Ashwagandha and Holy Basil are potent Adaptogens. What is an adaptogen? Herbs that can help in neutralizing the ill effects of stress – physical as well as emotional – are known as adaptogens.
Ashwgandha is also known as Indian gooseberry. Its botanical name is Withania somnifera. It is a bush that grows abundantly in dry regions of South Asia, Central Asia and Africa, particularly in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Congo and Jordon.
Ashwagnadga is a Sanskrit word. In Sanskrit, ashwa is for horse and gandha means smelly. So Ashwagandha means “smelly horse,” pointing to the odor of its roots, which are used for medicinal purposes. Ashwagandha has been in used in the traditional Indian medicine since the ancient times to “rejuvenate” a stressed-out body. Ashwagandha is also known as “Indian ginseng.”
Ashwagandha can help cope with the Stress of Daily living
Chronic stress of daily living wreaks havoc on human body especially neuro-endocrine and immune systems. Herbs that can help in neutralizing the ill effects of stress – physical as well as emotional – are known as adaptogens. Ashwagandha is one of the most effective adaptogens, according to Ayurvedic classical texts, animal studies and clinical studies.
A placebo-controlled study from the India investigated the efficacy as well as safety of Ashwagandha root extract in individuals with chronic stress. (1)
The treatment group took highly concentrated Ashwagandha root extract as 300 mg twice a day. Treatment with Ashwagandha significantly reduced the stress -scores, relative to the placebo group. The serum cortisol levels were substantially reduced in the treatment group, relative to the placebo group. No significant side-effects were noted.
The authors conluded that a high-concentration Ashwagandha root extract can safely and effectively improve an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.
Ashwagandha may help reduce food craving and weight gain
Chronic stress causes an increase in cortisol level which can increase your weight through a number of mechanisms: insulin resistance, emotional eating and decrease in exercise due to muscle weakness. A compelling study from India looked into the effectiveness of Ashwagandha in reducing weight. It was a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (2).
Study participants received Ashwagandha root extract at 300 mg twice a day or a placebo. They were evaluated at the baseline, 4 and 8 weeks. Evaluation included Perceived Stress Scale, Food Cravings Questionnaire, Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire, serum cortisol, body weight, and body mass index. Treatment with Ashwagandha showed a significant improvement in all of these clinical parameters. Ashwagandha was tolerated well.
The authors concluded Ashwagandha root extract can be used for body weight management in adults experiencing chronic stress.
Ashwagandha may help reduce anxiety
Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat anxiety sine the ancient times. Recently, Western medicine researchers from the department of Psychopharmacology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, India were curious about the efficacy of Ashwagandha root extract in patients with clinical diagnosis of anxiety disorders. They carried out a double-blind, placebo-controlled study (3).
The two groups were socio-demographically and clinically similar at the baseline. At 2 and 6 weeks, significantly more patients in the Ashwagandha group showed improvement in the anxiety symptoms as compared with the placebo group. Ashwagandha was well-tolerated and did not cause any more adverse effects than did placebo.
The authors concluded that Ashwagandha has useful anxiolytic potential.
Ashwagandha may increase muscle mass, strength and testosterone level in Men
In a placebo-controlled study from India, researchers compared the effects of Ashwagandha supplementation with placebo on the muscle mass, strength and testosterone levels in young to middle age men without any previous resistance training (4).
Both groups underwent resistance training for 8 weeks. At the end of the study, Ashwagandha-treated group had significantly greater increase in muscle strength on the bench-press exercise, the leg-extension exercise, significantly greater muscle size increase at the arms and chest, a significantly greater increase in testosterone level and a significantly greater decrease in body fat percentage.
The authors concluded that Ashwagandha supplementation is associated with significant increases in muscle mass and strength and it may be useful in combination with a resistance training program.
Ashwagandha is also used in Ayurvedic/Alternative medicine for neurodegenerative disorder such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s dementia, as well as for anticancer treatment (5.)
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum)
Holy basil(Tulsi) has vast number of therapeutic applications in ancient systems of medicine including Ayurveda, Greek, Roman, Siddha and Unani. Its botanical name is Ocimum sanctum Linn.
Holy basil is indigenous to the Indian continent and highly revered for its medicinal uses within medical system. Many in vitro, animal and human studies attest to Holy Basil having multiple therapeutic actions including adaptogenic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, and immunomodulatory effects.
Recently, researchers from Australia did a systematic review of all of the studies published about the therapeutic effects of Holy basil (6). They found a total of 24 studies which showed therapeutic effects on metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, immunity, and neurocognition. All studies reported favorable clinical outcomes. No study reported any significant adverse events.
1.Chandrasekhar K1, Kapoor J, Anishetty S A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62.
2. Choudhary D1, Bhattacharyya S2, Joshi K3. Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017 Jan;22(1):96-106.
3. Andrade C1, Aswath A, Chaturvedi SK, Srinivasa M, Raguram R. A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy off an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera. Indian J Psychiatry. 2000 Jul;42(3):295-301.
4. Wankhede S1, Langade D2, Joshi K3, Sinha SR4, Bhattacharyya S5. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial.J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Nov 25;12:43.