A short history of the antioxidant extraordinaire: Ashwagandha
This evergreen shrub is indigenous to rural India and is, unsurprisingly, a crown jewel of its medical tradition. The Ayurvedic medicinal herb has been tried and tested since 6,000 BC in the region. It has garnered recent interest in mainstream western medicine for its healing properties and has undergone clinical trials to test its acclaimed benefits ranging from anti-carcinogenic to anti-anxiety.
The oldest mention of Ashwagandha is found in the Rigveda, an 8,000-year-old collection of Indian hymns written in Sanskrit. Its documented use on Hindu sages and esteemed kings holds an impressive precedent. After all, Rishi himself was devoted to the plant. These days, extracts can be found from health food stores and farmers’ markets to doctor’s surgeries and homeopathic healers. But how much of its healing properties are merely hearsay and how many have been clinically and conclusively trialled? Let’s take a look.
Etymology of Ashwagandha
The word Ashwagandha comes from the Sanskrit ‘smell of horse (with ashwa meaning horse and gandha meaning odour). It was dubbed as such with the notion that the root gives one who consumes it the virility, strength and agility of a horse. We prefer that interpretation to the references to its funky smell anyway! The Latin samnifera translates as ‘sleep-inducing’ which is a slightly more palatable etymological tradition.
From Plant, to Person.
The root was traditionally classified in Indian medicine as Rasayana, an ingestible compound that helps lead to a long life. Modern Western medicine rethinks this classification slightly, labeling the root an adaptogen, a title reserved in the scientific community to a natural substance that is considered to help the body adapt to stress.
But how? Ashwagandha possesses the direct ability to lessen the intensity of the stress hormone cortisol. As such, it can help reduce anxiety and improve mood. Ayurvedic medicine (that’s the medical school of thought dominant in India that focuses on the healing properties of herbs, organic oils, spices, and other plants) considers Ashwaganndha as Bhalya and Vajikara, meaning it works to promote strength and as an aphrodisiac.
But how can this humble root be the source of so much goodness for the human body?
Well, inside plants are a variety of special compounds called phytochemicals. Phytochemicals exist in plants to help them survive. Some help fight contaminated soil and heal from plant diseases, others help the plant emit a scent or colour that deters insects from eating it and others just help it grow. When the function of one of these phytochemicals performs the same when ingested in the human body, the plant suddenly becomes a functional medical treatment. Ashwagandha powder contains an unusually high number of phytochemicals that trigger beneficial system responses in the human body. Let’s take a look at a few...
It’s not hearsay- it’s science!
A special focus on the phytochemical compounds found in the root called Steroidal Lactones helps us understand how it fulfilled its acclaimed benefit of reduces stress. It’s this compound that specifically tackles cortisol spikes. How far can this claim be proven? A 2008 study of nearly 100 chronically stressed participants set out to tackle whether claimed benefits to mental health were placebo or purely anecdotal. After 60 days, the control group who took the highest dose of 500mg Ashwagandha tablets saw their stress levels drop by a mighty 29 pounds on a modified Hamilton anxiety scale.
Researchers noticed not just a mental shift in the particepants, but a biological one too. Let’s deep dive. If your antioxidant defence systems are worn down, levels of free radicals can get out of hand. This, in turn, triggers the body’s immune response as you’re body thinks the high number of free radicals means cell damage. Mistaking the free radical spike as a pathogen, the body responds by triggering an inflammation within the body.
The inflammation inside the body will increase depending on where the concentration of oxygen consumption is- and where is there more oxygen consumption than anywhere else? The brain! Even a minor imbalance of antioxidant defence systems can lead to cell damage. Within the brain itself, the lymbic system, which is respnsible for controlling symptoms of depression and anxiety is the most sensitive to this imbalance of free radicals and thus prone to inflammation. It is understood that inflammation in this region is linked to low levels of continued depression and axiety. Lessening this neuroinflimmation therefore has a direct correlation to leveling out mood. Enter: Ashwagandha!
Want more proof? C-Reactive protein is created during an inflammatory response. Doctors even look for it in the body when trying to detect infection or allergy. This protein is also detected in abundance when a person is experiencing immense distress. In the same aforementioned clinical trial, of the 98 particepants, C-Reactive protein levels were down by a third. This means that ashwagandha effectively lessens neuroinflimmation which we now understand to be an indicator of stress.
Decreased stress levels have ripple effects. Lower blood pressure, heart rate and increased social functioning and motivation are linked to stable cortisol production. So, wildcrafted Ashwagandha effectively helps manage a massive array of ailments, both psychological, and physical.
Can I use Ashwagandha to get ripped?
Its benefits have even been hailed by the bodybuilding community who claim that the root help promote healthy levels of testosterone, which in turn builds physical strength. In 2015, a study published in the International Society of Sports Nutrition took on the claim that Ashwagandha boosts strength. The study took 57 men who had never trained before and put them through a rigorous exercise regime. Half took 300mg twice daily and the rest took a placebo. After 8 weeks, muscle size, testosterone levels and strength were tested. It was found that the Ahwagandha group forged ahead, able to lift nearly twice as much weight on a bench press max. Surprise surprise, it’s all to do with the reduction in cortisol and C-Reactive protein! SRP is associated with losses in muscle strength and it even reduces the activation of muscles which break down muscles.
There is much more research to be done on the topic, however, the tight control groups and scientific research on the topic proves to show that there is serious value in the historic Ayurvedic tradition of Ashwagandha healing. Whether you’re struggling with a panic disorder, insomnia, or mood instability, or just looking for a healthy little exercise boost, Ashwagandha is the supplement for you. This by no means suggests substituting prescribed medicine for the little wonder shrub, but if considering whether to add it to your daily routine, we don’t see why not.
Ashwa Gummies. Chewables are made from the “world’s best Ashwagandha”—the KSM-66 Ashwagandha—that’s clinically proven to maintain normal cortisol levels, promote a healthy response to everyday stress, enhance memory and cognition, improve sleep, and a lot more. Check our collections for GMO-free, gluten-free and vegan plant-based gummies.
These can contain Organic tapioca syrup, organic cane sugar, water, pectin, natural flavors, malic acid, citric acid, sodium citrate, organic fruit and vegetable juice (color), organic sunflower lecithin.
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