Ashwagandha actually derives its name from Sanskrit, literally meaning “the smell of a horse.” The herb gets its equine connotations because it purportedly smells like horse sweat, but it also has the ability to provide vitality and strength to the body.
Ashwagandha is a powerful herb that has been used for thousands of years, primarily in Ayurvedic medicine. Also known as Indian ginseng, ashwagandha is a member of the nightshade family. It is shrub that produces yellow flowers and small red fruit, and while both have natural health benefits, it is the shrub’s root that has proven to be the most beneficial, especially for optimizing your adrenal and thyroid health.
Ashwagandha has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and adaptogenic properties and is used to treat a number of conditions, including:
- hormone imbalances
- inflammation of the joints
- nerve conditions
- stomach ulcers
- skin infections
Because ashwagandha is an adaptogen, it works with the body to alter the way you respond to environmental, physical, and mental stressors, including pollutants and toxins in the air we breathe, as well as stress surrounding money, work, and relationships – all of which can lead to sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression.
Ashwagandha can reduce symptoms of stress by working to lower cortisol levels and mimicking the neurotransmitter GABA, which, in turn, lowers stress and anxiety levels.
Some of the many other reported benefits of ashwagandha include:
- Enhanced libido
- Elevated cortisol
- Lowered cholesterol
- Reduced anxiety
- Reduced depression
- Increased concentration and memory
- Improved endurance
Additionally, ashwagandha is used to strengthen the immune system after illness, surgery and in chemotherapy patients. Research indicates the herb also has anti-cancer properties, and has been reported to limit the growth of tumors and cancer cells. It also has been connected to a reduction of brain cell degeneration and improved memory and reaction times. In addition, ashwagandha is often recommend to help strengthen the immune system after surgery and illness.
Where ashwagandha might have the biggest impact, though, is on your adrenal glands.
The adrenals are your body’s primary stress reducers and often determine whether you should go into “fight or flight” mode, or whether it’s time to “rest and digest.” Depending on the response, the adrenal glands release adrenaline or cortisol to help your body cope with whatever stress it is facing.
Overworked adrenals can result in adrenal fatigue, which cause hormone levels in your body to become imbalanced. This can have a number of adverse effects, including lowered immunity, lowered libido, brain fog, allergies, weight gain, and insomnia.
Ashwagandha is an excellent option when looking to bring balance to the body. It is known to be a natural mood stabilizer and contributes to healing adrenal fatigue.
As an adaptogen, Ashwagandha adapts to what the body needs. If you are overworked, stressed out, and revved up, ashwagandha works to the calm the body. Conversely, if you are feeling sluggish and mentally unfocused, ashwagandha works to give the body a boost. This occurs because ashwagandha recognizes the onset of adrenal fatigue and regulates or prevents the loss of cortisol, thus giving you more energy when you need it.
Quite often, people with thyroid issues do not respond well to thyroid medication; very often this stems from a problem actually originating within the adrenals. Adrenal fatigue impacts the whole body, including the thyroid, this presents itself in one of two ways – hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid overproduces hormones called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Symptoms of an overactive thyroid range from hair loss, rapid heartbeat, and skin irritation, to moodiness and lethargy.
Conversely, hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough T3 and T4. Symptoms of an underactive thyroid include sudden weight gain, slow heartbeat, sensitivity to cold, depression, fatigue, and dry skin.
Regardless of which one you may suffer from, ashwagandha is thought to offer relief. In a study, those suffering from Graves’ and Hashimoto’s disease saw improvement in their health after taking ashwagandha. The herb improved both thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and T4 levels in people with hypothyroidism, especially.
The body cannot function properly if it is in a constant state of “fight or flight.” Yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques like deep breathing, massage, aroma- or hydrotherapy can all help relieve stress, calm the nervous system, and ensure the adrenals are working properly. As a result, the thyroid will stay in balance, as well. Coupled with eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and practicing one of the aforementioned relaxation techniques, adding a daily dose of ashwagandha to your diet will keep the adrenals and the thyroid healthy as well.
Ashwagandha is a proven natural alternative to several pharmacological drugs, only without several of the side effects, such as drowsiness or trouble focusing. Instead, ashwagandha contributes to improved wellbeing by regulating hormones and stimulating the body in a healthful way. It can be taken in supplement form or in powder form and is often combined with warm milk, honey, or ghee.