What is ashwagandha?
You may not have heard of this herbal remedy but it’s been used for centuries in the traditional Indian medical system, Ayurveda, and is now becoming better known in the West. A small, yellow-flowered shrub, it’s native to India and parts of North Africa. Its botanical name is withania somnifera and it’s also known as Indian ginseng.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which means it can help your body cope with stress. It has a protective effect against some of the physical and emotional symptoms, including low mood, high levels of blood sugar and the stress hormone cortisol. Ayurvedic practitioners regard it as important for women’s health.
So how exactly can it help with menopausal symptoms?
Soothing meno-related anxiety
Ashwagandha is renowned as an all-round stress-buster so it may be a remedy to reach for if menopause has triggered a lot of stress and anxiety. In one small Indian study, people with high stress levels who took ashwagandha had a 69% improvement in anxiety and insomnia related to stress, compared to just 11% in the placebo group. Another study suggested it may have a role in easing anxiety, which is common at menopause.
Safeguarding against the physical effects of stress
Ashwagandha has been shown to help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which soars when you’re under pressure and can have a knock-on effect on everything from sleep to appetite . You can’t always control what’s going on in your life but you can help your body protect itself, and, along with being active, eating well and taking time out to relax, an adaptogenic herb like ashwagandha could be supportive.
Protecting the heart
Oestrogen helps protect your heart health, so the sharp decline in this hormone around menopause can mean your risk of heart disease starts to rise, particularly if you have other risk factors such as being overweight. There’s evidence to suggest that ashwagandha may help to lower some of the physical markers associated with cardiovascular disease, including low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides.
Beating brain fog
Keep forgetting words mid-sentence? Lots of women complain of feeling less sharp mentally during menopause. Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha have traditionally been used to help improve memory and concentration, and in ayurvedic medicine it’s often given to boost memory. There isn’t a lot of evidence to back this up but if poor concentration is one of your meno symptoms, it may be worth a go.
Easing hot flushes
Ashwagandha is considered to play a role in balancing the hormonal system. This could be because it seems to help reduce cortisol, which can have a knock-on impact on other hormones. In theory, this may mean it could help with a range of menopause symptoms, including hot flushes, and some women swear by it for those reasons. Again, there’s not enough evidence to say this for certain but it may be worth trying to see if it works for you.
How do I take it?
You can find ashwagandha capsules in health stores, or you could visit an ayurvedic practitioner for a tailored diagnosis and treatment with traditional herbs. Dosage depends on the individual but a standard dose is a 450-500mg capsule once or twice daily.
Stay safe!Ashwagandha is considered safe for most people. But you should always check with your doctor before you take it if you have any long-term conditions or are on medication. In particular, avoid it if you have an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, or you’re on thyroid medication.