Ashwagandha has long been a hero ingredient in Ayurvedic practises, but you may be wondering if it’s actually worth the hype it’s being getting in recent years. Research shows there are a number of reasons to add this plant to your diet – from lifting mood to getting a good night’s sleep, here’s our take on this powerhouse herb.
Ashwagandha, also known as Indian Ginseng, has been hailed as a nourishing herb for millennia in the alternative medicine practise of ayurveda. But it’s not just recognised as an alternative treatment; research shows a number of impressive and promising benefits this herb may have for mental and physical health. You can consume this stuff in its powdered form or as an extract or tablet – either way, let’s dig into a few reasons why you’ll want to.
It may improve cognition
Whether you’re one to fall victim to the dreaded 3 o’clock slump or you're a notorious procrastinator, ashwagandha is shaping up to be a promising treatment. While the research is ongoing, what we do know is that some researchers found it improved cognitive function in those with mild cognitive impairment. The research shows it may even help those struggling with executive dysfunction, poor attention and impaired cognition. One study found that those who took ashwagandha extract each day experienced an improvement in attention and memory function, along with an increased processing speed. Ashwagandha also contains a good dose of antioxidants, which are known to boost cognition and mental clarity, along with fighting inflammation.
It’s a natural stress buster
This is probably the reason for ashwagandha’s recent rise in popularity – and research shows it might be for good reason. This plant is known for its stress-reducing properties, in fact, it’s believed to be an adaptogen. An adaptogen is something that aids the body’s ability to manage stress, and ashwagandha in particular has been shown to significantly lower markers of stress, along with reducing activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis – this axis is a part of our stress regulation function which affects everything from our immunity to our metabolism and nervous system responses. Hyperactivity of this axis has been consistently found to play a massive role in disorders like anxiety and depression, so adaptogens like ashwagandha may help reduce the severity of such conditions or lower our risk for developing them in the first place as they combat this dangerous hyperactivity. One study found that those who took ashwagandha supplements for just 8 weeks found lower cortisol levels – a stress hormone – along with a reduction in symptoms of stress. The study even found that the supplement increased their sleep quality, and this is a big win for anxious sleepers who have the worst of both worlds – a difficulty falling asleep due to stress, yet greater daily stress as a result of poor sleep. It’s worth noting that more research is needed to solidify the efficacy off ashwagandha, but the research indicates some promising potential for those struggling with chronic stress and other mental health conditions.
It's a natural sleep aid
As we mentioned above, poor sleep and anxiety are closely linked with many locked in a vicious cycle of restless sleep and increased stress as a result. Ashwagandha may provide some interesting relief for struggling sleepers, with one study finding that just 600 grams of ashwagandha per day was enough to improve sleep quality and have positive knock-on effects for productivity and mental clarity the following day. Let’s take a look at a few of the must-haves for quality sleep:
- No disruptions: With many people balancing work commitments with family life and noisy neighbours, it can be hard to get a full, undisturbed sleep. But the results are anything from higher stress levels to fatigue, increased risk for disease and mental illness. For some, sleep disorders like sleep apnoea or snoring may be the culprit for disrupted sleep.
- Limited wakefulness: It’s recommended that we’re awake for less than 20 minutes from the time we fall asleep to the time we wake up, and we should be sleeping 85% of the time we’re in bed – this is known as sleep efficiency.
- It’s also important to sleep in a cool, dark environment as elevated temperatures can decrease sleep quality, while lights can also have drastic consequences on our health.
Research found that by lowering anxiety and stress levels, ashwagandha improved people’s sleep quality as well, with findings showing that even those with severe conditions like insomnia benefited from taking a dose of the plant after just 2 months.
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