The Lamen


by | Feb 17, 2023

Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub that grows in India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa.

It has been used in traditional Indian medicine since 6,000 BC, also known as the “Indian Ginseng” or “winter cherry”. Ashwagandha has gained popularity in the western world for its use as an aphrodisiac.

Withania somnifera, commonly known as ashwagandha gains its name from the Sanskrit word “ashwa,” meaning horse.

This refers to the smell of its root, which resembles the smell of a horse, with the word “gandha” meaning smell.

In traditional Indian medicine, ashwagandha roots were used to treat constipation, insomnia, inflammation, ulcers, and even snake venom.

Current research suggests that ashwagandha is a great natural stimulant, and can even be beneficial for treating conditions like Alzheimer’s, hypothyroidism, stress, anxiety, and even cancer.

Despite its potential health benefits, ashwagandha still remains to be extensively studied to establish it as a safe natural supplement.

In this article, we look into the evidence that suggests the possible health benefits of ashwagandha, how you can take it, and whether there are any risks to supplementing with ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha in Ayurveda

Ayurveda is an ancient holistic healthcare system with its roots tracing back to ancient India.

Ayurveda is a pseudoscientific medical system and involves the use of a variety of techniques to treat conditions, including:

  • herbal remedies
  • meditation
  • yoga
  • special diets

Ashwagandha has its roots established in the original guidebook of Ayurveda titled “Charaka Samhita” and “Sushruta Samhita.”

It is considered a Rasayana, or tonic in ayurvedic texts. This suggests that ashwagandha has properties that help one maintain a youthful physical and mental state.

In the traditional Indian medical system, ashwagandha has been used for:

  • constipation
  • goiter
  • treating malnourishment in children
  • rheumatism
  • arthritis
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • ulcers
  • pimples
  • boils

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which is a natural substance that helps the body adapt to stress.

Different parts of the plant are for different purposes.

Ashwagandha leaves are recommended for treating painful swellings and fever, whereas its flower has aphrodisiac and diuretic properties.

Ashwagandha supplements have become popular in the west as natural anti-anxiety and stress relieving supplements, with many suggesting that it helps improve sleep quality and treat insomnia.

What does ashwagandha look like?

Ashwagandha roots and ashwagandha powder.

Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The ashwagandha plant (Withania somnifera) is a small evergreen shrub with bell flowers containing small orange berries that appear like small tomatoes. The shrub typically grows 14 to 30 inches tall.

The most recognizable part of the ashwagandha plant is its roots, which are thick and fleshy.

The roots are often dried and ground into a powder and used to make teas, tinctures, and other herbal remedies.

Health benefits of ashwagandha backed by science

Ashwagandha contains over 80 phytochemicals, which are biologically active compounds found in plants with a variety of health benefits.

Among these chemicals, sitoindosides and withaferin A are what impart ashwagandha with the majority of its therapeutic effects.

According to research, ashwagandha has the potential to treat or manage the following:

  • diabetes
  • ADHD
  • nervous system disorders
  • bronchitis
  • sleep deprivation
  • tumors
  • tuberculosis
  • chronic liver disease
  • Parkinson’s disease

However, most of the studies involving ashwagandha have been conducted using animal models, which means that researchers don’t know if it will have the same impact on human health.

That said, here’s what current research suggests on some of the possible health benefits of ashwagandha.

Stress and anxiety

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which are active compounds in plants (and mushrooms) that help your body deal with stress and anxiety.

Ashwagandha has gained a reputation as an anti-stress supplement as researchers look for natural, less harmful alternatives to benzodiazepines and other prescription medications for treating anxiety.

A 2021 review of clinical studies examining the effects of ashwagandha on stress, anxiety, and depression found that its roots and leaf extracts showed potent anti-stress and anti-anxiety activity in animal and human studies.

A 2019 study involved giving 60 adults either a placebo or a 240mg ashwagandha extract once every day for 60 days.

It was found that ashwagandha supplementation was associated with a significant reduction in anxiety, depression, and stress.

