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Ashwagandha: Uses, Benefits and Side Effects

Ashwagandha root and powder in white spoon on dark background.Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is one of the oldest and most highly revered herbs in ancient Indian medicine. This herb comes from a yellow flower that’s typically grown in India and North Africa.

Officially, ashwagandha is classified as an “adaptogen,” which means it helps the body adapt to stress. In addition to helping people with anxiety, ashwagandha has been proven to help with a wide variety of other health conditions like epilepsy, infertility, and even cancer.

Doctors still aren’t sure why ashwagandha is so beneficial, but they believe it might have to do with certain chemicals known as withanolides. These withanolides have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

Below, let’s take a look at a few of the benefits and potential side effects to adding ashwagandha to your daily routine.

Anxiety Reduction

The main reason most people take ashwagandha is to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. Numerous studies suggest ashwagandha can have a positive impact on a patient’s overall mood.

One study out of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine tracked the mood of two groups of anxiety patients over the course of 12 weeks.[1] One group was given ashwagandha supplements along with deep breathing exercises, diet changes, and a multi-vitamin every day. The other group was only given a placebo pill along with psychological counseling and the same breathing exercises.

At the end of the study, researchers found that people in the ashwagandha group had an over 25 percent reduction in anxiety symptoms compared with the placebo group.

As suggested in this study, however, ashwagandha works best for anxiety patients who already have healthful life habits like regular meditation and a diet low in processed foods.

Related: 7 Superfoods to Relieve Anxiety

Cancer Prevention

Some scientists believe ashwagandha is one of the most potent anti-cancer adaptogens on the planet. Recent research out of the University of Pittsburgh suggests the antioxidant properties in ashwagandha account for its strong anti-cancer activity.[2] Specifically, scientists believe ashwagandha can inhibit the growth of tumors in the colon, lung, and stomach.

Besides helping prevent cancer, ashwagandha could greatly assist people who are undergoing strong anti-cancer treatments like chemotherapy. Scientists at the International Institute of Herbal Medicine and Bharati Vidyapeeth’s Poona College of Pharmacy believe ashwagandha can help cancer patients naturally strengthen their immunity.[3][4]

Increases Testosterone and Sperm Count

A popular use of ashwagandha in men is to naturally increase testosterone levels. Healthy testosterone levels are essential for optimal stamina, libido, and overall vitality.

Indian researchers released a paper in 2015 analyzing the effects of ashwagandha supplements on strength and recovery.[5] They found that men who were given this herb not only had greater testosterone in the bloodstream, they also experienced less muscular damage and injury after their workout.

Another incredible study out of Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University found that regular ashwagandha supplementation was linked with a dramatic rise in male sperm count.[6] This suggests ashwagandha may play a critical role in the future treatment of male infertility.

Related: 10 Superfoods Every Man Needs in Their Diet

Help with Blood Sugar Issues

People struggling to keep their blood sugar levels balanced should consider adding ashwagandha to their diet. A study out of the Sri Satya Sai Institute of Higher Learning found that diabetics who supplemented with ashwagandha for 30 days saw a significant reduction in their blood sugar levels.[7]

Israeli scientists have also shown ashwagandha could help bolster insulin secretion.[8]

It’s clear from these studies that ashwagandha could tremendously aid people struggling with diabetes.

Reduces Bad Cholesterol

There’s a good deal of evidence that suggests ashwagandha could be beneficial for keeping LDL cholesterol levels down.

Both Indian and American scientists teamed up in 2008 to discover just how much of an effect ashwagandha had on the cholesterol levels of adults. In their review,[9] study authors noted the patients who took ashwagandha over the 60-day trial had a 17 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol.

In addition to reducing bad LDL cholesterol, ashwagandha appears to get rid of triglycerides in the bloodstream. One rat study in Sardar Patel University suggested ashwagandha supplementation could reduce triglyceride levels by as much as 50 percent.[10]

Related: How to Lower Your Cholesterol Naturally and Avoid a Lifetime of Prescription Drugs

Potent Memory Booster

Many studies have confirmed ashwagandha’s high antioxidant profile can protect the brain’s nerve cells. This could help prevent many serious memory-related disorders.

Researchers at the Timarpur’s Defense Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences induced the memory disorder hypobaric hypoxia in a group of rats and then analyzed the effects of ashwagandha.[11] They found that ashwagandha greatly helped reduce memory problems and even reversed some neurodegenerative effects of hypobaric hypoxia.

Yet another study looking at ashwagandha’s brain benefits found that it could help epileptic patients who suffer from spatial memory issues.[12] At the Cochin University of Science and Technology, scientists observed the brains of rats suffering from epilepsy. Those rats that were given ashwagandha showed a greater improvement in spatial memory than those who were not given the herb.

Related: 10 Brain and Memory Boosting Foods, Herbs, and Supplements

Side Effects and Other Considerations

While ashwagandha is considered a safe herb, it’s wise to consult with your doctor before adding this herb to your diet, especially if you have a serious disease. It’s also not recommended women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to start taking ashwagandha.

It’s important to remember that not all herbal supplements work for everyone. Some people don’t experience any positive benefits from ashwagandha, and a few adverse side effects have been noted.

The most common side effects to look out for include gastrointestinal distress, drowsiness, and headaches.[13] It’s a good idea to take ashwagandha on a day you don’t have to drive so you can observe its effects on your body.

Dosages for Ashwagandha

There’s no standardized dosage for ashwagandha. Instead, there are recommended dosages depending on your symptoms.

For example, many herbalists suggest taking between 500 to 600 mg every day for about one month for generalized anxiety. After a month, take a break from this herb and use it again once you notice anxiety symptoms return.

By contrast, people who want to use ashwagandha to help control blood sugar levels should only take about 250 mg per day for a couple of months.

Again, these dosages aren’t set in stone. You should speak with a knowledgeable doctor experienced in prescribing ashwagandha to figure out the best dosage for your needs.


[1] PLOS: Naturopathic Care for Anxiety: A Randomized Controlled Trial ISRCTN78958974

[2] PMC: Withania somnifera: from prevention to treatment of cancer

[3] PMC: An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda

[4] PubMed: Studies on immunomodulatory activity of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) extracts in experimental immune inflammation

[5] PMC: Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial

[6] PubMed: Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males

[7] PubMed: Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root

[8] PubMed: Hypoglycemic activity of withanolides and elicitated Withania somnifera

[9] (PDF)

[10] Healthline: Triglycerides

[11] PubMed: Withania somnifera root extract ameliorates hypobaric hypoxia induced memory impairment in rats

[12] PubMed: Oxidative stress induced NMDA receptor alteration leads to spatial memory deficits in temporal lobe epilepsy

[13] Ashwagandha Side Effects

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