Skip to content

Ashwagandha 101: Benefits, Usage, & Side Effects Of The Adaptogen

Carina Wolff
Author: Medical reviewer:
Updated on July 11, 2022
Carina Wolff
By Carina Wolff
mbg Contributor
Carina Wolff is a freelance writer and blogger who covers food, health and wellness. Her bylines have appeared in Bustle, Reader’s Digest, FabFitFun, and more. Carina has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and psychology from New York University.
Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN
Medical review by
Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN
mbg Vice President of Scientific Affairs
Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN is Vice President of Scientific Affairs at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's degree in Biological Basis of Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania and Ph.D. in Foods and Nutrition from the University of Georgia.
Last updated on July 11, 2022

If you’re someone who deals with stress or anxiousness, you may have heard someone recommend ashwagandha before.

Here's what to know about the popular adaptogen and exactly how to use it to find calm.*

Advertisement
This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

Overview

Although you may not have heard of it until relatively recently, ashwagandha, an evergreen shrub that grows in India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa, is nothing new.

It is one of the most revered plant medicines in Ayurveda, a natural system of medicine originating in India more than 3,000 years ago.

Today, many people refer to ashwagandha as an “adaptogen,” meaning it can increase our body’s power to adapt to and counter various stressors, but in traditional Ayurveda, it is known as a “rasayana” or a “rejuvenator.”*

“It’s soothing and especially helpful for those who are feeling ‘wired and tired,’ anxious and stressed,”* says integrative physician Cindy Tsai, M.D.

Extracts are typically taken from the plant's roots or leaves and are made into capsules, tinctures, or powders to help ease stress and promote a number of other health benefits.*

Benefits of ashwagandha

If you’re curious about ashwagandha and whether or not it may be useful to you, consider these six studied benefits of the powerful herb.*

Advertisement
This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.
1.

Alleviates stress

When we are stressed, our body produces extra cortisol (a stress hormone) to keep up with the demands of life. “Ashwagandha helps to regulate various brain pathways to decrease cortisol levels1 overall so that we can stay calm and relaxed,” says Tsai.*

“Specifically, it contains withanolides, compounds that help activate GABA receptors2 in the brain to decrease activation of our nervous system and stress response,” she adds.*

In short, it helps support the body's ability to recover from any number of stressors that come our way daily.*

Advertisement
This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.
2.

Helps promote sleep

If you're someone who has trouble shutting their mind off at night, ashwagandha could be a useful tool to help get you some much-needed shut-eye.*

In a 2017 study out of Japan3, adults who took ashwagandha showed improved sleep quality.* “Ashwagandha contains triethylene glycol, a compound that helps with sleep induction4,”* explains Tsai.

3.

Supports memory

Research is still ongoing, but science is finding that ashwagandha may have the potential to improve cognition.*

“The withanolide components of ashwagandha have also been shown to improve memory,”* says Tsai. “A 2017 randomized controlled study5 found adults who took ashwagandha (300 mg twice daily) showed improvement in immediate and general memory compared to a placebo group.”*

Advertisement
This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.
4.

Aids in attention

In addition to memory, ashwagandha may also help support attention and other cognitive functions.*

The exact mechanism isn't known, but studies suggest [ashwagandha] helps with cognitive functioning6, and it helps to lower stress, boost energy, optimize sleep [...] which all help with augmenting cognition and attention,”* says integrative doctor Dr. Julie Chen, M.D.

5.

Promotes healthy blood sugar levels

Stress raises cortisol, which in turn counteracts insulin. This can lead to higher blood sugar in the body over time, according to Tsai. “Ashwagandha has been shown to improve blood sugar balance7 through regulating insulin and insulin sensitivity pathways,”* she says.

Advertisement
This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.
6.

Enhances endurance

The benefits of ashwagandha seem to extend to the physical as well. A 2015 study in an Ayurvedic research journal8 found that ashwagandha enhanced cardiorespiratory endurance in athletic adults.*

“Studies suggest a possible increase in muscle and red blood cell production/functioning, [which would lead to] optimal oxygenation VO2 max to support cardiovascular functioning during workouts,”* says Chen. She adds that ashwagandha also has anti-inflammatory actions in the body, which could help.*

Potential side effects

Before taking ashwagandha, it’s recommended to speak with your doctor. However, according to Tsai, this botanical is generally well-tolerated at recommended doses. “High doses can occasionally cause GI issues like stomach upset or loose stools,” she says.

Ashwagandha is great for people who are generally healthy but notice occasional stress and exhaustion.

However, anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding should proceed with caution before consuming the adaptogen.

Furthermore, for those with glucose levels in mind, “be mindful because while ashwagandha can help with blood sugar balance, unexpected rapid decreases in blood sugar can be dangerous,” Tsai says.

“Ashwagandha can potentially increase thyroid hormone levels, so those with thyroid considerations should consult a doctor before taking. Ashwagandha is also part of the nightshade family so avoid it if you have a sensitivity to the nightshade family of foods," she adds.

According to Chen, ashwagandha can mildly interact with some medications, so she recommends taking all supplements 2-3 hours apart from all medications (and of course, consulting your doctor).

Summary

Although ashwagandha is generally well-tolerated, speak with your doctor before taking it as high doses may cause stomach upset or loose stools. Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should proceed with caution before consuming the adaptogen.

How to use it

Ashwagandha comes in different forms, from capsules to tinctures and powders.

“The exact dose may vary depending on the type, as extracts tend to be more concentrated compared to the whole ashwagandha root,” says Tsai. “Select a form that works best for you containing standardized ashwagandha extract if possible.”

Extracts with a high glycowithanolide content, 20 percent or higher, are considered higher quality and more premium.

Glycowithanolides are ashwagandha's unique plant compounds (aka phytonutrients) that deliver its health benefits in the body.*

There’s a wide range of doses but most people can start somewhere between 240 mg and 450 once a day and increase to three times daily as tolerated.

For example, at a dose of 240 mg, clinical research demonstrates ashwagandha extract's ability to provide benefits of enhanced mood and stress relief9, accompanied by a reduction in key stress biomarkers (e.g., cortisol).*

“If your body is more sensitive, start with a lower dose and go slow,” says Tsai.

Eventually, she recommends taking it throughout the day so that you can keep your system calm and feel balanced overall.* “Give it six to eight weeks to see the full benefits over time,”* she suggests.

Summary

The exact dose may vary depending on the form of ashwagandha you take. However, most people can start somewhere between 240 mg and 450 once a day and increase to three times daily as tolerated. If your body is more sensitive, start with a lower dose and gradually increase as your body adapts.

The takeaway

Ashwagandha can be a powerful tool for easing stress and anxiousness.*

To maximize its benefits, be sure to pair it with other stress-relieving activities such as exercising, meditating, and eating whole foods.

Carina Wolff
Carina Wolff

Carina Wolff is a freelance writer and blogger who covers food, health and wellness. Her bylines have appeared in Bustle, Reader’s Digest, FabFitFun, and more. Carina has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and psychology from New York University. She is the author of two cookbooks and runs a clean-eating food blog called Kale Me Maybe. When she's not writing and cooking, you can find her reading, hiking, or at the beach.