So what is ashwagandha for anyway? Can it help relieve stress? Is it a nootropic?
We all know that stress can have a negative impact on our cognitive abilities.
In fact, long term exposure to stress hormones like Cortisol can actually change the structure of your brain.
The pace the world runs at today is insane, and it’s getting crazier every day.
It’s no wonder that over 40 million people in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders of one kind or another every year.
Even more alarming is the fact that less than 37% of those 40 million actually receive treatment.
Trust me, if you sometimes feel uneasy in certain social situations, or just generally overwhelmed, you’re not the only one feeling the pressure.
When I was 19, a long long time ago, I used to have panic attacks. Usually before exams, but sometimes it was because I felt like I no longer had any control over my life.
I worried. Then I would worry about worrying. You get the idea. It was a downward spiral.
So what can we do? How can we adapt? Let’s face it, the world isn’t going to slow down any time soon.
If you’re like me, and you prefer nutritional supplements over prescription drugs, you want a natural solution.
So can ashwagandha fit the bill? Can it help people manage stress and provide anxiety relief?
Let’s find out how effective it really is…
What is Ashwagandha? – Does it Relieve Stress?
But I believe that out of all of them, the very best natural solution for anxiety and stress is ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha is one of the most powerful herbs used in Ayurvedic healing, and is most noted for it’s ability to provide users with a relaxed state of focused concentration.
It’s been used throughout the centuries to treat anxiety, stress, and depression.
But that’s not all! Ashwagandha also relieves nervous exhaustion, mental fatigue, and can even spice up your love life!
It is commonly prescribed to treat impotence, and can be used as an aphrodisiac.
Ashwagandha Benefits – How it Improves Brain Health
The benefits of ashwagandha kind of come in a 2 part package because of the way it works. This is a basic breakdown:
- Neural Protection – Chronic stress, and overly high cortisol levels in the brain can damage the neural pathways connected to the prefrontal cortex. This reduces the capacity for executive function and memory in the brain. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that regulates the stress factors, preventing this harmful rewiring of neural pathways. Ashwagandha is also a powerful antioxidant, protecting various bodily tissues from free radical damage and inflammation.
- Neural Enhancement – Ashwagandha encourages the regrowth of brain cells, and the reconstruction of synapses, increasing the overall efficiency of brain function. The repair of receptor sites also enhances the activity of GABA and serotonin in the brain, thereby promoting relaxation and improved mood, respectively. Ashwagandha also acts as a reuptake inhibitor by blocking the activity of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. The end result is enhanced memory, learning capacity, and cognition.
Ashwagandha is also very good for alleviating sleep issues because it enhances the activity of GABA in the brain.
GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is naturally released by the body near the end of the day to encourage sleep.
People using ashwagandha as a sleep aid often report feeling far more refreshed in the morning, with a much more positive outlook.
Generally speaking, getting more sleep, and better quality sleep, is always going to improve your mental health.
I mentioned in one of my previous articles that the brain has a fluid system it uses to cleanse itself when we’re sleeping.
What does this all mean?
It means that on top of protecting your brain from damage, and improving it’s efficiency, ashwagandha also promotes better maintenance of your brain with improved sleep patterns.
This is all good news if you are suffering from anxiety, depression, or chronic stress.
Which leads us to the next question in this article.
Ashwagandha Side Effects – How do I use it Safely?
Generally speaking the root and berries are used as medicinal ingredients.
Ashwagandha can be taken as a tincture or tea, but these delivery methods are less than ideal.
I would recommend using a powder made from the ground root either in capsule form, or as an extract.
Ashwagandha also stimulates the thyroid glands, so if you have a thyroid condition, talk to your doctor before taking it.
It also amplifies the effects of other anti-depressants or sedatives, so don’t double up on them. That includes other herbal remedies like St. John’s wort.
Any side effects with ashwagandha should be very minimal, but remember, it’s an adaptogen with strong hormonal effects.
If you’re pregnant, don’t take ashwaganha; it may cause a miscarriage.
If you experience any unfavorable symptoms like nausea or diarrhea, then ashwagandha may not be for you.
It would be a shame if this happened to you, since it’s so useful, but you’d need to stop taking it at that point.
So where do you get ashwagandha? Are some sources better than others?
Ashwagandha Supplements – It’s a Jungle out there!
There are over 8,000 ashwagandha supplements on the market right now, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t have time to vet them all.
However, if you follow the guidelines I’m about to give you, you should be able to find a suitable source of ashwagandha for your needs.
One concern that I feel I should address is that black pepper is added to a lot of ashwagandha supplements.
It might help make ashwagandha more effective, but we don’t really know that for sure.
This is because piperine, or black pepper extract, has been shown to increase the absorption rates of several other nootropics.
Black pepper is also deeply ingrained in Ayurvedic medicine, with almost half of traditional Indian remedies using it as an ingredient.
However, the scientific evidence in this area is still inconsistent.
But when researchers have tested other neutraceuticals with piperine, it hasn’t had any effect. Including with ashwagandha.
The reason behind this issue could be that there are several active compounds in ashwagandha. Some may respond to black pepper extracts, while others might not.
Long story short, don’t refuse to buy an ashwagandha supplement just because it doesn’t have piperine in it.
There are other considerations that are far more important to keep on your radar.
You want to make sure that your supplement is free of any herbicides, pesticides, or heavy metals. Look for a label that has, “Certified Organic”, and check for the percentage of active ingredients.
They should be standardized to 4-5% active constituents to ensure the supplement will be effective.
I should also mention KSM-66, which is a patented, standardized extract. KSM-66 is tested for safety, effectiveness, and purity.
If you see KSM-66 on the label, it’s a good sign that the product will do its’ job properly.
Ashwagandha Dosage – Recommendations for Best Results
The recommended dosage for ashwagandha ranges widely depending on how you are using it.
If you are taking it for anxiety relief, 100 mg/day may be enough, but if you want to improve your cognition, you should be getting at least 500 mg/day.
And peoples’ tolerance for ashwagandha can vary, depending on their body chemistry.
The vast majority of individuals see best results at the 500-600 mg/day mark.
I’m tempted to say the recommended dosage range is 100-1,000 mg/day, but since this article is focusing on ashwagandha as a nootropic, I think it makes more sense to put it at the 500 -1,000 mg/day mark.
Taking at least 500 mg/day should ensure that you see notable benefits to your cognition.
Ashwagandha Review – Final Recommendations
So what is ashwagandha for?
I see it as a nootropic that provides neuroprotection from stress, and improves cognitive function at the same time.
Ashwagandha is one of those miracle herbs that has so many benefits that it literally seems like a gift from God.
It’s been extensively studied, and has been shown to be a potent adaptogen for stress, anxiety, and depression.
It’s healing properties are also the subject of further research for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease.
I firmly believe that with the way the world is evolving, stress is going to become a larger and larger issue over time.
Stress can cause all kinds of issues ranging from the minor inconvenience of a headache, to full blown cancer.
It even encourages your brain to rewire itself so that executive function is impaired.
Pretty serious stuff!
So before you rush out to get a sedative at the drug store, why not consider going to a health food store for some ashwagandha instead?
It just might cure whatever’s been ailing you…
In my next post, I’ll be taking a closer look at ginkgo biloba, another natural nootropic that’s been in use for thousands of years!
Until next time,
P.S. – Do you know someone who is struggling with anxiety, stress, or depression? Do you think ashwagandha could help?
Let me know if you have any concerns about trying ashwagandha. Post a comment below.
I’d really appreciate hearing from you.