It is hard to fathom how hard the last few years have been on our mental health. While a global lockdown brought the world’s attention to this issue, the problem has been brewing long before the pandemic began. Between the years 2007 and 2017, the rate of depression among teenagers increased by a whopping 59% according to the Pew Research Group.
To make matters worse, while the rate of suicide in the US was stable in 2006, shortly after, the suicide rates soared. According to the CDC, the suicide rate for 10 to 24-year-olds increased by a devastating 60% between 2007 and 2018.
Ayurveda’s answer to the mental health crisis is a multi-pronged approach. It includes stress management tools like yoga, pranayama, and meditation along with daily and seasonal routines that sync nature’s circadian rhythms to your body type and biological clock. A key factor supporting optimal mental health is rejuvenation, or what Ayurveda calls rasayana. Perhaps the most well-studied herbal rasayana for mental health is the herb called ashwagandha (withania somnifera). Here are the top ten ways ashwagandha is linked to optimal mental health.
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Ashwagandha Crosses the Blood-Brain Barrier
Ashwagandha is a fall-harvested, warming, sweet root that is well-known as an adaptogen in the west. It is best known for stress, adrenal fatigue, physical strength, and endurance. What most don’t know about ashwagandha is the role it plays as a cognitive enhancer, mood regulator, and brain tonic.
Responsible for these great functions is a powerful mixture of bioactive compounds. These compounds, which include withnolides, winthanosides, and withaferin A, are mostly found in the root of the plant. What makes these compounds so unique for brain and mood support is that they cross the blood-brain barrier, where they can influence and protect the brain chemistry directly.
Ashwagandha May Improve Cognitive and Psychomotor Performance
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 20 healthy adults were randomized to receive 250 mg of ashwagandha twice per day for 14 days. After a battery of cognitive tests, the researchers concluded that the group taking ashwagandha saw significant improvement in cognitive and psychomotor performance compared to the control group. They found ashwagandha has the potential to be a valuable addition to the treatment of cognitive function issues.
Ashwagandha is a Medhya Rasayana (Brain Booster)
In Ayurveda, medhya rasayanas are a group of mind-rejuvenating plants that directly support brain function and the central nervous system. Their functions include supporting memory, information retention, and enhanced intellectual and cognitive function—all while protecting the nervous system from oxidative stress! When taking medhya rasayanas like ashwagandha or Brahmi (Centella asiatica) regularly, they have been found to support immunity, brain health, and longevity.
Ashwagandha Supports Healthy Mood and Happiness
Numerous studies have found that ashwagandha supports healthy moods while reducing worry. The active constituent in ashwagandha responsible for mood support is called glycowithanolides. In rodent studies, they have been found to regulate mood during exposure to specific stressors that could cause either behavioral despair, sadness, or an anxious state.
Ashwagandha Boosts GABA, Combating Stress and Worry
Stress and worry are often treated by stimulating the receptors for a neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma aminobutryric acid). However, many GABA stimulators have side effects of fatigue and brain fog. Ashwagandha has been found to support healthy levels of GABA without these unwanted consequences. In fact, ashwagandha studies consistently show its ability to support energy, vitality, and cognitive function while offering effective support for stress, worry, and anxiety.
What Makes LifeSpa’s Ashwagandha Unique?
LifeSpa Ashwagandha is an organic, whole-herb product, which means the full spectrum of the naturally occurring constituents in the ashwagandha root is intact. Because our ashwagandha is not heated or processed, all the naturally occurring beneficial microbes (which are missing in herbal extracts) play an important synergistic role that activates the ashwagandha’s beneficial properties. In nature, nothing exists without the synergy between beneficial bacteria and their host. Beware of higher potency herbal extracts, as they are sterile and act more like drugs than natural herbal support.
Ashwagandha Supports Brain Cell Replication
One of the most fascinating areas of research is the study of a protein that can regenerate brain cells. This protein is called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). Studies show that stress and toxic chemical exposure can reduce the expression of BDNF. Lower expression of BDNF gets in the way of proper cognitive function and brain cell replication. Ashwagandha has been shown to protect the BDNF protein levels from cellular toxicity.
Ashwagandha Boosts Cell-to-Cell Communication in the Brain
One of the most important neurotransmitters for cognitive function is called acetylcholine. Many issues related to the cognitive and memory decline that comes with age are linked to the natural decline of acetylcholine over the years. This neurotransmitter is responsible for the processing speed of your brain, much like the processing speed of your computer. Ashwagandha has been shown to support natural levels of acetylcholine by inhibiting any excess of an enzyme that would block normal acetylcholine from doing its job.
Ashwagandha Protects the Brain from MSG
MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a flavor enhancer often added to restaurant food. While the FDA has classified MSG as safe, because of overwhelming cases of MSG sensitivity, the FDA requires it to be listed on the label. According to the Mayo Clinic, MSG in foods is linked to symptoms including:
- Face pressure or tightness
- Lack of feeling (numbness), tingling, or burning in the face, neck, and other areas
- Quick, fluttering heartbeats
- Chest pain
- Feeling sick (nausea)
High levels of glutamate can cause an overstimulation of the neurons in the brain. This can cause the brain cells to go haywire and even die. These effects are commonly seen after severe head trauma when high levels of glutamate are released and cause additional brain cell damage. Studies have shown that when ashwagandha was used before glutamate exposure, there was a natural protection from glutamate excitotoxicity in the brain.
Ashwagandha Boosts Autophagy and Protects Collagen
One of the main constituents of ashwagandha (withaferin A) is linked to a youthful appearance and healthy physiology. Studies have shown that ashwagandha activates a collagen protein clean-up network that removes damaged proteins from the body. This happens through a process called autophagy, which is essentially cellular clean-up and recycling.
In one study, withaferin A resulted in a 39% reduction of age-related protein damage in the central nervous system. Researchers also saw a 60% reduction in age-related protein damage in the cells responsible for muscle movement and coordination.
Ashwagandha Promotes Longevity with Healthy Weight Loss
Weight gain and accelerated aging have been linked to excessive age-related protein damage. In one study, when mice were fed a high-fat diet to encourage weight gain, the mice that received withaferin A saw a 23% reduction in weight and fat mass compared to the control group. The reason for the weight loss was found to be a reduction in age-related protein damage and a 60% reduction in calorie consumption in the group supplemented with ashwagandha.