The researchers also found that ashwagandha intake was associated with greater reductions in morning cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.

Another randomized controlled trial from 2019 compared the stress-relieving effect of ashwagandha root with a placebo group.

The study found that participants who took 250mg or 600mg of ashwagandha per day self-reported lower levels of stress.

The ashwagandha group also reported significant improvement in sleep quality compared to the place group.


Inflammation is a part of your body’s natural defense mechanism. A temporary increase in inflammation occurs as your body fights off an injury or infection.

However, long-term inflammation can have a number of adverse effects on your health, including:

  • diabetes
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • allergies
  • arthritis
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • cancer

Ashwagandha has shown significant anti-inflammatory properties, which come from the bioactive compound called withaferin A (WA).

Although scientists don’t completely understand how WA works, it has been shown to reduce inflammation and alleviate the symptoms of conditions such as cystic fibrosis and diabetes.

Researchers believe that taking ashwagandha suppresses it by downregulating the NF-kB factor, which serves as one of the main mediators of inflammatory responses.

Improves sleep

According to the Sleep Foundation, between 10 to 30 percent of adults struggle with chronic insomnia.

Women have an even higher lifetime risk of insomnia, up to 40 percent greater compared to men. Because of this, many scientists and people are now looking into herbal remedies to treat insomnia.

A 2019 study gave 60 patients either a placebo or a 300mg ashwagandha root extract twice daily for 10 weeks.

It was found that the patients who took ashwagandha experienced significantly shorter sleep onset latency, which is the time it takes for a person to fall asleep.

The study also reported significant improvement in other sleep parameters for the ashwagandha group, such as sleep quality and sleep efficiency.

A meta-analysis from 2021 also found that the best results were obtained when 600 mg or more of ashwagandha was taken every day, and the supplementation was carried out for at least 8 weeks.

The results also showed that ashwagandha led to improved mental alertness when waking up.

Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease

Ashwagandha is known to produce antistress and antioxidant effects, both of which can be neuroprotective in nature.

A review found that ashwagandha mitigates several neurological disorders, including:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • schizophrenia
  • addiction
  • Huntington disease
  • stroke
  • anxiety

The 2011 review states that ashwagandha slows, reverses, or removes neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss, both of which are the major cause of loss of brain function in neurodegenerative diseases. Because of this, it can be used to treat these conditions at any stage.

Athletic performance

Ashwagandha is considered a potent natural agent for improving physical performance, which makes it a supplement that many athletes use or endorse.

A meta-analysis involving a total of 615 healthy adults found that supplementing between 240 and 600 mg of ashwagandha daily can increase physical strength, VO2 max and cardiorespiratory fitness, as well as improve recovery.

Another study involved supplementing 40 elite cyclists with Ashwagandha for eight weeks to study its effects on cardiovascular endurance.

The results showed that the athletes experienced significant improvements in the maximum aerobic capacity as well as time to exhaustion.


Estimates suggest that nearly 8 percent of men aged between 50 and 79 experience low testosterone.

This is evident considering that testosterone levels in men decrease at a rate of 1 to 2 percent every year after the age of 40.

Low testosterone can have several consequences, including:

  • reduced muscle mass
  • increased body fat
  • lower sex drive
  • hair loss
  • erectile dysfunction

Some research as well as anecdotal evidence suggests that ashwagandha supplements can increase testosterone levels in men, and improve sex drive and fertility.

An 8-week study compared the effects of ashwagandha root extract with a placebo in increasing the testosterone levels in men experiencing low sex drive.

The researchers found that taking 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice a day significantly increased serum testosterone levels in men.

Another study found that taking ashwagandha extract for 8 weeks was associated with increased levels of DHEA-S, which is a hormone involved in making testosterone in men.

The results showed an 18 percent greater increase in DHEA-s and a 14.7 percent greater increase in testosterone compared to the placebo group.

How to take ashwagandha

How you should take ashwagandha supplements depends upon your requirements, including the benefits you are hoping to get.

While there is no standard dosage for ashwagandha, the most commonly used ashwagandha supplementation in studies is of 600 mg daily divided into two doses.

