What's All This Buzz About Ashwagandha?
Article

What's All This Buzz About Ashwagandha?

Published on Thursday, April 27, 2023
by
Alexander Koch

Health & Wellness

You’ve probably heard about it, but what is ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha (origin- Sanskrit language) is the popular name of a perennial shrub, sometimes called Indian ginseng, and of the scientific name Withania somnifera. The Ashwagandha plant has been cultivated for use in health and healing for over 6000(!) years in Ayurveda, or traditional Indian medicine. In recent times, Ashwagandha has become a popular dietary supplement, with US sales increasing exponentially over the last three years.

What Is It Supposed To Do?

Ancient Ayurvedic texts describe a multitude of healing properties for Ashwagandha. All parts of the plant – roots, stems and leaves have been harvested for their healing properties. Among these touted benefits:

  • Enhancing sleep
  • Enhancing mood
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Anti-inflammatory effects
  • Diuretic effects
  • Treating snake bites and scorpion stings
  • An aphrodisiac
  • Increasing sperm count

Of particular interest to Foodguides readers, ashwagandha has also been traditionally prescribed to aid digestion, with such ascribed digestion-aiding effects including reducing constipation and treating abdominal colic and flatulence. It has also traditionally been used as a tonic to treat emaciation in children.

Does It Work?

Quite a few studies have found promising results from ashwagandha use. Animal studies have produced an array of positive results from ashwagandha use, and generally support the potential of ashwagandha as an anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and work-enhancing agent.

However, there is a long leap from mouse to human. Fewer clinical trials on human beings have been published, but the available ones have found measurable benefits from ashwagandha in treating anxiety, memory and cognition, reducing the incidence of cancer-related fatigue and improving quality of life, improving sleep quality, and even enhancing gains in aerobic fitness.

Of note, I could find very little evidence of ashwagandha aiding digestive health in humans in the literature, specifically only one case study in ashwagandha treatment did alleviate constipation in Hirschsprung disease.

Are There Any Side Effects? 

Potentially, any substance can be over-ingested. Ashwagandha has been reported to be well tolerated in doses as high as 4800 mg/day. However, approximately five cases of drug-induced liver injury have been attributed to ashwagandha ingestion, with patients reporting consuming doses from 450-1350 mg/day. For perspective, WebMD states that ashwagandha doses of up to 1000 mg per day are common usage. So in rare cases, ashwagandha may be intolerable for some patients.

If you are interested in exploring the health benefits of ashwagandha, it would be wise to have a discussion with your physician first.      


