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Is ashwagandha safe? The general answer is yes; ashwagandha is safe for most people, with a few exceptions.
There is quite a bit of research on the safety of this plant-based traditional remedy. Ashwagandha is used in traditional medicine and has been for thousands of years along with other medicinal plants.
The groups of people who should speak to their doctor and potentially avoid using ashwagandha include pregnant and breastfeeding women and anyone taking prescription medications. Before taking a medication, talk to your healthcare provider or holistic practitioner before taking ashwagandha to avoid interactions.
Overview on Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is a type of herbal drug coming from an evergreen shrub. The ashwagandha plant is native to Africa and Asia. Also known as winter cherry and the botanical names Withania somnifera and A. Withania, ashwagandha is one of the most essential herbs in Ayurvedic medicine.
Indian Ayurvedic medicine is an alternative, traditional form of medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing. Much of Ayurveda now has a scientific basis for its effectiveness, and ashwagandha is no exception.
Many of the health benefits of ashwagandha root extract stem from the concentration of withanolides. These compounds fight tumor growth and inflammation and improve the overall quality of life.
Benefits of Ashwagandha
The following are key benefits of ashwagandha:
- In several clinical studies, ashwagandha has reduced blood sugar levels. For example, in human studies, it’s been shown to lower blood sugar levels in healthy people and people with diabetes. These benefits are likely due to the effects on insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity. If you already take diabetes medications, talk to your doctor before trying ashwagandha.
- Animal and test-tube studies show ashwagandha has anti-cancer properties. For example, it can induce apoptosis, which is the programmed death of cancer cells. The compound withaferin is likely responsible for these effects. Animal studies show ashwagandha may help several types of cancer, including breast, colon, brain, ovarian, and lung.
- Cortisol is what your adrenal glands release in response to different aspects of stress. In some situations, your baseline levels of cortisol can be chronically high. When you have chronically elevated cortisol, it can lead to fat storage in the abdomen and high blood sugar. Ashwagandha may help lower cortisol levels and reduce anxiety in adults. For example, in one pilot study that was a human trial, participants in the study drug treatment group taking the highest dose of the plant-based remedy had an average of a 30% reduction of cortisol levels.
- One of the most well-studied benefits of ashwagandha is stress reduction, known as anxiolytic effects. Researchers find that it can block the stress pathway in the brain by regulating chemical signaling in the nervous system, making it helpful for generalized anxiety disorder and other similar psychiatric disorders. This has been proven in animal and human studies. For example, in one pilot trial study with a sample size of 64 people with chronic stress, a group taking an ashwagandha supplement reported a 69% reduction in anxiety and chronic insomnia on average in contrast to baseline scores and compared to 11% in the placebo group.
- Some studies suggest ashwagandha could help depression symptoms. In one study, adults taking 600 mg of ashwagandha extract per day had a 79% average reduction in severe depression.
- We briefly mentioned the benefits of ashwagandha for patients with insomnia because of anxiety. Ashwagandha can also help you if you have insomnia outside of it being a symptom of anxiety. You might find that this herbal remedy helps you replace sedative medications. Research shows it can help you fall asleep and stay asleep effectively with minimal adverse reactions.
- Taking an ashwagandha supplement can be a powerful way to boost testosterone levels and fertility in men naturally. Sperm quality improvement, for example, has been shown in studies of ashwagandha.
- There are potential effects of ashwagandha supplementation on muscle strength and body composition. For example, in one exploratory study of healthy adults, participants taking ashwagandha had more gains in muscle mass and strength and doubled reductions in percentage of body fat compared to a placebo group.
- Ashwagandha may help with exercise and physical performance, including cardiorespiratory endurance in athletic adults.
- Animal studies confirm this herbal remedy may decrease inflammation. In humans, ashwagandha has been shown to increase natural killer cell activity. Natural killer cells are a crucial part of your immune system that help you remain healthy, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Ashwagandha can reduce specific inflammation markers and vital parameters, including C-reactive protein (CRP).
- This herbal supplement can help heart health by reducing not just inflammation but also triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Animal studies show it significantly lowers blood fats. For example, an experimental study protocol in rats found it decreased total cholesterol by 53% and triglyceride levels by 45%.
