In today’s fast-paced world it seems like most people are under some type of stress. In fact, the World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Disease Survey reports by the year 2020, stress-related conditions will be the second leading cause of disability.1 Stress is defined as, “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation”.2
It’s important to remember that not all stress is bad, but if the stress response isn’t dealt with properly, it can turn into chronic stress, which can have a negative impact on a person’s health. According to an article in Forbes, workplace stress alone accounts for up to $190 billion of the healthcare costs in the US.3 Chronic stress has been associated with a number of different health conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, and heart and metabolic disorders and can be an important predictor of health.4
Stress can be managed in a variety of ways. Understanding the cause of stress and utilizing different lifestyle modalities to manage it may produce beneficial health outcomes in the long run. Along with healthful nutrition, regular physical activity, good sleep, and hygiene, incorporating adaptogens in a person’s daily routine has been found to be beneficial in managing stress.4
Adaptogens are natural substances such as herbs that positively impact the body and help it adapt to stress. In times of increased stress, these herbs help to decrease cellular sensitivity to stressors, resulting in a balanced, eustress state (i.e. normal physiological stress).5 The proposed mechanism of action of adaptogens’ stress-protective ability has been linked to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and its ability to regulate several stress response mediators, such as, cortisol, nitric oxide, and c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase 1 (JNK1).5 There are several herbs with adaptogenic properties, but one of the most widely studied adaptogenic herbs is Withania somnifera, commonly known as ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha is also referred to as Indian ginseng or winter cherry.4,6 The name ashwagandha literally means “smell of horse” because the roots of the plant produce a strong aroma that smells like a horse.4 Traditionally, it is believed that consuming this herb will confer vitality and strength similar to that of a horse.4 Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries due to its various rejuvenating effects on the endocrine, neurological, reproductive, and immune systems.4 Several preclinical and clinical trials have shown ashwagandha to possess anti-inflammatory, antistress, antiarthritic, antioxidative, and neuroprotective properties.6
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