Old Remedy, New Use

Ashwagandha, a traditional Ayurvedic herb, is now an adrenal fatigue antidote.

October 2014

by Lisa James


Like the system of medicine that developed in neighboring China, India’s Ayurveda is based on the idea that the human body hums with an unseen energy and that disease occurs when this energy is blocked. Both healing traditions not only rely, in part, on herbal remedies to counteract the effects of such blockages but agree that some herbs occupy places of distinction due to their wide range of benefits.

Ashwagandha is one of the plants so honored in Ayurveda. Known to science as Withania somnifera, it is used in Ayurveda as a rasayana, a tonic that promotes youthfulness and overall well-being. Its energy is considered to be warming in nature, suitable for age-related debilitation as well as anxiety, insomnia and memory loss.

Nowadays, the energy that preoccupies many people is personal energy—as in how to find more of it. Poor adrenal function helps explain some of this prevalent fatigue; fortunately, ashwagandha can help.

Tired Glands

The body has two adrenal glands, one on top of each kidney. Among their functions is responding to fight-or-flight situations. For example, if a truck suddenly swerves into your lane on the highway, the adrenal glands will release hormones that help you react quickly to the threat. Once you’ve taken evasive action, the body eventually resets to its normal state.

Most sources of stress, however, are not as straightforward as a runaway truck. Poor diet, inadequate exercise, short sleep and persistent worry all lead to constant low-level stress, which means your body never hits the reset button. When you add in the effects of an illness or a life crisis—the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or a relationship—the adrenal glands may no longer respond as they should. The result is fatigue unrelieved by rest, cravings for sweet and salty foods, and feeling generally overwhelmed.

Natural Recharge

Modern herbalists consider ashwagandha to be an adaptogen, an herb that helps the body adapt to physical and mental stress. It is used to provide “adrenal and immune support, for increasing resistance to environmental stressors and as a general tonic,” says Tori Hudson, ND, of the Institute of Women’s Health and Integrative Medicine in Portland, Oregon.

Sensoril is an ashwagandha extract standardized to contain high levels of the herb’s bioactive substances. These compounds include the glycowithanolides, which reduce levels of a key adrenal hormone called cortisol and have been found to act as antioxidants. In one study, 20 healthy men took either Sensoril or a placebo for two weeks; those in the Sensoril group showed sharper thinking skills and nimbler movements (Pharmacognosy Research 1/14).

Other botanicals and nutrients work with ashwagandha to support adrenal health. Various adaptogens—such as amla, rhodiola, Korean and American ginsengs, eleuthero and holy basil—help increase energy while decreasing inflammation. Simag, made from purified Mediterranean seawater, supplies magnesium in a form readily used by the adrenal glands. The amino acids L-tyrosine, L-serine and L-theanine supply the building blocks of adrenal enzymes while promoting calm. And CoQ10, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and betaine help fight harmful free radical activity.

You need fully functional adrenal glands to keep up with your busy life. Ashwagandha and other herbs and nutrients can help your adrenals stay strong.

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