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Ashwagandha: Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

By Dr Siddharth Gupta +2 more

Introduction:

Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera is a popular herb in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. It is a small shrub that belongs to the family Solanaceae. It might be useful for different diseases and mostly as a nervine tonic (has a soothing effect on nerves). Ashwagandha is commonly called Indian Ginseng or Indian winter cherry. Ashwagandha is known for its rasayana (tonic) property. Rasayana is a herbal or metallic formulation that stimulates a youthful physical and mental state of health as well as happiness.1


Ashwagandha is cultivated in dry regions of South Asia, Africa, and Central Asia. More than 50 chemical constituents have been isolated from different parts of the ashwagandha plant.[1]

Did you know?

  • Ashwagandha is rich in iron, providing approximately 17% of the recommended daily intake per serving. source: USDA FoodData Central
  • Ashwagandha can help improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia symptoms. source: NCCIH
  • Ashwagandha have potential benefits for male reproductive health, including increasing testosterone levels and improving sperm quality. source: NCCIH 
  • Ashwagandha contains a variety of beneficial compounds, including alkaloids, steroidal lactones, and withanolides. source: NCCIH 
  • Ashwagandha has adaptogenic and anti-stress properties, increasing stamina and preventing adrenal gland changes. source: PMC

Nutritional Value of Ashwagandha:

In 100 grams of ashwagandha, the nutrients found are:

NutrientValue
  Energy  250 g
  Total dietary fibre  25 g
  Carbohydrate  75 g

                                      Table 1: Nutritional value of ashwagandha2

Properties of Ashwagandha:

Ashwagandha is also called an ‘adaptogenic’ herb or a ‘royal’ herb since it helps reduce stress, and helps your body adapt to changes. It rejuvenates various body systems like the immune, reproductive, and endocrine systems.

Dr. Siddharth Gupta, MD

The potential properties of ashwagandha are:

  • It might be help with pain relief and sleep
  • It may act as a diuretic (expelling urine from the body)
  • It may act as an astringent (constricting body tissues)
  • It may be an antihelminthic (acting against parasitic worms)
  • It may be thermogenic (heat-producing).1
  • It might have anti-inflammatory (reduces swelling) potential
  • It may be an anti-pyretic (reducing fever)
  • It may have depurative (detoxifying) properties.1
  • It may be heart-protective
  • It might act as a sedative (inducing sleep)
  • It may be thyroprotective (protecting the thyroid gland)
  • It might have hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) property.3

Potential Uses of Ashwagandha:

Did you know ashwagandha contains high levels of polyphenols, mainly catechin, which is responsible for its antioxidant actions? All the parts of ashwagandha, including the roots, leaves and fruits, are rich in catechin, which provides potential health benefits.

Dr. Smita Barode, BAMS

The potential uses of ashwagandha for human health are as follows

Potential use of ashwagandha for anxiety and depression:

Ashwagandha might have anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving) properties that are similar to that of the drug lorazepam. According to an animal study, both ashwagandha and lorazepam might help reduce anxiety in animal models. Ashwagandha might also exhibit potential antidepressant properties. This indicates that ashwagandha might help with depression and anxiety.1 However, more research is required. Anxiety and depression are that may need serious attention and one should seek medical help from a professional for it.

Potential use of ashwagandha for arthritis:

Ashwagandha might have potential anti-arthritic properties that may be widely accepted and reported. Ashwagandha might help relieve pain by soothing the nervous system. In an experimental study, patients were given a formula containing ashwagandha. This herbal formulation showed the potential to reduce the severity of pain and disability.1,4 However, arthritis is a serious condition and must be diagnosed and treated by a doctor.

Potential use of ashwagandha for cognition (mental processes involved in acquiring knowledge and understanding)

Ashwagandha is a popular Ayurvedic rasayana and belongs to medhyarasayanas, a sub-group of rasayanas. Medhya means mental/intellectual ability. Ashwagandha might help enhance memory and intelligence. This potential of ashwagandha for cognition was seen in children with compromised memory and old age as anecdotal evidence.1 However, such claims lack scientific back-up. Therefore, more research is required.

