In the Spotlight: Ashwagandha

by Amylee Amos MS, RDN, IFMCPNutrition

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, is an evergreen shrub native to areas in India and the Middle East. Ashwagandha’s popularity has grown considerably in recent years but has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. It is now a popular supplement for those following theBredesen Protocol. While Ashwagandha contains many compounds that may be responsible for its purported benefits, the roots contain withanolides, steroidal compounds for which the pharmacological effects of Ashwagandha are attributed.

What does Ashwagandha do?

Ashwagandha is best known for its adaptogenic qualities. As an adaptogen, ashwagandha is believed to modify the stress response by increasing resistance to stress and functioning as an immunomodulator (1). As a result of this adaptation, it is theorized that ashwagandha can increase general survivability. Ashwagandha is also known for its nootropic effects. It has been studied for its use in improving cognition and attention, though the research in this area remains unclear (3). Beyond its use as an adaptogen and nootropic, ashwagandha has multiple therapeutic uses including as an anxiolytic, and for treating conditions such as osteoarthritis, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, and infertility (3).

The evidence supporting Ashwagandha’s use as an adaptogen is fairly strong, with high consistency of results (4). It appears that taking Ashwagandha does seem to reduce perceived stress and the symptoms that come along with it (3). However, it should be noted that more long-term research is warranted.

Of particular interest for those wishing to prevent and reverse Alzheimer’s disease, research shows that Ashwagandha reduces beta amyloid levels, the characteristic plaques that accumulate in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease (5).

What should you look for in an Ashwagandha supplement?

An effective dose rage is 300-500mg of Ashwagandha root extract (4). Supplements should list the amount of withanolides and extracts should contain at least 1.5% total withanolides, or at least 6mg of withanolides per serving. It should be noted that many commercial supplements do not meet this standard (1).

What are the most common side effects?

Ashwagandha is generally well tolerated. The most common side effects include headache, gastrointestinal upset, and sleepiness. One safety concern to note is that of allergic reaction in individuals allergic to nightshade plants. Ashwagandha is in the nightshade family of Solanaceae and should thus be avoided in individuals with allergies or severe sensitivities to nightshades (1). In rare cases, liver injury has occurred when taking Ashwagandha (2). Ashwagandha may interact with some pharmaceuticals including antidiabetes drugs, antihypertensive drugs, immunosuppressants, thyroid hormone, benzodiazepines, and more (3).

Should you take Ashwagandha?

Supplements are bioactive compounds. They can interact with medications and with other supplements you may be taking. Working with a trained registered dietitian and doctor is essential when considering the introduction of a new supplement.

Ashwagandha has many benefits, beyond those discussed here. Though more research is warranted (which always seems to be the case with herbal supplements), many individuals following the Bredesen Protocol have found it to be a helpful addition to their personal protocols. Discuss whether adding Ashwagandha may be of benefit to you with your Amos Institute dietitian today.


References:

  1. Cooperman, T. (2020). Ashwagandha Supplements Review. Retrieved fromhttps://www-consumerlab-com.tcsedsystem.idm.oclc.org/reviews/ashwagandha-supplements/ashwagandha
  2. LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet] Ashwagandha (2019). Retrieved fromhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548536/
  3. Natural Medicines Ashwagandha (2020). Retrieved from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=953
  4. Patel, K. (2020). Ashwagandha. Retrieved from https://examine.com/supplements/ashwagandha/
  5. Kurapati KRV, Atluri VSR, Samikkannu T, Nair MPN (2013) Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Reverses β-Amyloid1-42 Induced Toxicity in Human Neuronal Cells: Implications in HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND). PLOS ONE 8(10): e77624.https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0077624