Q. Dear Terry, “I’ve been really stressed out lately with work and some family issues. I don’t know a lot about herbs and natural things, but I’m interested in learning more. What are some of your suggestions for natural ways to help with stress and anxiety?”– Lily D., Loveland, CO
A. Dear Lily, When it comes to stress and anxiety, I think natural remedies can be very effective. One of my favorites is called ashwagandha. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a highly valued adaptogen in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the oldest healing systems in the world. Ayurveda has been practiced in India for over 5,000 years and ashwagandha has been a prized herb throughout much of Ayurveda’s history. In Ayurveda, ashwagandha is known as a rasayana, or rejuvenating herb. The name ashwagandha comes from the Sanskrit word used to describe the essence of a horse, referring to both the scent of the plant’s roots, but also the strength and vitality that comes with using ashwagandha.
Traditionally, ashwagandha has been used for calming nerves, decreasing stress, reducing inflammation and pain, improving energy (physical and sexual), and joint conditions.
Ashwagandha can influence many pathways in the body that are involved directly or indirectly with stress response. In clinical trials, ashwagandha has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, balance stress hormones, and increase protective antioxidant activity, which all play a major role in decreasing stress levels. Ashwagandha also works with neurotransmitters like GABA, which help instill a sense of calm. Because ashwagandha can address stress from so many angles, I consider it a go-to botanical for stress.
I prefer ashwagandha that uses a water and ethanol extraction process, to yield a higher concentration of withanolides. Withanolides are some of the key compounds found within ashwagandha and have been studied on their own for stress relieving effects. Ashwagandha is a very safe herb and can be taken long term. I would take 150 mg of ashwagandha that is standardized to at least 35% withanolides.
While ashwagandha (and adaptogens in general) can be helpful for anxiety, I would also add narrow-leaved coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) to your daily regimen. Researchers have discovered that compounds in this unique type of coneflower can help reduce anxiety as effectively as certain prescription medications, without the side effects. These compounds have been shown to affect certain brain receptors, which helps to instill a sense of calm and relaxation. I recommend 20 mg once or twice per day of the coneflower extract. This ingredient is safe enough to be taken daily to help prevent anxiety as well. Make sure you look for a clinically studied, narrow-leaved coneflower root extract standardized for echinacoside and an alkamide profile in the right ratio to reduce anxiety.
Terry . . . Naturally