What's All This Buzz About Ashwagandha?Published on Thursday, April 27, 2023 by
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
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- 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
- 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
- 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
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- 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
- 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
- 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
Alexander KochPhD, CSCS