Friday, 11 January 2019

Ashwagandha, Stress and Food Cravings

Ashwagandha Photo & Article by Ann Walker

The root of Ashwagandha has been documented as being used for herbal medicine for over 6,000 years in India where it is one of the most highly valued and herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. In the last century it has come to be a staple also in the materia medica of western herbal practitioners - mainly for its unique vitality-raising properties in the face of fatigue. It is a plant with multiple talents - as indicated by its Latin name of Withania somnifera, which gives clues to another of its physiological actions: as a mild sedative to aid sleep and reduce anxiety.

Ashwagandha (or winter cherry) is a tough plant and can be cultivated in the UK, although it will not survive the winter out-of-doors. The picture shows the cherry of one which I have grown from seed – this plant is about 4 years old and I keep it in a cool greenhouse in winter. The plant’s natural habitat is vast, extending from the Mediterranean to most tropical and subtropical regions of the world, including the Indian subcontinent, parts of China and Africa.

Whilst modern herbalists classify ashwagandha as an adaptogen - a substance said to increase the body's ability to withstand stress of all types – there has not been much clinical evidence to support this until now. In a well-designed clinical study carried out in India (PMID: 27055824), 52 overweight and stressed subjects took 600 mg of ashwagandha extract daily for two months. This resulted in significant improvement in their stress scores and food cravings compared with placebo.

There was also greater weight loss, but this was set in the study design as a secondary outcome of the study, so not so much credence can be given to this. However. I find with patients that want to lose weight, giving them herbs that support glucose control, the stress response and increase vitality can make all the difference to patients to help with their motivation and discipline to lose weight. Ashwagandha addresses at least two of these three objectives.

PMID = PubMed Identifier

Ann Walker PhD, FCPP, MNIMH, RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner