Ashwagandha: Health Benefits, Side Effects, And How To Take

Bank on this ancient medicinal ingredient to handle your physical and mental well-being.

Medically reviewed by Julie Freeman, RDN, LDN, RYT Julie Freeman Julie FreemanRDN, LDN, RYT facebook_iconinsta_icon
Written by , Health & Wellness Writer Swathi Handoo Health & Wellness Writer Experience: 4 years
Edited by , Senior Editor Ravi Teja Tadimalla Senior Editor Experience: 8 years
Fact-checked by , Health & Wellness Writer Aparna Mallampalli Health & Wellness Writer Experience: 5 years
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Ashwagandha benefits have been well known since the beginning of Ayurveda (around 6000 BC). It is a critical ingredient in Ayurveda and treats many ailments. It is used to relieve pain, inflammation, stress, and fatigue (1).

Ashwagandha’s unique phytochemical composition has a role in its therapeutic properties. It is a revitalizing medicinal ingredient. Consuming it in moderation may also combat the risk of cancer. Learn more about it from this article.

protip_icon Know Your Ingredient: Ashwagandha

What Is It?
A medicinal herb used in Ayurveda, also known as Withania somnifera or Indian Ginseng,

What Are Its Benefits?
It reduces blood sugar and fat levels, boosts strength and muscle mass, controls thyroid hormones, and helps relieve anxiety and stress.

Who Can Consume It?
It is safe for consumption by all; however, those who are pregnant or nursing, as well as those who have autoimmune illnesses, may need to avoid it.

How Often?
It is generally safe to take every day, for up to eight to twelve weeks. For the correct dosage, do consult your medical provider.

Caution
It can interact with certain medications, and large doses can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and at times, liver issues.

What Is Ashwagandha?

What is ashwagandha?
Image: Istock

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an Ayurvedic herb. It is endemic to India, Pakistan, Spain, Africa, parts of the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The leaves, fruits, seeds, shoots, and roots of this plant have all been used in traditional medicine (1), (2).

It is often referred to as ‘Indian ginseng’ because of its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. As many as 35 different phytochemicals have been identified in ashwagandha extracts (2).

The plant parts have alkaloids, saponins, steroidal lactones (withanolides), polyphenols, phytosterols, fatty acids, etc. in varying proportions (2).

Hence, ashwagandha is used as a general tonic to boost energy and reduce fatigue. It is also known to possess anti-aging effects. There is enough evidence to prove these benefits and safety of the herb.

protip_icon Trivia
Ashwagandha has a long history in traditional medicine, and this herb is first mentioned in the Charaka Samhita (oldest surviving medical text) written by Charaka (200 B.C. – 200 A.D.).

Check out the following sections for a detailed account on ashwagandha.

What Does Ashwagandha Do To Your Body?

This ancient herb is a broad-spectrum medicine. From arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease, ashwagandha extracts may relieve almost every chronic disorder. It can promote immunity and also revitalize your body (3).

1. May Control Thyroid Imbalance

Ashwagandha may subtly increase thyroxine levels. Hence, this herb may be used to control clinical hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormones). A dose of 600 mg (per day) of ashwagandha root extract was given to 50 subjects with a thyroid imbalance. Almost all the subjects showed significant improvement in thyroid profiles (4), (5).

It contains phytochemicals like alkaloids, saponins, and steroids that assist in hormone synthesis. They boost the T4 hormone levels. T4 to T3 hormone transformation is also triggered (6).

Moreover, not many toxicity reports have been found for this herb. Hence, ashwagandha might be a safe herbal remedy to control thyroid imbalance (5), (6).

2. Manages Mental Health

Ashwagandha benefits in managing mental health
Image: Istock

Aging is accompanied by memory loss, low-stress tolerance, and mental health issues. These might lead to underperformance, low self-esteem, and weakened immunity. Using alternative medicine in individuals battling these conditions showed positive results (7).

Ashwagandha roots reduced stress and improved the quality of life in the elderly. They decrease the levels of cortisol, a neurotransmitter that elevates stress, burdens the adrenal gland, and deteriorates cognitive function. Also, traditional medicine used this herb to manage psychiatric conditions (8).

Cameron Scott, a blogger, shares his 60-day experience of using ashwagandha: “From the very first time I popped my first dose of Ashwagandha, I found myself feeling somewhat more relaxed within just an hour or so. It has been hugely beneficial in my ability to control my emotions. I’ve found Ashwagandha to be helpful when doing ‘deep work’ (i).”

Small-scale clinical trials demonstrate the effect of this Ayurvedic remedy on schizophreniai  XA mental illness that impairs one's capacity for thought, emotion and behavior and is characterized by hallucinations and delusions. and depression. While its mechanism needs further investigation, ashwagandha is a promising solution for stress, schizophrenia, and other age-related brain diseases (9).

