Ashwagandha is an ancient herb known for its medicinal purposes and many health benefits. It is classified as an adaptogen which means it can help your body manage stress. However it doesn’t only benefit your body, but also your brain. Ashwagandha helps fight anxiety and symptoms of depression and provides stress relief by supporting your adrenal glands to release normal levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. One beauty of organic Ashwagandha is how it enhances energy levels without stimulating your heart the way that caffeine does. Ashwagandha can also help lower your blood sugar and cortisol levels and boost brain functions.
Let’s skip to cortisol for a moment. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that regulates a wide range of processes in the body including immune response and metabolism and one of its very important role is helping the body respond to stress. Cortisol which is one of glucocorticoids is made in the cortex of your adrenal glands, released into the blood which then gets transported throughout your body. Almost every cell in your body contains receptors for cortisol and so depending on which cells its acting upon, it has different and varying actions which can be one of these things. Regulating metabolism, acting as anti-inflammatory, controlling the body’s blood sugar levels which regulates metabolism, controlling salt and water balance in the body, influencing blood pressure, influencing memory formation and helping develop foetus.
Throughout the day blood levels of cortisol vary, generally higher in the morning when you wake up and then declines throughout the day and this is called diurnal rythm. However for people who work at night this pattern is reversed. Cortisol’s timing of release is clearly linked to your activity pattern throughout the day. If there is stress involved extra cortisol is released in response to help your body respond appropriately. There are three inter-communicating regions of the body responsible for controlling cortisol secretion which are the hypothalamus in the brain, the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland. Too much cortisol over a prolonged period of time may cause Cushing’s syndrome which is caused by different factors including a tumour that produces adrenocorticotropic hormone which increases cortisol secretion. Another cause maybe taking certain types of drugs. It’s symptoms include muscle weakness, mood swings, skin changes including bruises and purple stretch marks, high blood pressure, flushed and round face, rapid weight gain mainly in the face, abdomen, chest area and contrasted with slender legs and arms, increased frequency in urination and thirst. It may also cause cause lack of sex drive and in women may cause amenorrhea which is irregularities in periods, less frequent cycles or causing the cycle to stop altogether. In the contrary, too little cortisol may be due to a problem in your adrenal gland or pituitary gland also known as Addison’s disease. The symptoms of which are mood changes, dizziness (upon standing), fatigue, weight loss, muscle weakness and darkening of regions of the skin. These symptoms are usually gradual but if not treated could be potentially become a life – threatening condition.
How does Ashwagandha benefit your health?
Ashwagandha has shown to lower blood sugar levels through its effects on insulin secretion and improved insulin sensitivity in muscle cells. Several human studies have suggested that it may help reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and those who are healthy. There is a bioactive compound called with a ferin in Ashwagandha in animal and test-tube studies. This compound promotes the death of tumor cells and maybe effective against several types of cancer. When your blood sugar gets too low, your adrenal glands release cortisol and also in response to stress. Ashwagandha helps prevent cortisol levels to rise chronically which may lead to high blood sugar levels and increased fat storage in the abdomen. One study in chronically stressed adult group, those who took the supplement had a significant reduction in cortisol levels in comparison with the control group. There was a 30% reduction on average on those who have taken the highest dose. Ashwagandha helps boost testosterone and increase fertility in men. In a study with 75 infertile men, the group treated with Ashwagandha has shown increase in sperm count and motility which also lead to a significant increase in testosterone levels. This same group had an increase in the antioxidant level in their blood. With one study regarding stress experience in men, after 3 months of treatment antioxidant levels have increased resulting to better sperm quality in which 14% of these men’s partners had become pregnant.
Ashwagandha helps increase muscle mass and strength. In some studies Ashwagandha has shown to improve body composition. In a study group to determine the effective and safe dosage for it, healthy men who took 750 – 1,250 mg of pulverized Ashwagandha root per day over 30 days have gained muscle strength. With another study not only the group had significantly gained muscle strength and size, there was a doubled reduction in body fat percentage compared to the placebo group.
Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce inflammation by reducing the c-reactive protein (CRP) which is an inflammation marker linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Ashwagandha helps lower cholesterol and triglycerides which significantly improves heart health. In a 60-day study in chronically stressed adults, a 17% decreases in LDL (bad) cholesterol and an 11% decrease in triglycerides was experienced by the group who took the highest dosage of a standardized ashwagandha extract.
How does Ashwagandha benefit your brain?
Ashwagandha helps improve brain function and memory. In a controlled study with a group of healthy men, a significant improvement in their reaction time and task performance was experienced by taking 500 mg of standardized extract compared to the group of men who took placebo. With another study in 50 adults over an 8-week study shown improvement in general memory, attention and task performance by taking 300 mg of the ashwagandha root extract twice a day.
Ashwagandha is known for its ability to reduce stress and according to researchers who did astudy on rats, it blocked the stress pathway by regulating chemical signaling in the nervous system. In some human studies, it shown to reduce symptoms in people undergoing chronicstress and anxiety disorders. With more research needed, a few studies suggest it may help alleviate symptoms of depression.
Due to all these health benefits of Ashwagandha, it is widely available for people to take especially for those who fall in to certain categories mentioned above. With long term side effects unknown and the supplement deemed to be safe, pregnant or breastfeeding women should refrain from taking it, people with autoimmune disease, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroid conditions, type 1 diabetes should also refrain unless otherwise authorized by a healthcare provider. People taking thyroid medication should be careful and consult with their physician before taking Ashwagandha as it may increase thyroid hormone levels in some. Because of its effects on blood pressure levels, dosage may need to be adjusted. Supplementing with Ashwagandha maybe an easy and effective way to improve certain conditions, your health and quality of life.
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