Ashwagandha: Helping the body deal with mental and physical stress
Stress and anxiety – On the rise in Canada
Stress. It’s something that all of us experience, regardless of job, geographic location or family situation. Stress is the body’s response to environmental stimuli (stressors). It’s natural and healthy to a degree; stress can motivate us and move us forward in life. Too much stress and an inability to manage it, however, can have dramatic health consequences for an individual.
In Canada, statistics reveal the prevalence of stress in our modern society. Almost three-quarters of Canadian workers report being “stressed.” Of those stressed workers, more than one-third consider themselves “highly stressed.” Although there are numerous sources of stress, 60% of highly stressed individuals cite work as the primary cause.1
The cost of high stress levels to the Canadian economy is crippling. An estimated $20 billion per year is spent or lost in dealing with stress issues. An incredible 75% of short-term work disability is due to stress. 2
Main Sources of Stress in Canada
– Not enough time
– Personal (health, school, relationships, anxiety)
(Source: Statistics Canada)
The dark side of chronic stress
Stress triggers adrenaline and cortisol production in the body allowing the individual to react to the stressful situation. Heart rate, body temperature, endocrine response and anxiety all increase. Productivity increases for a short time, but fatigue and exhaustion can follow and if the stress is prolonged, health issues can occur.
Chronic high levels of stress are associated with mental health issues. The Canadian Mental Health Commission reports that anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue as well as alcohol and drug abuse occur more frequently in those under extreme stress.3 These states can lead to memory loss, poor brain performance, anxiety disorders and accelerated aging. Further, with the mind-body connection in humans, stress issues can go beyond mental to physical disease. Heart disease, arthritis, joint conditions, diabetes, respiratory issues, migraine headaches, metabolic syndrome, obesity risk, poor sexual performance and weakened immunity all increase in the shadow of long-term stress.
Solutions for managing stress and anxiety
The pharmaceutical industry offers a wide selection of drugs to help individuals cope with stress. Some common prescriptions are anxiolytics (tranquilizers) (e.g. benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax), beta blockers for anxiety symptoms or sleeping pills to assist with sleeping. The downside of these medicines can be dependence, decreasing effectiveness with regular use, memory loss, cognitive decline and withdrawal symptoms. Dependence can occur in just two weeks with some medications.4
To avoid the potential risks of pharmaceutical medications when dealing with stress and anxiety, there are a number of lifestyle adjustments suggested by the Canadian Mental Health Association to help the mind and body cope:5
• Identifying the source of stress and establishing a plan for reduction
• Sufficient sleep (7 hours per day) to allow the mind and body to heal
• Regular vigorous exercise helps to release stress
• Yoga, deep breathing and massages help to calm the mind and body
• Eat a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, lean meat, protein
• Begin the day with a good breakfast and drink water throughout the day
• Adopt a positive attitude and optimistic view on life
• Surround yourself with supportive family and friends
Natural supplements can also assist the body and mind in coping with stressful conditions. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and magnesium have been shown to be helpful. Traditional herbal remedies also have a history of assisting the body to perform when under mental or physical stress.
Adaptogens – Natural stress resistance
Herbs that can enhance one’s capability to deal with stress are classified as adaptogens. These are plants with medicinal components that can help normalize the body’s functions during periods of mental and physical stress to rebalance and rejuvenate an individual. A number of herbs are classified as adaptogens. The best herbal adaptogens are those that have the following traits6:
1. Decreases stress-induced damage
2. Safe and beneficial even at higher than normal doses
3. Free from negative effects, such as withdrawal
4. Avoids impacting normal body functions more than necessary
One herb that satisfies all the requirements of a true adaptogen is Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). Its name, Ashwagandha, means “smell of horse” owing to its distinctive odour and its ability to give one the “strength of a horse.” The root of Ashwagandha has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years as a rejuvenative herb for enhancing the performance of multiple body systems: the neurological, immune, energy-production, endocrinal and reproductive systems.
Ashwagandha has had a long history of use as an adaptogen and even some basic clinical trials showing promise. A unique, full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha has now been tested in a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial to evaluate the full potential of the herb to assist humans to manage stress and anxiety. This Ashwagandha, branded as KSM-66®, has been called “the world’s best Ashwagandha.”
KSM-66® – Ashwagandha for mental stress
KSM-66® is a superior Ashwagandha extract for several reasons. It is a root-only extract for one. Only the root extract is used in Ayurvedic medicine, not the leaves. KSM-66® has the highest concentration active withanolides at 5% of any root-only Ashwagandha extract. KSM-66® is a full spectrum extract that contains the complete profile of nutrients found naturally in Ashwagandha. But most importantly, the KSM-66® extract is backed up by extensive clinical studies for its many benefits (see “Why KSM-66® Ashwagandha” for more details on this unique Ashwagandha).