Potential use of ashwagandha for stress:

The circulatory system and cardiovascular health are adversely affected due to mental stress. Stress also affects the body’s antioxidant defence system. Ashwagandha might help the body adapt to stress. It may also effective in improving mental and physical health.5 However, more research is required to ascertain such claims.

PharmEasy Recommends –EverHerb Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha may be helpful in combating hair loss and promoting hair growth. Hair loss usually occurs due to stress. The lactones present in ashwagandha can reduce the levels of cortisol hormone in the body, which relieves stress.

Dr. Anuja Bodhare, MD

Potential use of ashwagandha for pain:

In a study, treatment with an aqueous extract of ashwagandha showed potential to increase the pain threshold (a point beyond which a trigger produces pain) compared to that of placebo showing that ashwagandha might be an analgesic agent.4  However, further research is required to state these as concrete facts.

Also Read: Shilajit: Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

Other potential uses of ashwagandha:

Ashwagandha is derived from two words-ashwa meaning ‘horse’ and gandha meaning ‘smell’. It is named so because the fresh roots of ashwagandha emit the smell of horse. It is believed to boost vitality and strength in your body, comparable to a horse.

Dr. Rajeev Singh, BAMS

Ashwagandha might help deal with problems related to sleep and may contain sleep-inducing properties. It might also help one to fall asleep faster and help have an improved sleep quality.7

Though there are studies that show the potential uses of ashwagandha in various conditions, these are insufficient and there is a need for further studies to establish the true extent of the benefits of ashwagandha on human health. 

Ashwagandha may be helpful in improving the performance of swimmers as it boosts stamina. It is possible that the duration that can be covered by swimmers taking ashwagandha is longer than those not taking it.

Dr. Ashok Pal, BAMS

How to Use Ashwagandha?

The important formulations of ashwagandha include:

  • Asvagandhadyarishta (syrup form)
  • Asvagandhadi leha (powder form)
  • Balasvagandha lakshadi taila (oil form)7

It is also available in the form of tea, pills, gummies, or tincture. The roots, seeds, leaves and flowers of ashwagandha can be used for medicinal purposes.1,7,8

You must consult a qualified doctor before taking any herbal supplements. Do not discontinue or replace an ongoing treatment of modern medicine with an ayurvedic/herbal preparation without consulting a qualified doctor.  

Also Read: Ashwagandha Benefits for Men: A Research-Backed Guide to Natural Wellness

Side Effects of Ashwagandha:

The safety of the long-term use of ashwagandha has not been fully documented. However, the most common side effects of ashwagandha are:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach upset7

The less common side effects are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Vertigo (dizziness)
  • Cough and congestion
  • Rashes
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Weight gain
  • Hallucinations7

Ashwagandha might also cause liver damage. It is essential to call your healthcare provider when you experience any side effects, particularly those consistent with liver damage like itchy skin or jaundice.7 Therefore, kindly consult an Ayurvedic physician before using ashwagandha. They will tailor the prescription according to your health needs.

Also Read: Bakuchi: Uses, Benefits, Dosage & Side Effects

Precautions to Take with Ashwagandha:

Ashwagandha must be avoided in some conditions like:

  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Autoimmune diseases (conditions where the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues)
  • Recent surgery or an upcoming surgical procedure
  • Thyroid disorders7

Kindly do not self-medicate, alter, replace or discontinue any ongoing treatment. Please consult a doctor.

Also Read: Can Ashwagandha Increase Height: An Evidence-Based Review

Interactions With Other Drugs:

It is essential to take precautions when using ashwagandha with:

  • Barbiturates (a group of drugs that cause relaxation or sleepiness): Ashwagandha might aggravate the effect of barbiturates. Hence caution must be taken while taking this combination.
  • Alcohol: It is not advisable to take ashwagandha with alcohol.
  • Sedatives: Ashwagandha should not be taken with health products with sedative properties.

To make sure that ashwagandha does not interfere with other medications, it is essential to consult your physician.4

Also Read: Pippali: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects & More!

