Ashwagandha – Uses, Side Effects, and More

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha, an evergreen shrub flourishing in the regions of Asia and Africa, is frequently employed to address stress-related concerns. While it is commonly categorized as an “adaptogen,” scientific evidence supporting this classification is limited.

The chemical composition of ashwagandha suggests potential benefits such as brain-calming properties, anti-inflammatory effects, blood pressure reduction, and modulation of the immune system. Rooted in traditional use as an adaptogen, ashwagandha is employed for various stress-related conditions. Adaptogens are believed to fortify the body against both physical and mental stressors. Conditions like insomnia, aging, anxiety, among others, are often associated with ashwagandha use, but it’s important to note that robust scientific evidence supporting most of these applications is lacking. Furthermore, there is no substantiated evidence supporting the use of ashwagandha in the context of COVID-19.

It’s crucial to differentiate ashwagandha from Physalis alkekengi, as both are colloquially referred to as winter cherry. Additionally, caution is advised to avoid confusion with other herbal remedies like American ginseng, Panax ginseng, or eleuthero, which may have distinct properties and applications.

Uses & Effectiveness

Possibly Effective for

Ashwagandha has shown promise in addressing a specific type of enduring anxiety characterized by heightened worry and tension, known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). When taken orally, ashwagandha appears to alleviate anxiety symptoms in individuals dealing with persistent anxiety.

In the realm of sleep-related concerns, ashwagandha demonstrates potential benefits. Oral consumption of ashwagandha seems to contribute to overall improvements in sleep and sleep quality for certain individuals grappling with insomnia.

Furthermore, ashwagandha exhibits positive effects in mitigating stress levels for some users. Additionally, there is an indication that it may play a role in curbing stress-related weight gain.

While these aspects showcase the potential of ashwagandha in specific areas, it’s essential to note that there is ongoing interest in exploring its utility for various other purposes. However, the current body of reliable information is insufficient to conclusively determine its effectiveness in these broader applications.

Ashwagandha Side Effects

Oral consumption of ashwagandha is generally considered safe for a duration of up to three months, although the safety profile for long-term use remains uncertain. It’s important to note that elevated doses of ashwagandha may result in adverse effects such as stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting. In rare instances, there have been reported cases of liver problems, including severe liver failure, necessitating liver transplantation.

In contrast, when applied topically to the skin, a lotion containing ashwagandha is deemed potentially safe for a period of up to two months. As with any substance, it is advisable to exercise caution and adhere to recommended usage guidelines to minimize potential risks and side effects.

Special Precautions and Warnings

Oral Consumption:

Ashwagandha is deemed potentially safe for oral use within a span of up to three months. However, the long-term safety implications of prolonged use remain unknown. Ingesting large doses of ashwagandha may lead to adverse effects such as stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting. In rare instances, severe liver problems, including the potential for liver failure requiring transplantation, have been reported.

Topical Application:

When applied to the skin, a lotion containing ashwagandha is considered possibly safe for a duration of up to two months.

Pregnancy:

During pregnancy, the use of ashwagandha is likely unsafe, as there is evidence suggesting a potential association with miscarriages.

Breastfeeding:

Insufficient reliable information exists to determine the safety of ashwagandha use during breastfeeding. It is advisable to err on the side of caution and abstain from its use.

Autoimmune Diseases:

For individuals with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or similar conditions, caution is advised. Ashwagandha’s potential to stimulate the immune system might exacerbate symptoms, making its use inadvisable.

Surgery:

Due to its potential to slow down the central nervous system, it is recommended to discontinue ashwagandha use at least two weeks before scheduled surgery. Healthcare providers express concerns that the combined effect of anesthesia and other medications during and after surgery could be intensified by ashwagandha.

Thyroid Disorders:

Ashwagandha has the potential to elevate thyroid hormone levels. Therefore, individuals with thyroid conditions or those taking thyroid hormone medications should exercise caution or avoid ashwagandha use altogether.

Moderate Interaction – Exercise Caution with These Combinations:

Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants): Ashwagandha has the potential to enhance immune system activity. When paired with medications, especially those prescribed post-transplant that are designed to suppress the immune system, there is a risk of diminishing the effectiveness of the immunosuppressant drugs.

Sedative medications (Benzodiazepines): Ashwagandha may induce drowsiness and slow breathing. Combining ashwagandha with sedative medications, such as benzodiazepines, can intensify these effects, potentially leading to respiratory issues and excessive drowsiness.

Sedative medications (CNS depressants): Similar to the interaction with benzodiazepines, ashwagandha’s sedative properties may interact adversely with other medications classified as CNS depressants. This combination has the potential to cause breathing difficulties and an excess of drowsiness.

Thyroid hormone: Ashwagandha can stimulate the production of thyroid hormones in the body. When used concurrently with thyroid hormone pills, it may lead to an excessive increase in thyroid hormone levels, amplifying both the intended effects and potential side effects of thyroid hormone therapy.

Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs): Ashwagandha has the capacity to lower blood sugar levels. Combining ashwagandha with antidiabetes medications raises the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Close monitoring of blood sugar levels is recommended when these substances are used in tandem.

Medications for high blood pressure (Antihypertensive drugs): Ashwagandha exhibits blood pressure-lowering properties. When taken alongside antihypertensive medications, there is a potential for blood pressure to drop excessively. Close monitoring of blood pressure is advisable to prevent hypotension.

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Dosing

Ashwagandha is commonly utilized by adults in daily doses of up to 1000 mg, typically administered over a period of up to 12 weeks. It is crucial to engage in a consultation with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate dosage tailored to specific health conditions. Seeking personalized guidance ensures the optimal and safe use of ashwagandha for individual needs.

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