In Ayurvedic medicine, the root of ashwagandha, or Indian ginseng, is used to treat infertility, asthma and many other common systemic illnesses. Often recommended as an antidepressant, ashwagandha has been prescribed in the West as part of a treatment program for victims of chronic fatigue syndrome and anorexia nervosa, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Few unwanted side effects are known, but scientific studies of this potentially important herb are not complete.
According to Drugs.com, ashwagandha use may have abortifacient effects. Pregnant women using ashwagandha could put themselves at risk of miscarriage. Lactating women could pass the herb's compounds through their breast milk to young children with less tolerance of the herb, and they are also advised not to use ashwagandha.
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Scientific studies of ashwagandha's benefits do show that the herb has positive effects on arthritis, some antitumor properties, and that its calming and tranquilizing effects help counteract the effects of stress. Martin S. Mach concluded in the Journal of the Health Resource Center that no real evidence supports ashwagandha's effectiveness as a fertility treatment. Effective dosage levels for the known uses of the herb have not been determined. According to the Alternative Medicine Review, toxicity studies have not thoroughly explored the herb's possible harmful effects. Because of the possibility of negative interactions with prescription medications and other herbs, you should seek the advice of a physician and not self-treat with ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, belongs to the Solanacea family of nightshade plants that includes tomatoes, potatoes and many important pharmacological plants. Some individuals experience allergic reactions to nightshades. Persons with known sensitivity to this family of plants should also avoid ashwagandha.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, ashwagandha may intensify hyperthyroidism although the effect hasn't been proven. Some knowledgeable herbalists still recommend the herb as a strengthening tonic for people with hyperthyroidism. Anyone with this condition should consult an expert for advice before using ashwagandha.
In the small doses usually ingested as herbal tonics—from 450 milligrams to 2 grams of ashwagandha root powder at a time—ashwagandha can safely be regarded as nontoxic. In higher doses the toxicity risk rises. The herb's toxic qualities contribute to its use as a treatment for lice infestations. Consumed fresh, the plant's berries act as an emetic. Literally translated, ashwagandha means "smells like a horse," and the plant's unpleasant flavor makes overuse unlikely.