Ashwagandha Can Help Treat Anxiety And Depression
Taken daily, ashwagandha can lower cortisol levels by 28% and mitigate chronic stress, which is a key driver of anxiety and depression. It also curbs calcium excitation, a probable cause of many psychiatric conditions, like anxiety. It trumps standard anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs as it stabilizes mood, relieves insomnia, and revitalizes the body sans side effects or withdrawal symptoms.
The blues, the mopes, the doldrums, call it what you will, but you can’t deny you’ve been through all these at least once in your life. Maybe because of some untoward event, or stress, or for no reason at all, you had trouble falling asleep, lost your appetite, lost the ability to concentrate, and found it difficult to carry out daily chores. It might even have been accompanied by a strange sense of guilt. Perhaps even the thought of suicide crossed your mind. You felt disconnected from life and the world around you.
Well, that’s all right for a few days, but if you experience any four of these symptoms in severity any more than two weeks, medical science would diagnose depression. It’s not merely a long period of moodiness; it’s a syndrome that affects your mental and social well-being and your physical health, particularly, your heart.1
What’s alarming is that nobody’s immune from it. In fact, WHO predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of world disability (WHO, 2001) and by 2030, it is expected to be the largest contributor to disease burden (WHO, 2008).2 What’s even more alarming is that across the world, almost 1 million people, of all ages, succumb to depression-induced suicide.
Anxiety disorder, which may occur with depression, is easier to detect because of visible symptoms such as dry mouth, sweating, increased heart rate, butterflies in the stomach, and panic attacks. But that doesn’t make it any less worrisome. Anxiety too is a major cause of suicides.3
There’s cure, and there are support groups, helplines, and mobile apps to help you fight these symptoms. But thanks to the social stigma around depression and anxiety, or any kind of mental disorder for that matter, you, as a patient, might often be unwilling to acknowledge the severity of your condition or seek proper medical care. And even if you did visit a doctor and went on prescribed antidepressants, you’d always be fearful of the adverse side effects.
This is where Ayurveda helps.
Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera or Indian ginseng, as it is commonly known, is a herb that’s useful in its entirety. Ayurvedic practitioners have been using this super herb as a rasayana for centuries, which means that this is a substance that promotes physical and mental health, rejuvenates the body from debilitated conditions, and increases longevity. Since it has a wide range of activities, it is used to treat almost all disorders that affect human health.4
Moreover, a study reviewing the pharmacological basis of the use of ashwagandha finds it indispensable in treating various central nervous system (CNS) disorders, particularly epilepsy, stress, and neurodegenerative diseases.5
Life is challenging. And you can’t hide from day-to-day stress. But when internal stress factors like anxiety or insomnia or external ones like environmental toxins keep plaguing you for a long period of time, leading to chronic stress, cortisol (stress hormone) levels rise in your body. And there’s a simultaneous drop in the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. When this carries on for a long time, you are rendered vulnerable to depression.
Ayurveda recommends ashwagandha as a remedy since it is a natural adaptogen, which means that it can modulate your response to stress or a changing environment and help your body cope with both external and internal stressors. And this has been proven by research and clinical trials.
In one study, test subjects complaining of mental stress, were given high-concentration, full-spectrum ashwagandha roots for 60 days. It made the baseline cortisol levels of this group come down by almost 28 percent. Also, it mitigated not only the focal aspects of stress but also some of the precursors, consequences, and associated symptoms of stress.6 In a study performed with acute models of experimental stress, it was found that two components in this herb—sitoindosides and acylsterylglucosides—showed significant anti-stress activity.7
For Depression And Anxiety
Common sense would say that meeting up with friends, participating in group activities, or simply stepping onto a dance floor can lift your mood and alleviate your dullness for some time at least. But if you are suffering from depression or anxiety, it’s a mammoth task to fight your social isolation and step back into life. And this, in turn, just aggravates your blues. On the other hand, social isolation might be the cause that led you to anxiety and depression in the first place.
A study on rats suffering from social isolation–induced anxiety proved that ashwagandha root extract serves as a mood stabilizer and has antixyolitic (anti-anxiety) effects.8
In one study, rats were tested for five days with a certain dosage of bioactive glycowithanolides (WSG), isolated from ashwagandha roots, to check ashwagandha’s effect on anxiety and depression. It turned out that WSG produced an effect similar to that produced by benzodiazepine lorazepam, a standard drug to treat anxiety, as well as tricyclic imipramine, a standard antidepressant. The study also indicated that ashwagandha is a powerful mood stabilizer.