3. Effective Against Inflammatory Disorders

Ayurveda uses this herb to treat several inflammatory disorders. Ashwagandha proved to be effective against gastric ulcers, Alzheimer’si  XA neurologic disorder that worsens over time, shrinks the brain and kills brain cells. It is marked by memory loss and confusion. , Parkinson’si  X A condition that worsens with time and affects the neurological system and the body. It is marked by tremors and stiffness. , and Huntington’si  XAn uncommon, incurable, and inherited illness that results in the gradual death of brain nerve cells. (neurodegenerative) disorders (10).

Several studies prove that this herb slows, stops, reverses, or even removes neuritic atrophy (nerve-borne pain) and loss of synapses in your brain. Ashwagandha can, therefore, relieve chronic pain (analgesic property) (10).

Also, it suppresses the production of pro-inflammatory chemical messengers in your body. This is one reason its extracts have been used to treat arthritis, skin diseases, swelling, constipation, goiter, boils, pimples, colic, and piles (10), (11).

protip_icon Did You Know?
The Nagori ashwagandha is the most potent among all ashwagandha types available around the world.

4. Combats Anxiety And Depression

Ashwagandha manages anxiety and depression
Image: Shutterstock

Recent research and traditional use of ashwagandha confirm its anxiolytic properties. It brings down the levels of anxiety and depression by acting directly on your nervous system (12).

Panic attacks cause the brain to release fair amounts of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This could lead to headaches, dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, and ultimately, nerve damage/death (13).

Herbs like ashwagandha protect the neurons from this damage. It is, hence, used as a mild tranquilizer/antidepressant (13). Ashwagandha may also help improve sleep quality (14).

The graph shows how different yoga techniques affect symptoms of anxiety in adults. It reveals variations in the results of the anxiety test, with lower scores indicating reduced anxiety. The evidence indicates that anxiety levels in adults are greatly reduced by integrated yoga practices that include breathing and meditation. Yoga poses alone, however, had no discernible effect on anxiety levels.

Anxiety Score

Source: Anxiety Score

5. Helps Treat Diabetes

According to animal studies, the leaf and root extracts of ashwagandha possess antidiabetic effects. The flavonoids in these tissues improve insulin sensitivity in individuals with diabetes (15), (16).

These extracts brought down the levels of several markers of diabetes. Urine sugar, blood glucose, glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c), and liver enzyme levels were all restored in treated subjects (15).

Ashwagandha also controls lipid metabolism in those with diabetes. It may prevent inflammation induced by hyperlipidemia (high lipid levels) and the resultant organ damage (15). Anecdotal evidence suggests that ashwagandha consumption may also reduce bad cholesterol and boost heart health.

6. May Enhance Sex Hormone Levels

Traditional medicine describes ashwagandha as an aphrodisiac. It is employed to treat male sexual dysfunction and infertility. Accordingly, clinical trials report a rise in serum testosterone and progesterone levels in subjects treated with ashwagandha (17).

The hormone-boosting effects of this herb are more pronounced in males. Several experiments and papers show increased libido because of enhanced testosterone levels in males. Ashwagandha lowers the levels of FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone) while boosting testosterone (18), (19).

Using optimal amounts of ashwagandha may increase sperm concentration, semen volume, and sperm motility in oligospermic males. It also exerts anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, and stress-reducing effects, which may contribute to better sexual behavior (18), (19).

Trivia Time!

  • Ashwagandha has been used to manage acne, hair loss (alopecia), and body weight gain. These symptoms also arise as a part of complex conditions like congenital adrenal hyperplasiai  XA class of genetic disorders that prevent the adrenal glands from producing enough hormones, impairing growth and development.  and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) (20).
  • It also helps in coping and preventing withdrawal symptoms from morphine and other opiate drugs. Traditional Indian and Chinese herbs like ashwagandha possess anti-addiction effects and have been used to treat opiate-induced fatigue, dizziness, anxiety, etc. (21), (22).
  • This herb protects your kidneys (nephroprotective) from chemical stress. It has been employed to treat various kidney diseases/injuries/failure (3).
  • The root of this herb smells like horse (“ashwa”). That is why it is called Ashwagandha. Upon consumption, it supposedly gives you the power of a horse!

7. Increases Muscle Mass And Strength

Image: Istock

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. Adaptogens are herbs that shield/condition your body to adapt to extreme conditions, including high physical, mental, or chemical stress. Such herbs, especially ashwagandha, work well as an ergogenic aid (23).

Exercise is also a form of stress, and this herb extract helps your body endure it. The root extract boosts testosterone and exerts anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects. This improves focus/concentration and endurance and ultimately increases muscle mass (23).

Studies show faster recovery from a muscle injury in subjects that took ashwagandha. This could be because of its anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. This traditional herbal supplement can, therefore, aid bodybuilding and core-building activities (23).

