I know anxiety well. It’s been at my side for many years, popping up from unchecked worry or feeling rundown.  My palms get cold and sweaty, my mouth dry, muscle tense up and my breath becomes short and strained. I envision life-threatening events, I can’t sleep, and I just become afraid…of everything.  Sometimes a specific event, memory or thought pattern triggers it, other times it comes on subtly, exhibiting just a few symptoms here and there and creeping on silently until it comes to a head.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is apprehension about future events and a heightened awareness of potential danger that manifests physically and emotionally (Mahan & Raymond, 2017).  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders, which include generalized anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder affect about 18% of the U.S. adult population and 25% of children ages 13-18 and are often found in conjunction with depression.  Women are more likely than men to experience anxiety.

Where does anxiety come from?

Anxiety can be brought on by a variety of factors including genetics, early life stress, difficult or stressful life circumstances, nutritional, hormonal, thyroid and/or blood sugar imbalances, food allergies, lack of sleep or menopause. Therefore, seeking the exact cause can be difficult. If you experience anxiety, be sure to talk about it with your doctor so he/she can investigate possible physiological causes.

Is there a natural solution?

There are several natural solutions that can bring more calm into your life and keep anxiety in check.  Specific herbs and essential oils are well indicated for helping one cope with anxiety. One such herb is an adaptogen and nervine tonic called Ashwagandha.  Nervines are medicines used to calm the nerves. Adaptogens help you “adapt” to life and the stress that comes along with it.

Adaptogens are associated with ancient Ayurveda medicine and work by controlling key mediators of the stress response (Salve, Pate, Debnath & Langade, 2019). Several recent double-blind placebo-controlled studies have indicated ashwagandha for mild anxiety and stress management, demonstrating positive changes in stress hormones, cortisol, and steroidal hormones with a mitigating effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity (Lopresti, Smith, Malvi & Kodgule, 2019).  The HPA axis represents the interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands and is what responds to stress in your body. Ashwagandha is also known to be an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent (Lopresti et al, 2019).   Oxidative stress occurs due to levels of high stress and is the root cause of many diseases and imbalances.

How is it taken?

Ashwagandha can be taken in capsule, powder, tea or tincture form. In the studies conducted, capsules or supplementation of around 250mg up to 1200mg were used. There is no standard amount for consumption or supplementation,  however, when you start any herb it is generally a good idea to start low and increase your dose gradually.  Traditionally, ashwagandha is used in its dried root form as tea or as a powder mixed with ghee and honey, known as churna (Singh, Bhalla, de Jager, & Gilca, 2011).  You can find tea bags at your local store or online.  One tasty way to consume ashwagandha powder is to make energy balls by mixing the powder with honey and nut butter. (Check out this tasty recipe for an idea: http://www.sofiawellness.com/2019/02/11/ashwagandha-blissballs/).

What are the contraindications or cautions?

Ashwagandha is generally well-tolerated and safe for most people. That said, if you are pregnancy or breastfeeding, have an autoimmune disease or are on medication for thyroid, blood sugar or blood pressure, then please consult with your doctor before taking it.

It’s time to ADAPT

It is helpful to note that it is often the combination of strategies that produce the best outcome. Regular exercise, sleep, sunshine, meditation and consistent eating patterns can help control the onset of anxiety and support overall wellness. Additionally, supporting your body nutritionally with a whole foods-based diet, avoiding processed foods and limiting caffeine, sugar and alcohol can have a powerful effect.  I like to put these coping techniques in an acronym – ADAPT.

  • Adaptogens help
  • Don’t let your blood sugar drop
  • Avoid sugar and processed foods
  • Plenty of rest, sunshine & activity
  • Take time for yourself

Remember health is more than a magic bullet, it is often a beautiful symphony of notes coming together from all angles to create the most powerful and beautiful sound.

 

References:

Mahan K., Raymond J. (2017). Krause’s Food & The Nutrition Care Process. 14th Edition.  St. Louis, MO:Elsevier.
Lopresti, A. L., Smith, S. J., Malvi, H., & Kodgule, R. (2019). An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine98(37), e17186. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000017186
Salve, J., Pate, S., Debnath, K., & Langade, D. (2019). Adaptogenic and anxiolytic effects of ashwagandha root extract in healthy adults: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study. Cureus11(12), e6466. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.6466
Singh, N., Bhalla, M., de Jager, P., & Gilca, M. (2011). An overview on ashwagandha: A rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. African journal of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicines : AJTCAM8(5 Suppl), 208–213. https://doi.org/10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9