Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) is an adaptogenic Ayurvedic herb that primarily helps in fighting stress and anxiety. However, consumption of the herb may lead to certain side effects. Its hypoglycemic and immunomodulatory properties may cause adverse effects in those with autoimmune disease or allergies. The herb may also cause abortions. In this post, we have discussed these effects in detail. Take a look.
Table Of Contents
What Are The Side Effects Of Ashwagandha?
1. May Be Harmful During Pregnancy And Breastfeeding
Ashwagandha is one of those herbs that can harm the baby or terminate pregnancy. According to reports by the Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center, ashwagandha can induce abortion (1).
The herb may also cause miscarriages. There is little information on the safety of ashwagandha during breastfeeding. Hence, stay on the safe side and avoid its use.
2. May Cause Liver Damage
Patients taking commercial herbal products containing ashwagandha were found to experience liver injuries (2). However, the mechanism of the herb in this regard is yet to be understood.
3. May Lower Blood Sugar Way Too Much
Studies show that ashwagandha can lower blood sugar levels (3). However, this may not be beneficial to someone on diabetes medication. The herb may lower blood sugar levels way too much. This causes other complications.
4. May Aggravate Hyperthyroidism
Ashwagandha is known to increase thyroid hormone concentrations. Hence, those with hyperthyroidism may experience undesirable symptoms (6). Hyperthyroidism is a condition characterized by already excess levels of thyroid hormones in the serum.
Individuals diagnosed with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) must also consult their doctor before taking ashwagandha as the herb may interact with the associated medications.
5. May Aggravate Autoimmune Diseases
Ashwagandha extract is known to boost the immune system (7). This property may be a problem for individuals diagnosed with autoimmune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. Medications taken for treating autoimmune diseases decrease immune system response, and supplementing them with ashwagandha may interfere with their effectiveness. More research is needed to understand the mechanism of ashwagandha on autoimmune diseases.
6. May Cause Gastrointestinal Issues
Excess ashwagandha may irritate the gastrointestinal tract (2). Hence, those with stomach ulcers are suggested to avoid the herb. Constipation was another side effect seen in a group that took ashwagandha (8). The herb may also cause diarrhea and an upset stomach (2).
7. May Cause Drowsiness
In rat studies, ashwagandha was found to have relaxing properties that might lead to drowsiness (9). Hence, someone on medications for insomnia may experience excessive sleepiness with the herb intake.
Ensure you don’t use the herb in conjunction with other medications like lorazepam, zolpidem, or alprazolam. Though the research about herb-drug interactions is limited, it is important to exercise caution.
Studies have also confirmed the sleep-inducing properties of ashwagandha (10). Taking the herb along with sedatives may lead to excessive drowsiness. Hence, consult your doctor.
8. May Lead To Erectile Dysfunction
As per researchers from the University of Ruhuna, ashwagandha root extract may cause erectile dysfunction and decrease male sexual performance (11). Though the herb is believed to be an aphrodisiac, this is something to be considered. More research in humans is needed to further understand this phenomenon.
9. May Causes Allergies
Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people may experience allergies due to ashwagandha. The reactions may include skin rashes, itchiness, inflammation, chest pain, and difficulty in breathing. People allergic to nightshades may also be allergic to ashwagandha. However, we need more research on this.
10. May Cause Fever
The use of ashwagandha may increase body temperature in some individuals. However, how this happens is yet to be understood. The elevated body temperature is said to return to normal in a few days. Information in this aspect is insufficient. If you have a high body temperature due to any reason, consult your doctor before taking ashwagandha.
11. May Cause Bleeding
Ashwagandha may cause bleeding. Individuals with bleeding disorders are not recommended to take the herb. However, there is no concrete research to support this, except for anecdotal evidence.
12. May Cause Dry Mouth
Intake of excess ashwagandha may cause dry mouth in certain individuals. Though there is not enough research, it is better to exercise caution and consult your doctor if the condition arises.
Most of the side effects of ashwagandha are based on anecdotal evidence. While more research is ongoing, it is important to take precautions.