However, more research is warranted to understand the implications of the long-term usage of ashwagandha for muscle strength and stamina.

8. May Prevent Cancer

Ashwagandha, like several Ayurvedic supplements, exhibits anti-cancer/anti-tumor properties. Traditional preparations with this herb are employed to prevent and manage carcinogenesis (24).

Its leaf and root extracts have phytochemicals, like withanolides. They induce cell death and block the blood supply to growing tumors (angiogenesis). Studies on prostate, breast, lung, cervical, colon, skin, and liver cancers showed retarded tumor growth and progression following treatment with ashwagandha (24).

Ashwagandha also improves the quality of life in those undergoing chemotherapy (24).

9. May Prevent Oxidative Stress

Ashwagandha is a potent herbal remedy renowned for its antioxidant properties. This medicinal herb contains a group of natural compounds, including flavonoids and alkaloids, that may effectively neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in the body. Researchers conducted a study where they tested ashwagandha extracts on rats exposed to physical stress. It was found that these extracts boosted the antioxidant levels of the mice and protected them from physical stress (25).

It is also suitable for direct topical use. Its antioxidant properties were shown to improve hair growth in a study done on rats (25). So, this herb may also help individuals manage alopecia.

All the above benefits (and other unexplored ones) are brought about by the active constituents of this herb. Read the following section to get to know them in detail.

Active Ingredients Of Ashwagandha

Alkaloids, steroidal lactones, tannins, and saponins are the primary molecules in ashwagandha that help battle cancer, stress, aging effects, fertility, and inflammation. The identified alkaloids in ashwagandha roots include nicotine, somniferine, somniferinine, choline, hygrine, tropine, somnine, withamine, visamine, withanmine, and withanaminine (10), (26).

Most of the therapeutic properties are ascribed to the bioactive steroidal lactones (called withanolides) in ashwagandha. They are majorly present in the roots, aerial parts, and berries of ashwagandha. Withaferin A, D, E, withanone, trienolide, withanolide, etc. have been identified so far (26).

How To Take Ashwagandha? What About The Dosage?

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Ashwagandha is an herb that can be taken in multiple ways. Brewed root tea, milk-based tea, dried root, and leaf extracts, leaf paste, etc. are the preferred ways to ingest ashwagandha.

About 1000 mg/kg of oral doses have shown promising pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects as per lab trials (10).

However, there is insufficient information to establish a safe dosage limit for this adaptogenic herb. The dosage might be dependent on age, sex, and medical history. It is, hence, best to consult your healthcare provider.

Also, because ashwagandha is an herbal remedy, there are fair chances of herb-drug interactions. Read more about this below.

What Are The Drug Interactions With Ashwagandha?

Reports have shown pharmaceutical drug interactions with this herb. Such cases commonly arise when you take ashwagandha with (27):

  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines (sedative/sleeping pills)
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Blood pressure/blood-thinning medication, etc.

Ashwagandha may interact with these drugs and increase sedation, resulting in coma. It may also cause sudden fluctuations in levels of blood pressure and blood sugar.

Does Ashwagandha Have Any Side Effects?

It may be safe to have ashwagandha orally for a short-term. Almost no reports of toxicity with ashwagandha have been reported (3).

But long-term use or large doses of ashwagandha may affect digestion and cause diarrhea, upset stomach, and nausea. Also, there isn’t enough data to prove its safety in extended usage.

It is not clear if this herb should be used during pregnancy and lactation. The components of ashwagandha may not be transferred via breast milk to the fetus.

You might want to avoid using such herbal remedies on newborns and infants too.

In any case, follow the instructions given by your doctor or the manufacturer if you wish to use ashwagandha (28).

Infographic: Health Benefits Of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is a popular Ayurvedic ingredient that has been extensively used to treat several health conditions. While it is not scientifically proven to completely treat most ailments, it can help alleviate the symptoms. In the infographic below, we have summarized the health benefits of ashwagandha. Take a look.

health benefits of ashwagandha (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Get the high-quality PDF version of this infographic.

Download Infographic in PDF version

Ayurveda regards ashwagandha as a rejuvenating herb and a general health tonic. Many traditional remedies call for the plant’s fruits, seeds, shoots, and roots. The benefits of ashwagandha can be attributed to its active compounds like alkaloids, saponins, polyphenols, phytosterols, and fatty acids. This herb may help manage diabetes, aid muscle recovery, and reduce inflammation. Additionally, it also eases anxiety, serves as an antidepressant, and may help with weight management. The herb may also help improve hair health and skin health. You can consume it as tea, extracts, or pastes. However, ashwagandha can cause diarrhea and an upset stomach if taken in excess. Consult your health care provider before taking this supplement if you are pregnant or nursing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I take ashwagandha every day?

