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Emotional stressors can become overwhelming, potentially setting in motion a cascade of hormonal and physiological responses that are deleterious to a person’s mental and physical health. Evidence suggests that prolonged exposure to emotional stressors increases a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease, metabolic dysfunction, and depression. Findings from a recent study demonstrate that Ashwagandha root extract enhances a person’s capacity to handle stress.

Commonly referred to as winter cherry, Indian ginseng, or poison gooseberry, Ashwagandha is an herbaceous plant from the Solanaceae family. Evidence indicates that Ashwagandha exerts anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. Ashwagandha has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine and is widely described as an adaptogen.

Adaptogens are medicinal plants that promote stress resistance, concentration, performance and endurance. They function by switching on the activity of cellular protective mechanisms, including the activation of heat shock proteins.

The prospective, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial involved 64 adults between the ages of 18 and 54 years. Each of the participants had reported a history of chronic stress but had no psychiatric problems. Half of the participants took a placebo, while the other half took a supplement containing 300 milligrams of high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha extract for 60 days. The authors of the study measured the participants' serum cortisol (a stress hormone) and scored their stress levels via questionnaires before and after the intervention.

At the beginning of the study, the two groups' stress level scores were very similar. At the end of the 60-day intervention, however, the groups' average stress scores were considerably different. In particular, the difference in the participants' scores indicating symptoms of severe depression differed by 89 percent between the two groups, with the placebo group reporting worsened symptoms of depression. The participants' cortisol levels decreased nearly 28 percent from baseline in the group that took Ashwagandha. Cortisol levels in the placebo group only dropped about 8 percent.

These findings suggest that Ashwagandha root extract improves stress resistance and decreases stress biomarkers. Interestingly, meditation exerts similar effects. Listen to this episode in which Dr. Rhonda Patrick describes how meditation buffers the negative effects of stress.

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