How Do I Reduce Stress With Ashwagandha?
It was about eight years ago when I first learned about Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). At the time, I was the CEO of a company that ran the largest US based ingredient tradeshow for the health and nutrition space, called SupplySide West, and I visited the “relaxation center” in an exhibiting company’s booth that sold Ashwagandha for a meeting. I thought to myself, A relaxation center is a clever idea for a tradeshow where busy people are on their feet all day. But then I started to learn more about this Ayurvedic herb’s history, science, clinical tests and alignment with stress reduction, and I got the connection and wanted to learn more.
Let me take a step back and give a little history. Ashwagandha is a botanical (herb) from India that has been used for thousands of years in an ancient practice of alternative medicine called Ayurveda (which literally means “the science of life”). It looks like a traditional shrub, greyish in color with yellow flowers, and naturally grows in the Northwestern region of India.
According to the ministry of Ayush in India, the only active ingredients from the plant are found in the root. Further, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Therapeutic Compendium on Ashwagandha Root says, “the crop should be protected from light, moisture, air, heat and insect infestation; and the plant roots trimmed, inspected for quality and sorted by grade.” This is a pretty deep way of saying there needs to be a level of quality control to ensure the root is not adulterated during the farming and cultivation process, which is why, even in this stage of automated farming, the farmer still manages this crop by hand.
The traditional uses of Ashwagandha, which can be traced back 4,000 years, are said to relieve stress, promote youth and longevity, strengthen bone marrow and be beneficial to the elderly in increasing energy and memory retention. It has also been long believed to increase male fertility, enable weight loss, fuel cognitive ability and enable lean and muscular body mass.
All that sounds pretty incredible, but is it really true? We have all heard outlandish claims from dietary supplement and functional food products boasting magical ingredients, and the majority have never even been tested. So, I decided to start looking for clinical trials, scientific papers and peer reviewed articles on Ashwagandha – shockingly, it is one of the most scientifically studied botanicals on the market, with the majority being funded by KSM-66 out of India. (KSM-66 is not affiliated with mynutritionIQ.com, nor are they affiliated financially in any way with this blog or John Siefert).
The first study I read was focused on the impact of Ashwagandha on stress and anxiety. From a clinical perspective, it was a prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration, full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.
According to the results, “the treatment group that was given the high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract exhibited a significant reduction (P<0.0001) in scores on all the stress-assessment scales on Day 60, relative to the placebo group. The serum cortisol levels were substantially reduced (P=0.0006) in the Ashwagandha group, relative to the placebo group. The adverse effects were mild in nature and were comparable in both the groups. No serious adverse events were reported.”
The findings of the study suggest that a high-concentration, full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance toward stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.
At this point, I was getting convinced that the 4,000 years of Ayurvedic history around Ashwagandha was legitimate, so I started thinking about what stress triggers in most adults. Upon researching a bit – and being a victim of this myself at times – I learned that it is often associated with overeating and weight gain. Interested, I set off to see if there were any studies that aligned the two. I did not have to look far, as KSM-66 had one.
The study, titled Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial, was reviewed by Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S., & Joshi, K. (2017). Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine, 22(1), 96-106.
According to the study, “KSM-66 Ashwagandha caused significant reduction in Perceived Stress among the subjects. At the end of the study, KSM-66 Ashwagandha produced a 32.74% reduction in PSS scores from the baseline compared to placebo group. KSM-66 Ashwagandha reduced desire or cravings for food in the study subjects. The FCQ scores for Planning, Positive and Negative reinforcement, Lack of control, Emotion and Environment domains were reduced significantly (P < 0.05) in the Ashwagandha supplemented subjects. A statistically significant (P < 0.05) decrease of 22.2% was observed in serum cortisol (a stress hormone) levels as a result of KSM-66 Ashwagandha supplementation compared to placebo group. KSM-66 Ashwagandha supplementation resulted in a 3.0% and 2.9% reduction in bodyweight (P < 0.05) and BMI (P < 0.05) respectively. Supplementation with KSM-66 Ashwagandha resulted in a significant (P < 0.05) increase in OHQ scores and a significant (P < 0.05) reduction in TFEQ scores for ‘Uncontrolled’ and ‘Emotional Eating behavior’ compared to placebo group.”
The outcome of this study suggests that Ashwagandha root extract can be used for body weight management in adults under chronic stress, which is most of us. There have been multiple studies that show the correlation between stress and weight, but very few I have found, that offer solutions.
Across all the studies I analyzed for Ashwagandha, it seems this ancient botanical really does offer some compelling health benefits closely aligned to the ancient beliefs mentioned in this article.
When we think in terms of the impact of Ashwagandha, each of the following did have science and studies associated:
- Stress and Anxiety (covered above)
- Stress and Weight Management (covered above)
- Testosterone & Male Sexual Function
- Cardiorespiratory Endurance
- Testosterone, Muscle Strength & Recovery
- Female Sexual Function
- Memory & Cognition
- Thyroid Function
However, I am not recommending you take Ashwagandha, this is just for context and understanding of what is available—if you are interested in learning more, I would suggest you speak to your doctor, read some of the studies yourself or potentially speak with a naturopathic physician to get his or her opinion.
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