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5 Things You Didn't Know About Ashwagandha Root

You don’t need to be able to pronounce Ashwagandha to include Ashwagandha in your diet for its health benefits. People in India have used this root in traditional medicine for thousands of year. (1)

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which means that it helps your body cope with stress. In a world where people praise you for productivity and scorn you for taking time to rest, it’s difficult to schedule time to unwind. Long working hours and not enough downtime has led to America becoming one of the most overworked and stressed nations in the developed world. (2)

Your diet makes a big difference in how your body handles stress. If you minimize processed foods from your diet and prioritize natural foods that are high in antioxidants and other micronutrients, you give your body the raw material that it needs to handle stress.

Your first priority may be to eat a healthy diet, but once you get the basics of your nutrition down, you may want to consider adding adaptogen supplements like Ashwagandha to your diet.

Here are five reasons why adding Ashwagandha can benefit you.

1. Ashwagandha Reduces Your Stress Hormone Cortisol

Your adrenal glands secrete the hormone called cortisol in response to both physical and mental stress. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for your fight or flight instincts that helped prehistoric people escape from threats like being chased by wild animals. Unfortunately, these days, cortisol usually does people more harm than good.

When cortisol levels stay elevated chronically, it can lead to health complications such as anxiety, depression, weight gain, trouble sleeping, headaches, and digestive problems. (3)

Modern research on Ashwagandha supports that it can help decrease cortisol levels in people who are stressed.

A double-blind study published in Medicine in 2008 examined the effect of Ashwagandha extract on people with chronic stress. (4) The researchers gave participants either 125mg, 250mg, or 500mg per day.

After 60 days, cortisol levels decreased by 14.5% in participants given 125mg/day, 24.2% in participants given 250mg/day, and 30.5% in participants who took 500mg/day.

2. Ashwagandha May Boost Testosterone in Men and Women

You probably know testosterone is the hormone that gives men their masculine traits like large amounts of muscle and body hair. However, women need testosterone, too. Testosterone has the same general effects in women as men including increasing muscle, sex drive, and bone density.

Men produce testosterone in their testes and women produce a small amount of testosterone in their ovaries. Stress causes your cortisol levels to rise. When cortisol is high, testosterone levels depress.

Side Effects of low testosterone include the following: (5)

  • Fatigue
  • Increased body fat
  • Decreased muscle
  • Decreased bone density
  • Low libido
  • Hair loss
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability

Many testosterone boosting supplements include Ashwagandha in their formulas because of its stress-relieving benefits. If cortisol levels go down, testosterone levels should increase.

Is there any research to support Ashwagandha’s testosterone boosting effects? The research that has been published so far looks promising. 

One study published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition looked at the effect of Ashwagandha versus a placebo in untrained men. (6)

The researchers found that over the eight-week study, the men who took Ashwagandha had significantly higher levels of testosterone compared to the placebo group. They also increased their bench press by about 20kg more than the men who didn’t take Ashwagandha.

3. Ashwagandha May Improve Your Insulin Sensitivity

Cortisol’s primary function is to make sure you have energy available to escape an existential threat. How does it do this? By breaking down stored energy in your body in the form of protein, fat, and sugar. If your cortisol remains chronically high, so does your blood sugar.

When your blood sugar remains elevated, your body produces more insulin to clear the sugar from your blood. If insulin levels remain chronically high, your body can develop insulin resistance and type II diabetes. (7)

Ashwagandha consumption may reduce your risk of developing diabetes by reducing your cortisol and insulin levels.

A study performed in 2013 examined the effect of Ashwagandha on the blood sugar levels of 25 subjects with metabolic syndrome (a group of health problems including chronically high blood sugar and high amounts of abdominal fat). (8) The study found that 400mg of Ashwagandha taken three times per day decreased blood glucose by 13%.


4. Ashwagandha May Improve Your Immune System

It’s no secret that when you’re stressed your immune system becomes compromised. You might have even experienced it yourself. You’re grinding at work, life at home is hectic, you’re only sleeping four hours a night, and you wake up one morning with a sore throat and dripping nose.

Your body has a limited amount of energy. When you’re chronically stressed, your body isn’t able to rebuild cells that protect your body.

The adaptogen benefits of Ashwagandha may also keep you fromgetting sick. Ashwagandha is thought to increase your immune system by enhancing the activity of natural killer cells. Natural killer cells are white blood cells that search and destroy viruses.

More research needs to be performed to confirm the effects of Ashwagandha on natural killer cells. However, early research looks promising.A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine looked at the effect of two daily dosages of Ashwagandha over 96 hours. (9) The researchers found a significant improvement in participants’ natural killer cell activity at the end of the study.




5. Taking Ashwagandha May Improve Your Mood

Everybody has felt anxious at some point in their lives. However, some people become anxious easier than others.

If you’re prone to anxiety, taking an Ashwagandha supplement may help you relax. A 2012 study found that when people with chronic stress took 300mg of Ashwagandha extract daily for 60 days, they had reduced stress, anxiety, and a 27.9% drop in their cortisol. (10)

In another double-blind placebo study, researchers gave patients with generalized anxiety disorder 250mg of Ashwagandha twice per day. (11) The group given Ashwagandha had significantly improved symptoms of anxiety compared to the placebo group.


Quick Disclaimer

Ashwagandha has research to support it as a stress-reliever. However, what works for somebody else might not work for you. This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. Readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither the author(s) nor the publisher of this content take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All readers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

Sources

1. Singh N, Bhalla M, De jager P, Gilca M. An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011;8(5 Suppl):208-13.


2. Long working hours and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data for 603 838 individuals. NeuroImage. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673615602951. Published August 19, 2015. Accessed March 5, 2019.


3. Chronic stress puts your health at risk. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037. Published April 21, 2016. Accessed March 5, 2019.


4. Deshpande A, Irani N, Balakrishnan R. Study protocol and rationale for a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on nonrestorative sleep. Medicine. 2018;97(26). doi:10.1097/md.0000000000011299.

5. Fletcher J. Low testosterone: 12 signs and symptoms. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322647.php. Accessed March 5, 2019.

6. Wankhede S, Langade D, Joshi K, Sinha SR, Bhattacharyya S. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12:43.

7. Joseph JJ, Golden SH. Cortisol dysregulation: the bidirectional link between stress, depression, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2017;1391(1):20-34.

8. Agnihotri AP, Sontakke SD, Thawani VR, Saoji A, Goswami VS. Effects of Withania somnifera in patients of schizophrenia: a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled pilot trial study. Indian J Pharmacol. 2013;45(4):417-8.

9. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255-62.

10. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255-62.

11. Andrade C, Aswath A, Chaturvedi SK, Srinivasa M, Raguram R. A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy ff an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera. Indian J Psychiatry. 2000;42(3):295-30

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