The adaptogenic properties of KSM-66® to help individuals deal with stress and anxiety were evaluated in a 2012 double-blind placebo-controlled study. The two-month study was conducted on healthy individuals complaining of mental stress. A daily dose of two 300 mg capsules of KSM-66® was given to the experimental group vs. two placebo capsules for the control group.
The two groups were evaluated on four different areas, using three different self-evaluation questionnaires and a blood test:
• Perceived stress scale (PSS) – The most commonly used psychological scale for assessing perceived stress. The KSM-66® group reported a 44% reduction in perceived stress, while the placebo group had only a 5.5% decrease.7
• General health questionnaire 28 (GHQ-28) – GHQ-28 is a self-evaluation tool for quantifying stess-signaling events like “anxiety and insomnia”, “social dysfunction” and “severe depression.” The KSM-66® group reported a 72% drop in stress events, while the placebo group had only a 2% improvement.8
• Depression anxiety stress scale (DASS) – Another self-evaluation tool that quantifies stress-signaling events such as “depression”, “anxiety” and “stress.” The KSM-66® group reported a 72% decline in these events, while the placebo group had only a 5% reduction.9
• Serum cortisol levels – Cortisol is a hormone found in the blood that becomes elevated in times of stress. Cortisol levels were measured before and after the study in both the KSM-66® group and the placebo group. The levels were even at the beginning of the study in each group, but after 60 days, The KSM-66® group reported a 28% lowering of cortisol, while the placebo group had only an 8% change.10 (See chart)
The study concluded that KSM-66® improves an individual’s resistance to stress and anxiety. Further, KSM-66® did its job safely – with no side-effects and no adverse effects beyond those shown with the placebo group.11
Researchers believed that Ashwagandha’s ability to reduce blood cortisol levels was the primary reason for its effectiveness against stress and anxiety symptoms. During stressful mental or physical situations, cortisol can rise as much as 20 times normal levels due to excess adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) secretion.12 Elevated cortisol leads to increased heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar. High cortisol levels for short periods can save our lives, by focusing all body systems on survival. High cortisol levels for long periods can have detrimental effects on anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, memory and concentration impairment.13
KSM-66® – Ashwagandha for physical stress and athletic support
KSM-66® Ashwagandha has also been proven to be an effective adaptogen to physical stress in several clinical studies.
Cardiorespiratory endurance is a key measure of overall physical fitness. A newly published placebo-controlled study conducted with two daily 300 mg doses of KSM-66® ashwagandha showed that this unique extract was able to safely and effectively enhance the cardiorespiratory endurance of both male and female subjects. VO2 max scores, which evaluate an athlete’s ability to intake, transport and use oxygen is a generally accepted measure of athletic endurance. After periods of 8 and 12 weeks, athletes using KSM-66® had 11.8% and 13.6% improved VO2 max scores respectively vs the placebo control group – a significant improvement.14
In a soon-to-be-published study, positive results as a physical adaptogen were again observed with the supplementation of KSM-66® Ashwagandha. Over an 8-week double-blind study, it was observed that taking 300 mg of Ashwagandha twice daily had benefits for males undergoing resistance training15:
• Increased muscle mass in chest and arms and overall strength
• Faster recovery from muscle injury
• Decreased body fat percentage
KSM-66® ashwagandha for both males and females
KSM-66® Ashwagandha can be used safely by both males and females. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that works in improving the body’s performance and adaptation to stress. Elevated cortisol has been implicated in lowering testosterone in males and progesterone in females. KSM-66® has been shown to increase testosterone production and sperm activity in males by lowering cortisol levels.16,17 For females, KSM-66® has been shown in an upcoming study to improve female sexual function and even generic Ashwagandha has been observed to increase progesterone levels, again by reducing cortisol.18,19
Ashwagandha helps by balancing hormones in sex-specific ways when they are underserved: it assists testosterone production in males, but not in females and assists progesterone production in females, but not males.
KSM-66® – The research continues
KSM-66® has published studies for stress and anxiety, cardio-respiratory endurance, male fertility, muscle strength and female sexuality. New studies on KSM-66® are ongoing in several other areas of human health and have either been completed and await publication or are in-progress:
• Memory and cognition
• Sleep, calming and relaxation
• Stress and weight management
• Hot flashes, menopausal symptoms
• Stress and immunity
• Emotional well-being
• Thyroid health
Clearly, KSM-66® Ashwagandha is proven to be a safe and effective adaptogen, with research continuing to document its wide applications. Users of this special herbal extract will quickly understand why it was recently selected as the “Best Botanical Ingredient” by Engredea at the Natural Product Expo – the world’s largest natural health exhibition.