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Ashwagandha

What is it?

Ashwagandha is a plant. The root and berry are used to make medicine.

Ashwagandha has a lot of uses. But so far, there isn't enough information to judge whether it is effective for any of them.

Ashwagandha is used for arthritis, anxiety, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), balance, trouble sleeping (insomnia), tumors, tuberculosis, asthma, a skin condition marked by white patchiness (leukoderma), bronchitis, backache, fibromyalgia, menstrual problems, hiccups, Parkinson's disease, and chronic liver disease. It is also used to reduce side effects of medications used to treat cancer and schizophrenia. Ashwagandha is used to reduce levels of fat and sugar in the blood.

Ashwagandha is also used as an "adaptogen" to help the body cope with daily stress, and as a general tonic.

Some people also use ashwagandha for improving thinking ability, decreasing pain and swelling (inflammation), and preventing the effects of aging. It is also used for fertility problems in men and women and also to increase sexual desire.

Ashwagandha is applied to the skin for treating wounds, backache, and one-sided paralysis (hemiplegia).

The name Ashwagandha is from the Sanskrit language and is a combination of the word ashva, meaning horse, and gandha, meaning smell. The root has a strong aroma that is described as "horse-like."

In Ayurvedic, Indian, and Unani medicine, ashwagandha is described as "Indian ginseng." Ashwagandha is also used in traditional African medicine for a variety of ailments.

Don't confuse ashwagandha with Physalis alkekengi. Both are known as winter cherry.

How effective is it?

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The effectiveness ratings for ASHWAGANDHA are as follows:

Possibly effective for...

  • Stress. Taking a specific ashwagandha root extract (KSM66, Ixoreal Biomed, Hyderabad, India) 300 mg twice daily after food for 60 days appears to improve symptoms of stress.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Anxiety. Some clinical research shows that taking ashwagandha can reduce some symptoms of anxiety or anxious mood.
  • Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some clinical research shows that a combination herbal product containing ashwagandha may improve attention and impulse control in children with ADHD. The effect of ashwagandha alone is unclear.
  • Bipolar disorder. Taking a specific ashwagandha extract (Sensoril, Natreon, Inc., New Bruswick, New Jersey) for 8 weeks might improve brain function in people being treated for bipolar disorder.
  • A brain condition called cerebellar ataxia. Preliminary research shows that ashwagandha in combination with an alternative form of medicine known as Ayurvedic therapy might improve balance in people with cerebellar ataxia.
  • Fatigue in people treated for cancer (chemotherapy). Early research suggests taking a specific ashwagandha extract 2,000 mg (Himalaya Drug Co, New Delhi, India) during chemotherapy treatment might reduce feelings of tiredness.
  • Diabetes. There is some evidence that ashwagandha might reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
  • High cholesterol. There is some evidence that ashwagandha might reduce cholesterol levels in patients with high cholesterol.
  • Male infertility. Some preliminary clinical evidence suggests that ashwagandha might improve sperm quality, but not sperm count, in infertile men. It is not known if taking ashwagandha can actually improve fertility.
  • Arthritis. There is preliminary research that ashwagandha taken in a particular supplement (Articulin-F) along with other ingredients might improve arthritis symptoms. The impact of ashwagandha alone in osteoarthritis is unclear.
  • Parkinson's disease. Preliminary research suggests that a combination of herbs including ashwagandha improves Parkinson's symptoms. The effect of ashwagandha alone in Parkinson's is unknown.
  • Altering immune system function.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Inducing vomiting.
  • Liver problems.
  • Preventing the signs of aging.
  • Swelling (inflammation).
  • Tumors.
  • Tuberculosis.
  • Ulcerations.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of ashwagandha for these uses.

How does it work?

Ashwagandha contains chemicals that might help calm the brain, reduce swelling (inflammation), lower blood pressure, and alter the immune system.

Are there safety concerns?

Ashwagandha is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth short-term. The long-term safety of ashwagandha is not known. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting.

It's not known whether it's safe to apply ashwagandha directly to the skin.

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Do not use ashwagandha if you are pregnant. It is rated LIKELY UNSAFE during pregnancy. There is some evidence that ashwagandha might cause miscarriages. Not enough is known about the use of ashwagandha during breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Diabetes: Ashwagandha might lower blood sugar levels. This could interfere with medications used for diabetes and cause blood sugar levels to go to low. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar closely.

