Ashwaganda and Adaptogens

I just returned from a fascinating trip to India where we visited among other areas, Kerala, in southern India. Kerala is famous for spices and tea plantations dating back to the time of the Roman empire. Cochin, the port city of Kerala, has been a center of commerce and home to successive waves of European traders for centuries. In the verdant hills of Kerala we toured a spice plantation which grew vanilla, black pepper, cardamom, ginger and ashwaganda, an important herb in Ayurvedic medicine.

Though our guide emphasized that ashwaganda was the ‘Indian Viagra’, I knew it had many other important properties. Ashwaganda, as I described in The Adaptation Diet, is one of the most potent adaptogens, a group of herbs that supports healthy adrenal function and improves the ability to adapt to stressful circumstances. Studies show less adrenal enlargement, blood sugar elevation or cortisol depletion in animals pretreated with ashwaganda and exposed to stressful conditions. People treated with ashwaganda are less anxious in stressful situations. It has effects on androgen production,GABA levels in the brain as well as reducing inflammation and improving immune function.

Ashwaganda, along with the program outlined in The Adaptation Diet, can be an important tool in maintaining the ability to adapt to stressful circumstances.

The Curious Case of Gluten

When I wrote The Adaptation Diet, one topic I included which causes a lot of  confusion for  my patients, is gluten intolerance and celiac disease. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, malt, triticale, spelt, and kamut.  It doesn’t make much sense that  foods that were integral to human evolution  have caused so many people health problems. However, like many things in life, too much of a good thing has become a problem for some people. Sensitivity to gluten is widespread in the Untied States, especially in people of Northern European extraction (Scandinavian,English, Irish, and German).

Individuals vary in their response to gluten proteins. On one end of the continuum is simple gluten intolerance (also called non-celiac gluten intolerance) with symptoms of fatigue, headaches, digestive bloating, flatulence,diarrhea, weight gain, skin problems, depression, and joint or muscle pain. It is estimated that one in ten Americans could have gluten intolerance or wheat allergy. On the other end of the continuum is the more serious celiac disease, with major bowel symptoms, a less common problem with an incidence of 1 in every 133 Americans.

There are blood tests to help identify if you have gluten intolerance, but if there is any question the best approach is to adopt a gluten-free diet  for at least 3 months. If you are concerned about the celiac disease aspect, see a gastroenterologist to discuss the need for a biopsy before you stop eating gluten.