Ashwagandha: Health benefits, side effects, chemical composition, drug interaction and how to use

Commonly known as ‘Indian Winter cherry’ or ‘Indian Ginseng’, Ashawagandha (Withania somnifera) is an ancient medicinal herb used in Indian Ayurvedic treatment because of its various medicinal benefits. It is an annual evergreen shrub that grows in India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. As per data available, it has been used for over 3,000 years to relieve stress, increase energy levels and improve concentration.


In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha means the ‘smell of a horse’. This refers that the herb has the power to awaken the strength of the stallion referring to good immunity from diseases.

Chemical Composition

The biologically active chemical constituents of Withania somnifera (WS) include alkaloids (isopelletierine, anaferine, cuseohygrine, anahygrine, etc.), steroidal lactones (withanolides, withaferins) and saponins. Sitoindosides and acylsterylglucosides in Ashwagandha are anti-stress agents. Active principles of Ashwagandha, for instance the sitoindosides VII-X and Withaferin-A, have been shown to have significant anti-stress activity against acute models of experimental stress. Many of its constituents support immunomodulatory actions. 

Uses

The roots of Ashwagandha are used as a tonic, aphrodisiac, narcotic, diuretic, astringent, and stimulant. 

Several scientific studies were even carried out to study its anti-stress activities in detail.

  • It is commonly used in conditions such as constipation, insomnia, nervous breakdown, goitre, etc. 
  • Ashwagandha also provides numerous other benefits for our body and brain. For example, it can boost brain function, lower blood sugar and cortisol levels, and help fight symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Some research shows that Ashwagandha supplements may help lower cortisol levels in chronically stressed individuals. It is classified as an adaptogen,which means that it can help your body manage stress.
  • Several studies have examined ashwagandha’s ability to slow or prevent loss of brain function in people with neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Side effects

  • As per the research available, ashwagandha is safe when used for up to 3 months. The long-term safety of ashwagandha is not known. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause stomach upset, diarrhoea, and vomiting. 
  • According to the National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, some Ayurvedic products may contain lead, mercury, and arsenic in levels above what experts consider to be acceptable for human daily intake.
  • Pregnant women should avoid using ashwagandha because it may cause distress for the foetus and can cause premature labour.

Interactions with other drugs

With other drugs, Ashwagandha interacts in the following ways:

  1. Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants)
    Ashwagandha can increase the activity of the immune system. Taking ashwagandha with immunosuppressants might decrease the effects of these medications.
  2. Sedative medications (Benzodiazepines)
    Ashwagandha might cause sleepiness and slowed breathing. Taking ashwagandha with sedative medications might cause breathing problems and/or too much sleepiness.
  3. Thyroid hormone
    The body naturally produces thyroid hormones. Ashwagandha might increase how much thyroid hormone the body produces. Taking ashwagandha with thyroid hormone pills might cause too much thyroid hormone in the body, and increase the effects and side effects of thyroid hormone.
  4. Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetic drugs)
    Ashwagandha might lower blood sugar levels. Taking ashwagandha along with diabetes medications might cause blood sugar to drop too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely.
  5. Medications for high blood pressure (Antihypertensive drugs)
    Ashwagandha might lower blood pressure. Taking ashwagandha along with medications that lower blood pressure might cause blood pressure to go too low. Monitor your blood pressure closely.

 Reference
An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

Disclaimer: Medical Science is an ever evolving field. We strive to keep this page updated. In case you notice any discrepancy in the content, please inform us at [email protected]. You can futher read our Correction Policy here. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website or it's social media channels. Read our Full Disclaimer Here for further information.

Disclaimer
Medical Science is an ever evolving field. We strive to keep this page updated. In case you notice any discrepancy in the content, please inform us at [email protected]. You can further read our Correction Policy here. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website or it's social media channels. Read our Full Disclaimer Here for further information.

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