If there’s been one thing everyone’s had in common during 2020, it’s stress. Whether it’s fears for your health, job concerns, worries about loved ones, or something else entirely, increased stress seems to be the common thread in everyone’s lives at the moment.
I live in Brooklyn, where we can take a lot of stress. Before COVID19, we already had cars backfiring any time of the day or night, neighbors in the apartment next door making noise at all hours, rent, rats, the subway, and everything else to contend with. I used to think I was pretty good at handling the strain, but when the global pandemic descended, it was getting to be a lot to manage. So when a friend of mine mentioned that her doctor had suggested she try taking ashwagandha to help her cope with stress, I was fascinated.
What is that? Where does it come from? Did she say what it does? Do you think that it works?
I bombarded my friend with questions about the properties of ashwagandha, hoping for some second hand free medical advice. And after hearing nothing but positive reviews, I decided to try it out for myself.
What is ashwagandha?
The first thing you have to know is that while it may be everywhere today, ashwagandha isn’t some health craze – people have been taking it as part of traditional Ayurvedic medicine for roughly 3,000 years. Ashwagandha, or Withania Somnifera, is a plant that’s a part of the nightshade family, like tomatoes, peppers, and petunias, as well as toxic datura and belladonna. Also known as winter cherry, ashwagandha is found in the Mediterranean, Africa, and of course India, where its medicinal use was first discovered.
What does it do?
In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is considered to be a Rasayana, or a nerve tonic. It’s an adaptogen, meaning it calms the nervous system, and helps your body handle stress. It’s also supposed to increase stamina, cognition, and focus. Supposedly Alexander the Great drank it dissolved in wine with his army to stay steady before a battle and keep their energy up.
In animal studies, ashwagandha has been shown to increase the stamina of rats in swimming contests, fight tumors in hamsters, and ward off stress-induced ulcers overall. In people, it’s been shown to reduce stress, improve memory and cognition, and is considered useful in the fight against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s. It improves sleep quality and might even be a promising anti-cancer agent. A 2008 clinical study showed that drinking whole milk with ashwagandha increased the production of white blood cells, which boost the body’s immune system.
In addition to all this, ashwagandha is perhaps best known for its effects on anxiety and depression. In a recent study, participants with chronic stress who took ashwagandha regularly instead of placebo showed a 28% reduction in cortisol or the body’s stress hormone. Ashwagandha is also sometimes prescribed to help with agoraphobia, or the fear of being out in open, crowded spaces – a very understandable fear in the era of the coronavirus.
How do you take it?
After reading about all these benefits, I was eager to try it myself, and so I ordered a bottle of ashwagandha capsules online. While you can get different adaptogenic blends that contain vitamins D, B, zinc, L-theanine, and more, I opted for pure ashwagandha capsules, figuring that would be the best way to see if it really worked for me.
Taking ashwagandha capsules is essentially swallowing a clear-coated pill made of ground-up plant roots. It’s the least exciting, but easiest way, to get your daily dose. I also discovered various moon milk recipes that piqued my curiosity. Moon milk combines turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and ashwagandha all together to make a soothing nighttime beverage. It sounded intriguing, but I was worried about being able to make it consistently, and I didn’t want to miss a day.
How much do you take?
Does it have any side effects?
Some people report that ashwagandha makes them slightly sleepy, or even a little dizzy, with an irregular heartbeat. Other studies have reported that it’s generally well-tolerated, with few side effects, but that some more research may be necessary for the long term. And of course, you should always talk to a doctor before adding a new supplement into your routine, especially if you may be pregnant or if you have any allergies, sensitivities, or conditions.
What does it taste like?
Ashwagandha takes its name from Sanskrit for “the smell of a horse.” While part of that name comes from the equine stamina that it promotes, part of it comes from the herb’s distinctive musky smell. Even in coated capsule form, you can catch a hint of the strong, woody, almost mushroom-y flavor of the herb. Before combining it in Moon milk or another drink, you may want to try investing in a small amount of ashwagandha powder, to see if you like the taste.
What were the results?
After four weeks of taking ashwagandha, I can’t say that I’m the pinnacle of easy-going bliss, but I can definitely say that it’s helped me manage my stress levels. I haven’t noticed any unwanted side effects, and for me, the benefits far outweigh any concerns. It’s been an easy way to help lower stress, get healthier sleep, boost my immune system, and feel a little bit better overall during the day.
While you should always talk to a doctor about your health, if you’re looking for an all-natural way to help manage your stress during these challenging times, you could do a lot worse than considering ashwagandha, the 3,000-year-old herbal remedy that’s making a comeback.