Ashwagandha is a medicinal herb with a long history. It’s one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, an ancient study of natural healing that’s been practiced in India for more than 6,000 years.
Although it’s better known as ashwagandha, the small shrub native to East Asia and North Africa is referred to as Withania somnifera in many studies. Some of ashwagandha’s traditional and medicinal uses include:
Modern research confirms some aspects of these claims and points to additional potential health benefits. Ashwagandha is made up of nutrients with anti-inflammatory, brain-protective, and stress reduction abilities that may protect your body against many diseases.
Ashwagandha is available in powder, extract, and supplement form at nutritional shops and health food grocers. It’s also sometimes called Indian ginseng or Winter cherry.
In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is most commonly known for its mood-lifting effects. Scientific research supports its potential to treat clinical depressive disorders. Studies show that its effects are comparable to common prescription antidepressants.
These findings are in line with ongoing research into the herb’s potential to treat a wider range of cognitive diseases — like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s. Ashwagandha may also be helpful for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Research also shows how taking ashwagandha provides you with more health benefits, like:
Cortisol is a hormone your body releases in response to stress, activating your fight-or-flight response. High and chronic stress levels have serious health effects over time, including reduced immunity, heart problems, and nervous system problems.
Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases
Ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory properties. While inflammation is a natural response to infection or stress, chronic inflammation over time is linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and bowel diseases.
The herb also contains high levels of many antioxidants that protect your cells from damage caused by aging, your environment, and lifestyle. Studies have found that in particular, these antioxidants support healthy brain and nervous system activity.
Ashwagandha has long been believed to boost memory and concentration. While modern research is still ongoing, early studies show it may improve your cognitive performance and may reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline and disease.
Along with lowering risk factors of many chronic diseases, ashwagandha may help reduce your cancer risk. Studies focus on a specific antioxidant called withaferin that can kill cancer cells and block tumor growth. While much more research is needed, animal tests show it can help treat several types of cancer — including lung, cervical, prostate, thyroid, breast, and colon.
Lower Risk of Diabetes
Research suggests that ashwagandha can help manage your blood sugar levels and lower possible insulin resistance — a condition where the body doesn’t use sugars properly. Scientists suggest that ashwagandha may help prevent and treat diabetes and other metabolic disorders.
Ashwagandha has been safely used for thousands of years to promote good health and treat a wide range of conditions. However, the herb’s potent nutritional profile may cause health risks for some people. Talk to your doctor before adding ashwagandha to your diet.
Before taking ashwagandha, consider these risks:
Mild Side Effects
Reported negative side effects are generally mild and resolve quickly. They include stomach discomfort, diarrhea, and drowsiness.
Because it can lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels, people taking medications to manage these conditions or diabetes may need to adjust their dosage to use ashwagandha safely.
Increases in Hormone Levels
Ashwagandha can increase testosterone levels. This effect can be harmful to people with hormone-resistant prostate cancer. It can also raise thyroid hormone levels in some people, so speak to your doctor if you are on medication for thyroid disease.
At higher doses, ashwagandha can induce abortion in pregnant women.
There is not enough research to determine if it is safe for breastfeeding women.
Amounts and Dosage
The recommended daily dose of ashwagandha depends on the product and formulation. Talk to your doctor to help you find a reliable, safe brand.
In general, the easiest way to take ashwagandha is in capsule form. Most supplements contain about 450 to 500 milligrams.