Stress And How It Affects Our Body: A Review Of Treatments

Academic Essays, Ashwagandha, Blog, Herbal Medicine

Chronic stress, as well as its associated illnesses, is a poorly mediated condition that people suffer from worldwide that affects 1 in 5 Canadians (Mental Health Commission Of Canada 2023). This has caused numerous health conditions to rise, including weight gain, obesity, diabetes, cardiac diseases, cognitive dysfunction and many more, as well as raised stress hormone levels like cortisol, which can lead to other metabolic issues (Choudhary et al., 2017). The Ashwagandha plant, also known as “Withania somnifera”  has a long history as an adaptogen within Ayurvedic medicine (Choudhary et al., 2017). Ashwagandha has been shown to support those suffering from stress and positively affect these associated illnesses. 

Choudhary et al.’s (2017) double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial studied the impact of ashwagandha on chronic stress and body weight, which was primarily evaluated using a food cravings questionnaire (FCQ) and perceived stress scale (PSS) to monitor cortisol. There were 52 participants referred from local clinics for the treatment of stress and overweight who were divided into two groups (n=26)(Choudhary et al., 2017). The first group was given 300mg of ashwagandha extract, while the second group was given an identical-looking placebo containing an inert filler (Choudhary et al., 2017). Participants were assessed with FCQ scores and PSS scores at four and eight weeks (Choudhary et al., 2017). 

Choudhary et al.’s (2017) study results demonstrated that the ashwagandha treatment improved eating behaviours and reduced cravings within eight weeks, with the FCQ scoring significantly lower (p<0.05), average body weight mass reducing by 1.4%, as well as the PSS scores having a 44% reduction. According to Choudhary et al. (2017), Ashwagandha was considered to be more successful than the placebo supplement, was deemed safe, and did not have a negative impact on the body. Choudhary et al. (2017) concluded and further verified that ashwagandha is a safe and promising medicine for treating those suffering from chronic stress, weight management issues and general well-being. 

Additionally, Majeed et al.’s (2023) randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial studied the impact of ashwagandha and its ability to improve quality of life as well as assess stress hormones by evaluating PSS, generalized anxiety disorder screener (GAD-7) and quality of life measured with a World Health Organization questionnaire (WHOQOL). There were 50 healthy adults with mild to moderate stress who completed the trial (n=25 in each group)(Majeed et al., 2023). The first group was given 500mg of ashwagandha extract standardized with 2.5% withanolides and 95% piperine (5mg) or a comparable placebo that contained microcrystalline cellulose once a day before bed for 60 days (Majeed et al., 2023). Participants were assessed with PSS and GAD-7 scores on screening day, day 30, and day 60, as well as WHOQOL scores on screening day and day 60 (Majeed et al., 2023). 

Furthermore, Majeed et al.’s (2023) study results demonstrated ashwagandha does have positive effects on stress and anxiety with PSS, GAD-7 and WHOQOL scores resulting in a significant improvement (p<0.001). According to Majeed et al.’s (2023) study, ashwagandha has been proven again to be more successful than the placebo alternative and showed significant reductions in treating anxiety and reducing cortisol levels, which in correlation increased serotonin levels and, for that reason, improved quality of life.

Both Choudhary et al. (2017) and Majeed et al. (2023) focus on using Ashwagandha for stress-related issues, including cortisol levels, as well as using a PSS that is measured throughout both of the trials. However, the dosages, participants and overall assessments were slightly different. Choudhary et al. (2017) focused on participants managing illnesses associated with chronic stress using a lower dosage as well as tests associated with those illnesses, like FCQ scores and three-factor eating questionaries. On the other hand, Majeed et al. (2023) focused solely on managing stress with adults who were at a mild to moderate stress level and additionally provided a higher dosage while addressing tests based on mental health like GAD-7 and WHOQOL scores.

Each study provides valuable insights into ashwagandha; however, there are limitations within both studies. Choudhary et al.'s (2017) study focuses on the associated issues with chronic stress, meaning the questionnaires are based on food craving surveys and other scales that have been self-reported, which makes the reader question their validity. While the Majeed et al. (2023) study focuses primarily on the mental issues of stress, their participants were classified as healthy adults with mild to moderate stress levels, which raises the question of whether or not this treatment would be helpful in treating those suffering from chronic stress or higher levels of cortisol or a trial that has enough evidence. 

Choudhary et al. (2017) and Majeed et al. (2023) both raise awareness of stress being the direct issue of many associated illnesses like obesity and depression while also providing evidence of reduced stress within participants receiving both 300mg and 500mg dosages. This was also proven in the FCQ with lower cravings, the PSS scores showing lower cortisol levels, and many more of their assessments in each trial. Majeed et al. (2023) then extended the evidence of reducing stress as participants had an increased dosage of 500mg, which resulted in an extremely significant improvement in their PSS, GAD-7, and WHOQOL scores.

While both studies are slightly different in their dosage criteria for participant assessments, Choudhary et al. (2017) and Majeed et al. (2023) both came to the conclusion that an ashwagandha supplement is more effective than a placebo in treating stress-related issues as well as reducing cortisol levels, which then reduces the chance of metabolic issues. This raises the opportunity to be able to help those who are struggling in this world with many of their ailments that are in direct correlation to stress. To conclude, there is an opportunity for a broader range of research to be done that could be studied on those suffering from chronic stress and associated illnesses as there is a huge population of the world suffering, and it could be beneficial to study the core reason why people are stressed or suffering from higher cortisol levels in the first place. 

References

Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S., & Joshi, K. (2017). Body weight management in adults under chronic stress through treatment with ashwagandha root extract: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine, 22(1), 96–106. https://doi.org/10.1177/2156587216641830

Majeed, M., Nagabhushanam, K., & Mundkur, L. (2023). A standardized Ashwagandha root extract alleviates stress, anxiety, and improves quality of life in healthy adults by modulating stress hormones: Results from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine, 102(41), e35521. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000035521

National standard. Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2023, March 24). https://mentalhealthcommission.ca/national-standard/

February 3, 2024

Hello! I'm Lisa, a Nutrition and Phytotherapy student passionate health and sustainability. Currently immersed in the fascinating world of nutrient-rich diets and the amazing benefits of plant medicine, I'm on a mission to unravel the secrets of holistic well-being. Nature is my sanctuary, and travel is my compass, allowing me to draw inspiration from diverse cultures and cuisines. As a health enthusiast, I advocate for a balanced approach that nurtures not only the body but also the mind and soul.

Lisa Forbriger

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