Ashwagandha and Mental Health: A Research Update

Ashwagandha, an adaptogen from the Ayurvedic tradition is becoming increasingly popular with doctors and their patients. It has been used for thousands of years in India to support health and cultivate the mind. Current research is shedding light on the many ways Ashwagandha promotes mental health.

A new study of OCD patients without adequate control on SSRIs alone showed that ashwagandha extract was able to greatly increase the control of symptoms with no adverse effects.[i] A look at overweight adults under chronic stress found that ashwagandha extract was able to significantly improve the group’s weight management outcomes. In addition, they found that the extract decreased the subjects stress level and improved their sense of well-being.[ii] Researchers found that when ashwagandha was given to alcoholic mice it was able to significantly decrease alcohol intake and eliminate withdrawal symptoms. The authors also measured neurotransmitter levels and found that the extract increased levels of serotonin and GABA in the brains of the mice which likely accounts for many of the observed effects.[iii] A recent review of published data on the neurological effects of ashwagandha found that there is mounting, high-quality evidence that it not only has antioxidant effects that protect neurons but also increases nerve growth factors and connections between neurons thus not only protecting but improving overall brain health.[iv] These neuroprotective effects are at least in part due to its ability to block NMDA receptors which are implicated in excitotoxicity.[v] Additionally, ashwagandha has been shown to decrease NF-κB levels in astrocytes and upregulate Nrf2 expression in the cells leading to less neural inflammation and higher levels of antioxidants.[vi]

These are just a few of the studies demonstrating ashwagandha’s phenomenal ability to promote mental health. Modern science is validating the Ayurvedic tradition’s use of this potent herb. Consider incorporating this wonderful herb into your medicinary, your patients will thank you.

[i] Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2016 Aug;27:25-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2016.03.018. Epub 2016 Apr 9.

Evaluation of the efficacy of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) root extract in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial.

Jahanbakhsh SP1, Manteghi AA2, Emami SA3, Mahyari S1, Gholampour B4, Mohammadpour AH5, Sahebkar A6.

[ii] Journal of Evidence Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 2016 Apr 6. pii: 2156587216641830. [Epub ahead of print]

Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial.

Choudhary D1, Bhattacharyya S2, Joshi K3.

[iii] Pharmacognosy Magazine. 2016 May;12(Suppl 2): S121-8. doi: 10.4103/0973-1296.182170. Epub 2016 May 11.

Effect of Withinia Somnifera and Shilajit on Alcohol Addiction in Mice.

Bansal P1, Banerjee S1.

[iv] Recent Patents on CNS Drug Discovery. 2016 Jun 14. [Epub ahead of print]

Neuropharmacological properties of Withania somnifera - Indian Ginseng: An overview on experimental evidence with emphasis on Clinical trials and patents.

Yenesetti SC, Manjunath MJ, Muralidhara C1.

[v] Medical Hypotheses. 2016 Jul;92:35-43. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2016.04.034. Epub 2016 Apr 20.

Exploring neuroprotective potential of Withania somnifera phytochemicals by inhibition of GluN2B-containing NMDA receptors: An in silico study.

Kumar G1, Patnaik R2.

[vi] Neurochemistry International. 2016 Jul;97:49-56. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2016.05.004. Epub 2016 May 7.

Phytochemicals and botanical extracts regulate NF-κB and Nrf2/ARE reporter activities in DI TNC1 astrocytes.

Ajit D1, Simonyi A2, Li R1, Chen Z1, Hannink M2, Fritsche KL3, Mossine VV2, Smith RE4, Dobbs TK4, Luo R5, Folk WR2, Gu Z6, Lubahn DB2, Weisman GA1, Sun GY7

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