Ashwagandha

The root and berry of the ashwagandha plant are a traditional Ayurvedic medicine in India. Ashwagandha is used as a tonic (it is sometimes referred to as the “Indian ginseng”) to improve physical and mental health and to treat a number of specific conditions.

Why do people take ashwagandha?

There's some early evidence that ashwagandha affects the immune system and helps reduce swelling, from both arthritis and fluid retention. However, the practical benefits and risks for people aren't clear yet.

One study found that a compound containing ashwagandha helped relive osteoarthritis symptoms. It's not clear which of the ingredients had the benefit since ashwaganda is traditionally used in combination with other herbs. Ashwagandha might help lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes and lower high cholesterol. Since ashwagandha has sedative effects, it could help ease anxiety and stress -- in fact, human studies have indicated as much. There is some preliminary research that it may help with epilepsy and memory loss, but these results are too early to say for sure if it could benefit humans.

Some lab tests of cancer cells have found that ashwagandha might slow down their growth. Animal studies have found that ashwagandha could boost the effects of radiation therapy. However, these are early results. It isn't known if ashwagandha will help people with cancer.

People use ashwagandha for other health conditions, including anemia. It is high in iron and has been shown to help increase hemoglobin levels. For many of the other purported uses, there isn't evidence to support ashwaganda’s benefits.

How much ashwagandha should you take?

There is no standard dose of ashwagandha. Some people use between 1 to 6 grams of the whole herb daily. Others mix 3 grams of ashwagandha powder in warm milk. There are also standardized extracts available. Ask your doctor for advice about forms of ashwagandha and doses.

Can you get ashwagandha naturally from foods?

In some parts of the world, people eat ashwagandha shoots, seeds, and fruit.

What are the risks of taking ashwagandha?

Given the serious risks, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use ashwagandha. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on October 17, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Fundukian, L. ed. The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, third edition, 2009.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center web site: “About Herbs: Ashwagandha.”

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database web site: “Ashwagandha.”

Natural Standard Patient Monograph: “Ashwagandha.”

Kulkarni S. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, July 2008; vol 32: pp 1093-1105.

© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.