- Both test-tube and animal studies confirm the effects of ashwagandha root can help brain function and memory problems, likely because it can reduce oxidative stress. In Ayurveda, traditionally, ashwagandha is used as a memory booster and aid for cognitive function to reduce cognitive decline. In a controlled study of healthy men taking 500 mg of this dietary supplement, participants had improvements in task performance and reaction time. Another study found 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice a day helped attention, task performance, and overall memory. There’s the potential the efficacy of ashwagandha could play a role in reducing the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders and cognitive dysfunction.
- This herbal supplemental and alternative treatment have properties called steroidal lactones, meaning it has effects similar to prescription steroids like prednisone.
Is Ashwagandha Safe?
So, back to our original question—is ashwagandha safe?
Overall one of the significant benefits of this ancient Indian medicine remedy is that it’s generally well-tolerated and is considered safe for most people.
While most people will experience no side effects of this Ayurvedic therapy, mild adverse effects of ashwagandha might include nausea, GI upset, and diarrhea.
Even though the general answer to “is ashwagandha safe” is yes, there are a few caveats with this medicinal herb and specific medical conditions.
- If you’re pregnant, avoid using ashwagandha. Pregnant women should not use ashwagandha because it can cause fetal distress.
- Ashwagandha can affect thyroid function and thyroid hormone levels. For people with an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism, this can be a benefit. However, if your thyroid is borderline hyperactive, ashwagandha could worsen thyroid disorders or negatively affect thyroid hormone concentrations. Talk to your health provider if you have borderline hyperthyroidism before taking this herbal drug.
- If you have an autoimmune disease or similar chronic condition, talk to a holistic health practitioner before taking ashwagandha. While it’s thought to be an adaptogen that can balance out an overactive immune system, some worry it could send your immune system into overdrive if you already have an autoimmune disorder.
- Ashwagandha can decrease blood pressure and blood sugar, so you may need to adjust medication dosages if you take it.
- Some people report a rise in body temperature after they start taking ashwagandha. For most, this will go away after a week or two.
Some people worry ashwagandha can cause liver damage, also known as hepatotoxicity. In clinical trials, there have been no reports of this. There have been no reports of serum enzyme elevations or any mentions of serious adverse effects.
What you should be careful of is taking supplements that contain other ingredients along with ashwagandha. You need to learn as much as you can about each ingredient before you take a supplement.
For that reason, we don’t usually like blended supplements. We find that it’s better to take supplements individually so that if you do experience a side effect, you’ll be able to trace what’s causing it.
Another fear some people have is that ashwagandha could cause serotonin syndrome, especially if you have a condition like bipolar disorder. We weren’t able to find any evidence indicating ashwagandha could put you at risk for serotonin syndrome.
It’s imperative if you’re going to take ashwagandha that you choose a high-quality product.
The FDA doesn’t regulate Ayurvedic herbs or manufacturers, and some herbs can contain heavy metals or low amounts of the actual herb. That can affect the safety of ashwagandha on a brand-specific basis.
When you choose reputable brands, you can avoid this. Look for brands that do third-party, independent testing when possible. Also, choose a high-concentration full-spectrum extract for maximum benefits.
You want to be careful about your dosages as well, as is the case with any supplement. Follow manufacturer instructions. Typically, doses of ashwagandha range from 450 mg to 500 mg capsules taken either once or twice a day.
Final Thoughts—Is Ashwagandha Safe?
Is ashwagandha safe? Overall yes, the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha is considered very safe with numerous benefits for the human body. For thousands of years, holistic health practitioners have used ashwagandha. There are a lot of potential benefits of this herbal preparation like increased mood and energy levels, reduced stress, benefits for neurodegenerative diseases, and even benefits for breast cancer patients and other types of cancer patients.
We know a lot about ashwagandha’s long-term effects compared to many other herbal medicines because of its long history of use.
With that being said, don’t use it if you’re pregnant. If you have an autoimmune or thyroid condition, use ashwagandha with caution. Always speak to a health care professional before you take a new supplement, especially if you have existing health issues.
Ashwagandha shouldn’t be used as a replacement for traditional medical care for the treatment of health conditions.