomfort in healthy men and women.