The Benefits and Side Effects of Ashwagandha

Taking ashwagandha can provide stress relief and improve immune function, among other benefits.
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With a reputation for boosting libido, increasing longevity and helping with stress relief, it's no wonder that ashwagandha is so attention-grabbing.

Given these sweeping claims, a person may wonder: Are these benefits of ashwagandha real or fake? For insight, we turned to scientific research on this ancient herb.

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About the Ashwagandha Plant

Ashwagandha (aka withania somnifera) is a member of the nightshade family, growing on a shrub-like plant, according to the American Botanical Council (ABC). It grows in northern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and parts of China, per ABC.

Also known as "India's ginseng" or "winter cherry," this herb is used by Ayurveda practitioners for its medicinal properties.

It can be taken daily as a capsule, tincture or tea, according to Kaiser Permanente.

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Traditional Uses of the Ashwagandha Herb

In Ayurveda, a traditional medicine practiced in India, this herb has been used for centuries for a wide array of health concerns — that includes treating infectious diseases and inflammation, according to Kaiser Permanente.

In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha root is used to increase energy, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The herb is also used as a traditional remedy in Africa, deployed to treat fever and inflammatory conditions, per Kaiser Permanente.

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Although there is no research to support the claim, Ayurvedic practitioners believe ashwagandha can be an effective remedy for loss of sex drive in both men and women.

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Ashwagandha Tea Benefits

Current research does not provide enough information to confirm many of these traditional medicinal uses of ashwagandha. But the following uses of ashwagandha are backed by research, according to the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Stress relief — Supplementing with ashwagandha decreased anxiety and morning cortisol, per a September 2019 study published in Medicine.
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Improved immune function
  • Anti-aging properties

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It's potential anticancer abilities are exciting, but known that only lab and animal — and not any human studies — have shown that ashwagandha can stop the growth of cancerous cells, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC).

Active Compounds

The most studied components of ashwagandha are a group of chemicals called withanolides, according to Kaiser Permanente.

One variety of withanolides, withaferin A, shows an anticancer effect in animal studies, according to The Enzymes, a book published in 2015. This is also backed up by lab studies, but hasn't been confirmed in studies with humans, according to MSKCC.

Is Ashwagandha Safe?

Pregnant women should avoid ashwagandha as it may cause miscarriage, according to MSKCC. While it's not known to interact with food or medications, according to Kaiser Permanente, it's always best to inform your health care provider about any supplements you take.

If you have an autoimmune disease or thyroid condition, check with your health care provider before drinking ashwagandha tea.

People often report that the taste and smell of ashwagandha tea is unpleasant. There are also some ashwagandha tea side effects, including GI issues, headache and drowsiness, per MSKCC.

How to Make Ashwagandha Tea

You can purchase ashwagandha tea in health food stores. Or, you can brew up your own. To do so, boil 3/4 to 1 1/3 teaspoon of the root for 15 minutes, according to Kaiser Permanente.

Per the Cleveland Clinic, people typically take 500 milligrams of ashwagandha twice a day.

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