Ashwagandha on Social Media: Separating Fact from Fiction

Are the benefits of ashwagandha truly accurate?

Is ashwagandha really as beneficial as people claim?

From the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to the Wednesday Dance, social media has a knack for starting trends that take on a life of their own. But here’s the catch: not everything you read or hear on social media is true, especially when it comes to health trends. One recent health trend that has gained popularity on social platforms is ashwagandha. Users claim that this herb provides immense stress relief, boosts confidence, and even increases libido. But hold your horses! Are these claims really true? And are there any potential risks to using ashwagandha?

Dealing with Stress: The Unfortunate Reality

Let’s face it, stress can have a profound effect on our overall health. According to the State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report, a whopping 44% of workers across the globe experience high levels of stress. Ongoing stress has been linked to high blood pressure, increased cardiovascular events, weakened immune system, metabolic issues, and poor sleep quality. Given the damaging effects of stress, it’s no wonder people are on the lookout for different ways to alleviate it.

Enter Ashwagandha: The Stress-Relief Superstar?

One method that many people on social media platforms are using and promoting is taking supplements of the herb ashwagandha. Known by the catchy nickname “glizzy pills,” this herb is creating quite the buzz with its reported benefits, including boosted testosterone, increased libido, enhanced brain function, and the ability to handle unhappy events like a breakup or removing toxic people from one’s life with ease. But here’s the million-dollar question: do these claims hold any truth? Are there any potential risks associated with taking ashwagandha? And are there alternative ways to relieve stress without resorting to supplements?

Unraveling the Ashwagandha Mystery: The Experts Speak

To separate fact from fiction, Medical News Today consulted with seven medical experts. From their insights, we can finally uncover the truth behind the ashwagandha claims flooding our social media feeds.

What is Ashwagandha?

First things first, let’s get acquainted with ashwagandha. This small evergreen shrub, scientifically known as Withania somnifera, hails from parts of India, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Its Sanskrit name, “smell of the horse,” refers to the scent of its root, which is the primary part used for therapeutic purposes. With a history of over 3,000 years in Ayurvedic and indigenous medicine, ashwagandha has earned its reputation as a valuable herbal remedy.

The Social Media Hype: Why Ashwagandha?

One of the main reasons why ashwagandha is currently trending on social media is due to its stress-relieving benefits. Dr. David C. Leopold, a medical expert, explains that ashwagandha falls under the category of adaptogens, natural medicines that support mental and physical well-being during times of stress. These adaptogens, particularly withanolides found in ashwagandha, are believed to reduce fatigue and alleviate stress-related conditions. So, its popularity among social media users is not entirely unfounded.

Ashwagandha’s Impact on the Brain

But how does ashwagandha actually affect the brain? Dr. Amala Soumyanath, a professor of neurology, reveals that most of our knowledge regarding this herb’s neurological effects comes from laboratory studies rather than clinical research involving humans. These studies suggest that ashwagandha extracts can interact with neurotransmitter pathways and systems like the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic-adrenal-medullary (SAM) axis. Additionally, ashwagandha is being explored as a potential therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, with compounds called withanamides showing promise in protecting brain cells.

The Stress Relief Factor: Does Ashwagandha Deliver?

Now, the burning question: does ashwagandha actually help lower stress levels? According to Dr. Leopold, there is some evidence to suggest that ashwagandha can be effective for conditions like stress, fatigue, and sleep problems. Recent studies have shown that ashwagandha supplementation is associated with decreased stress and anxiety levels, as well as lower cortisol levels and improved sleep quality. However, it’s crucial to note that ashwagandha should not be viewed as a substitute or long-term solution for deeper underlying issues. As Monique Richard, a registered dietitian nutritionist, emphasizes, addressing foundational needs, mental health, and individual preferences is essential when considering any supplement.

Unveiling the Libido and Strength Claims

Apart from stress relief, social media influencers claim that ashwagandha can boost testosterone levels, increase libido, and aid in muscle building. While these claims may sound enticing, experts caution against getting swept away by misleading information. While ashwagandha may have mild to moderate effects on testosterone levels, libido, and strength, the actual benefits might not be as significant as hyped up online. It’s important to approach these claims with a healthy dose of skepticism and consider other factors, such as overall lifestyle and well-rounded nutrition.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

As with any supplement, ashwagandha is not without its potential risks and side effects. Individuals with autoimmune diseases, hyperthyroidism, or hormone-sensitive prostate cancer should exercise caution when considering ashwagandha. Pregnancy is another key factor to consider, as high doses of ashwagandha have been found to induce abortion. Additionally, gastrointestinal discomfort, drowsiness, and reversible liver toxicity have been reported as potential side effects. It’s crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before incorporating ashwagandha or any dietary supplement into your routine to ensure safety and avoid potential interactions.

Alternatives to Ashwagandha: The Stress Relief Arsenal

If you’re not sold on ashwagandha or prefer exploring other stress relief options, you’re in luck! There are plenty of alternative methods to ease stress and anxiety without relying on supplements. Dr. Heather Hausenblas, a professor of exercise science, suggests focusing on a well-rounded diet consisting of organic whole foods, including ample vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and nuts/seeds while steering clear of ultra-processed foods. Dr. Amy Sapola, a certified wellness coach, recommends supporting the gut-brain connection through a variety of fiber-rich, colorful foods grown in healthy soil. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, flaxseeds, chia, and hemp seeds, have also been shown to have anti-anxiety properties. Mind-body practices such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, pilates, tai chi, and qigong can be powerful tools in relieving stress and anxiety. Engaging in creative activities, disconnecting from electronics, getting enough sleep, and seeking emotional support from loved ones or mental health professionals are additional strategies that can contribute to overall well-being.

Engaging with Stress Relief: Finding What Works for You

In the vast realm of social media trends, it’s essential to approach health claims with a critical eye. While ashwagandha may offer certain benefits, it’s crucial to weigh the potential risks and consider other stress relief options that align with your individual needs. Remember, everyone’s stress relief journey is unique, and what works for some may not work for others. So, embrace the adventure of discovering what truly helps you unwind and find support in your quest to live a stress-free life.

Source: Medical News Today