Ashwagandha Benefits

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on April 09, 2024
6 min read

Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, is an herb native to Asia and Africa. Also called “Indian ginseng,” it’s been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to ease pain and inflammation, boost nutrition , and treat insomnia, along with other conditions.

Ashwagandha is also considered an adaptogen. That means it helps your body better manage stress. More research is needed on ashwagandha’s benefits, to confirm how well it works. But this herbal supplement might be helpful if you have stress and anxiety,  or trouble with sleep.

Ashwagandha dosage

There is no standard dose of ashwagandha, and people may take different amounts of the herb depending on what effect they are hoping for. Some studies have shown that the most effective doses might be between 500 and 600 milligrams a day, but people taking dosages as small as 120 milligrams a day have also reported benefits.

When to take ashwagandha

There is no standard time to take ashwagandha. Some studies had participants take it in the evening, after dinner. Others had people take it twice a day. You may need to try taking it at different times of the day and see what works best for you.

You can take ashwagandha in several different forms, including powder, capsule, tablet, or gummy. What form you choose depends on what works best for your dosage and lifestyle. 

Ashwagandha powder

Ashwagandha powder is a commonly available type of ashwagandha. The powder typically contains the herb’s dried root, leaf, or a combination of the two. The powder can be put into a capsule and swallowed as a pill, or it can be mixed into a drink with water, ghee (clarified butter), milk, or honey.

Ashwagandha tablets

Ashwagandha can also be taken in tablet form, though this is a less common form than capsules. Keep in mind that as with all herbal supplements, ashwagandha supplements are dietary supplements, and so they are regulated less strictly than medical drugs.

Ashwagandha gummies

Ashwagandha can also be taken as flavored gummies. This may be a good option for people who can’t swallow pills, and who find the taste of the powder to be unpleasant.

Ashwagandha for sleep

Though research is still limited, one of the most popular uses for ashwagandha is as a sleep aid.

One study showed taking 300 milligrams of the herb two times a day improved sleep, and another found that people who took 120 milligrams of an ashwagandha extract reported a significant improvement in sleep quality.

A meta-analysis of five studies looked at ashwagandha’s impact on sleep in humans. It found that the herb had a small but significant impact on improving sleep, especially in people who had insomnia. The benefits were greatest when people took at least 600 milligrams of ashwagandha each day for 8 weeks or longer.

Stress and anxiety relief

There are several human studies on ashwagandha’s stress-relieving properties. A review of seven studies found the supplement helped lower stress levels. One study showed adults who took 300 milligrams of ashwagandha daily for 8 weeks had lower levels of anxiety and fatigue. They also had an easier time concentrating than adults who had psychotherapy, or talk therapy, for the same amount of time. In another study, adults who took 300 milligrams of ashwagandha daily for 8 weeks had less stress and fewer stress-related food cravings than adults who took a placebo (fake pill) instead.

Another study found that people who took 225 milligrams of ashwagandha a day had lower levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, in their saliva compared to people who were taking a placebo.

Other studies have shown that people taking ashwagandha report improvements in stress levels and increased feelings of calm.

Effects on cancer

Several studies have shown ashwagandha has compounds that may help fight certain types of cancer. Researchers aren’t sure how, but extracts in the herb seem to limit the activity of cancer cells in breastcolonprostate, ovarian, lung, and brain cancers in the lab. It does the same for thyroid, gastrointestinal, cervix, and skin (melanoma) cancers. Almost all of these studies have been done on cancer cells or animals with cancer, and they haven’t been proven in humans yet. Ashwagandha is considered safe to use with traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Experts say it may ease some side effects, such as a weak immune system

For neurodegenerative diseases

Studies show ashwagandha can slow, stop, and possibly reverse certain types of nerve cell damage. That’s what leads to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s. Ashwagandha may also be neuroprotective, meaning it may help prevent the development of some neurodegenerative diseases. Still, almost all of the studies on ashwagandha and nerve cell damage in the brain have been done on animals or animal cells, and more research is needed to know if ashwagandha might have any effect on these diseases.

Ashwagandha for arthritis

One study found ashwagandha eased arthritis-related symptoms including pain and joint swelling in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Another study showed that ashwagandha had anti-inflammatory effects on human cartilage cells with osteoarthritis. A third study found that it helped adults with general knee joint pain and discomfort.

Ashwagandha and exercise 

A meta-analysis of 12 studies looking at ashwagandha’s impacts on exercise found that ashwagandha supplements were more effective than placebos in improving physical performance for healthy people. One study found that taking ashwagandha daily can help reduce fatigue and improve recovery after exercise.

Another study found healthy young adults who took 500 milligrams of ashwagandha daily for 8 weeks had more speed and strength during exercise than people who took a placebo. They also breathed better, taking in more oxygen.

A small study also found that people who took ashwagandha root supplements had more significant gains in muscle mass than people who took a placebo pill and performed the same resistance exercises.

Ashwagandha and sperm

Some small studies have found that ashwagandha may improve sperm count, volume, and motility, or how efficiently a sperm moves. More studies are needed, however, to understand how ashwagandha might impact sperm.

Like any medication, ashwagandha can cause side effects. These can include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache

Ashwagandha weight gain

Weight gain is not a commonly reported side effect of ashwagandha. Ashwagandha has not been studied as an aid to gain or lose weight, though a small study did find that it may help reduce food cravings in adults who are chronically stressed.

Talk to your doctor before taking any herbal supplement. They could cause problems with other medications you’re taking, especially if these other drugs already make you tired. Although it is rare, some people have gotten liver injuries from taking ashwagandha supplements. In most cases, the liver heals itself within 1 to 3 months of discontinuing the supplement. Most studies of ashwagandha have only looked at people taking it for up to 3 months, so the herb's long-term effects aren’t known.

If you’re pregnant

Ashwagandha isn’t safe to take if you’re pregnant. High doses of it may cause a spontaneous abortion, meaning you could lose your pregnancy.

Ashwagandha is a traditional Indian Ayurvedic herb with a long history of use. The most common way to take ashwagandha is as a powder, either in a capsule or mixed into a beverage. Studies have shown that ashwagandha may help improve sleep quality, aid in stress and anxiety relief, and help improve joint pain, physical performance, and sperm health. As ashwagandha can cause some side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, drowsiness, and headache, it's best to talk to your doctor before taking this supplement.

Who should not take ashwagandha?

People who are pregnant or who might be pregnant and people with preexisting liver disease should not take ashwagandha. If you have an autoimmune condition, your immune system is already overactive. You shouldn't take this herb, as it can stimulate your immune system even more.

Does ashwagandha have side effects? 

Like any medication or supplement, ashwagandha may have side effects for some people. These side effects can include an upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, and headache.