Ashwagandha and Blood Pressure: Does It Lower or Increase?
If you’re one of the millions of people living with high blood pressure, you understand the importance of maintaining healthy levels. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can damage your heart, blood vessels, and organs over time, leading to serious health complications like heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. While there are many medications available to help lower blood pressure, some people prefer natural alternatives. Ashwagandha, a traditional herb used in Ayurvedic medicine, has gained popularity in recent years for its potential ability to lower blood pressure. But does it really work? Let’s take a closer look at the science behind ashwagandha and blood pressure regulation.
The Basics of Ashwagandha and Its Effects on Blood Pressure
Ashwagandha, also known as Withania somnifera, is a plant indigenous to India and North Africa. It has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a wide range of health conditions, including stress, anxiety, insomnia, and inflammation. Research has shown that ashwagandha contains compounds called withanolides, which may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. Some studies also suggest that ashwagandha may have a positive effect on blood pressure regulation.
One study conducted on 60 participants with high levels of stress found that those who took ashwagandha supplements for 12 weeks had a significant reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure compared to those who took a placebo. Another study on rats showed that ashwagandha extract had a relaxing effect on blood vessels, which could contribute to its blood pressure-lowering effects. However, more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind ashwagandha's potential benefits for blood pressure regulation.
How High Blood Pressure Affects Your Body
Before diving into the details of ashwagandha and blood pressure regulation, it's important to understand the negative impacts that high blood pressure can have on your body. Your blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. When your blood pressure is consistently high, it can cause damage to your arterial walls over time, making them less elastic and more prone to narrowing. This narrowing of the arteries can lead to reduced blood flow to vital organs, including the heart and brain, and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
In addition to the risks mentioned above, high blood pressure can also cause damage to your eyesight. The tiny blood vessels in your eyes can become damaged, leading to vision problems or even blindness. Furthermore, high blood pressure can also affect your sexual health. It can cause erectile dysfunction in men and reduce libido in both men and women.
It's important to monitor your blood pressure regularly and take steps to lower it if it's consistently high. This can include lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, reducing salt intake, and quitting smoking. In some cases, medication may also be necessary to manage high blood pressure.
Traditional Uses of Ashwagandha in Ayurvedic Medicine
Ayurvedic medicine has long used ashwagandha to support heart health and lower blood pressure. In this ancient system of healing, ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen, or a substance that helps the body adapt to stressors. Some practitioners believe that ashwagandha can help the body regulate blood pressure by reducing stress and anxiety, which are known risk factors for hypertension.
Ashwagandha has also been used in Ayurvedic medicine to support the immune system. It is believed to have immunomodulatory properties, meaning it can help regulate the immune system's response to infections and diseases. Some studies have shown that ashwagandha can increase the production of white blood cells, which are essential for fighting off infections.
In addition to its medicinal uses, ashwagandha has also been used in Ayurvedic cooking. The root of the plant is often used as a spice in Indian cuisine, particularly in dishes such as biryani and curry. It has a slightly bitter and earthy taste, and is believed to have warming properties that can help balance the body's energy levels.
The Science Behind Ashwagandha's Potential to Lower Blood Pressure
While ayurvedic medicine has long used ashwagandha to support heart health and lower blood pressure, more research is needed to confirm these benefits. Some studies have suggested that ashwagandha may have a positive impact on blood pressure regulation. For example, a small study published in the journal Phytomedicine found that taking ashwagandha extract daily for six weeks significantly reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number) in people with hypertension. However, the study was small, and further research is needed to confirm these results.
Another study published in the International Journal of Ayurveda Research found that ashwagandha root powder had a significant effect on reducing both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with hypertension. The study also found that ashwagandha had a positive impact on other cardiovascular risk factors, such as cholesterol levels and inflammation markers.
One possible mechanism behind ashwagandha's blood pressure-lowering effects is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. Chronic stress is a known risk factor for hypertension, and ashwagandha has been shown to have anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects in animal studies. By reducing stress and anxiety, ashwagandha may help to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Clinical Studies on the Effects of Ashwagandha on Blood Pressure
Several other studies have also explored the potential blood pressure-lowering effects of ashwagandha. One study published in the International Journal of Ayurveda Research found that taking ashwagandha extract twice daily for 12 weeks significantly reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) in people with hypertension. Another study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine found that ashwagandha supplementation helped significantly reduce stress and anxiety in people with a history of chronic stress.
Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that ashwagandha supplementation improved endothelial function, which is important for maintaining healthy blood vessels and preventing cardiovascular disease. Another study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that ashwagandha extract had a protective effect on the heart, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in rats with induced heart damage.
It is important to note that while these studies show promising results, more research is needed to fully understand the effects of ashwagandha on blood pressure and cardiovascular health in humans. It is also important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you have a history of cardiovascular disease or are taking medication for high blood pressure.
Potential Mechanisms for How Ashwagandha Lowers Blood Pressure
While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind ashwagandha's potential blood pressure-lowering effects, several theories exist. Some researchers believe that ashwagandha may help regulate blood pressure by reducing stress and anxiety, which are known contributors to hypertension. Others believe that ashwagandha may work by improving blood vessel function or by increasing the production of nitric oxide, a molecule that helps to relax and dilate blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure.
Another potential mechanism for how ashwagandha lowers blood pressure is through its anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation has been linked to hypertension, and ashwagandha has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. By reducing inflammation, ashwagandha may help to lower blood pressure.
Additionally, ashwagandha may have a direct effect on the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS), which plays a key role in regulating blood pressure. Some studies have suggested that ashwagandha may inhibit the activity of the RAAS, leading to a decrease in blood pressure. However, more research is needed to fully understand this potential mechanism.
Other Health Benefits of Ashwagandha Beyond Blood Pressure Regulation
Ashwagandha has been studied for a wide range of health benefits beyond its potential ability to lower blood pressure. Some studies suggest that ashwagandha may improve brain function, reduce inflammation, and boost immune function. Additionally, ashwagandha has been shown to improve sexual function and fertility in both men and women.
Research has also shown that ashwagandha may have anti-cancer properties. Studies have found that ashwagandha extract can induce apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in cancer cells. This suggests that ashwagandha may have potential as a complementary treatment for cancer.
Furthermore, ashwagandha has been found to have anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects. In one study, participants who took ashwagandha extract reported a significant reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms compared to those who took a placebo. This makes ashwagandha a promising natural alternative to traditional anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications.
Potential Risks and Side Effects of Using Ashwagandha for Blood Pressure Control
While ashwagandha is generally considered safe for most people, it's important to note that some people may experience side effects. Common side effects of ashwagandha include drowsiness, upset stomach, diarrhea, and nausea. Additionally, ashwagandha may interact with certain medications, including sedatives and thyroid hormone replacement therapy. As such, it's important to speak with your healthcare provider before taking ashwagandha if you're on any medications or have any underlying health conditions.
It's also worth noting that ashwagandha may lower blood pressure, which can be beneficial for those with hypertension. However, this can also be a potential risk for those with already low blood pressure. It's important to monitor your blood pressure regularly if you're taking ashwagandha for this purpose and to speak with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns.
Comparing Ashwagandha to Other Natural Remedies for High Blood Pressure
Ashwagandha is just one of many natural remedies that people use to help manage high blood pressure. Other natural remedies that have been studied include garlic, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids. While more research is needed to fully understand the efficacy of these remedies, some studies have found that they may have a positive impact on blood pressure regulation.
How to Incorporate Ashwagandha into Your Daily Routine for Better Heart Health
If you're interested in trying ashwagandha to help manage your blood pressure, there are several ways to incorporate it into your daily routine. Ashwagandha is available in supplement form, including capsules, powders, and tinctures. Additionally, some health food stores sell dried ashwagandha root, which can be brewed into a tea. It's important to follow the dosing instructions on the supplement or tea packaging and speak with your healthcare provider before beginning any new supplement regimen.
Expert Opinions on the Efficacy of Using Ashwagandha for Blood Pressure Control
While more research is needed to fully understand the blood pressure-lowering effects of ashwagandha, some experts believe that it may have potential as a natural remedy for hypertension. Dr. Andrew Weil, a prominent integrative medicine physician, notes that ashwagandha has been used for centuries to support heart health and that some studies suggest it may have a beneficial impact on blood pressure regulation. That being said, it's important to remember that ashwagandha is not a substitute for medical treatment for hypertension. If you have high blood pressure, it's important to speak with your healthcare provider about the best treatment plan for you.