Being an adult is stressful. Between working, paying bills, figuring out what to eat every day, and avoiding your body breaking down, it can be hard to keep it together. All that stress can make you physically and mentally unwell. However, building healthy habits like eating a good diet, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep can help your respond and recover from stress.
In recent years, many people have begun adding adaptogens – a natural substance used to help the body adapt to stress – to their diet to aid in stress relief. It's believed that adaptogens bring balance to your body by managing physical and mental stressors. One of the common adaptogens people use is ashwagandha.
What is ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub that grows in India and North Africa and is also called Withania somnifera or winter cherry. It has been used for hundreds of years in Ayurvedic medicine to boost energy and reduce stress and anxiety. In addition, some believe that the herb may be beneficial in the treatment of certain cancers and Alzheimer's disease, although there is no evidence to support its use to prevent or treat these conditions.
There is some evidence that ashwagandha can have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects. Because of the herbs' ability to reduce inflammation, many herbal medicine practitioners recommend their use to treat fatigue and pain conditions.
Health benefits of ashwagandha
Over the years, there have been several studies looking into the health benefits of ashwagandha. Some of the benefits of the herb include:
- Stress and anxiety relief. Ashwagandha is best known for its stress-relieving properties. There have been several studies that found it had a calming effect on anxiety symptoms. For example, a 2000 study (using mice) found it was comparable to lorazepam, a prescription anti-anxiety medication, in reducing anxiety. In 2019, two studies involving humans found that ashwagandha significantly reduced people's stress levels compared to a placebo, including cortisol – the stress hormone – levels.
- Muscle development and increased strength. Studies have shown that ashwagandha is effective in improving strength and muscle size. For example, one study of healthy young adults found that ashwagandha helped improve speed, muscular strength in the legs, and neuromuscular coordination (the ability to control the muscles during functional movements). A separate study found participants who took the herb increased muscle strength, lower body fat percentage, reduced cholesterol levels, and slept better.
- Improved heart health. As previously mentioned, ashwagandha has been found to reduce cholesterol. High cholesterol levels can increase your risk of developing heart disease. Additionally, two separate studies found that the herb could enhance cardiorespiratory endurance, which could improve heart health. The first study found when given ashwagandha, elite cyclists showed increased oxygen consumption capacity compared to athletes given a placebo. Similarly, in the second study of healthy, athletic adults, ashwagandha root extract enhanced breathing capacity during exercise.
- Lower blood sugar and fat. A few small studies have looked into the effects of ashwagandha on reducing blood glucose levels (blood sugar) and triglycerides (the most common fat in the blood). For example, a 2020 scientific review article suggested that giving ashwagandha root powder to people living with diabetes could lower their blood sugar levels. Another study found that the herb could help improve fasting blood glucose levels in adults with stress-related health conditions.
How to incorporate ashwagandha into your diet
If you're considering adding ashwagandha to your diet, you may have several questions: Where does this ashwagandha come from? How much should I take? Is this safe for me to take?
Some people like to add ashwagandha to their food. But it's important to note that ashwagandha is an herb, not a spice. Although spices add aromatic flavor to food, herbs are primarily used for health benefits. Some people add it to their coffee, tea, nut butter, or homemade fudge to mask the smell and taste. If you plan to incorporate ashwagandha into your food, it's recommended in smaller doses as larger doses can cause side effects like vomiting and diarrhea.
You can also purchase supplements with ashwagandha. There are gummy, capsule, liquid drop, and powder supplements currently available. Before buying any supplements, you should make sure they come from a reputable source and have been tested and verified for safety and efficacy. The Fit In is launching a new supplement, Full Body, with ashwagandha and collagen to help reduce stress and strengthen muscles to help you kick your exercise routine up a notch.
Ashwagandha is a safe, non-toxic plant. However, it is not recommended if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, immunocompromised, have a thyroid condition, or will be undergoing surgery soon. Consult your doctor before adding ashwagandha to your diet, especially if you're taking other medication, as ashwagandha could enhance or weaken their effects.