Yes. Daily intake of ashwagandha is considered safe. However, it should never be consumed beyond the recommended dosage levels.

Is ashwagandha good for females?

Yes. Ashwagandha has stress-relieving properties, which can treat sexual dysfunction and arousal disorder in women (28). It is also good for their joint health (29).

Can I take ashwagandha and multivitamins together?

Ashwagandha and multivitamins are usually advised not to be taken together.

Key Takeaways

  • Ashwagandha helps treat stress, reduce inflammation, and treat diabetes.
  • You can take it as a dried root tea or use its leaves to make tea or paste.
  • Studies suggest that 1000 mg/kg of ashwagandha may help reduce pain.
  • Ashwagandha may interact with alcohol and blood pressure medications to increase sedation.
  • Long-term use of ashwagandha may cause diarrhea and nausea.

ashwagandha benefits

Image: Stable Diffusion/StyleCraze Design Team


References

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. ASHWAGANDHA, LiverTox, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health & Human Services.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/n/livertox
  2. The Modulatory Role of Ashwagandha Root Extract on Gamma-Radiation-Induced Nephrotoxicity and Cardiotoxicity in Male Albino Rats, American Journal of Phytomedicine and Clinical Therapeutics, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
    https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=DDEA0E04FBF0BBD0029942162B746985?doi=10.1.1.678.2965&rep=rep1&type=pdf
  3. Effect of Ashwagandha 3(Withania Somnifera) Root Extract Against Gentamicin Induced Changes of Serum Urea and Creatinine Levels in Rats, The Journal of Bangladesh Society of Physiologists, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
    https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.847.4282&rep=rep1&type=pdf
  4. Subtle changes in thyroid indices during a placebo-controlled study of an extract of Withania somnifera in persons with bipolar disorder, Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4296437/
  5. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28829155
  6. Review on Miracle of Herbals in Treatment and Regulation of Thyroid, International Journal of Trend in Scientific Research and Development (IJTSRD), Academia.
    https://www.academia.edu/39739508/Review_on_Miracle_of_Herbals_in_Treatment_and_Regulation_of_Thyroid
  7. Impact Of Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) On Mental Health Profile Of Elderly Women, European Scientific Journal, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
    https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1020.531&rep=rep1&type=pdf
  8. A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults, Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573577/
  9. Effects of a standardized extract of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on depression and anxiety symptoms in persons with schizophrenia participating in a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31046033
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    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/
  11. Ashwagandha root extract exerts anti inflammatory effects in HaCaT cells by inhibiting the MAPK/NF κB pathways and by regulating cytokines. International Journal for Molecular Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29620265
  12. An Alternative Treatment for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of Human Trial Results Reported for the Ayurvedic Herb Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270108/
  13. Ashwagandha for Anxiety, Health And Wellness, Wayne State University.
    https://blogs.wayne.edu/healthandwellness/2018/08/02/ashwagandha-for-anxiety/
  14. Hypoglycaemic and Hypolipidaemic Effects of Withania somnifera Root and Leaf Extracts on Alloxan-Induced Diabetic Rats, International Journal of Molecular Sciences, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695282/
  15. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Insomnia and Anxiety: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6827862/
  16. Effect of Withania somnifera on insulin sensitivity in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus rats. Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18346053
  17. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study Examining the Hormonal and Vitality Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Aging, Overweight Males, American Journal of Men’s Health, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6438434/
  18. Effect of Withania somnifera on levels of sex hormones in the diabetic male rats, Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
    http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.848.9895&rep=rep1&type=pdf
  19. Treatment of Nonclassic 11-Hydroxylase Deficiency with Ashwagandha Root, Case Reports in Endocrinology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5496100/
  20. Withania somnifera prevents morphine withdrawal-induced decrease in spine density in nucleus accumbens shell of rats: a confocal laser scanning microscopy study. Neurotoxicity Research, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19551457
  21. Traditional Chinese and Indian medicine in the treatment of opioid-dependence: a review, Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4075718/
  22. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4658772/
  23. Withania somnifera: from prevention to treatment of cancer, Author manuscript, HHS Public Access, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4899165/
  24. Botanical, chemical and pharmacological review of Withania somnifera (Indian ginseng): an ayurvedic medicinal plant, Indian Journal of Drugs and Diseases, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
    https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1000.8622&rep=rep1&type=pdf
  25. Withania somnifera L.: Insights into the phytochemical profile, therapeutic potential, clinical trials, and future prospective, Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7811807/
  26. Herbal Remedies: Drug-Herb Interactions, Critical-Care Nurses, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
    https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.903.9218&rep=rep1&type=pdf
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    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501905/
  28. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Improving Sexual Function in Women: A Pilot Study
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4609357/
  29. A randomized, double blind placebo controlled study of efficacy and tolerability of Withaina somnifera extracts in knee joint pain
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5052364/
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