  1. Archana, R., & Namasivayam, A. (1999). Antistressor effect of Withania somnifera. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 64(1), 91–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0378-8741(98)00107-x
  2. Biswal, B. M., Sulaiman, S. A., Ismail, H. C., Zakaria, H., & Musa, K. I. (2013). Effect of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on the development of chemotherapy-induced fatigue and quality of life in breast cancer patients. Integrative cancer therapies, 12(4), 312–322. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534735412464551
  3. Bhat, J. A., Akther, T., Najar, R. A., Rasool, F., & Hamid, A. (2022). Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal (Ashwagandha); current understanding and future prospect as a potential drug candidate. Frontiers in pharmacology, 13, 1029123. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2022.1029123
  4. Björnsson, H. K., Björnsson, E. S., Avula, B., Khan, I. A., Jonasson, J. G., Ghabril, M., Hayashi, P. H., & Navarro, V. (2020). Ashwagandha-induced liver injury: A case series from Iceland and the US Drug-Induced Liver Injury Network. Liver international : official journal of the International Association for the Study of the Liver, 40(4), 825–829. https://doi.org/10.1111/liv.14393
  5. Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S., & Bose, S. (2017). Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions. Journal of dietary supplements, 14(6), 599–612. https://doi.org/10.1080/19390211.2017.1284970
  6. Fuladi, S., Emami, S. A., Mohammadpour, A. H., Karimani, A., Manteghi, A. A., & Sahebkar, A. (2021). Assessment of the Efficacy of Withania somnifera Root Extract in Patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Double-blind Placebo- Controlled Trial. Current reviews in clinical and experimental pharmacology, 16(2), 191–196. https://doi.org/10.2174/1574884715666200413120413
  7. Langade, D., Thakare, V., Kanchi, S., & Kelgane, S. (2021). Clinical evaluation of the pharmacological impact of ashwagandha root extract on sleep in healthy volunteers and insomnia patients: A double-blind, randomized, parallel-group, placebo-controlled study. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 264, 113276. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2020.113276
  8. Long, J. (2022, March 4). Ashwagandha goes mainstream in U.S. as sales boom. Natural Products INSIDER. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from https://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/ingredients/ashwagandha-goes-mainstream-us-sales-boom 
  9. Pires, N., Gota, V., Gulia, A., Hingorani, L., Agarwal, M., & Puri, A. (2020). Safety and pharmacokinetics of Withaferin-A in advanced stage high grade osteosarcoma: A phase I trial. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 11(1), 68–72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaim.2018.12.008
  10. Singh, N., Bhalla, M., de Jager, P., & Gilca, M. (2011). An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. African journal of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicines : AJTCAM, 8(5 Suppl), 208–213. https://doi.org/10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9
  11. Singh, S. K., & Rajoria, K. (2018). Ayurvedic management of chronic constipation in Hirschsprung disease - A case study. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 9(2), 131–135. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaim.2017.11.004
  12. Tiwari, S., Gupta, S. K., & Pathak, A. K. (2021). A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial on the effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera dunal.) root extract in improving cardiorespiratory endurance and recovery in healthy athletic adults. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 272, 113929. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2021.113929
  13. WebMD. (n.d.). Ashwagandha: Overview, uses, side effects, precautions, interactions, dosing and reviews. WebMD. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-953/ashwagandha 

Comments

Join The Conversation...

Related Content

07/29/22
Do You Really Need A Digestive Enzyme Supplement? Do You Really Need A Digestive Enzyme Supplement?

Do You Really Need A Digestive Enzyme Supplement?

Health & Wellness

Andy De Santis

MPH, RD

06/22/22
Using Cannabinoids to Treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome Using Cannabinoids to Treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Using Cannabinoids to Treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Health & Wellness

Ashlie Morrissey

DNP, AGNP-C

12/16/22
Pre-Workout Supplements- Do they work? Pre-Workout Supplements- Do they work?

Pre-Workout Supplements- Do they work?

Health & Wellness

Alexander Koch

PhD, CSCS

Cook-Along

Latest Articles

07/18/24
A Gut-Friendly Way to Let Legumes Into Your Life Again A Gut-Friendly Way to Let Legumes Into Your Life Again

A Gut-Friendly Way to Let Legumes Into Your Life Again

GERD
IBS
Plant-Based
Gut Health

Kitty Broihier

MS, RD, LD

07/17/24
Cortisol: Understanding the Stress Hormone and Talking to Your Provider Cortisol: Understanding the Stress Hormone and Talking to Your Provider

Cortisol: Understanding the Stress Hormone and Talking to Your Provider

Wellness

Ashlie Morrissey

DNP, AGNP-C

07/16/24
Embracing a Soothing Staycation: A Guide for IBS Warriors Embracing a Soothing Staycation: A Guide for IBS Warriors

Embracing a Soothing Staycation: A Guide for IBS Warriors

Health & Wellness

Deanna Salles-Freeman

Life & Health Coach

07/15/24
Berrylicious Bounty: Pick Your Way to a Healthy Gut This Season Berrylicious Bounty: Pick Your Way to a Healthy Gut This Season

Berrylicious Bounty: Pick Your Way to a Healthy Gut This Season

Nutrition
Plant-Based
Gut Health

Haley McGaha

RDN, CSO, LD

Explore More