Ashwagandha: Can it help with anxiety and stress?
In the traditional Ayurveda system of medicine, ashwagandha is classified as a “Rasayana herb”, that works as a general tonic, promotes vigour and vitality, and prevents premature ageing. Can we use ashwagandha for anxiety and stress? Well, ashwagandha is one of the most revered herbs in Ayurveda, traditionally used to reduce stress, lift mood and ease symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.
Stress and anxiety trigger the risk of chronic health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and even neurological conditions including Alzheimer's. In addition, our fast-paced modern-day living has so many stressors that are more or less self-created. There is too much dependence on technology that has translated into too much screen time, 24/7 connectivity with the world, and reduced human contact. We are taking on too much, both personally and professionally, and this pressure is taking a toll on our physical and mental health. Gadgets and phones have replaced real-time socializing, which has increased feelings of loneliness, a big risk factor for developing depression, anxiety and fear. As a result, there has been a noticeable spike in stress levels, anxiety disorders and even addictive behaviours in people, who are moving towards modern drugs to combat these mental health issues. These drugs are known to cause severe short-term and long-term side effects along with additional fear of drug dependence. How can herbs like ashwagandha help? Studies show that ashwagandha supplements may be extremely effective in reducing stress and anxiety levels. Let’s find out more about this anti-stress herb and how it works.
What is ashwagandha and how does it work?
Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) is an adaptogenic herb commonly used to reduce stress and anxiety. This Ayurvedic herb, native to India, Africa and South-east Asia, is popular for its ability to rejuvenate the body and mind, thus improving overall wellbeing. The name ashwagandha is a combination of two Sanskrit words - Ashwa (which means horse) and Gandha (which means smell). It is also known, in Western cultures, as Indian ginseng and winter cherry. While ashwagandha is mostly used for its anti-stress and anti-anxiety benefits, it provides other health benefits too. Ashwagandha improves immunity, helps boost cardiovascular function, reduces blood sugar levels and improves athletic performance. It may also improve fertility in men. If you are having trouble with memory and focus, ashwagandha can help, as it improves brain function and brings mental clarity.
How does it work? Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, a family of herbs that improve the body's internal responses to stress. These unique herbs normalize and regulate various biological processes to help the body adapt better to stressful situations. In simpler words, it helps you deal with a variety of stressors that you encounter in everyday life. As an adaptogen, ashwagandha fights stress by regulating the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. It protects the body from the damage caused by chronic stress, and reduces inflammation in the body.
If you are dealing with a lot of stressors that are triggering anxiety, it is best to try ashwagandha for its multiple health benefits. This revitalizing herb contains a wide range of bioactive substances that have anti-oxidant (neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative damage), anti-inflammatory (reduce inflammation), analgesic (relieve pain), sleep-inducing and anti-stress properties.
Ashwagandha benefits for anxiety?
Can you take ashwagandha for anxiety? Ashwagandha is one of the most widely used herbal supplements for managing stress-related conditions such as anxiety , depression and insomnia. This ever-green herb can calm a rattled mind and reduce symptoms that are typically associated with anxiety such as fast heartbeat, sweating, nervousness, nausea and feelings of impending danger and irrational fears. It is also effective in reducing anxiety in people with insomnia. Ashwagandha supplements can ease an anxious mind and help you sleep better, if taken consistently and in the right dosage.
So, how does ashwagandha reduce stress?
Ashwagandha is best known for its ability to reduce stress. As discussed in the earlier section, ashwagandha reduces stress by improving how your body handles and adapts to stress. Like other adaptogens, ashwagandha plays an important role in regulating the HPA axis, which is basically the “stress-regulating centre” of the body. Ashwagandha works in many ways to reduce stress and improve mental well-being:
- Soothes nervous system, calms frayed nerves
- Reduces cortisol, stress hormone that causes serious health consequences when released in excessive amounts
- Reduces fatigue and revitalizes body
- Relaxes mind and helps sleep better
- Fights free radicals, works as a powerful anti-oxidant
Ashwagandha stress relief benefits have also been suggested by modern research, according to which ashwagandha supplements can significantly reduce stress and improve energy and stamina. For example, this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed ashwagandha may reduce stress by reducing cortisol levels. 
What are the side effects of taking ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha supplements are well-tolerated and considered safe for most people when taken in the right doses, but high doses can cause upset stomach, nausea and vomiting. It is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women and those who have elevated thyroid function (hyperthyroidism) as it increases thyroid hormone levels. Avoid taking ashwagandha if you have an autoimmune condition.
How long does ashwagandha take to work for anxiety?
Ashwagandha takes time to work. It can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks and sometimes even months before you start seeing any noticeable improvement in your stress and anxiety levels. Ashwagandha works best when you follow a healthy lifestyle.
When to take ashwagandha?
You can take ashwagandha anytime of the day. But if you feel sleepy or drowsy, it’s better to take it at night.
Recommended dosage of ashwagandha
The recommended dosage depends on the heath condition you want to target and your age. It is best to consult your healthcare practitioner for the right dosage. A daily dose of 800 mg to 2000 mg of ashwagandha (powder form) for at least a month is generally considered safe and effective to achieve stress lowering benefits. Experts believe it is best to divide it into two doses and take it twice daily.
How long does ashwagandha stay in your system?
The root of ashwagandha contains both water-soluble and fat-soluble compounds. While the water-soluble parts leave the body within 2 to 3 days, the fat-soluble ingredients can stay in the body for a month. It also depends on your metabolism and age, and the dose you are taking.
Does ashwagandha make you sleepy?
Ashwagandha supplements might cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Avoid taking ashwagandha if you are on sedatives.
- Pratte et al. An Alternative Treatment for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of Human Trial Results Reported for the Ayurvedic Herb Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). J Altern Complement Med. 2014
- Lopresti et al. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine: September 2019 - Volume 98 - Issue 37