How Does Ashwagandha Work in the Brain

Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen—an agent that exerts biological effects that promote biochemical balance in the body and brain.56 Some of the ways that studies suggest ashwagandha functions in the brain include:

Enhancing GABA receptors and serotonin in the brain. Like the tranquillizer Valium®, ashwagandha appears to change the configuration of neuron receptors, enabling GABA molecules to connect easier. This inhibits the signals caused by stress—helping relieve anxious feelings.1,42

Ashwagandha roots also contain tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin—a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. 54

Hormone regulating effects. Current research indicates that the principal constituents of ashwagandha are withaferin A and withanolide D, believed to help regulate important human hormones.56

One example of ashwagandha’s regulatory action would be to block the receptor sites for a hormone that is in excess, preventing it from physiological action.56 Cortisol is a hormone normally produced by the body in response to stress. . Chronic stress leads to excessive levels of circulating cortisol, which exerts a number of unhealthy physiological effects—like drops in healthy levels of other hormones and increased production of cell-damaging free radicals.54 Studies show that ashwagandha can help regulate cortisol levels.45

Antioxidant and immune-boosting. Ashwagandha also has antioxidant and immunostimulatory properties which make it easier to withstand the effects of biochemical stressors related to anxiety.56

Inhibition of calcium. Research indicates that ashwagandha blocks the activities of calcium around neurons. Since calcium activity appears to contribute to a number of mood disorders, inhibiting its activity could counteract that effect.56

As the understanding of which constituents are responsible for the medicinal properties of ashwagandha increases, some companies have successfully sought to maximize the bioactive components of this natural herb. Standardized herbal extracts typically contain these concentrated levels of the most active components.45

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