Other studies have used higher as well as lower doses.

Ashwagandha is available in capsule dosages between 125 and 3,000 mg and is also available in the form of ashwagandha roots, powders, or an extract.

Taking ashwagandha: The Ayurvedic view

Ayurveda suggests that a quarter to half teaspoon of ashwagandha churna (powder) should be mixed with some water, ghee, or honey. The suggested benefits of doing this include an enhanced function of the nervous system, improved cognition, and better reproductive health.

Taking more than the recommended dosages of ashwagandha can result in some unpleasant side effects, including diarrhea and nausea.

In case you experience any such reactions, you should speak with your healthcare provider about the safety of your supplementation, and decide on the adequate dosage.

Are there any side effects to using ashwagandha?

While the Indian Ayurvedic medicine system reports the use of ashwagandha to be safe, the subject has received limited clinical research.

However, studies have reported that taking tolerable concentrations of ashwagandha over a few weeks shows no adverse reactions.

Ashwagandha is typically well tolerated in small-to-medium doses, although the topic has not received long-term research.

The potential side effects of taking large amounts of ashwagandha include:

  • upset stomach
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • drowsiness

In case you experience any side effects, you should lower your dosage or speak with a healthcare provider to know if it is safe for you to take ashwagandha.

Who should not take ashwagandha?

While Ayurvedic herbs are generally safe to take in small amounts, large doses can lead to discomfort and even adverse side effects in some cases.

Ayurvedic practice and education are not regulated in the United States, and no state requires a practitioner to require a license.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warns that some Ayurvedic products may contain potentially harmful metals, minerals, or gems, such as mercury and arsenic.

These supplements are not regulated by the FDA, which means that they don’t undergo the same testing standards as pharmaceutical drugs.

In general, you should avoid taking any ashwagandha supplements before speaking to a doctor if:

  • you are pregnant
  • you have an autoimmune condition
  • you take thyroid medication
  • you experience gastrointestinal issues
  • you are diabetic

Most of the side effects of ashwagandha have been studied in animal models, and therefore the effects of its long-term supplementation on human health are not well studied.

As such, you should start with a small dosage, and slowly increase your dosage if the herb is well tolerated.

Frequently asked questions

What is ashwagandha good for?

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which are natural compounds that improve the body’s ability to deal with stress. Studies show that ashwagandha can also be beneficial for anxiety, diabetes, arthritis, athletic performance, and cancer treatment.

How much ashwagandha should you take per day?

There is no standard dosage for ashwagandha, and it is available in capsules between 125 and 3,000 mg. Most studies involve taking 600 mg of ashwagandha daily in two doses.

Will ashwagandha make you sleepy?

Ashwagandha has been shown to have sleep-inducing potential and is used to improve sleep quality and treat insomnia. A  showed that taking 300 mg of ashwagandha extract twice a day improves sleep quality and sleep onset latency in patients with insomnia.

Should you take ashwagandha during pregnancy?

Due to the lack of scientific evidence on ashwagandha’s safety and dosage, it should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Can ashwagandha help with weight loss?

While ashwagandha might not directly influence your weight, but it can improve your overall health. Studies show that ashwagandha has antioxidant properties, and can also improve athletic performance. These things can collectively improve your overall health and also aid in weight loss.

When should you take ashwagandha?

If you want to improve your sleeping habits, taking ashwagandha during the night might be more beneficial for you. In most cases, ashwagandha can be taken anytime during the day.

The gist

Ashwagandha is an herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Ancient Ayurvedic texts suggest that ashwagandha is a “Rasayana,” or a compound that helps maintain a youthful body and mind.

While the benefits of ashwagandha have not been studied extensively, some research suggests that it can provide a number of health benefits, including relieving stress and anxiety, improving sleep, and even prevent cancer.

Ashwagandha is typically safe to take in small to medium dosages, but large doses may cause side effects such as nausea and vomiting. In case you decide to take ashwagandha supplements, you should consider talking to your doctor, especially if you wish to treat some health condition.