ashwagandha helps depression and anxiety in people with schizophrenia

Schizophrenia can impair daily functioning to the point of being disabling. And it is not easy to treat. But, emerging research on an exotic but readily available herb is creating excitement.

Schizophrenia is a serious psychological condition in which reality is interpreted abnormally. People with schizophrenia can suffer from hallucinations, delusions, disordered thoughts, apathy, lack of emotion and poor social functioning.

But the last few years have seen studies suggesting that the herb ashwagandha can help. Ashwagandha has been used for over 2,500 years in India’s traditional Ayurvedic system of medicine. It is revered as a vitalizer, which is similar to what we would today call an adaptogen.

A recently published placebo-controlled, double-blind study put ashwagandha to the test by adding it to the treatment plan of people with schizophrenia who positive symptoms were still getting worse despite conventional treatment. Positive symptoms refer to the symptoms like hallucinations and delusions. The researchers wanted to see if the herb could help with the depression and anxiety they were suffering.

Over a 12 week period, the 66 people were given either a placebo or 1,000mg of standardized ashwagandha extract. The herb was superior to the placebo. The depression subscore of the Positive and Negative Symptoms Scale (PANSS) went down by 31.7% and the anxiety-depression subscore went down by 31.4% more than the placebo. And the ashwagandha was safe.

The researchers concluded that ashwagandha “hold[s] promise in the treatment of depression and anxiety symptoms in schizophrenia” (Ann Clin Psychiatry 2019;31(2):123-129).

And another recent study builds on that “promise.”

A double-blind study of 66 schizophrenics added either a placebo or 500mg a day of ashwagandha extract to their treatment for one week and then 1g for another 11 weeks. The people in the study had recently experienced an exacerbation in their symptoms.

The ashwagandha group had significantly greater improvement on the PANSS total, general and negative scores, but not on the positive scores. Negative scores include symptoms like apathy, lack of emotion, poor social functioning and disorganized thoughts. This result is important because conventional drugs are ineffective against these negative symptoms.

Stress in the ashwagandha group also improved significantly more. And, in another measure of effectiveness, while 27.3% of the placebo group had to up their dose of drug or add a second drug, only 6.1% of the ashwagandha group did (J Clin Psychiatry 2018;79(5):17m11826).

Several other natural supplements have been showing recent promise for schizophrenia, including curcumin, which we just wrote about in our last blog.

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