Ashwagandha, scientifically known as Withania somnifera, is a popular herb that has been used for centuries in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine[^1^]. Commonly known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, ashwagandha has long been revered for its adaptogenic properties, helping the body to adapt to physical and emotional stress.
In recent years, interest in ashwagandha has grown in the West, and many people are turning to this ancient herb to help manage their anxiety symptoms.
ASHWAGANDHA FOR ANXIETY
Anxiety is a common mental health issue that affects millions of people worldwide. It can manifest as excessive worry, feelings of restlessness, irritability, and difficulty concentrating[^2^].
While there are numerous conventional treatments available, including psychotherapy and medications, many people are seeking natural alternatives to help manage their anxiety symptoms.
Ashwagandha has been used for centuries to promote relaxation and improve mental well-being. In recent years, scientific studies have begun to support the claims of ashwagandha’s ability to reduce anxiety and stress. This article will explore the potential benefits of ashwagandha for anxiety, backed by scientific evidence.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND ASHWAGANDHA AND ANXIETY: THE ROLE OF ADAPTOGENS
Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen, a natural substance that helps the body adapt to stress and restore balance[^3^]. Adaptogens have been shown to improve the body’s response to stress by modulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the primary stress response system in the body[^4^].
By supporting the HPA axis, ashwagandha may help reduce anxiety symptoms by improving the body’s stress response.
CLINICAL STUDIES ON ASHWAGANDHA
Several clinical studies have investigated the effects of ashwagandha on anxiety:
- Study 1: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study of 75 individuals with moderate to severe anxiety found that ashwagandha supplementation significantly improved anxiety symptoms compared to the placebo group[^5^].
- Study 2: A 60-day study of 64 individuals with chronic stress showed that those who took ashwagandha had a 69.7% reduction in anxiety and insomnia symptoms, while the placebo group had only an 11.6% reduction[^6^].
- Study 3: A systematic review and meta-analysis of five randomized controlled trials concluded that ashwagandha was more effective than placebo in reducing anxiety and stress symptoms[^7^].
These studies suggest that ashwagandha may be a promising natural treatment for anxiety, although more research is needed to confirm these findings and establish the optimal dosage and duration of treatment.
MECHANISMS OF ACTION
While the exact mechanisms by which ashwagandha reduces anxiety are not fully understood, several theories have been proposed:
- GABA-mimetic activity: Ashwagandha has been shown to exhibit GABA-mimetic activity, meaning it can bind to GABA receptors in the brain and produce a calming effect similar to that of the neurotransmitter GABA[^8^]. GABA is responsible for reducing neuronal excitability and promoting relaxation, which may explain ashwagandha’s anxiolytic effects.
- Cortisol reduction: Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce cortisol levels in chronically stressed individuals[^6^]. High cortisol levels are associated with increased anxiety and stress, so reducing cortisol may contribute to ashwagandha’s anxiolytic effects.
- Antioxidant properties: Oxidative stress has been linked to anxiety and other mental health disorders[^9^]. Ashwagandha possesses antioxidant properties, which may help combat oxidative stress and reduce anxiety symptoms[^10^].
ASHWAGANDHA DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION
While there is no universally recommended dosage of ashwagandha for anxiety, most clinical studies have used daily doses of 300-500 mg of ashwagandha root extract standardized to contain 1.5% withanolides[^5^][^6^].
It is important to note that different preparations of Ashwagandha can have varying potencies, so it is essential to follow the manufacturer’s recommended dosage and consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement. Go by that of the supplier and manufacturer you purchase from as each dose is specific to a particular product.
Ashwagandha is typically taken once or twice a day, with or without food. Some people may experience better results by taking ashwagandha in the evening, as it may promote relaxation and improve sleep quality[^6^].
SAFETY AND SIDE EFFECTS
Ashwagandha is generally considered safe when used as directed, and few side effects have been reported in clinical studies[^5^][^6^]. However, some individuals may experience mild side effects such as:
- Upset stomach
If you experience any of these side effects, consider reducing the dosage or discontinuing use and consult with a healthcare professional.
It is important to note that ashwagandha may interact with certain medications, including sedatives, thyroid medications, and blood pressure medications[^11^]. If you are taking any of these medications or have a pre-existing medical condition, consult with a healthcare professional before using ashwagandha.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid using ashwagandha, as its safety during pregnancy and lactation has not been well studied[^11^].
Ashwagandha is a promising natural treatment for anxiety, with a growing body of scientific evidence supporting its anxiolytic effects. While more research is needed to establish the optimal dosage and duration of treatment, ashwagandha may provide a safe and effective alternative for those seeking a natural solution to relieve anxiety and stress.
Remember that, although ashwagandha shows promising results for reducing anxiety, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement, especially if you have pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medications that may interact with ashwagandha.
Additionally, it is crucial to maintain a holistic approach to managing anxiety, which may include other evidence-based therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
A., & Wikman, G. (2010). Effects of adaptogens on the central nervous system and the molecular mechanisms associated with their stress-protective activity. Pharmaceuticals, 3(1), 188-224.