Precautions To Be Taken
It is important to take ashwagandha in the right dosage. Strictly follow medical advice to prevent any adverse reactions. Certain other precautions that one must take include the following:
- Ashwagandha root extract should be used only as a supplement as it is non-toxic in comparison to Withaferin A (the anticancer molecule).
- It is advisable to take ashwagandha with meals (or breakfast) with a full glass of water.
- As ashwagandha may increase the effects of certain drugs or medications, it is important to review the drugs or medications that you are taking before consuming it.
- Those who experience abdominal disorders after using ashwagandha should consult their doctor. Large doses of ashwagandha may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting.
The ideal dosage of ashwagandha would be suggested by your doctor or healthcare provider. However, there are some recommendations you may want to know.
- Powder (leaf): 1-2 teaspoons a day
- Root: 1-2 teaspoons a day
- Capsule: 1-6 g of the whole herb (by mouth) per day
- Tea: 3 cups of the whole herb per day (1-6 g)
- Tincture: 2-4 mL (by mouth), thrice a day
Exceeding the dosage may cause side effects. There is less research to substantiate these dosage values. You may talk to your doctor for the exact dosage for you.
Ashwagandha is a healthy herb with potent health benefits. However, excess intake could be harmful to health. Most of its side effects are yet to be established. But it is important to take precautions. If you experience any side effects with its intake, stop use and consult your doctor.
If you want to go for ashwagandha supplements, ensure you are procuring them from a reliable manufacturer, and make sure you discuss it with your doctor.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
Can ashwagandha cause weight gain?
There is no research stating that ashwagandha can cause weight gain. In fact, one study states that the herb may help with weight management in adults under chronic stress (12).
Can I take ashwagandha in the morning?
Yes, ashwagandha is an adaptogen and can be taken in the morning to help combat fatigue and stress.
Should you take ashwagandha on an empty stomach?
There is no scientific evidence on the effects of ashwagandha on an empty stomach. However, if you feel discomfort or experience symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, contact a medical supervisor immediately.
- Ernst, E. “Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe?.” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 109.3 (2002): 227-235.
- Kurapati, K. R. V., et al. “Ashwagandha.” Withania somnifera.
- Udayakumar, Rajangam, et al. “Hypoglycaemic and hypolipidaemic effects of Withania somnifera root and leaf extracts on alloxan-induced diabetic rats.” International journal of molecular sciences 10.5 (2009): 2367-2382.
- Andallu, B., and B. Radhika. “Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root.” (2000).
- Anwer, Tarique, et al. “Effect of Withania somnifera on Insulin Sensitivity in Non‐Insulin‐Dependent Diabetes Mellitus Rats.” Basic & clinical pharmacology & toxicology 102.6 (2008): 498-503.
- Panda, Sunanda, and Anand Kar. “Changes in thyroid hormone concentrations after administration of ashwagandha root extract to adult male mice.” The Journal of pharmacy and pharmacology 50.9 (1998): 1065-1068.
- Singh, Narendra, et al. “An overview on ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda.” African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines 8.5S (2011).
- Chandrasekhar, K., Jyoti Kapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty. “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 34.3 (2012): 255.
- Kumar, A., and H. Kalonia. “Effect of Withania somnifera on sleep-wake cycle in sleep-disturbed rats: Possible GABAergic mechanism.” Indian journal of pharmaceutical sciences 70.6 (2008): 806.
- Kaushik, Mahesh K., et al. “Triethylene glycol, an active component of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) leaves, is responsible for sleep induction.” PloS one 12.2 (2017).
- Ilayperuma, I., W. D. Ratnasooriya, and T. R. Weerasooriya. “Effect of Withania somnifera root extract on the sexual behaviour of male rats.” Asian Journal of Andrology 4.4 (2002): 295-298.
- Choudhary, Dnyanraj, Sauvik Bhattacharyya, and Kedar Joshi. “Body weight management in adults under chronic stress through treatment with Ashwagandha root extract: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.” Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine 22.1 (2017): 96-106.
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