It’s fairly easy to determine that your adrenal glands are responsible for the production of adrenaline. Most of us will have heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response that’s triggered in the body by the production of adrenaline. This process was a whole lot more integral to our survival thousands of years ago. Conversely, in the modern world it’s an unfortunate fact that your adrenal glands are going into action far more often than they should be, and almost always in situations where there’s really no fighting or fleeing to be done.
There’s a whole chain of events that lead to it, but to be brief here – over stimulation of your adrenal glands results in excess levels of cortisol roaming through your bloodstream. Cortisol shouldn’t necessarily have a bad rap as a hormone, it is beneficial when introduced selectively and at appropriate levels for overcoming stressful situations. But when your adrenal glands are over taxed with the production of it, there is the potential for significant harm to your immune system and central nervous system.
Fact is, however, that there’s little most of us can do to avoid the everyday stressors of modern life. Naturally, we recommend quality vitamin and mineral supplements for stress and management of it.
One natural health supplement for stress that we’re particularly enthusiastic about is Ashwagandha. This herbal stress supplement is derived from the root of a plant that is native to dry regions of India, North Africa, and the Middle East. Also known as Indian Ginseng or Winter Cherry, Ashwagandha can be translated from Sanskrit as ‘the smell of a horse’ but that’s not to have any type of unpleasant scent connotation. Rather, it is a suggestion that the individual will experience – direct quote – “the vigour and strength of a stallion.” It's listed as one of Ayurveda's natural 'oja' builders, supporting vitality, immunity, radiant health and longevity.
Right. As wonderful as all of that sounds, it doesn’t suggest much as far as healthy stress management is concerned. But please read on, there is a definitive correlation.
Ashwaghandha has long been a staple in Ayurvedic medicine, and is classified as an adaptogen, which means it’s a healing plant that balances, restores, and protects the body – or more simply helps the body ‘adapt’ to stresses. It meets Ayurveda’s qualification as a ‘nervine tonic’ that normalizes physiological function. It is an effective supplement for immune system support and a good supplement for nervous system support as well, serving a stabilizing function for mood, energy levels, and benefit for any biological process related to the immune system.
In Ayurveda, ashwagandha is designated for support of the nervous, reproductive, immune and respiratory systems. It is given the term rasayana, or rejuvenative, for the mamsa dhatu - or muscle tissues as we'd refer to them. If we are to look at specific locations in the body where ashwagandha can be beneficial, it is optimal for the strength and vitality of the heart, uterus, and the muscles of the respiratory system that reinforce and support the lungs, making it additionally useful for respiratory support.
We’ll try to be brief and cut right to the chase of how Ashwagandha can reduce stress and anxiety levels as well as how it’s a supplement to help treat depression, but let’s quickly discuss which active ingredient makes it so effective for treating adrenal fatigue, on its own or in conjunction with an adrenal support supplement.
Withanolides are a group of naturally occurring steroids that are produced as part of flavonoids in certain species of organic vegetation. They have particular anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and bio-process inhibitory effects. Withanolides have been shown in laboratory experiments to regenerate parts of the brain’s neuron network, including the axon, dendrite, and synapse.
Supplementing with Ashwagandha is helpful for:
- Protecting the immune system
- Combating the effects of stress
- Improving learning, memory, and reaction time
- Reducing anxiety and depression without drowsiness
- Reducing brain cell degeneration
- Stabilizing blood sugar
- Lowering cholesterol
- Augmenting anti-inflammatory processes in the body
- Augmenting anti-malarial responses in the body
- Enhancing sexual energy and potency - mentioned prominently in the Kama Sutra
- Balancing thyroid hormones - which can be especially helpful for increasing fertility
- Treating and preventing cancer
- Improving long-term visual memory by protecting against neurodegeneration
- Assisting with menopausal support via hormone balance for women
- Reducing the appearance of breakouts and age spots (when used as a skin tonic)
- Sleeping better
Let’s discuss a few of those points in more specific detail, as they pertain here to reducing the physical effects of stress and anxiety and protecting the brain. Again, we’ll be brief and touch on the most important parts of the equation.
Your adrenal glands produce adrenaline, norepinephrine, cholesterol, and aldosterone. The focus here is on cholesterol, which – in ideal health – is channeled to the production of specific hormones. The most notable one here is progesterone, which is integral to the production of the essential male / female hormones testosterone and estrogen and DHEA (dehyrdroepiandrosterone, or androstenolone).
DHEA is the most abundant circulating hormone in the human body, but when you are suffering from adrenal fatigue progesterone is redirected away from the production of DHEA and other hormones to make cortisol. A whole array of essential mind / body balance equations are thrown out of whack as a result, and a good many of these disruptions lead to the conditions and ailments listed above as being treatable with Ashwagandha.
But to put it plainly and to fulfill the explanatory promise we made above - cortisol is a product of stress, and taking away the building blocks required for the production of more beneficial hormones to make more cortisol has negative effects for your body and overall health
Next up is the role Ashwagandha has inhibiting lipid peroxidation effects to reduce brain cell degeneration. Lipid peroxidation is the oxidative degradation of lipids, where free radicals steal electrons from the lipids in cell membranes and cells suffer damage as a result. Symptoms of this damage can include depression, anxiety, and even Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers have determined that lipid peroxidation is self-propagating chain-reaction, meaning that it's especially problematic and ideally is prevented entirely. The initial oxidation of only a few lipid molecules can result in significant tissue damage, and so if we can use a metaphor - that's one snowball that you need to prevent from going downhill.
Long story short, anything you can do to limit the production of cortisol and reduce free radical cell damage can be hugely beneficial to your long-term health! Supplementing your healthy diet choices with Ashwagandha might be something for you to consider.