Ashwagandha is a wonder herb that has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. It has phenomenal importance in the treatment of Mental Illness, especially for anxiety and stress relief, as an anti-depressant, for the treatment of mood disorders, as a neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and in prevention of degenerative diseases. Ashwagandha ( botanically known as Withania somnifera, a member of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family) is the most commonly used and extensively researched adaptogenic herb.
Ayurvedic medicine (also called Ayurveda) is one of the the oldest systems of medicine in the world. It originated in India more than 3,000 years ago, with the same people who gave us Yoga . The term “Ayurveda” combines the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge). The majority of India’s population still uses Ayurvedic medicine exclusively or combined with conventional Western medicine.
Extracts from Dr. Axe’s article that pertain specifically to how Ashwagandha supports Mental Health, follow on this page. Click here to read the entire article including the other physical uses of Ashwagandha, such as thyroid regulation and blood sugar regulation.
- Ashwagandha supplements are widely available online and in health food or vitamin stores. The most popular form of ashwagandha is the root extract, but leaf extracts are also available. These extracts can be found in capsule and powder forms.
3. Combats Stress and Anxiety
One of the most well known ashwagandha benefits is its ability to work as a natural remedy for anxiety. In a 2009 study published in PLOS One, ashwagandha was shown to be comparable to common pharmaceutical drugs lorazepam and imipramine, without the side effects.
In the 12-week controlled study, 75 participants with anxiety were divided into two groups, one that received naturopathic care and another that received standardized psychotherapy intervention. The naturopathic care group received dietary counseling, deep breathing relaxation techniques, a standard multi-vitamin and 300 milligrams of ashwagandha twice daily. The psychotherapy intervention group received psychotherapy, deep breathing relaxation techniques and placebo pills twice daily.
When anxiety levels were measured after the 12-week period, the group who received ashwagandha had anxiety scores that decreased by 55 percent and the psychotherapy group’s scores decreased by 30.5 percent. Significant differences between the two groups were also found in mental health, concentration, social functioning, vitality, fatigue and overall quality of life, with the ashwagandha group displaying greater clinical benefits. (7)
In addition to these positive findings, researchers indicated that no serious side effects occurred in either group. A major ashwagandha benefit is that there are no or minimal adverse reactions when taking it, compared to antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications that may cause drowsiness, insomnia, loss of sexual desire and increased appetite, among other side effects.
4. Improves Depression
Not only does ashwagandha benefit people who deal with anxiety and chronic stress, but it can also be helpful for people who experience signs of depression. Ashwagandha improves our resistance towards stress and studies show that it thereby improves people’s self-assessed quality of life. As stress is a known cause of depression, as is hormonal imbalances, ashwagandha can potentially work as a natural remedy for depression. (1)
In a 2000 experimental study involving rats, ashwagandha efficacy was compared to the antidepressant medication imipramine. Researchers found that ashwagandha exhibited antidepressant effects that were comparable to imipramine when rats were exposed to “behavioral despair” and “learned helplessness” tests. It was concluded that ashwagandha can be used as a mood stabilizer in clinical conditions of depression. (3)
The main texts on Ayurvedic medicine are the three ancient texts written in Sanskrit around 3,000 years ago—Caraka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and Astanga Hridaya.
Key concepts of Ayurvedic medicine include universal interconnectedness (among people, their health, and the universe), the body’s constitution (prakriti), and life forces (dosha). Using these concepts, Ayurvedic physicians prescribe individualized treatments, including compounds of herbs or proprietary ingredients, and diet, exercise, and lifestyle recommendations.
7. Reduces Brain Cell Degeneration and Improves Memory
Emotional, physical and chemical stress can all have damaging effects to the brain and nervous system. Recent research has proven that ashwagandha is more than a stress reliever, it also protects the brain from cell degeneration, which can lead to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. One of the main reasons ashwagandha is so effective at healing the brain is because it contains powerful antioxidants that destroy the free radicals that cause aging.
Withaferin A and withanolide D are the two main withanolides in ashwagandha that are used to improve cognitive function. Withanolides are naturally occurring steroids that are commonly present in plants of the nightshade family. When these steroids were injected into rodents to test their cognitive-improving abilities, researchers found that they helped to promote cell outgrowth, reverse behavioral deficits and plaque buildup, and reduce amyloid beta burden, which is crucially involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. (13)
A 2017 pilot study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements found that ashwagandha effectively enhanced both immediate and general memory in people with mild cognitive impairment. The herb was also able to improve attention, information processing speed and mental skills. The study involved 50 adults who received 300 milligrams of ashwagandha root extract or placebo for an 8-week period. Researchers concluded that ashwagandha treatment was able to boost memory and other cognitive skills. (14)
- When supplementing with ashwagandha, Dr. Axe recommends starting with 300 to 500 milligrams per day, with withanolides in a range of 5-10 percent, then increasing your dosage to between 1,000 and 1,500 milligrams per day.