Ashwagandha: the ancient medicine for modern life's problems
One of the most rigorously studied adaptogens, ashwagandha has been shown to alleviate stress, reduce fatigue, improve general wellbeing and have an anti-proliferative effect on cancer cells (1).
A meta-analysis review of 58 scientific studies also found anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and hemopoetic effects as well as benefiting the endocrine, cardio-pulmonary and central nervous systems (2).
Another systematic review of human trials on the effects of ashwagandha on anxiety also found a significant difference in reduction of anxiety (2.5).
Ashwagandha comes from India and their ancient Aryuvedic medicinal practise. In this practice, traditional medicine from plant sources are used in combination with a daily effort to act in a way that is beneficial to overall health, such as exercise, work, meditation and good hygiene.
The Ayurvedic God of Medicine: Dhanvantari
The modern day stress problem and how Ashwagandha can help
Primarily ashwagandha is used for it’s anti-stress properties. Reducing stress allows the mind to focus more strongly and this helps with improving at work and making better healthier lifestyle choices.
Stress is a big risk and should not be taken lightly, it can affect your health in negative ways. Building up over time stress from work can lead to burnout.
Occupational burnout occurs when stress goes unmanaged, and when burnout occurs you are no longer able to function well and may need to stop working.
Stress is correlated with occupational burnout and occupational burnout is correlated with depression according to Lin et al., (2016 (3)).
A study in 2012 also found burnout resulted in overeating and an increased risk of obesity in women (4). Ashwagandha can be used not only to reduce stress cortisol levels but to improve eating behaviours and reduce weight gain (5).
The health implications of reducing our stress levels
Although ashwagandha can help to reduce stress once it has appeared, it is preferable to prevent the stress before it does occur. This is where we need to start thinking differently. Most people will take ashwagandha and similar supplements as a way of trying to get rid of stress when things have become very noticeable or too much to manage.
The issue with this is that stress is damaging to health. A search on Google’s scientific study database Scholar with the search term “stress and cancer” yields over 3 million results. Stress is known to be a causal factor in both cancer (6) and sudden cardiac death (7).
These risks may be reduced with ashwagandha, given its anti-stress and anti-cancer properties. Furthermore with it’s well known mood lifting effects, the correlation between depression and stress suggests that the improvement in mood from ashwagandha may reduce the chances of stress occurring, and therefore the negative effects with it. A proactive rather than reactive approach should be encouraged when it comes to stress and supplementation.
How to take Ashwagandha
Dosages are not fully established, however 1-2 300mg tablets standardised to 15mg withanolides per day is a widely used range.
Lifetropics sells an Ashwagandha blend with black pepper extract for 30%-200% extra bio-availability.
Many people see the mood change effects anywhere from 4 hours to 3 or 4 days, however it can take a week or two for these mood lifting effects.
The initial side effects of drowsiness on the first dose can be counteracted with caffeine for caffeine-adjusted individuals.
There is debate as to whether it should be cycled, this is dependent on the individual’s psychology, physiology and personal experience with the supplement.
Ashwagandha can be stacked with Rhodiola Rosea and also Turmeric (here's a good article on the health benefits of Turmeric). Generally, Ashwagandha is not well known for it’s anti-fatigue effects, though it can help in this area. This is where Rhodiola comes in, which offers a controlled energy boost similar to caffeine, brought up over a longer period of time and sustained in a safer way.
And of course, always consult a doctor before trying any new supplement!