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Ashwagandha’s benefits for stress, anxiety and immunity

Ashwagandha’s benefits for stress, anxiety and immunity
Ashwagandha’s benefits for stress, anxiety and immunity

THE BASICS

  • Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha are becoming increasingly popular for their ability to mediate a stress response in the body
  • Ashwagandha root acts across all three stages of the stress response: the alarm phase, the resistance state and the exhaustion stage. This dulls the stress response which benefits us because chronic stress harms the body, and in modern society, it’s rare that people are really in danger.
  • In addition to stress management, ashwagandha’s benefits include reducing anxiety, immune support, weight management, neurological support amongst much more.

WHAT IS ASHWAGANDHA?

 

Ashwagandha root is an ayurvedic herb that is transitioning into the mainstream, thanks to its many mind-body benefits. Most notably, ashwagandha has calming properties that help you manage stress and anxiety. A modern-day epidemic, stress has been linked to as many as 90% of illnesses and injuries.[1]

If you have stress in your life, whether it’s noticeable or barely-there, read on to find out how ashwagandha’s benefits can help.

ON STRESS AND ADAPTOGENS

Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb, which is just like it sounds — it helps you adapt in the face of stress. To be an adaptogen:

  • People must tolerate it well, even with long-term use
  • It must act on the body’s stress response
  • There must be a range of other benefits, too — lots of them

Ashwagandha passes the three-pronged adaptogen test with flying colours. We’ll get into the benefits below, but first, you should know what the stress response looks like.

According to Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome model of the human stress response, there are three basic stages once a stressor triggers the response.[2] (There are other models of the stress response, but Selye’s model gives a good overview to help you understand how ashwagandha works on stress.)

THE ALARM STAGE (AKA FIGHT OR FLIGHT)

Your body goes into the alarm stage when you’re being chased by a cheetah, when you slam on your brakes to avoid a crash, or when you have a conflict at work. You can feel your fight-or-flight response engage. You get a burst of stress hormones, including adrenaline, cortisol, epinephrine, and others. That belly jump, that tingle in your limbs — that’s your alarm system sounding.

When all of this is happening, your body suppresses your organs, usually through the vagal pathways, because it’s instead preparing energy resources to mobilise to counteract the stressor. Your heart beats faster, your pupils dilate — all to help you fight off or flee from the perceived enemy.

When the stressor is short-lived, you can recover quickly when it’s over. When you have chronic, low-level stress, you spend time in exhaustion mode, which we’ll get to in a minute.

THE STATE OF RESISTANCE

During the state of resistance, the stressor is no longer there, or at least the threat is no longer there. This is the time when the body tries to get back into balance. The body metabolises and excretes stress hormones that it no longer needs. Think of this as the “coming down” phase. Though your body attempts to recover, it still remains on high alert. You may be irritable or forgetful.

THE EXHAUSTION PHASE

Chances are, you’ve felt exhaustion after intense times. The exhaustion stage of the stress response can happen at the system level — for example, when you’re stressed, your digestive system slows to a halt and you end up with gastric distress a little later on. Or, you’ll feel entirely spent.

When you experience chronic, low-level stress, you end up with chronic fatigue, or you succumb to illness. Emotionally, you may feel hopeless, anxious, or depressed.

Adaptogens act on all three major phases of the stress response. Adaptogens increase your threshold as far as what will trigger the stress response, which helps save the alarm phase for times you actually need it. After the alarm phase, adaptogens work to break down those stress hormones and get them out of the body. They also help with your energy to bring your systems out of exhaustion to keep you functioning as you should.

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REFERENCES

 

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