The root and berry of the ashwagandha plant have been used for years for medicinal purposes. This article will take a look at some of the possible side effects of ashwagandha.
Although ashwagandha (withania somnifera) has been widely available for years, it has been exposed to a wider audience recently from several Dr. Oz episodes which have hailed it as a solution to such conditions as insomnia and anxiety.
Interactions & Side Effects of Ashwagandha.
This article is not intended to dissuade the use of ashwagandha, but merely to compile a list of possible side effects from several sources.
The possible benefits of ashwagandha are compelling, but before beginning any new supplement regimen, it is always a good idea to evaluate the possible side effects, which we have listed below, from a variety of sources.
Naturopathic doctor and nutrition specialist Cathy Wong points out that ashwagandha “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).”
In a recent segment of Dr. Oz, an expert described ashwagandha as a “calming herb. It’s great for people who have anxiety and insomnia when they get stressed out.” She suggested taking 500 mg in the morning and at night, or 1 tsp of powder in the morning and at night.
In a 2011 article on the Dr. Oz website, Dr. Andrew Weil wrote that “Ashwagandha is very safe and can be used long-term.”
This popular drug information website simply writes, “Ashwagandha seems to be safe when taken by mouth, short-term. The long-term safety of ashwagandha is not known. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting.”
This drug info website cites stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting as possible side effects. It also notes that ashwagandha should be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women, those with stomach ulcers, sufferers of immune system diseases, and anyone scheduled for surgery within two weeks due to interactions with sedatives.
Here we read that ashwagandha is “possibly safe when taken by mouth short-term.” Possible side effects listed with large doses include stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Whole Health Chicago
In its article on ashwagandh, which largely extols its virtues, Whole Health Chicago lists a few possible side effects, which include initial episodes of either sedation or excessive energy. Additional side effects include stomach upset, diarrhea, and mouth irritation when using the liquid form. They point out that taking ashwagandha capsules with food will likely reduce or eliminate these side effects.
Who should NOT take ashwagandha?
The overwhelming consensus above states that pregnant women should avoid ashwagandha because it has been shown to possibly cause miscarriage in large doses. Several other sources urged those with immune diseases and pre-operative patients to avoid taking the supplement.
Side Effects Summary
To consolidate all of the information above, we can come up with a quick list of possible side effects of ashwagandha.
- Abdominal pain
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Kidney lesions
- High or low blood pressure
- Lowered blood sugar
- Lowered testosterone
- Respiratory depression
- Stomach upset
Those who should avoid ashwagandha include:
- Auto-immune diseases such as MS, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
- People with ulcers
- Patients preparing for surgery (stop 2 weeks prior)
- Peptic ulcer disease sufferers
- Those with thyroid conditions
Google Trends History
The Google Trends graph below shows interest in ashwagandha over time. Interest appears to have gradually increased, and is currently experiencing a peak surge.
Significant studies on the safety of ashwagandha are limited. While some studies cited in the articles above showed possible side effects, there were other studies which found no side effects at all. It has been suggested that taking it in capsule form with food is the best way to reduce or eliminate side effects.
The most common warning is that ashwagandha should be avoided by pregnant women, as it has been shown to increase the chance of miscarriage when taken in large doses.
Have you used ashwagandha? Tell us of your experience in the comments below.
Updated March 13, 2015
Originally published March 2014