High or low blood pressure: Ashwagandha might decrease blood pressure. This could cause blood pressure to go to low in people with low blood pressure; or interfere with medications used to treat high blood pressure. Ashwagandha should be used cautiously if you have low blood pressure or take medications for your blood pressure.

Stomach ulcers: Ashwagandha can irritate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Don't use ashwagandha if you have a stomach ulcer.

"Auto-immune diseases" such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Ashwagandha might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it's best to avoid using ashwagandha.

Surgery: Ashwagandha may slow down the central nervous system. Healthcare providers worry that anesthesia and other medications during and after surgery might increase this effect. Stop taking ashwagandha at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Thyroid disorders: Ashwagandha might increase thyroid hormone levels. Ashwagandha should be used cautiously or avoided if you have a thyroid condition or take thyroid hormone medications.

Are there interactions with medications?

Moderate
Be cautious with this combination.
Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs)
Ashwagandha might decrease blood sugar levels. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking ashwagandha along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.

Some medications used for diabetes include glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, metformin (Glucophage), pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol), tolbutamide (Orinase), and others.
Medications for high blood pressure (Antihypertensive drugs)
Ashwagandha might lower blood pressure. Taking ashwagandha with medications used to treat high blood pressure might cause blood pressure levels to go to low.

Some medications for high blood pressure include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), losartan (Cozaar), valsartan (Diovan), diltiazem (Cardizem), amlodipine (Norvasc), hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDIURIL), furosemide (Lasix), and many others.
Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants)
Ashwagandha seems to make the immune system more active. Taking ashwagandha along with medications that decrease the immune system might decrease the effectiveness of these medications.

Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.
Sedative medications (Benzodiazepines)
Ashwagandha might cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Drugs that cause sleepiness and drowsiness are called sedatives. Taking ashwagandha along with sedative medications might cause too much sleepiness.

Some of these sedative medications include clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax), flurazepam (Dalmane), midazolam (Versed), and others.
Sedative medications (CNS depressants)
Ashwagandha might cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Medications that cause sleepiness are called sedatives. Taking ashwagandha along with sedative medications might cause too much sleepiness.

Some sedative medications include clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), phenobarbital (Donnatal), zolpidem (Ambien), and others.
Minor
Be watchful with this combination.
Thyroid hormone
The body naturally produces thyroid hormones. Ashwagandha might increase how much thyroid hormone the body produces. Taking ashwagandha with thyroid hormone pills might cause too much thyroid hormone in the body, and increase the effects and side effects of thyroid hormone.

Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?

Herbs and supplements that might lower blood pressure
Ashwagandha might lower blood pressure. Combining ashwagandha with other herbs and supplements that also lower blood pressure might cause blood pressure to go to low. Some herbs and supplements of this type include andrographis, casein peptides, cat's claw, coenzyme Q-10, fish oil, L-arginine, lyceum, stinging nettle, theanine, and others.
Herbs/supplements with sleep-promoting (Sedative) properties
Ashwagandha can act like a sedative. That is, it can cause sleepiness. Using it along with other herbs and supplements that also act like sedatives might cause too much sleepiness. Some of these include 5-HTP, calamus, California poppy, catnip, hops, Jamaican dogwood, kava, St. John's wort, skullcap, valerian, yerba mansa, and others.

Are there interactions with foods?

There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?

BY MOUTH:
  • For stress: Ashwagandha root extract (KSM66, Ixoreal Biomed, Hyderabad, India) 300 mg twice daily after food for 60 days.

Other names

Ajagandha, Amangura, Amukkirag, Asan, Asana, Asgand, Asgandh, Asgandha, Ashagandha, Ashvagandha, Ashwaganda, Ashwanga, Asoda, Asundha, Asvagandha, Aswagandha, Avarada, Ayurvedic Ginseng, Cerise d'Hiver, Clustered Wintercherry, Ghoda Asoda, Ginseng Ayurvédique, Ginseng Indien, Hayahvaya, Indian Ginseng, Kanaje Hindi, Kuthmithi, Orovale, Peyette, Physalis somnifera, Samm Al Ferakh, Samm Al Rerakh, Sogade-Beru, Strychnos, Turangi-Ghanda, Vajigandha, Winter Cherry, Withania, Withania somnifera.

Methodology

To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.

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Last reviewed - 10/04/2016