Ashwagandha, a popular herb in Ayurvedic medicine, has been used for centuries to treat various ailments. But what are the benefits and risks of this herb, and how much should you take? Here is what you need to know.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a small evergreen shrub that grows in Africa, India, and the Middle East. Its scientific name is Withania somnifera, and it is also known as Indian ginseng. The roots and leaves of the plant are used to make supplements, powders, teas, and extracts.
Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen, which means it can help the body cope with stress and restore balance. It has been used in Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine in India, for over 3,000 years. It is believed to have various health benefits, such as improving vitality, immunity, memory, mood, and sexual function.
What are the Benefits of Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha has been studied for its potential effects on various health conditions and aspects of well-being. Some of the benefits that have been reported by scientific research include:
- Reducing stress and anxiety: Ashwagandha can lower cortisol levels, the hormone that is released during stress. It can also improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders.
- Protecting the brain: Ashwagandha can enhance cognitive function, memory, and learning. It can also prevent or delay neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, by protecting the brain cells from oxidative damage and inflammation.
- Fighting cancer: Ashwagandha can inhibit the growth and spread of cancer cells by inducing apoptosis (cell death) and preventing angiogenesis (blood vessel formation). It can also enhance the effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy by reducing their side effects.
- Managing diabetes: Ashwagandha can lower blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity and secretion. It can also prevent or treat diabetic complications, such as neuropathy (nerve damage) and retinopathy (eye damage).
- Reducing inflammation: Ashwagandha can modulate the immune system and reduce inflammation by suppressing pro-inflammatory cytokines (chemical messengers). It can also alleviate pain and swelling in conditions such as arthritis, rheumatism, and gout.
- Boosting muscle growth: Ashwagandha can increase muscle mass, strength, and endurance by stimulating testosterone production and enhancing protein synthesis. It can also reduce muscle damage and soreness after exercise.
- Improving fertility: Ashwagandha can improve reproductive health by increasing sperm count, motility, and quality in men and regulating menstrual cycles, ovulation, and hormonal balance in women. It can also enhance sexual performance and satisfaction by increasing libido and arousal.
What are the Risks of Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is generally considered safe for short-term use (up to three months), but it may have some side effects and interactions with certain medications or conditions. Some of the risks that have been reported by scientific research or anecdotal evidence include:
- Drowsiness: Ashwagandha can cause sedation and drowsiness, especially when taken in high doses or with other sedatives or antidepressants. It may impair driving ability or mental alertness.
- Hirsutism: Ashwagandha can increase hair growth on the face or body, especially in women who are sensitive to higher testosterone levels. This may be due to its effect on stimulating hormone production or blocking enzyme activity.
- Gastrointestinal distress: Ashwagandha can cause stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation in some people. This may be due to its effect on altering gut flora or irritating the mucous membrane.
- Liver toxicity: Ashwagandha can cause liver damage in rare cases, especially when taken in high doses or for a long time. This may be due to its effect on inducing oxidative stress or interfering with liver enzymes.
- Drug interactions: Ashwagandha can interact with certain medications that affect blood sugar levels (such as antidiabetic drugs), blood pressure levels (such as antihypertensives), immune system function (such as immunosuppressants), seizure activity (such as anticonvulsants), or thyroid function (such as thyroid medication). It may enhance or reduce their effects or cause adverse reactions.
- Medical conditions: Ashwagandha should be avoided by people who have autoimmune diseases (such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis), overactive thyroid (such as hyperthyroidism or Graves’ disease), or bleeding disorders (such as hemophilia or peptic ulcer). It may worsen their symptoms or cause complications.
How Much Ashwagandha Should You Take?
There is no standard or recommended dosage for ashwagandha, as it may vary depending on the formulation, concentration, and purpose of use. However, some general guidelines that have been suggested by scientific research or expert opinions are:
- Average dosage: The typical dosage range for ashwagandha is between 120 mg and 1,250 mg per day, divided into two or three doses. Most studies have used around 600 mg per day as the effective dose.
- High-potency extracts: Some ashwagandha supplements contain higher concentrations of the bioactive components called withanolides, which are responsible for most of its effects. These include KSM, Shoden, and Sensoril ashwagandha, which have withanolide contents of 5%, 35%, and 10%, respectively. These extracts may require lower doses than regular ashwagandha, such as 100 mg to 300 mg per day.
- Personal factors: The optimal dosage for ashwagandha may depend on individual factors, such as age, weight, health status, and desired outcome. It is advisable to start with a low dose and gradually increase it until the desired effect is achieved. It is also advisable to consult a healthcare professional before taking ashwagandha, especially if you have any medical condition or take any medication.
Ashwagandha is a wonder herb that has many benefits for physical and mental health. However, it also has some risks and limitations that should be considered before using it. By understanding its diverse potential and potential pitfalls, individuals can make informed decisions regarding its use, keeping their health and well-being at the forefront of their choices.