The other day on YouTube I overheard a review on using Ashwagandha. I immediately perked up from what I was doing to pay closer attention as I recommend taking Ashwagandha (also known as Withania somnifera) for a myriad of reasons - but wanted to see how this particular perspective was looking at it. Interestingly enough, this reviewer was using Ashwagandha under the classification of Nootropic which made me do a double take. From my understanding, I wouldn't really consider Ashwagandha as a Nootropic, but then took this as a lovely opportunity to create an informational article all about Ashwagandha.
Adaptogen versus Nootropic - what is the difference?
Being that I have recently completed my accreditation as a Master Practitioner in NLP; I am much more sensitive about defining my terms. So my double take at the classification of Ashwagandha - is Ashwagandha a Nootropic or an Adaptogen? Firstly, let's take a look at the definition of "Nootropic". The term "nootropics" first referred to chemicals that met very specific criteria. But now it's used to refer to any natural or synthetic substance that may have a positive impact on mental skills such as memory or cognitive abilities. Adaptogen refers to any natural substance said to assist your body in adapting to stress - hence the word "Adapt" in Adaptogen. In my opinion and based on Ayurvedic principles it feel like Ashwagandha is more of an Adaptogen.
Ancient Ayurvedic Knowledge
In Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha is considered a Rasayana. This means that it helps maintain youth, both mentally and physically. As it comes to stress and anxiety, we have recommended Ashwagandha as a supplement to blunt the effects of cortisol - the stress hormone. Many of the recent medial studies have compared the effects of Ashwagndha to the pharmaceutical drug lorazepam. Lorazepam is typically a drug used to treat anxiety. In a 2019, a human study found that taking 250mg of Ashwagandha when compared to placebo significantly reduced people's stress levels when compared to a placebo. This included both the physiological effects of stress reduction as well as the self reported stress levels.
Additional Benefits to Ashwagandha Supplementation
Pain relief seems to be one of the positive benefits to supplementing with Ashwagandha. There seems to be some stories of success that I have found of folks using Ashwagandha to treat pain from arthritis . Here's a quote from an anecdotal experience:
On the second day of taking Ashwagandha once a day (500 mg Withania somnifera extract standardized to contain 2.5% with anolides), I awakened to find the pain had decreased dramatically. I’ve been taking it now for a week, and the pain is almost completely gone. There is still some stiffness.
I’ve never had anything make such a difference so fast.
What a wonderful story from an herb revered in Ayurveda medicine for hundreds and hundreds of years. I find it funny when I do research on Ashwagandha and you get a lot of caution around the use of it; saying that there aren't enough studies about it. I think would trust Ashwagandha - something in use in ancient India for thousands of years - versus a drug only pushed out by a pharmaceutical company a decade (if that) ago?
Regardless, not all supplements are for everyone. The thing is, everyone has a specific constitution in this Earth Avatar - and for some who perhaps find themselves high strung and full of cortisol and inflammation... I think Ashwagandha is worth a shot at trying in supplementing. You can see my talk here about our Supplement recommendations but I am planning on doing a double feature of NAC and Ashwagandha and figuring out your Constitution on the next Soma Supplement Seminar.
I will point out that there is some research with Ashwagandha and its affects on thyroid function, and so if you have an over/active Thyroid it may not be something that you should supplement with. It also might interact with MAO inhibitors such as selegiline, phenelzine or tranylcypromine in the sense that it may reduce their effects. The effect that it has on MAO inhibitors is a curious one and I will look into that as to how it helps in mitigating stress because I believe that there is a connection here.
And now bringing this back to Ashwagandha's classification. Is it a Nootropic or an Adaptogen? I believe it to be the latter, as Adaptogens are any substance said to improve the health of the body's response to stress. They of course do not impact a person's said experience of stressful events, but rather when the body is undergoing stress it will improve the way that the body responds to it. When stress is sustained for a long period of time or is too overwhelming, or a combination of both, it can contribute to disease and is referred to maladaptive stress. And in this case it seems quite promising to leverage Ashwagandha to help the body overcome.
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Otherwise, catch you all in the video where I talk all about Ashwagandha and NAC! The next article I am planning on is the MAGIC of Maca!