The super herb you need to know: 5 magical benefits of Ashwagandha

We’re currently living in unprecedented times and most of us have had to switch up our routines pretty quickly. Of course, being at home can be great – you might be spending more time with your family or partner, getting time to read that book you’ve always wanted to but never found time for, or perhaps you’re squeezing in a little more ‘you time’. But it can also make us feel stressed, anxious and uncertain as we continue to adapt to this new way of living.

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In fact, Anxiety UK stated that they have seen a 364% increase in calls to their helpline compared to the same period last year. There’s no denying that the current outbreak has caused us to feel unsettled, as it’s changed our lives in a short space of time.

If you’re feeling these emotions, there are lots of things you can do to alleviate them. Exercise, meditation and mindfulness are all great techniques to tap into to help calm a busy mind. However, there are also powerful plants – known as adaptogens – which are extremely beneficial in helping us cope with, and adapt to, daily stressors.

What is an adaptogen?

Adaptogens are herbs that support the body’s natural ability to deal with stress. They are given their name because they help us to adapt to emotional and physical stressors by moderating the release of stress hormones within the body.

Ashwagandha is one such herb, the ‘rockstar’ of adaptogens. As an Ayurvedic practitioner, this is the herb I recommend to nearly all of my patients. It’s been used for centuries in Eastern and Ayurvedic medicine to support the immune system, promote vitality, enhance mood and even boost libido. However, it’s only recently that this adaptogenic tonic has taken the world by storm thanks to celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston, who rave about its benefits.

What is ashwagandha and what does it do?

An adaptogenic herb, Ashwagandha nourishes the adrenal glands and central nervous system. It can, therefore, help to calm and strengthen the nervous system to, in turn, manage stress and help you to relax. Ashwagandha is also believed to have a positive knock-on effect helping to ease chronic, stress-related conditions such as IBS, depression, loss of libido and fatigue.

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Why is ashwagandha having a moment?

Sales of ashwagandha are growing as the pressures of modern life push people to seek out more natural solutions for problems such as sleep, stress and cognitive function. A growing body of evidence is now being collated around this powerful herb with an impressive variety of health benefits.

Here are five of the key health benefits of incorporating Ashwagandha into your routine.

To reduce stress 

In 2018, YouGov conducted the largest known study of stress levels in the UK and found that 74% of Britons felt so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope – feelings that many of us may be experiencing right now.

Whilst it may be difficult pronounce, Ashwagandha is a herb worth remembering, especially if you’re looking for a natural way to support your body and its ability to cope with stress. It strengthens our endocrine and nervous systems, helping to balance the production of cortisol – our stress hormone – from the adrenal glands. Additionally, Ashwagandha helps to balance the nervous system, exchanging feelings of anxiety for feelings of calmness. It acts directly on the trigger of stress by regulating imbalanced cortisol levels and nourishing the adrenal glands. Clinically, it has been well researched in this regard with several studies supporting its effectiveness.

To help naturally relieve symptoms of PMS

For women, it’s particularly useful during the first half of the menstrual cycle as this is when cortisol production occurs more commonly. Ashwagandha can help balance this production, helping to ease anxiety-related conditions.

Chronic stress also leads to a greater production of cortisol, which can downregulate progestogen production, playing havoc with our hormones. Increased cortisol causes our skin glands to produce higher levels of oil which can influence skin breakouts.

I would recommend taking ashwagandha supplements – such as Pukka’s Wholistic Ashwagandha capsules (RRP £14) over the whole month of your cycle, not just in the lead up to your period.

For further information and guidance on supplements to ease symptoms of PMS, visit Nutritionist Resource for professional, tailored dietary support.

To boost your mood

Ashwagandha replicates the effects of GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain that promotes calmness and has been shown to stimulate nerve growth. It can gradually help to reverse the negative effects of stress on the body such as anxiety and depression, making it highly supportive for your mood.

As I’ve mentioned, Ashwagandha helps reduce negative changes during times of emotional and physical stress, so if you’re feeling run down or tired, this is the herb for you.

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To improve sleep quality

When we don’t get enough sleep, we can be groggy, irritable, prone to headaches and find it hard to focus. Being at home more often than usual can provide us with some difficulties when it comes to sleep, with a lack of routine and irregular days putting many of us out of balance. Ashwagandha was principally a restorative herb that helped to improve sleep quality. It can be particularly beneficial for those who tend to feel ‘wired’ with insomnia caused by stress and anxiety. This powerful, adaptogenic herb contains a compound called triethylene glycol, which promotes sleep induction. It also controls the production of stress hormones and allows our body to retain natural sleeping rhythms.

For increased sexual experience

A recent study revealed that a daily dose of Ashwagandha helps to not only boost a woman’s sex drive but also increases the chances of having an orgasm. The medical trial showed that women who took Ashwagandha every day over a month saw significant improvements in achieving sexual arousal. Unlike certain herbal tonics, Ashwagandha can be taken safely with contraceptive pills, which for some women can be a factor associated with low levels of sex drive.

The increased blood flow caused by Ashwagandha and regulated hormones has a positive effect on libido. This sexy herb also helps us to relax, which could explain why it helps women achieve the big O.

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Written by Jo Webber
Jo Webber is Head of Herbal Education at Pukka Herbs.
Written by Jo Webber
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