Ashwagandha and serotonin: in this article, we’ll look at how the Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha works in your brain, how it potentially affects the brain’s neurotransmitter serotonin, and what real-world benefits (and side effects) this might have on your mood and cognitive well-being.
[ARTICLE AT A GLANCE]
- Ashwagandha is an ancient Ayurvedic herb that has an impressive effect on your body’s hormonal homeostasis.
- A mixture of animal and human studies suggest ashwagandha can help reduce hormones that suppress serotonin – such as the stress hormone cortisol – while also directly increasing serotonin receptor sensitivity in your brain.
- Having healthy levels of serotonin is crucial for being in good mood, having a normal appetite, and achieving deep sleep.
- While Ashwagandha may help positively affect serotonin, it’s not for everyone; for example, those that suffer from autoimmune disorders.
Were you ever curious what hormone controls how you feel? Serotonin is this key neurotransmitter. It is responsible for our mood, feelings of happiness, and well-being.
Serotonin impacts your whole body. It allows your nerves to send signals to each other. Serotonin also ensures optimal digestion, sleep cycle, and appetite.
Too little serotonin and your brain may experience depression. If the brain has too much serotonin, on the other hand, you may feel anxiety as a result of nerve over-excitation.
Your body uses serotonin for the following functions:
- Digestion and bowel movements
- Inducing nausea
- Bone strength
- Blood clotting
Serotonin and well-being
Serotonin helps balance your mood naturally. When you have healthy serotonin levels, you feel:
- Less stressed
- More emotionally stable and content
Evidence from 2007 links low serotonin levels with depression. Some studies also suggest that serotonin deficiency leads to insomnia and anxiety.
Ways to Boost Serotonin
What are some of the ways to support your natural serotonin production? Apart from the SSRI drugs, which are prescribed by a doctor, Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience states these lifestyle modifications could have a major positive impact:
- Bright light exposure
- Regular exercise
- A healthy diet consisting of eggs, cheese, nuts, salmon, and pineapples which are all good sources of serotonin precursors
- Daily meditation
Ashwagandha is one of the most important healing herbs in Ayurvedic alternative medicine, which is based on Indian principles of ancient healing.
Ashwagandha usage dates back 3,000 years. People have used it for energy levels, relieving stress, and improving concentration.
In the Sanskrit language, Ashwagandha translates to ‘smell of the horse,’ which relates to Ashwagandha’s unique smell just as much as it does to its ability to boost strength and virility.
Botanical name of Ashwagandha is Withania somnifera, but you may also hear people call it “Indian Ginseng” or “Winter Cherry”.
Many of Ashwagandha’s health benefits stem from its root, which contains the active compounds called Withanolides, which have been shown to boost immunity and fight inflammation. In fact, if any component in Ashwagandha has the ability to help enhance serotonin, it’s Withanolides.
How Ashwagandha may affect your serotonin levels
So, can ashwagandha boost serotonin? According to David Tomen from Nootropics Expert, yes it can. David says Ashwagandha has the potential to enhance “GABA and serotonin” in the brain”. This means it could directly help with the production of the neurotransmitter.
Another reason why Ashwagandha may be able to enhance your serotonin is by encouraging homeostasis of your body. In other words, if your body doesn’t make enough serotonin to begin with, or if the production is hindered by stress, Ashwagandha may help. As an adaptogen, it’s specialty is bringing the hormones back into balance – reducing the stress hormones cortisol which allows for other hormones, like serotonin, to grow and expand.
Beyond that, Ashwagandha also works to directly up-regulate your 5-HT (serotonin) receptor sensitivity, according to one study.
What does the research say?
This study shows promising effects on Ashwagandha on serotonin receptor sensitivity in animals.
This means that the same amount of serotonin will have a greater effect once you add Ashwagandha to the mix.
Although we’ll need more human evidence to corroborate these findings, it looks like Ashwagandha makes your brain more sensitive to existing serotonin, in addition to boosting the neurotransmitter’s production.
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Any potential side effects of Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a safe herb. Very few side effects have been reported in healthy individuals. However, Ashwagandha can make your immune system stronger, which isn’t necessarily a good thing in some cases – such as with autoimmune conditions.
So before anything else, speak with your doctor if you have any condition to make sure you’re OK to take this herb.
Ashwagandha is a natural adaptogen herb which promotes hormonal homeostasis. It’s best known for reducing cortisol, the stress hormone which can suppress other hormones – and neurotransmitters in the brain – from being produced optimally. Which could in the end result in depressive and anxious episodes.
If your serotonin is out of balance due to stress or hormonal suppression, there is some evidence that shows Ashwagandha may help assist with the normalization of serotonin’s levels. It may also make your serotonin’s 5-HT receptors more sensitive to existing serotonin, alleviating some of the symptoms in the process.
If you aren’t sure whether Ashwagandha is for you, it’s best to talk to a qualified professional before taking it – especially if you have a condition.