When a study tested the effects of an ethanolic extract of the herb on human subjects with anxiety disorders, the results suggested that this experimental drug was well tolerated, with little adverse side effect. Even when the patients were taken off this abruptly at the end of the test period, none of them reported withdrawal symptoms.9
In yet another study, patients with mild to severe anxiety were given a naturopathic treatment that included ashwagandha, a multivitamin, dietary counseling, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. This seemed to have greater effect than standardized psychotherapy.10
Are you still wondering what gives ashwagandha the edge over standard antidepressants?
For Calcium Excitation
Scientists have been researching the potential role calcium excitation of the nerves plays in various psychiatric conditions, including anxiety. It stands to reason that inhibiting calcium excitation would have an antixiolytic effect. A study on the role of an ashwagandha extract on central nervous system calcium antagonism sheds light on a potential antixiolytic mechanism of action. It shows that ashwagandha extract supplementation resulted in extracellular calcium antagonism in neurons, thereby counteracting excitation.11
What makes it really difficult for you to cope with anxiety or depression is that these block some of your body’s natural coping mechanisms. A good night’s sleep is a great stress reliever, but the insomnia accompanying depression or anxiety only manages to further stoke depressive symptoms. The reverse is true too: insomnia can precede and contribute to depression. Sleeping pills help, but there’s always that nagging question at the back of your mind: Should I?
Research suggests that while ashwagandha can be used therapeutically for insomnia, it isn’t a sedative. It helps the body address a stress-related condition rather than masking it with sedatives. It has a pronounced and positive effect on the nervous system, rejuvenating it and producing energy, which in turn eases stress and helps the body settle and sleep.12
Dosage And Caution
As you plan your diet chart for the day, month, or year, include a daily dose of 3–6 gms of dried ashwagandha roots. Or if you prefer the liquid form, go for a 6–12 ml of a 1:2 extract. It’s bitter, but what’s bitterness to the many benefits ashwagandha gives you?
But go don’t overboard with it. Although it is generally considered safe, excessive consumption could lead to gastrointestinal upset, vomiting, and diarrhea. And this is a no-brainer, but don’t consume it alongside depressants like alcohol and sedatives. Nor should you take in large doses when you’re pregnant. Large dosages may act as an abortifacient drug, inducing miscarriage.13
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Jiang, Wei, Ranga RK Krishnan, and Christopher M. O’Connor. “Depression and heart disease.” CNS drugs 16, no. 2 (2002): 111-127.|
|2.||↑||World Federation for Mental Health. “Depression: A Global Crisis World Mental Health Day, October 10, 2012.” (2012).|
|3.||↑||Sareen, Jitender, Brian J. Cox, Tracie O. Afifi, Ron de Graaf, Gordon JG Asmundson, Margreet ten Have, and Murray B. Stein. “Anxiety disorders and risk for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts: a population-based longitudinal study of adults.” Archives of general psychiatry 62, no. 11 (2005): 1249-1257.|
|4, 5.||↑||Kulkarni, S. K., and Ashish Dhir. “Withania somnifera: an Indian ginseng.” Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology and biological psychiatry 32, no. 5 (2008): 1093-1105.|
|6.||↑||K. Chandrasekhar, Jyoti Kapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty, “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”, Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine 34 (2012): 266-262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022.|
|7.||↑||Singh, Narendra, Mohit Bhalla, Prashanti de Jager, and Marilena Gilca. “An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda.” African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines 8, no. 5S (2011).|
|8.||↑||Gupta, Girdhari Lal, and Avtar Chand Rana. “Protective effect of Withania somnifera dunal root extract against protracted social isolation induced behavior in rats.” Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 51, no. 4 (2007): 345-353.|
|9.||↑||Andrade, Chittaranjan, Anitha Aswath, S. K. Chaturvedi, M. Srinivasa, and R. Raguram. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy of an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera.” Indian journal of psychiatry 42, no. 3 (2000): 295.|
|10.||↑||Cooley, Kieran, Orest Szczurko, Dan Perri, Edward J. Mills, Bob Bernhardt, Qi Zhou, and Dugald Seely. “Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974.”PLoS One 4, no. 8 (2009): e6628.|
|11.||↑||Grunze, Heinz, J. Langosch, C. von Loewenich, and Jörg Walden. “Modulation of neural cell membrane conductance by the herbal anxiolytic and antiepileptic drug aswal.” Neuropsychobiology 42, no. Suppl. 1 (2000): 28-32.|
|12.||↑||Umadevi, M. “Traditional and medicinal uses of Withania somnifera.” The Pharma Innovation 1, no. 9 (2012).|
|13.||↑||Withania somnifera”, Alternative Medicine Review 9, no. 2 (2014): 211|