Whether you’ve been following wellness trends forever or are just now becoming hip to them in your TikTok feed, you’re probably aware of the buzz around ashwagandha. In the past few years, this herb has become a sought-after ingredient found in all sorts of supplements, even pre-workouts and functional drinks.
Also known as “Withania somnifera” and “winter cherry,” ashwagandha is a type of medicinal evergreen shrub and Ayurvedic adaptogen that has been cultivated in India and other parts of the world for thousands of years, explains functional dietitian Jenna Volpe, R.D.N., L.D., C.L.T. Ashwagandha’s adaptogenic and stress-saving qualities have made it famous in the overwhelm of today’s world, but it also offers benefits for immune health, cognitive function, thyroid health, and sleep.
Before you start using ashwagandha to support one (or more!) of these areas of health, remember that—as with any supplement—it needs to be used properly in order to be safe and effective. Here, experts share key do’s and don’ts for adding it to your wellness routine.
Do: Check in with a pro before taking ashwagandha
It’s always a smart move to check in with a registered dietician or your healthcare provider before trying a new supplement, as there may be potential drug interactions or contraindications that need to be considered. For instance, ashwagandha is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, as there is limited research on its effects on developing fetuses and infants, notes Jerry Bailey, D.C., LA.c., a certified nutritionist, acupuncturist, chiropractor, and functional medicine practitioner with Lakeside Holistic Health. Some research has also found that ashwagandha can interact with certain medications prescribed for diabetes or high blood pressure, as well as thyroid medications.
Additionally, there are some cases in which people experiencing stress, anxiety, trouble sleeping, or immune dysregulation may benefit from taking a different type of adaptogen, according to Volpe. “For example, if someone is seeking immunity balance but they have Grave’s disease (an autoimmune thyroid condition in which the thyroid is overactive), ashwagandha wouldn’t be the best match, since it stimulates the thyroid,” she explains.
Don’t: Exceed the recommended dosage
According to functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P., about 300 to 600 milligrams of ashwagandha per day has been shown to be the most effective therapeutic dosage range. So, she recommends sticking to that.
“It is always best to start lower and increase as needed, without ever exceeding 600 milligrams,” she says. “Taking excessive amounts may lead to digestive issues, drowsiness, or other unwanted symptoms.” Unless advised otherwise by a healthcare professional, follow the recommended dosage guidelines provided on product packaging.
Do: Choose a supplement that’s certified organic
As with any herb or food product you consume regularly, it’s a wise idea to go with an ashwagandha brand that’s certified organic to ensure that it hasn’t been sprayed with dangerous herbicides (like glyphosate) or potentially harmful chemical pesticides. “When we’re consuming non-organic herbal extracts in therapeutic doses on a regular basis, we run the risk of consuming high concentrations of certain chemicals which may be controversial and even banned in most other countries outside the U.S.,” explains Volpe.
The more transparency a brand offers about the sourcing of its ashwagandha, the better, so be prepared to do some digging around its website for details about farming practices and more.
Don’t: Leave your Supplement in direct light
It’s best to store your ashwagandha supplement in a cool, dry, dark place, as light, heat, and moisture may degrade the potency of the herb. “Herbs that have been sitting on a shelf in direct light or in a hot, humid space for a long period of time may be less potent,” explains Volpe. She recommends looking for an ashwagandha supplement that’s packaged in a tinted glass bottle, which helps protect and preserve the potency of the herb.
Do: Take ashwagandha with food
When taken on an empty stomach, ashwagandha can cause some digestive irritation so it’s best taken with a meal or a light snack. Rodgers recommends that those looking to support general stress management take it in the morning with breakfast and that those looking to promote calm and sleep well take it in the evening with or right after dinner.
Don’t: Ignore individual sensitivities
Everyone’s body chemistry is unique, which is why it’s important to take note of any sensitivity or potential reactions you might experience when taking ashwagandha (or any other herb, for that matter), urges naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist David Friedman, N.D., D.C. “While rare, some individuals may experience allergic symptoms such as rash, itching, or difficulty breathing,” he says. “If you develop any adverse effects or unusual symptoms after taking ashwagandha, discontinue use immediately and seek medical attention.”
Do: Stay consistent
Consistency is key when taking ashwagandha. Friedman recommends using ashwagandha regularly and consistently for an extended period to experience its potential benefits. “Adaptogens like ashwagandha often require consistent use over time to support the body’s natural adaptation and regulatory processes,” he says. “Depending on individual needs and goals, it may be suggested to use ashwagandha daily for several weeks or months to observe its full effects.” Don’t be discouraged if you don’t experience immediate results!
Don’t: Use ashwagandha around surgery
Given that ashwagandha typically has a calming effect, it should never be used prior to medical procedures like surgery. “When combined with ashwagandha, the medications used during most surgeries could actually increase the slowing of the nervous system, which could land you in dangerous territory,” warns Rodgers. “Talk to your doctor about everything you are taking, and know that it is suggested that you stop using ashwagandha about two weeks before any surgery.”