If you thought ashwagandha was trendy a few years ago, the ancient medicinal herbs has nearly achieved “household name” status at this point. Long used in Ayurveda, a traditional form of alternative medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing, ashwagandha is best known for its natural ability to reduce stress, which it does by lowering levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone) in our body, explains Canada-based naturopathic doctor Sarah Connors, N.D.
Ashwagandha has also been shown to help encourage deep, restorative sleep. In fact, one small study published in the journal Cureus found that older adults who took 600 milligrams of ashwagandha root each day for 12 weeks experienced an increase in their sleep quality as well as mental alertness. “If you have a hard time turning off your brain, this adaptogen can help you sleep, which is crucial for keeping your hormones in check,” notes naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist David Friedman, N.D., D.C.
So, yeah, the hype around ashwagandha is legit. But no supplement is one-size-fits-all. Here, experts break down some of the most important factors to consider if you’re interested in trying ashwagandha but aren’t sure whether it’s a good fit for you.
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Sarah Connors, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor based in Canada. David Friedman, N.D., D.C., is a naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist. Jenna Volpe, R.D.N., L.D., C.L.T., is a functional dietitian. Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P., is a functional nutritional therapy practitioner. Yelena Deshko, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor and the founder of Lumer Timeless Health Clinic in Toronto.
Ashwagandha May Be A Good Match For You If…
1. You’re no stranger to stress and anxiety
You’re far from alone if you deal with frequent bouts of stress and anxiety—and ashwagandha may be a supportive natural ally. “It’s classified as an adaptogen, a substance that helps the body cope with stress, and has been shown to help control stress mediators, such as cortisol,” Connors explains. “It also reduces the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a system in your body that regulates the stress response.” It’s no wonder stress management has become ashwagandha’s number-one claim to fame!
2. You’re looking to Support male fertility
Ashwagandha supplements have been shown in some studies to benefit male fertility and support healthy testosterone levels. In fact, one study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health analyzed 43 men ages 40 to 70 who took ashwagandha for eight weeks. It found that they experienced an 18 percent greater increase in DHEA-S, a sex hormone involved in testosterone production. Participants who took the herb also had a 14.7 percent greater increase in testosterone than those who took a placebo.
3. You’re in need of a brain boost
If you’re feeling less inspired and having difficulty focusing and functioning at work lately, ashwagandha may be a good match for you. One study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research followed 50 adults who took 600 milligrams of ashwagandha each day for eight weeks and found they experienced a significant improvement in attention, memory, and processing levels.
Read More: 9 Daily Habits That Mess With Your Focus
Another study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, meanwhile, found that ashwagandha may have neuroprotective effects and enhance cognitive function. “Ashwagandha may be beneficial for individuals experiencing cognitive decline or seeking improved mental performance,” explains Friedman.
4. Your immune system could use some oomph
As an adaptogenic herb, ashwagandha works with the immune system by stimulating pathways that increase and decrease the production of certain types of white blood cells, explains functional dietitian Jenna Volpe, R.D.N., L.D., C.L.T. This helps the immune system do its job of fending off various offenders well. In fact, research published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, even found that ashwagandha helped improve markers of immune function and resilience, such as cytokines and TBNK cells.
5. Your sleep stinks
Ashwagandha has been shown to produce a calming effect in the body that can be conducive to sleep. “As an adaptogen, ashwagandha can essentially help counterbalance the brain and bring you into a more calmed state,” shares functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P. Case in point: One study published in the journal Cureus found that 600 milligrams of ashwagandha per day significantly improved sleep in older adults.
You Might Want To Seek Another Option If…
1. You have an autoimmune condition
Ashwagandha might cause the immune system to become more active, which could be problematic for those dealing with autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, warns Connors. If you have an autoimmune disease, check in with your healthcare team before adding any supplement to your routine.
2. Your thyroid is overactive
Ashwagandha has been shown to help normalize thyroid hormone levels, which may make it useful for individuals who have low TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). However, this can spell trouble for individuals with thyroid levels that are too high, as is the case in hyperthyroidism, Connors suggests. These people either need to use ashwagandha with extreme caution or avoid it altogether, she says. Again, the best move here is to consult with your healthcare provider.
3. You take Certain Medications
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warns that ashwagandha may interact negatively with some medications, including sedatives such as benzodiazepines (think Ativan®, Xanax® and Valium®). For this reason, it’s best to avoid this supplement or speak with your healthcare provider to make sure that you don’t experience potential side effects such as slowed breathing.
Advice For Taking Ashwagandha
In general, it’s always a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement, as they can help guide you toward the right dose and duration and confirm you’re not at risk for any counterindications. (A holistic health expert like a naturopathic doctor is likely to have the most experience with herbs like ashwagandha.)
From there, make sure any ashwagandha supplement you add to your routine is top-notch quality, experts suggest. Ideally, you want an option that’s certified organic, which ensures it hasn’t been sprayed with harmful pesticides or herbicides. The more transparency a brand offers about its sourcing and farming practices, the better.
In general, the dosage for ashwagandha cited in medical literature is typically between 250 and 600 milligrams per day, notes naturopathic doctor Yelena Deshko, N.D., founder of Lumer Timeless Health Clinic in Toronto. If you’re a newbie, she recommends starting at 300 milligrams, split between the morning and evening (that means 150 milligrams twice per day).
“No common side effects have consistently been cited in literature at the therapeutic dosage range,” she notes. However, if you do experience any side effects, such as an upset stomach, diarrhea, or nausea, contact your healthcare provider.