Food as Medicine

Does Ashwagandha Make You Smart and Happy?

Ashwagandha is an herb used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine that has gained a lot of popularity in the western world. Although it has been used for thousands of years in India, it has only recently been under scientific investigation. Ashwagandha is known for promoting physical and mental health as well as increasing longevity and a rejuvenating effect.

A study was done in 2019 on 60 healthy adults suffering from mild stress where they were randomly divided into two groups of 30 people and observed for 60 days. One group received a placebo while the other group received an Ashwagandha extract.

The study showed there was a significant improvement in mental health status and a measured reduction in the amount of the stress hormone Cortisol for the group that received Ashwagandha extract.1

Another 2017 study showed an improvement in immediate and general memory after receiving an Ashwagandha treatment for 8 weeks. The study also showed that participants were able to be attentive for longer and could process information faster than the placebo group.2

Risks and Precautions

It has shown to be generally well tolerated and safe. Side effects can include loose stool, gastrointestinal discomfort and in very rare cases liver injury.3

Contraindications:

  • During pregnancy, Ashwagandha may induce abortion at higher doses
  • If you are taking benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants, or barbiturates, it may have additive effects
  • If you have hormone-sensitive prostate cancer. Ashwagandha has shown to increase Testosterone level in men4

If you take any kind of medication it is recommended to confirm with your physician if Ashwagandha is safe for you.

Conclusion 

Although Ashwagandha is not a new product and there have been some studies showing its beneficial properties, the strength of these findings is limited by short treatment durations (about 8 weeks) and small sample sizes.

There is no “safe” or “effective dosage” established yet. Long term effects still need to be investigated, which is why it should not be taken for an extended period of time.

For a comforting warm drink before bedtime, you can mix it with a milk of your choice, along with turmeric and a pitted date for extra natural sweetness. Enjoy.

References:

1. Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine. 2019;98(37):e17186. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000017186

2. Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, Bose S. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions. Journal of Dietary Supplements. 2017;14(6):599-612. doi:10.1080/19390211.2017.1284970

3. Ashwagandha. In: LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2012. Accessed October 9, 2020. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548536/

4. Ashwagandha | Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/ashwagandha

Written by:   Veronika Monteiro Kisslinger, Dietetic Intern, Hunter College

Reviewed by: Nazirber Maduro, RDN, CDN, CDCES

Nazirber Maduro is a bilingual registered dietitian and nutritionist who believes that healthy and delicious food should be enjoyed at any stage in life. She helps people transform the way they eat and find joy in food through the practice of food and lifestyle medicine.

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