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is a well-known herb used in Ayurvedic medicine. Its common names include winter cherry and Indian ginseng. It is obtained from a small evergreen shrub known as Withania sominfera. Ashwagandha might be helpful for a wide variety of ailments.7

Where is ashwagandha commonly cultivated?

In India, ashwagandha is cultivated in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.4

Can ashwagandha be used for the common cold?

The decoction of the roots of ashwagandha might be helpful for colds and chills. The root bark might be helpful for asthma.4 Kindly do not self-medicate. Consult a doctor before taking ashwagandha for common cold.

Can ashwagandha be used as an anti-inflammatory agent?

In Ayurvedic medicine, the root of ashwagandha is used as an anti-inflammatory agent by an Ayurvedic physician for dealing with tumours, swellings, scrofula (a type of tuberculosis), and rheumatoid arthritis (a condition affecting joints and bones).4 However, you are advised not to use ashwagandha for the above-mentioned conditions by yourself. Kindly consult an Ayurvedic physician for the same.

What are the indications of ashwagandha in Ayurvedic medicine?

Ashwagandha is indicated in conditions like syncope (temporary loss of consciousness associated with insufficient blood flow to the brain), piles, tumours, cervical lymphadenitis (enlargement of neck lymph nodes), gout (a type of arthritis), diseases of the skin, vitiligo (a disorder that causes the skin to lose colour), lockjaw, heart failure, abscesses (a painful collection of pus), stiffness of the knee, cachexia (muscle and weight loss), bone fracture and diabetic carbuncle (cluster of painful boils).4 Kindly consult a doctor. Do not self-medicate.

References:

  1. Narendra Singh, Mohit Bhalla, Prashanti de Jager, Marilena Gilca; An overview on ashwagandha: A rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. African journal of traditional, complementary and alternative medicines. 2011 June 3 8(5): 208-213 Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/
  2. Lopresti, Adrian L.PhD, Smith Stephen J. MA, Malvi, Hakeemudin MBBS MD, Kodgule, Rahul MBBS; An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (withania somnifera) extract A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine. 2019-2018 Sep 98(37): pe17186. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/mdjournal/fulltext/2019/09130/an_investigation_into_the_stress_relieving_and.67.aspx
  3. Food data central. Organic ashwagandha powder, ashwagandha. [Internet] Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1717797/nutrients
  4. Kruthika Joshi, Swagata D Tavhare, Kalpesh Pandra, Praveen Kumar; Studies of Ashwagandha (withania Somifera Dunal). International journal of pharmaceutical and biological archives. 2016 7(1): 1-11. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303343480_Studies_of_Ashwagandha_Withania_somnifera_Dunal/link/573dbb3908ae9ace84111bb9/download
  5. Mariann Garner-Wizard, Shari Henson, Dani Hoots, Samaara Robbins, Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD, LN; Ashwagandha may reduce stress-induces cardiovascular changes in healthy males; more study is needed. Current top nutraceutical resources. 2013; 11(4): 151-158. Available from: https://www.herbalgram.org/media/6857/507_051456-507-051456.pdf
  6. Swati Dongre, Deepak Langade, And Sauvik Bhattacharyya; Efficacy and safety of ashwagandha (withania somnifera) root extract in improving sexual function in women: A pilot study. BioMed Research International. 2015 Oct. Available from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2015/284154/
  7. Sleep foundation. Ashwagandha for sleep. [Internet] Available from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/naturalsleepaids/ashwagandha#:~:text=unknown%20side%20effects.,Ashwagandha%20as%20a%20Sleep%20Aid,%25%20better14%2C%20on%20average
  8. The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India. Part-1 Volume-1. Available from: http://www.ayurveda.hu/api/API-Vol-1.pdf

Also Read: Vidarikand: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects & More!

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational/awareness purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional and should not be relied upon to diagnose or treat any medical condition. The reader should consult a registered medical practitioner to determine the appropriateness of the information and before consuming any medication. PharmEasy does not provide any guarantee or warranty (express or implied) regarding the accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of the information; and disclaims any liability arising thereof.

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