For centuries, traditional healers have touted the calming, mood-lifting properties of ashwagandha, an herb used in India’s ancient Ayurvedic medicine. Now, modern clinical studies have proven this ancient botanical can reduce anxiety, ease depression, and stabilize mood fluctuations comparable to common prescription benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants – but without the troublesome side effects.
In multiple trials, patients taking Ashwagandha experienced significant declines in anxiety scores after 8 weeks of supplementation. The herbal extract was also as effective as the antidepressant Imipramine at reversing behavioral markers of depression.
Research confirms ashwagandha blocks the same stress pathways in the brain as anti-anxiety medications and normalizes key neurotransmitters linked to mood disorders. These remarkable findings provide scientific validation for Ayurvedic health practices and demonstrate natural approaches can outperform pharmaceuticals.
Side Effects Of Antidepressant Drugs
Lorazepam and Tricyclic antidepressants are commonly prescribed medications for anxiety and depression, but they carry some significant side effects and risks:
Lorazepam (trade name Ativan) is a benzodiazepine used for treating anxiety disorders. Common side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, weakness, unsteadiness, and cognitive impairment. Lorazepam has a high addiction potential and abrupt withdrawal can cause severe rebound anxiety. It can also depress respiration at high doses.
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) like imipramine are an older class of antidepressant medications. Side effects of TCAs include dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, urinary retention, weight gain, sedation, dizziness, and increased heart rate. TCAs can be dangerous in overdose and potentially fatal heart arrhythmias are a major concern, especially for elderly patients.
Other risks of TCAs include increased falls and fractures in the elderly, cognitive impairment, and increased risk of dementia with long-term use. They are also not recommended for people with certain heart conditions, liver or kidney dysfunction, or glaucoma. Drug interactions are also common with TCAs.
Both Lorazepam and TCAs carry a black box warning about increased risks of suicidal thoughts and behavior in children, adolescents and young adults. The safety profile and side effects of these older medications make them problematic for long-term use. Newer antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications have been developed to reduce some of these risks.
The Ancient Healing Powers of Ashwagandha
For over 3,000 years, traditional Ayurvedic healers in India have revered ashwagandha, a shrub in the nightshade family, for its wide-ranging medicinal properties. Modern science is now confirming many of the traditional uses of this botanical and revealing even more therapeutic benefits.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) contains bioactive compounds called withanolides, including withaferin A and withanolide D, that are believed to account for its healing effects. As an adaptogen, ashwagandha enhances the body’s resilience to stress and balances hormone levels.
Ashwagandha is native to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Extracts are made from the root or leaves of the shrub. In Sanskrit, ashwagandha means “smell of horse” referring to the earthy scent of the root and implying the herb may impart the vigor and strength of a stallion.
Traditional Ayurvedic applications of Ashwagandha include:
- Rasayana – rejuvenator tonic to promote longevity, boost energy and enhance overall health
- Balya – improves muscle strength and recovery
- Medhya – enhances memory, intellect and cognitive function
- Nidrajanana – induces sleep and treats insomnia
Modern research shows Ashwagandha:
- Is an adaptogen that helps the body adapt to and resist stress
- Has anxiolytic and antidepressant effects comparable to medications lorazepam and imipramine
- Reduces cortisol levels and balances thyroid hormones
- Increases stamina and endurance by boosting oxygen utilization
- Has powerful anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties
- May inhibit tumor growth and enhance the effects of cancer treatments
- Protects the brain, reduces Alzheimer’s plaques and reverses memory deficits
- Promotes regeneration of nerve cells and synaptic reconstruction
- Improves symptoms of arthritis, including pain, swelling and stiffness
While human trials are still limited, the thousands of years of traditional use, combined with extensive animal research and some human studies, suggest Ashwagandha is a promising botanical treatment for a wide assortment of health conditions. More research is needed to fully understand how this ancient medicinal herb works to heal the body and mind.
Ashwagandha remains one of the most renowned rasayanas in Ayurvedic medicine. The broad spectrum of health benefits being uncovered by modern science support its traditional reputation in India as a rejuvenative tonic to boost longevity, energy, memory and overall health.
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Ashwagandha, the ancient Ayurvedic healing herb, offers a natural alternative for treating anxiety, depression, and a host of other health conditions. Extensive research over the past decades has now validated many of its traditional uses as a rasayana or rejuvenative tonic.
In head-to-head comparisons, ashwagandha matches or outperforms common pharmaceutical medications for anxiety and depression—but without the concerning side effects, safety issues, and risk of dependence posed by drugs like lorazepam and tricyclic antidepressants.
While larger scale human trials are still needed, the current scientific evidence suggests this ancient botanical, with its ability to safely stabilize mood, reduce inflammation, enhance energy and immunity, protect the brain, and potentially fight tumors, is a remarkable preventive and therapeutic agent for modern healthcare. As we continue to uncover the mechanisms behind ashwagandha’s broad healing powers, this ancient medicine is emerging as a “smart drug” for the 21st century.