When I heard that the MoreYoga theme for May was ‘balance’, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about as my ‘Pick of the Month’. The idea of ‘balance’ can mean many different things to all of us, at many different times of our lives, but whether it resonates as a physical, mental, emotional, or perhaps spiritual focus or concept, or a combination of all of these, ashwagndha may very well just work its magic to help restore and promote a little bit of much needed balance.
So what is ashwagandha and why am I such an avid champion? Ashwagandha is part of a family of herbs called adaptogens, which have been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for thousands and thousands of years. There are many varieties of adaptogenic herb, with a whole range of health promoting properties, but ashwagandha in particular has gained increasing popularity in the West due to its potent anti-inflammatory, mood enhancing, and stress-relieving benefits, and it is for these very reasons that I have come to commonly recommend it in my own nutrition clinic, and even use it myself when I’m in need of some self-restoration and self-rejuvenation
Here are just a few of the many health benefits of this magical, ancient herb..
- Supports adrenal glands – our adrenal glands, part of the endocrine system and sitting just above the kidneys, are tasked with the important job of releasing and regulating our stress hormones, in particular cortisol and adrenaline. If our adrenals become overworked due to an overload of stress, whether that’s physical, mental, or emotional, it can sometimes lead to a condition called adrenal fatigue, where they eventually become burnt out and exhausted, and can no longer produce the required amount of stress hormones that we need. However, ashwagandha has been shown to be successful in supporting, and even possibly helping to restore adrenal function when they have reached this point. (https://www.spectracell.com/media/uploaded/2/0e2016801_266fullpaper2009altmedrevnutrientsforthetreatmentofstressfatigueandinsomnia.pdf)
- Can help to improve depression – ashwagandha may work as a mood stabiliser and a natural remedy for depression, with recent research showing that because it improves our overall resistance to stress, and with stress often being a major contributor to depression, it may enhance people’s self-perceived quality of life and overall mood. (http://www.ijam.co.in/index.php/ijam/article/view/155/119)
- Boosts immune system function – because ashwagandha is super effective at reducing and regulating the body’s level of stress hormones, it means it also helps to reduce inflammation levels in the body too, and when inflammation is lowered, immunity gets a good old boost. By increasing immunoglobulin (antibodies that fight off bacteria) production, and suppressing pro-inflammatory cytokine (cell signalling molecules) production, ashwagandha helps to promote and support an anti-inflammatory environment within the body. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21619924)
- Supports brain health and cognition – another reason for ashwagandha’s many amazing health benefits may be due to the fact that it is an antioxidant powerhouse. These antioxidants help to protect against oxidative stress and work to destroy free radicals, which ultimately contribute to brain cell degeneration and aging. Research has shown this powerful herb to have possible neuroprotective effects, and may even help to promote cell growth and boost memory. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28471731)
- Regulates and balances blood sugar levels – ashwagandha contains a group of potent plant compounds called flavonoids. These superstar flavonoids have been shown to possess hypoglycaemic and anti-diabetic affects, and may therefore help to reduce and stabilise blood glucose levels, as well as helping to improve overall insulin sensitivity. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695282/)
- May help to relieve stress and anxiety – in 2009 a randomised controlled trial showed just how effective ashwagandha can be as a natural reliever and remedy for stress and anxiety, and was even found to be comparable to some of the commonly used pharmaceuticals. Not only this, the group of participants that received the herb as part of their treatment protocol showed greater overall improvements in mental health, cognition, energy, and vitality! And unlike the pharmaceuticals, ashwagandha exhibited these benefits without any of the nasty side effects that are common with anti-anxiety medications. (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0006628)