It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that we, as a society, get a little stressed out. In fact, the American Psychological Association found that 27% of Americans report being too exhausted to function.
So, it’s easy to see why any product that is said to help de-stress is so attractive to potential buyers. While there are claims about many supplements and pills that help you feel calmer, one in particular is getting attention both online and in the natural health field — ashwagandha.
“[Ashwagandha is] “The herb grows in regions of South and Central Asia, including India, where it is used in Ayurvedic medicine,” said Dr. Susan Blackford, MD, a physician of internal and integrative medicine at Duke Center for Integrative Medicine in North Carolina.
The Latin name for the shrub is Withania somnifera. In Latin, somnifera means inducing sleep, which speaks to one of its uses, Blackford said. Ashwagandha claims to help with problems beyond sleep and stress, too, including anxiety and depression.
So, is it real? Here’s what the experts say:
Some ashwagandha supplements Can Help with stress and other issues.
“There are many other ways [people] I use it, but I would say in integrative medicine we probably use it mostly for stress,” Blackford said.
This, she added, is because ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which means it “enhances the body’s resilience in the face of stress.”
This can indicate multiple types of stress — psychological stress, physical stress (such as infection) and more, explains Amala Soumyanath, director of the Plant-Based Supplement Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University. These transformers [are] It’s supposed to have a very wide range of effects,” Soumyanath noted.
Blackford added that it is not entirely known how Ashwagandha affects stress, but appears to work with GABA-A and GABA-B receptors, which are “famous for producing calming effects” within the body. A calmer disposition naturally affects a person’s anxiety and sleep, too. Therefore, it is easy to see how ashwagandha can have an effect on all of these issues.
Soumyanath said both preclinical and clinical studies have looked at ashwagandha as a treatment. A 2019 study of 60 adults found that people who took ashwagandha daily had lower levels of cortisol in the morning, according to Blackford. But it’s worth noting that with only 60 people, the sample size for this study is quite small.
“I would say … that there is some reasonably sound clinical evidence for effects on stress and sleep,” Soumyanath said. “There is a lot of preclinical evidence of its effectiveness in anxiety, but perhaps less than by clinical evidence for it.”
In other words, more studies are needed on the effectiveness of ashwagandha in helping to manage anxiety before more sound conclusions can be made.
Only specific ashwagandha products have been studied – not everything on the shelf.
There’s a big caveat with all of this: While there is some promising evidence of ashwagandha’s effectiveness for certain issues, these studies usually pertain to a specific ashwagandha product, Soumyanath said.
This means that not every supplement containing ashwagandha is created equal. “Because products are variable, we can’t necessarily assume that every product on the shelf will have the same effects,” Soumyanath explained.
“If you look on the shelf, you will see a whole host of different ashwagandha products available for sale,” Soumyanath said, noting that these products use different types of extracts, which affects their effectiveness.
“Sometimes it’s just a powdered root, sometimes it’s a powdered extract of the root, sometimes the extract is made with water, sometimes it’s made with an alcohol mixture, sometimes the extract is made with [the] roots as well as leaves. In other words, there are many formulas, and not all of these extracts have been studied or proven effective.
Your first thought may be to find products that… Owns These have been studied, but Soumyanath said that supplements are not necessarily standardized. A manufacturer can change the manufacturing process at any time, affecting future batches of the product.
Instead, Soumyanath said, you can compare products that use different formulations, such as dried root compared to an extract, and see what works for you. “In general, products that contain extracts are stronger because the type of extract concentrates some of the ingredients from the plant,” she said.
In addition, Blackford said, you can search consumerlab.com, which compares available products.
“It doesn’t indicate if it’s helpful or not, it says, ‘Does it contain what it’s supposed to contain and does it have any contaminants that you need to worry about,’” Blackford said. “So it’s a bit like a control group to make sure that What you take is safe.”
What exactly makes an ashwagandha supplement effective is still being studied.
Soumyanath said she and other researchers are trying to determine the criteria needed to ensure ashwagandha is effective.
“There is still a lot of research needed to try to relate the chemical profile of the ashwagandha plant to its biological activity so that better nutritional supplements can be designed with the right ingredients in the right doses — but so far, we don’t have any,” Soumyanath said.
She said, “I think the take-home messages are within all those warnings about diversity… It’s a very beneficial plant-based substance and generally found to be safe, but individual products may or may not achieve” results such as reducing stress and anxiety. .
Make sure you know about the possible side effects.
When it comes to ashwagandha, there are usually no side effects, Blackford said, and if there are, they tend to be short-term. “It can cause headaches, it can cause drowsiness…it can cause an upset stomach.”
“There have been very rare reports of liver toxicity,” Soumyanath noted.
Soumyanath said that while side effects are not common, it’s still important to inform your healthcare provider of any supplements or medications you’re taking.
Ashwagandha also affects other systems. It can also lower blood pressure and blood sugar and increase hormone levels, Blackford said. “So it probably wouldn’t be as dramatic, but if you’re on medication for blood pressure or blood sugar or thyroid, just be aware that you want to monitor that.”
Additionally, from a Western medicine standpoint, blackford said, it is not recommended to take ashwagandha during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. “We don’t have enough data to determine its safety,” she explained.
Soumyanath added that it’s important to follow the recommended dosage — “Don’t assume that eating more will always be better for you.”
Like any medication, be responsible when taking ashwagandha. “Don’t assume naturals are safe,” Soumyanath said. Taking too many supplements or taking them for a long time can increase your chance of side effects.
Finally, when it comes to relieving stress, blackford said ashwagandha is not her point. “if If someone comes to me with stress and anxiety, I’ll first look at the factors that contribute to that.”
Think about your stress-handling skills, your sleep habits (sleep is good for stress reduction, Blackford added), exercise patterns (another stress reliever) and your connection to your community.
“[Ashwagandha is] Only one tool. “I always get a little anxious when people focus on one thing, whether it’s…one approach, one herb, one medicine,” Blackford said. “If we focus too hard on one thing, we lose the totality of all other influencing factors and we won’t have meaningful long-term change.”