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Ashwagandha

Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects & Tips

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Updated May 16, 2014

Ashwagandha
Jessica Boone Collection/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an herb commonly used in ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India). Although it's not botanically related to ginseng, ashwagandha is often called "Indian ginseng" due to its supposedly rejuvenating effects.

Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

Research on ashwagandha is limited, but several studies have shown that the herb may be useful in addressing the following health problems:

1) Osteoarthritis

For a 2008 study, scientists tested ashwagandha's effects on human cartilage and found that the herb may help protect against inflammation and cartilage damage associated with osteoarthritis.

See other Natural Remedies for Osteoarthritis.

2) Anxiety

In an animal-based study published in 2000, researchers found that ashwagandha had an anti-anxiety effect similar to that of lorazepam (a medication used to treat anxiety disorders). The herb also appeared to ease depression.

More Natural Remedies for Anxiety.

3) Type 2 Diabetes

Ashwagandha may help normalize high blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity, according to preliminary, animal-based research published in 2008.

Get the scoop on other Natural Remedies for Diabetes.

4) Cancer

In a 2003 study, tests on human tumor cell lines revealed that ashwagandha may slow the growth of lung, breast, and colon cancer cells.

Published in 2007, another study on human cells shows that ashwagandha may inhibit tumor growth without harming normal cells.

See my other articles on Natural Approaches to Cancer.

Why Do People Use Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is regarded as an adaptogen (a type of herb said to strengthen your resistance to stress while enhancing your energy). Often used to boost the immune system after an illness, ashwagandha is also included in formulations that aim to treat these conditions:

How to Use Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is available in capsules, powders, and tinctures, all of which can be found in many health-food stories and pharmacies specializing in natural remedies. The herb is also commonly featured in adaptogen formulas, which may contain herbs like ginseng and rhodiola.

Safety

Although ashwagandha is generally considered safe, the herb may induce abortion when taken in very large doses. Therefore, pregnant women should avoid the use of ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha may also increase the potency of barbiturates (a class of drugs that depresses the central nervous system).

Sources

Anwer T, Sharma M, Pillai KK, Iqbal M. "Effect of Withania somnifera on insulin sensitivity in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus rats." Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology 2008 102(6):498-503.

Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Sairam K, Ghosal S. "Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study." Phytomedicine 2000 7(6):463-9.

Jayaprakasam B, Zhang Y, Seeram NP, Nair MG. "Growth inhibition of human tumor cell lines by withanolides from Withania somnifera leaves." Life Sciences 2003 21;74(1):125-32.

Sumantran VN, Chandwaskar R, Joshi AK, Boddul S, Patwardhan B, Chopra A, Wagh UV. "The relationship between chondroprotective and antiinflammatory effects of Withania somnifera root and glucosamine sulphate on human osteoarthritic cartilage in vitro." Phytotherapy Research 2008 22(10):1342-8.

Widodo N, Kaur K, Shrestha BG, Takagi Y, Ishii T, Wadhwa R, Kaul SC. "Selective killing of cancer cells by leaf extract of Ashwagandha: identification of a tumor-inhibitory factor and the first molecular insights to its effect." Clinical Cancer Research 2007 1;13(7):2298-306.

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