"Ashwagandha," "Withania somnifera," "Indian ginseng," or "winter cherry," whatever you refer to the herbal medicine as, it has powerful health benefits.
It is a member of the family of medicinal plants known as "adaptogens". Adaptogens are plants, herbs, and roots popular in alternative medicine that help the body deal with or adapt to all sorts of common stressors, from physical to mental.
A powerful concept indeed, and one that's recently caught the attention of the mainstream wellness industry throughout the U.S. While new to the states, the ashwagandha plant has been popularly used throughout Indian, African, and Ayurvedictraditional medicine for centuries to help with anxiety, chronic stress, low testosterone levels, diabetes, skin diseases, autoimmune diseases, and other common health issues.
However, most people tend to try using ashwagandha to eliminate stress and help increase their cortisol levels. Virtually everyone feels some degree of anxiety at some point during their days, and it feels like we're all searching for remedies to eliminate it. Of course, more stress is the last thing you want from an herbal treatment for anxiety, so it's worth learning the potential side effects before taking one.
Is ashwagandha safe?
Ashwagandha is considered to be generally safe and well-tolerated. If not, we wouldn't be preaching about the benefits we've seen from ashwagandha supplementation. However, since research on herbal medication formulations varies depending on where you buy it, you should always consult your healthcare provider before trying any herbal supplement.
Unfortunately, not all supplement brands are created equal, and what you see on the label isn't always what's on the inside (i.e., fillers, synthetics, gimmicks). That said, look for brands that are independently tested for safety, potency, and transparency about how and where the ashwagandha powder is sourced.
Is it safe to take ashwagandha daily?
While side effects of taking ashwagandha are pretty uncommon, some may experience gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and drowsiness in large doses or daily use. Unfortunately, some people may experience more serious side effects. Those who should NOT use ashwagandha are:
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding: If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting any herbal supplements. Ashwagandha is LIKELY UNSAFE to use during pregnancy because there is some evidence to suggest that it may cause miscarriages. There is not enough reliable information on ashwagandha and breastfeeding to know, so err on the side of caution and avoid it. So, in short, is ashwagandha safe for women? Yes, but not pregnant women.
- People with diabetes: Animal studies suggest that Withania somnifera might lower blood sugar levels, which seems like a good thing for people with diabetes. However, since people with diabetes are usually on blood sugar lowering medications, the addition of ashwagandha could cause blood sugar levels to drop too low unexpectedly, and this can be very dangerous.
- People with high or low blood pressure: Animal studies suggest that ashwagandha has a blood pressure-lowering effect. This effect could potentially be a problem for people with either high or low blood pressure. People with high blood pressure, especially those on prescription medications for this condition, may experience an interaction between their prescribed drugs and ashwagandha or have an unexpected drop in their blood pressure. Those with naturally low blood pressure may have a further reduction in their blood pressure while taking ashwagandha, creating a potentially dangerous situation.
- People who have just undergone surgery: Data from animal trials shows that Withania somnifera has a sedating or tranquilizing effect, slowing down the central nervous system. When combined with ashwagandha, drugs used during and after surgery may increase this nervous system slowdown. You should stop taking ashwagandha at least two weeks before having surgery, and be sure to let your surgeon know about any medications and supplements you are taking.
- People with stomach ulcers: This herb may irritate your gastrointestinal tract; therefore, you should avoid ashwagandha if you have stomach ulcers.
- People with autoimmune conditions: Many people use ashwagandha root extract to boost their immune system, as research shows that it can increase immune activity. While this may be beneficial for some, it can be detrimental to others, especially people suffering from autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis. By activating the immune system, this ayurvedic herb can worsen autoimmune symptoms.
- People with thyroid disorders: Thyroid abnormalities can be frustrating for those dealing with them. Clinical studies have shown that ashwagandha may increase thyroid hormone levels in people with decreased thyroid function that is not low enough to warrant medical therapy. However, if someone is taking thyroid hormone medications to treat abnormal thyroid activity, combining them with ashwagandha may cause thyroid hormone levels to rise above normal. If you have elevated thyroid activity (hyperthyroidism), taking ashwagandha could still cause rising thyroid hormone levels. If levels increase beyond a certain point, you could develop thyrotoxicosis, a severe medical condition.
Taking an ashwagandha supplement is considered to be relatively safe and can help with conditions like anxiety, stress, low testosterone, and other health issues. However, research is still limited, and scientists don't know the exact health benefits or the optimal doses. Again, speak with your healthcare provider before starting any herbal supplement like ashwagandha, especially if you experience any of the medical conditions mentioned above.