In case you missed it: we’re living in some fast-paced, hyperconnected, ‘24/7’ times. ‘Ugh, I’m so busy’ is a status symbol. Inbox Zero is the best feeling ever, and we often feel the need to apologize for our delayed replies. It’s no wonder that stress, fatigue, and burnout are increasingly common.
But the almighty wellness world — bless its soul — understands the far-reaching toxic effects of stress on the body. (We see you, brain damage, genetic expression, inflammation and lowered immunity.) And it now seems that adaptogens are the holistic, and historic, antidote to our current stress epidemic.
Adaptogens are herbs that protect the body from the toxicity of stress by bringing it back into homeostasis. At the top of the class for its medicinal superpowers (and cool enough to be in Gwyneth’s morning smoothie) is Ashwagandha.
A mouthful for good reason, ashwagandha has a loaded job. This adaptogenic overachiever positively effects almost every system in the body. And while it’s very of-the-moment, ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to boost the immune system, soothe and enhance the nervous system, and promote longevity and vitality.
Its list of superpowers goes on (see again: overachiever), but we’ll dig into a few of ashwagandha’s most notable benefits below.
Nature's Chill Pill Plant
Stressed AF? There’s an adaptogen for that. One of ashwagandha’s most touted benefits is its ability to create a balanced energy. Dr. Frank Lipman relates its adaptogenic capabilities to that of a thermostat: “When the thermostat senses that the room temperature is too high it brings it down; when the temperature is too low it brings it up.” Ashwagandha recognizes when the body is in a state of stress and brings it into balance by reducing cortisol (a hormone responsible for controlling stress and optimizing metabolic function) and balancing glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. As a result, many of those gnarly side effects of chronic stress — insomnia, anxiety, chronic fatigue, etc. — subside.
Another major perk of ashwagandha’s ability to support and enhance the nervous system is amped up, clearer brain power. As it normalizes imbalances in the body, ashwagandha can simultaneously calm the nerves and boost energy. By allowing your body to utilize oxygen more efficiently, it enhances all aspects of cognitive function, including focus, concentration and memory.
Under conditions of chronic stress our bodies break down because our immune systems are compromised. (If you’ve come down with a cold or flu during a high-stress period, you know there’s no amount of vitamin C or echinacea to lessen the blow of a taxed immune system.) It’s no surprise, then, that when ashwagandha swoops in and saves the day on the stress front, it’s also doing double duty to boost your immunity. When you nix chronic stress, your strengthened immune system does its protective duties a whole lot better.
Amped Up Girl Power
Stress plays a major role in regulating the sensitive reproductive hormones that impact fertility, libido and healthy menstruation. Ashwagandha’s role in stress reduction is closely tied to its support and enhancement of women’s reproductive health. Mineral-dense ashwagandha enhances communication within the complex endocrine system — strengthening the adrenal glands, reducing cortisol, and increasing the production of blood. The increased blood flow and regulated hormones have a positive effect on libido and menstrual health and can also aid in fertility.
Stress = The Worst
The moral of the story, it turns out, is something we’ve kind of known all along: stress is the ultimate bad guy in your health story. The light at the end of the tunnel? Ashwagandha’s all-star, stress-combating, super powers. This herb is the ultimate win in helping us fight the good fight against stress and the many ways it wreaks havoc on our bodies.
*Note that ashwagandha (and all adaptogens) harmonize our bodies with regular use over time — so while their powers are potent, they must be used regularly. Because, hashtag balance.