This information describes the common uses of Ashwagandha, how it works, and its possible side effects.

Common Name

Ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, Winter cherry

How It Works

A few preliminary studies suggest ashwagandha may help reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue, but larger studies are needed.

Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, is a popular Ayurvedic herb and considered a tonic with multiple properties. In the lab, ashwagandha has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and relax the central nervous system in animals. Other experiments suggest it can enhance immune cells and impair or kill cancer cells, but more studies are needed to determine whether these effects can occur in humans. Clinical trials suggest ashwagandha may help reduce anxiety, stress, and fatigue, but larger studies are needed.

Ashwagandha may affect certain lab tests that measure thyroid functioning and digoxin levels.
Hemolytic anemia and abdominal pain were reported following ingestion of contaminated ashwagandha/mucuna pills.

Purported Uses

  • To reduce stress and anxiety
    A few studies suggest ashwagandha may be helpful for anxiety and stress.
  • To reduce fatigue
    Results from a small study in patients with cancer-related fatigue suggest benefit. Additional studies are needed to confirm this.
  • As a sedative
    In animal studies, ashwagandha has a tranquilizing effect.
  • To reduce pain
    A clinical trial suggests that a standardized extract may help patients with knee joint pain. Mild side effects like nausea and stomach irritation were observed in a few patients.
  • To treat rheumatoid arthritis
    A clinical trial showed that a compound of herbs and minerals containing ashwagandha reduced rheumatoid arthritis pain. Because the formula contained multiple herbs and minerals, whether ashwagandha played a role in observed benefits is unclear.
  • To treat diabetes
    Lab studies suggest that ashwagandha may improve type 2 diabetes. Human studies are needed.

Do Not Take If

  • You have hormone-sensitive prostate cancer: Ashwagandha may increase testosterone levels.
  • You are taking benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants, or barbiturates: Lab and animal studies suggest ashwagandha may also have both sedative and central nervous system effects.
  • You are pregnant: Ashwagandha may induce abortion at higher doses, so pregnant women should not use it.

Side Effects

Mild to moderate and of short duration: drowsiness, upper GI discomfort, loose stools

Case reports

  • Nausea, headache, and stomach irritation: Occurred in one study and managed with standard therapies.
  • Overactive thyroid: In a 32-year-old woman following ingestion of ashwagandha capsules for chronic fatigue. Symptoms resolved after discontinuing ashwagandha.
  • Burning, itching, and discoloration of skin/mucous membrane: In a 28-year-old man after taking ashwagandha for decreased libido. Symptoms improved with conventional treatment.
  • Irregular heartbeat, dizziness: 2 cases were possibly associated with the use of herbomineral preparations that contained ashwagandha.
  • Elevation of liver enzymes, skin rash, fatigue, fever, edema, and diarrhea: In patients with advanced stage high-grade osteosarcoma, following use of Withaferin-A.