Dr. Mulvihill shared more with Health Matters on what to know about ashwagandha.
What is ashwagandha?
Dr. Mulvihill: Ashwagandha is a plant native to Asia and Africa. It’s also commonly known as Indian ginseng.
The leaves, berries, and roots have different active ingredients. The root is what is traditionally used for medicine, ground up in a powder that can be consumed.
“Ashwa” comes from the word “horse” in Sanskrit. Some people say the name “ashwagandha” comes from the root’s smelling like a horse, and others say it’s because it gives you the stamina of the animal.
What does ashwagandha do to the body?
We have two nervous systems in our body, and within them there’s the somatic and the autonomic. The somatic nervous system is under our conscious control, allowing us to do things like walk, talk, and write. The autonomic nervous system controls unconscious processes, and has two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic system is known as the fight-or-flight response, whereas the parasympathetic system helps us to “rest-and-digest.”
Our fight-or-flight response evolved to help us either fight or flee from predators. Nowadays, however, our bodies are responding to sirens in the street, or an email from your boss, as if they were physical threats.
When chronically activated, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of stress hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. This abnormal release of stress hormones has many negative effects in our body over time, including increased inflammation and disruptions of our digestion and metabolism.
Ashwagandha seems to counteract our sympathetic nervous system and decrease the excessive release of stress hormones, helping our bodies to cope with stress and come back into balance.
Cortisol has a circadian rhythm, tending to go up in the early morning and decrease throughout the day. There’s research that shows that ashwagandha can help reset your circadian rhythm, getting you into a good sleep pattern, and slowly, over the course of weeks to months, rejuvenating your body.
What are the benefits of ashwagandha?
Research supports that ashwagandha can help:
- Improve sleep
- Reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue
- Enhance cognition and focus
Who should take it?
I usually recommend ashwagandha to patients who are tired and wired. They may be struggling to cope with physical and mental stress, leading to anxiety and poor sleep, which over time can lead to a feeling of burnout and chronic fatigue.
Every person is different, so it’s best to get guidance from a physician or clinician familiar with supplements and herbs.