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Posted on July 07, 2016
Stress has quickly become a modern disease that has a massive impact on your personal life and health. An estimated 77 percent of people in the U.S. experience physical symptoms from stress, while another 73 percent experience psychological symptoms. More and more people are starting to turn to nootropics for stress relief. There are a variety of natural supplements and synthetic compounds designed to enhance various cognitive processes with little to no negative side effects. Compounds that relieve stress are called anxiolytics, stemming from anxi(anxiety)-o-lytic(lysis, to loosen or dissolve). The term was first coined in the mid 1960s. One of the most common natural anxiolytics is called ashwagandha. Two very popular versions are called Sensoril and KSM-66; both of which are patented, clinically-tested ashwagandha extracts with data to back up their efficacy claims. Let’s take a closer look at these two ashwagandha extracts and determine what works better for you.
Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng and winter cherry, is a staple herb used in Ayurvedic medicine, and is the plant that is used to produce both Sensoril and KSM-66. The name “ashwagandha” means “smell of horse” and refers to the herb’s distinct smell and the belief that taking the herb gives you the virility and strength of a horse. The plant name is Withania somnifera, which means “sleep-inducing” in Latin.
As an adaptogen, ashwagandha has primarily been used as a supplement to prevent anxiety and reduce stress levels, though it may also show promise in relieving insomnia and depression. Some studies also show that ashwagandha may be used to enhance physical performance, improve memory, and treat Alzheimer’s disease. Ashwagandha has also been shown to increase testosterone levels, which is thought to play a role in its relief of depression. Some doctors also recommend ashwagandha for cancer patients. While there’s no evidence to suggest that the herb can treat cancer, ashwagandha may help reduce immunosuppression and ease pain and discomfort caused by chemotherapy.
Ashwagandha contains steroidal lactones and alkaloids, including cuscohygrine, tropine, and withanolides. Most extracts of ashwagandha are standardized to withanolides. It is also the only plant to contain the compounds ashwagandhine, ashwaganidhine, and somniferine. The withanolide, withaferin A, acts as an anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor compound, along with inhibiting NF-KB, down-regulating VEGF expression, and modulating calcium channels. Withaferin A binds to and inhibits vimentin, preventing breast cancer cell growth both in vitro and in vivo. It also increases the expression of tumor suppressors.
As extracts of the same plant, how different could Sensoril and KSM-66 be? It’s true that they generally offer the same potential benefits in relieving the negative effects of stress and anxiety. Both have passed clinical tests and trials and conducted thorough research on the effects of ashwagandha. Both use patented, water-based extraction processes that eliminate the bitter taste of the herb. So what is so different about them, and how do they compare to regular ashwagandha extracts?
Most extracts of ashwagandha are standardized to 2.5% withanolides. This means that 2.5% of the extract by weight is withanolides, which are a group of at least 7 related compounds in ashwagandha. Sensoril, on the other hand, is standardized to 10% withanolides. The goal of Sensoril was to get the most potent extract, with the highest levels of withanolides on the market. This means that most people report Sensoril as being very strong, calming, and sedating. Often those with severe anxiety, or those wanting restful sleep, will prefer Sensoril the most.
KSM-66 opted for a different approach. Their extract is standardized to 5% withanolides, and sought to bring out an extract with the natural ratios of ashwagandha root. They spent 14 years on R&D to bring out an extract that gives high withanolides, but keeps the ratios in line with what is found in nature. The though behind it was that it was not just about getting the most withanolides, but getting them in the proper ratios. This means that KSM-66 is not as potent, but is actually described by many as stimulating and energizing, while still being an anxiolytic. Many times people with mild anxiety will prefer KSM-66, as it is less sedating and more useful during the day.
Sensoril and KSM-66 offer different benefits aside from potential stress relief. Some studies suggest that Sensoril may:
On the other hand, KSM-66’s benefits may include:
Another part of the difference comes down to the traditions of Ayurvedic medicine. Sensoril uses extracts from both the leaf and roots of the ashwagandha herb, while KSM-66 takes the more traditional route and comprises only the root extract. As a result, KSM-66 offers the highest concentration full spectrum extract of ashwagandha on the market. “Full spectrum” refers to an extract that maintains the balance of the various components in the ashwagandha plant, ensuring that each is equally represented in the final product. As a root extract, KSM-66 is virtually non-toxic. Since Sensoril is more concentrated, with over 10% withanolides, encapsulated dosages of it are lower than that of KSM-66.
Deciding between KSM-66 and Sensoril depends on what you’re looking for. Sensoril offers potential everyday stress relief and sleep quality improvement, while KSM-66 is seeing more use in sports nutrition as a means of possibly improving fitness. As a full spectrum extract, KSM-66 also offers a higher potency of the compounds in the ashwagandha roots.
However, it’s important to understand that both supplements may offer different effects based on the person. Brain chemistry and the human body are complex and differ from person to person. You may not need the high withanolides of Sensoril, or you may need something else entirely. Do your research and consult your doctor before you consider taking any nootropic supplement or compound.