What's All This Buzz About Ashwagandha?

What's All This Buzz About Ashwagandha?

Published on Thursday, April 27, 2023 by Alexander Koch

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.      

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  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
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  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
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