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Ashwagandha (withania somniferum)
What is ashwagandha? What is it used for?
Ashwagandha is a small bush related to the pepper family found throughout India and Africa. In India, the shoots and seeds of the plant are used to thicken milk. The roots are used medicinally and are frequently included in ayurvedic formulas.
The compounds that give ashwagandha its medicinal properties are called withanolides, with are similar in appearance to the ginsenosides found in Asian ginseng; in fact, some practitioners refer to ashwagandha as "Indian ginseng." Animal studies have found that ashwagandha root stimulates the immune system, can reduce inflammation, and may even improve memory. These properties have caused some practitioners to label ashwagandha as a tonic or adaptogen - an herb with multiple (yet nonspecific) actions that counteract the effects of stress and promote health and wellness.
How much ashwagandha should I take?
Some herbalists recommend between 3 and 6 grams of dried ashwagandha root taken daily, either in capsule or tea form. Tinctures (2-4ml) and extracts can also be taken daily.
What forms of ashwagandha are available?
Dried ashwagandha root is available in some specialty stores. Many nutritional stores also sell ashwagandha extracts and tinctures.
What can happen if I take too much ashwagandha? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?
To date, no significant side-effects or known drug interactions have been reported with ashwagandha. The herb has been used safely by children in India. However, it has not been tested in pregnant or lactating women in the United States. Therefore, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult with a health care provider before taking ashwagandha supplements.
As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions with ashwagandha. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking ashwagandha or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.
- Bhattacharya SK, Kumar A, Ghosal S. Effects of glycowithanolides from withania somnifera on an animal model of Alzheimer's disease and perturbed central cholinergic markers of cognition in rats. Phytother Res 1995;9:110-3.
- Bone K. Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs. Queensland, Australia: Phytotherapy Press, 1996, 137-41.
- Kaur K, Rani G, Widodo N, et al. Evaluation of the anti-proliferative and anti-oxidative activities of leaf extract from in vivo and in vitro raised ashwagandha. Food Chem Toxicol Dec 2004;42(12):2015-20.
- Mishra LC, Sing BB, Dagenais S. Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Altern Med Rev Aug 2000;5(4):334-46.
- Rani G, Kaur K, Wadhwa R, et al. Evaluation of the anti-genotoxicity of leaf extract of ashwagandha. Food Chem Toxicol Jan 2005;43(1):95-8.