Ashwagandha – the ancient adaptogen for 21st century stress - by The Superfood Blog
Our increasingly busy lives are characterised by stress, which is typically caused by work demands, relationship issues, money problems and a combination of other day-to-day pressures. This stress is often aggravated by a frenetic modern lifestyle that constantly exposes us to environmental pollution, poor nutrition and chronic disease. And, although stress is a normal physical response that can help us to stay focused, energetic and alert in certain crisis situations, long-term exposure to stress will start to damage our physical health and emotional wellbeing, and may ultimately affect our entire quality of life.
Fortunately you can now give your body a helping hand in coping with and managing stress, by harnessing the adapotogenic powers of an ancient superfood supplement known as ashwagandha powder.
What is ashwagandha powder?
Organic Ashwagandha powder is a nutrient-dense food extract made from the leaves of the Withania somnifera – a small shrub that boasts green flowers and orange-red coloured berries, and is a member of the nightshade family. Also known as Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry or winter cherry, ashwagandha is commonly cultivated in India and Nepal and has been used as a traditional Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of tumours, carbuncles and ulcers, as well as a variety of other conditions, for centuries. Organic ashwagandha powder contains a selection of valuable nutrients, including protein, fibre, alkaloids and steroidal lactones, and possesses a distinctive bittersweet flavour. Yet it is its pungent aroma that’s responsible for its unusual name, derived from the Sanskrit words ‘ashva’, which means horse and ‘gandha’, which means smell.
Managing stress with ashwagandha powder
Stress triggers the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, in your body. These hormones are designed to enable you to cope with pressure or potential threats – the so-called “fight or flight” response. They can influence how you think, feel, behave and how your body functions.
Some of the most common signs of stress include:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of concentration
Once the pressure or threat has disappeared, your stress hormone levels should return to normal. However, those who are constantly exposed to stress will continue to be affected by stress hormones, and may start to feel anxious, irritable, worried, angry, agitated, depressed or withdrawn as a result. You may even experience physical symptoms, such as headaches, muscle pain or dizziness. According to the Mental Health Foundation, some 59 percent of UK adults say that their lives are more stressful than five years ago, with money and work being cited as the main causes. In fact, a staggering 11.3 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013/14 alone. Worryingly, people are three times more likely to drink alcohol in order to alleviate their stress, than visit a GP.
Happily there are alternatives to the bottle – organic ashwagandha powder for example, is an ancient adaptogen that’s especially useful in managing stress. Adaptogens are special herbs that can significantly improve the health of your adrenal system, the system that is directly responsible for managing your body’s hormonal response to stress and fatigue. In a recent human clinical trial, those regularly taking ashwagandha witnessed a 26 percent reduction in their cortisol levels – elevated cortisol levels are a clear indication of chronic stress. If cortisol is left to build up in the body, it can lead to inflammation, interfere with memory and learning, weaken immunity, decrease bone density, increase weight gain, raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and heighten the risk of heart disease, as well as depression (which the Office for National Statistics reveal now affects one fifth of all British adults), and mental illness. In addition to demonstrably reducing cortisol levels, research has indicated that ashwagandha may be every bit as effective in treating the side effects of stress, such as anxiety and depression, as some of our best known antidepressant drugs. Indeed, one study revealed that those taking ashwagandha for five consecutive days experienced anxiety-relieving effects similar to those achieved by the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam (Ativan®), and antidepressant effects similar to those of the prescription antidepressant drug, imipramine (Tofranil®).
3 additional health benefits of ashwagandha powder
As well as being an efficient stress reliever, organic ashwagandha powder offers a number of other important health benefits, three of which are explored below.
1) Ashwagandha strengthens immunity
Organic ashwagandha powder is a powerful antioxidant that not only helps to boost immunity and reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis; in the laboratory it has also demonstrated a remarkable ability to inhibit the growth of certain types of cancer, such as breast, lung and colon cancer. It appears to do this by restricting the growth of the blood vessels that supply cancer cells with oxygen and nutrients. It has shown promise too in promoting the growth of nerve cells and may one day be used as a natural treatment for Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
2) Ashwagandha lowers blood sugar levels
Organic ashwagandha powder helps to lower blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes – indeed, a trial of six diabetic patients indicated that just 3 grams of ashwagandha extract taken daily for 30 days, decreased blood glucose levels to a similar degree as oral hypoglycaemic drugs (anti-diabetic medication).
3) Ashwagandha reduces cholesterol levels
Another clinical trial of six patients with hypercholesterolemia (high levels of cholesterol in their blood) demonstrated that 3 grams of ashwagandha taken daily for 30 days, actively decreased cholesterol levels – more specifically it reduced:
- Serum cholesterol – or in other words, total cholesterol.
- Triglycerides – a common fat found in the body. High triglyceride levels in combination with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol is linked to atherosclerosis, the build-up of fatty deposits in artery walls that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- LDL cholesterol – bad cholesterol that’s often produced by a diet high in trans fats.
- VLDL cholesterol – the cholesterol that contains the highest amount of triglycerides and thus increases the risk of coronary artery disease, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
How to add ashwagandha powder to your daily diet
Enjoying the many benefits of ashwagandha couldn’t be any easier – that’s because organic ashwagandha powder is an extremely versatile superfood that can be stirred directly into your daily smoothie, shake or protein drink, or used as an additional ingredient in both sweet and savoury rawfood recipes… from ravishing raw chocolate bars and snacks to sensational salad dressings and sauces! And, as it so concentrated only a small amount is required – just half to one teaspoon of organic ashwagandha powder is sufficient for one delicious smoothie.
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