Ashwagandha is an Eastern adaptogen that has become increasingly popular in the West. It is used for various reasons, but some people don’t tolerate it well. In this post, we’ll go over how people are using ashwagandha, its dosage, safety, possible side effects, and interactions.
What is Ashwagandha?
Like most supplements, ashwagandha is not approved by the FDA for any purpose. The evidence presented here is considered preliminary and insufficient to justify medical use .
To avoid unexpected interactions or other adverse events, talk to your doctor before incorporating ashwagandha into your daily regimen.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family of plants. It goes under several other names, such as Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry, or Indian winter cherry .
The name Ashwagandha can be traced back to ancient Sanskrit. It translates to “smell of a horse” (ashwa “horse” and gandha “smell”) since the scent of its roots is similar to that of horse urine. Others say its name indicates it will make you “strong like a horse,” and there may be truth to this claim [2, 3].
Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens increase the body’s resistance to stress, offsetting detrimental effects and helping to balance bodily functions and the immune response .
In the Indian traditional medicine system of Ayurveda, ashwagandha is seen as a broad-spectrum remedy. It’s classified as a Rasayana or rejuvenator. These are some of the traditional uses [2, 4, 5]:
- The roots are used as a tonic, aphrodisiac, diuretic, antiparasitic, astringent, and stimulant
- The leaves are recommended for fever and painful swelling
- The seeds are antiparasitic while the flowers are used as an astringent, diuretic, and aphrodisiac and have detoxifying effects
- The berries and tender leaves are applied externally to tumors, ulcers, and wounds
- Other useful parts are the stem, fruit, and bark
Ashwagandha root is also used to restore health in women after giving birth and to thicken and increase the nutrition of breast milk. Despite its centuries-long use in India, Ashwagandha has only recently gained scientific recognition in the West [6, 2].
Ashwagandha contains a range of active components, including a unique family of compounds called withanolides, as well as alkaloids, saponins, terpenoids, flavonoids, tannins, phenols, and resins [7, 4].
Among Ashwagandha’s components, the most biologically active are the withanolides, and the best studied is withaferin A. This component has recently become a focus of research because of its ability to hinder the growth of tumors [8, 9, 10].
Withanolides are steroid lactones. These naturally occurring plant steroids decrease inflammation, promote cancer cell death, and halt tumor progression [9, 8].
Withaferin A is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory withanolide. Researchers are currently investigating whether it could be used to fight glioblastoma, the most common and deadliest brain cancer .
One of the main obstacles to using withaferin A as a therapeutic agent is low bioavailability, meaning that only a small amount of ingested withaferin A makes it into the bloodstream. Some researchers have proposed loading withaferin A into a biodegradable implant to deliver it more effectively to the blood [8, 11].
Sitoindosides are a group of antioxidant saponins. They are of interest to researchers because they may ease psychological stress and prevent cognitive defects [12, 3, 2].
Sitoindosides VII and VIII appear to have the most promise as future therapeutic agents [12, 3].
How to Take Ashwagandha
How you should take ashwagandha depends on your intention and the type of supplement you purchased.
Most clinical studies report dosing ashwagandha twice to three times daily for 1 to 3 months.
The available evidence suggests that it may be safer to start with lower doses. Side effects are more likely to occur at higher doses.
Read the supplement label carefully and consult your doctor if you’re still unsure about when and how much you should take.
Ashwagandha is available in many forms, such as powder, capsules, pills, or essential oil. It can also be made into a tea or ointment using honey or ghee. Commercial Ashwagandha is often combined with black pepper extract, another strong antioxidant.
In Ayurveda, the fresh roots are sometimes boiled in milk prior to drying to leach out undesirable components .
Taste & Smell
Ashwagandha is a famously pungent herb. Its name means “smell of horse”, and some users say it can be overwhelming. If you are concerned about the smell and taste of Ashwagandha but still want to try it, look for capsules of dry extracts [3, 2].
There is no safe and effective dose of ashwagandha because no sufficiently powered study has been conducted to find one.
Root extract: most clinical studies have used 120-1000 mg daily, with the most common dose being 300 mg twice daily.
Whole root: clinical doses range between 2-10 g of powdered root daily, with an average of 5 g per day.
The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of the users, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.
Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.
Summary of User Experiences
Ashwagandha supplement reviews vary. Some users report an increase in anxiety, irritability, and sensitivity — especially during the first few days. Although this side effect tends to wear off, according to the user reviews we came across, some people continue to experience anxiety and stop taking ashwagandha.
On the other hand, several people say that ashwagandha helped bring their anxiety and stress levels under control. In fact, the number one reason for taking ashwagandha among all users we looked at was anxiety.
Several people mentioned that it also helped with palpitations, OCD-like tendencies, and social fear linked with anxiety. Most users say that their anxiety didn’t go away, but they felt a substantial enough subjective improvement.
Nausea is a common complaint among users, especially in people taking the powdered extract. Encapsulated products seem to be somewhat better tolerated. One user pointed out that taking ashwagandha with food may reduce nausea.
Some people also took ashwagandha for sleep issues, mostly with satisfactory results.
When taken for sleep, users often combined ashwagandha with other Ayurvedic herbs, relaxing plants. For stress relief and anxiety, people commonly purchased multi-ingredient “stress relief” or “adrenal support” supplements, most of which contain B vitamins. This makes it hard to tease apart the reported effects of ashwagandha from various other compounds.
Lastly, a subgroup of users took ashwagandha to boost low thyroid hormones. Some experienced bouts of increased energy, others said it made them feel more fatigued and sleepy. One user even went from feeling energetic to being extremely tired within a short period of time, eventually stabilizing with good energy levels.
Overall, however, users with an underactive thyroid and low energy report mixed results with ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha Safety, Side Effects & Interactions
This list does not cover all possible side effects. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you notice any other side effects.
Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. In the US, you may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088 or at www.fda.gov/medwatch. In Canada, you may report side effects to Health Canada at 1-866-234-2345.
Ashwagandha is generally safe when taken in recommended dosages. Large doses of Ashwagandha can cause abdominal discomfort and diarrhea.
Ashwagandha also has the potential to raise thyroid hormone levels, and people with hyperthyroidism may want to avoid it [14, 15, 16].
The following side effects were also reported with larger doses or in sensitive individuals:
- Stomach upset
- Vomiting due to stomach and gut mucous irritation
- Anxiety / Irritability
- Skin allergies
Because Ashwagandha is mildly sedative, talk to your healthcare provider before taking other sedatives (such as benzodiazepines, anti-anxiety drugs, or sedative herbs like St. John’s wort and kava) with it.
Interactions with all the following are possible:
- Antidiabetes drugs, potentially additive: may excessively lower blood sugar
- Drugs for high blood pressure, potentially additive: may excessively lower blood pressure
- Herbs and supplements that might lower blood pressure like cat’s claw, CoQ-10/ubiquinol, fish oil, L-arginine, stinging nettle, L-theanine, and natural diuretics
- Immunosuppressant drugs, potentially antagonistic: may activate the immune response and reduce the effectiveness of drugs intended to suppress the immune system
- Thyroid hormones, potentially additive: may additionally increase thyroid hormones and increase the risk of side effects
Supplement-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.
Ashwagandha is safe and effective at daily doses of up to 1000 mg of root extract or 10 g of powdered root.
The evidence suggests that it may be safer to start with low doses and work your way up. If you decide to take ashwagandha, consult your doctor first, take a high-quality standardized supplement, and do your best to reduce stress.
Ashwagandha should not be taken with other sedatives, immune suppressants, or by people with high thyroid hormones.