Ashwagandha: Using Adapt in Adaptogen
Dr. Will Cole is our functional health expert on Total Reset, a free 14-day program that combines daily yoga, simple plant-based breakfast recipes, and nutritional supplements into one complete reset. Learn how to support your body’s ability to detox and rebalance with Dr. Cole by signing up for free at Total Reset and you just might win your way to see him in person at Wanderlust Palmaya (December 7-10, 2023). Full lineup and ticketing information coming soon.
When people talk about the two fates that befall all people, they usually talk about death and taxes. But I’d like to suggest two more things that affect every person: stress and inflammation. This topic is so important to our health that I have a whole chapter dedicated to stress and emotions in my book, Sensory sensations.
During Total Reset, we talk a lot about nutrition, detoxification, and movement as fundamental elements of health. But our emotions and the stress we experience every day can have a negative impact on our health that is just as harmful as toxins or a poor diet.
Chronic stress is the ultimate junk food
Stress has been widely researched, and chronic stress is one of the biggest contributors to chronic disease. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is directly linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung disease, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.
Our bodies have adapted to respond to stressors as an evolutionary coping skill. Our ancestors relied on our stress response to survive. Stress arose from threats to life and safety, as when a predator would chase us. If a lion or a bear started attacking us, what would our body do? This would trigger a stress response to either fight the animal, run away from the animal (escape) or freeze in an attempt to play dead in the hope that the animal will lose interest and go away.
For this, our body would begin to increase production cortisol, one of our stress hormones. This would increase production adrenalinand that would help increase our heart rate so we can pump more blood to our legs and run away. And that’s just how we are want our body to respond to a life or death stressor. That’s good, isn’t it?
It is, but today’s stressors are not what they used to be. We don’t have to hunt for food, and we rarely, if ever, encounter a bear that might attack and kill us. We have grocery stores that have a constant supply of products. Most of us have a home that protects us from the elements. And we have cell phones to dial 9-1-1 if we are in immediate danger.
Today, instead of facing acute stressors that come and go in seconds, we now face many chronic low-potency stressors that last for hours, days, weeks, and even years.
And here is the main thing: our bodies are still to react as if a bear were attacking us, flooding our system with cortisol and adrenaline. This applies whether we’re stuck in traffic and late for work, our babysitter cancels at the last minute, or we don’t get along with our boss, who we have to work with every day. These low-grade chronic stressors do not pose an acute threat to our survival, but they do pose a serious threat to our long-term health.
Adaptation to modern stress factors
Over time, people have adapted to stress, which is called a conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA), a type of gene expression associated with inflammation and low immunity. If you were being chased by a predator, CTRA would provide some useful short-term benefits, such as faster reaction time, increased ability to heal, and faster physical recovery. All this increased the probability of survival.
But in ancient times, these stressors were short-lived. Our ancestors would have escaped and in a few seconds or minutes would have been safe (or dead), but regardless, it would have been over. The stressful event will end, and the body will recover.
Now, when our modern mental and emotional stresses rarely turn off, our body constantly thinks it is being chased by a tiger. As a result, there is a long-term activation of CTRA in our brain assistance to chronic inflammation and increased risk of health problems.
Inflammation is not always bad
Both acute stress and acute inflammation are necessary for our survival. Acute inflammation is when you stub your toe and it turns red and inflamed. This is caused by the expansion of blood cells in this area. Your body increases blood flow to the damaged tissue to deliver nutrients and immune cells for healing.
But when stress becomes chronic, so does inflammation. And that’s when important processes in the body begin to work against our health.
Chronic inflammation can disrupt our immune system and lead to autoimmune diseases or even cancer. Chronic inflammation can also affect the lining of our arteries and lead to cardiovascular disease. Chronic inflammation is at the root of almost all diseases of aging: diabetes, dementia, arthritis, etc.
You’ve probably heard the saying: it’s not stress that’s important, but our body’s response to stress. Meaning, yesWe cannot avoid all traffic or email accumulation. Stressors will always be present, but the way we respond to them may change.
Adaptogens to support stress
Becoming more resilient to life’s stresses is both an art and a science. In this Total Reset, you practice the art of mindfulness and slowing down. Yoga and other forms of intentional movement, as well as meditation, are great ways to increase your physical and mental resilience.
There are also herbs that are called adaptogens. This is a family of herbs that have been used for thousands of years to help people cope with stress. In essence, an adaptogen helps the body restore balance.
This means that they act as regulators in the body. Ashwagandha is one such adaptogen that helps our body cope with stress. Its use dates back to 6000 BC in India. The name ashwagandha comes from Sanskrit language meaning “horse smell” as it was believed to give the user strength rather than smell! – a horse
Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce anxiety by up to 44%. It can help regulate the stress hormone in your body, cortisol, which can make you more relaxed. Studies show significant reductions in cortisol levels and reductions in self-reported symptoms of stress and anxiety in those taking ashwagandha.
Chronic stress can also alter blood sugar levels, which can contribute to diabetes or metabolic disorders. Ashwagandha has been shown to help manage the symptoms of diabetes increased sensitivity to insulin as well as a decrease blood glucose level.
Because Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, it helps regulate. This means that even though it can help calm the nervous system, it doesn’t make people drowsy, so it can be taken day or night. Conversely, those struggling with chronic fatigue can take ashwagandha to boost energy levels, balancing the stress response and helping the body recover from exhaustion.
Ashwagandha is universal; it can be steeped in water and brewed into tea. It can also be taken in tincture form or in capsule form. As a tincture, you can put 3.5ml (that’s about 3.5 drops) into a glass of water, juice or smoothie once or twice a day.
Another adaptogen that is a great herb for stress management is called holy basil. This is one of my favorite adaptogens. Studies have shown that people who take this Ayurvedic herb regularly experience less anxiety, stress, and depression (4). Holy basil can be consumed as a tea or tincture and is widely available in most health food stores.
Adaptogens are great tools to help us modulate our stress response and therefore our inflammatory response. One of the things I love about them is that you can add adaptogenic herbs and adaptogenic mushrooms to your meals to make them part of your daily ritual.
And we don’t want to forget that the biggest thing we can do is to reduce our stress levels build daily rituals that help sustain us and build resilience. That’s what Total Reset is all about. So make sure you take the time to tune in each day to your yoga practice before going about the rest of the day.
Dr. Will Cole is a leading expert in functional medicine who consults people all over the world via webcam, founded one of the world’s first functional medicine telemedicine centers. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative physicians in the country, Cole specializes in the clinical investigation of the underlying drivers of chronic disease and adapting a functional medicine approach to thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain issues.
He is the host of the popular podcast “The Art of Being Healthy” and the author of the bestselling The Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and the New York Times bestselling Intuitive Fasting, as well as the brand new Sensory sensations.
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