So, what is the most potent adaptogen? We’ll know about this shortly, but first, what is an adaptogen?
Adaptogens are plant substances (often herbs) that have been found to help our bodies manage stress and maintain balance or homeostasis. In other words, they help us adapt to external stressors. By strengthening our internal systems, adaptogens can promote vitality, stabilize mood and improve performance and focus. They can be consumed as supplement capsules, teas, or tinctures.
Adaptogens can help your body adapt to life’s doozies. These herbs aid our bodies in reacting to or recovering from both short- and long-term physical or mental stress. Some also boost immunity and overall well-being. Research shows adaptogens can combat fatigue, enhance mental performance, ease depression and anxiety, and help you thrive rather than muddle.
Its name is Ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha is one of the essential herbs in Ayurveda, a traditional alternative medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing.
People have used Ashwagandha for thousands of years to relieve stress, increase energy levels, and improve concentration (1).
“Ashwagandha” is Sanskrit for “smell of the horse,” which refers to both the herb’s scent and its potential ability to increase strength (2).
Its botanical name is Withania somnifera, and it’s also known by several other names, including “Indian ginseng” and “winter cherry.”
The ashwagandha plant is a small shrub with yellow flowers native to India and Southeast Asia. Extracts or powder from the plant’s roots or leaves treat various conditions, including anxiety and fertility issues (3).
Ashwagandha is perhaps best known for its ability to reduce stress. It’s classified as an adaptogen, a substance that helps the body cope with stress.
Ashwagandha appears to help control mediators of stress, including heat shock proteins (Hsp70), cortisol, and stress-activated c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK-1) (4).
Several studies have shown that ashwagandha supplements may help relieve stress and anxiety.
A 2000 study suggested that the herb had a comparable anxiety-reducing effect with lorazepam, suggesting that Ashwagandha might be as effective for reducing anxiety. However, the researchers conducted this study in mice, not humans.
In a 2019 study, researchers found that taking a daily dose of 240 milligrams (mg) of Ashwagandha significantly reduced people’s stress levels compared with a placebo. This included reduced levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone.
In another 2019 study on humans, taking 250 mg or 600 mg of Ashwagandha daily resulted in lower self-reported stress and cortisol levels.
Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone that your adrenal glands produce and release.
Glucocorticoids are a type of steroid hormone. They suppress inflammation in your bodily tissues and control metabolism in your muscles, fat, liver, and bones. Glucocorticoids also affect sleep-wake cycles.
Your adrenal glands — triangle-shaped organs at the top of your kidneys — make cortisol.
Cortisol plays a vital role in several things your body does. For example, it:
How cortisol works
Your hypothalamus and pituitary gland- located in your brain — can sense if your blood contains the right cortisol level. If the level is too low, your brain adjusts the number of hormones it makes. Your adrenal glands pick up on these signals. Then, they fine-tune the amount of cortisol they release.
Cortisol receptors- in most cells in your body- receive and use the hormone differently. As a result, your needs will differ from day to day. For instance, when your body is on high alert, cortisol can alter or shut down functions that get in the way. These might include your digestive or reproductive systems, immune system, or growth processes.
It may benefit athletic performance
Five studies analyzed that taking Ashwagandha significantly enhanced maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max) in healthy adults and athletes (6).
VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during intense activity. It’s a measurement of heart and lung fitness.
Having optimal VO2 max is essential for athletes and non-athletes alike. Low VO2 max is associated with increased mortality risk, while higher VO2 max is associated with a lower risk of heart disease (7).
It may boost testosterone and increase fertility in men
Some studies have shown Ashwagandha supplements to benefit male fertility and increase testosterone levels.
In one study, 43 overweight men ages 40–70 who had mild fatigue took tablets containing ashwagandha extract or a placebo daily for eight weeks.
The ashwagandha treatment was associated with an 18% increase in DHEA-S, a sex hormone involved in testosterone production. Participants who took the herb also had a 14.7% greater increase in testosterone than those who took the placebo (8).
Ashwagandha may reduce blood sugar levels
It’s believed that certain compounds within Ashwagandha, including one called withaferin A (WA), have potent antidiabetic activity and may help stimulate your cells to take in glucose from your bloodstream (9).
It has anti-inflammatory properties
Ashwagandha contains compounds, including WA, that may help reduce inflammation in the body (10).
Researchers have found that WA targets inflammatory pathways in the body, including signal molecules called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) and nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2).
Animal studies have shown that WA may also help reduce levels of inflammatory proteins such as interleukin-10 (IL-10) (11).
In one study from 2008, adults experiencing stress took ashwagandha extract for 60 days. As a result, they significantly reduced C-reactive protein — an inflammatory marker — compared with those who consumed a placebo (11).
Ashwagandha may improve sleep
Many people take Ashwagandha to promote restful sleep, and some evidence suggests it may help with sleep issues.
For example, a study of 50 adults ages 65–80 found that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha root daily for 12 weeks significantly improved sleep quality and mental alertness upon waking compared with placebo treatment (12).
Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb with multiple possible health benefits.
Study findings suggest that it may help reduce anxiety and stress, support restful sleep, and improve cognitive functioning in specific populations.
Ashwagandha is considered relatively safe for most people. However, it’s not appropriate for everyone, so talking with a healthcare professional is essential before adding Ashwagandha to your routine.
Disclaimer: Dr. Berner does not diagnose, treat, or prevent any medical diseases or conditions; instead, he analyzes and corrects the structure of his patients with Foundational Correction to improve their overall quality of life. He works with their physicians, who regulate their medications. This blog post is not designed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or services to you or any other individual. The information provided in this post or through linkages to other sites is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use the information in place of a visit, consultation, or the advice of your physician or another healthcare provider. Foundation Chiropractic and Dr. Brett Berner are not liable or responsible for any advice, the course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other information, services, or product you obtain through this article or others.
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