In the traditional Ayurvedic medicine of India, the root and berry of the ashwagandha plant are used to improve health and treat certain conditions.
Ashwagandha is botanically known as Withania somnifera, and it is also commonly known as winter cherry and Indian ginseng. It is a herb that has been used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine based in India for thousands of years, where it is used as a "rasayana", or tonic, and may be recommended to improve both physical and mental health and treat specific medical conditions.
What benefits are associated with taking ashwagandha?
Research into the benefits of taking ashwagandha is limited. Some research studies have indicated ashwagandha may have anti-inflammatory benefits, could help relieve some arthritis symptoms, help lower blood sugar in people with type-2 diabetes, inhibit tumour growth and help ease anxiety and stress. Other claims include it is a revitaliser and can help in treating fatigue. Not enough research has been done to substantiate these claims.
Arthritis Research UK has compiled a document on complementary and alternative medicines available in the UK for the treatment of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. Ashwagandha is listed among the compounds for which no beneficial evidence has been found in randomised controlled trials.
In a study reported in The Medical Journal of Australia, it was also found that there was no relevant evidence for using ashwagandha in the treatment of anxiety disorders. In this study the focus was on children and adolescents.
How is ashwagandha taken?
In parts of the world where ashwagandha is grown, the shoots, seeds and fruit may be eaten, and the roots may be used for making a tea. In the UK, ashwagandha is available as capsules, in a powder form that can be mixed with water or honey, and as an extract. It may be combined with other compounds as part of a formula.
Are there any risks associated with ashwagandha?
Because the herb has not been well studied, knowledge about possible side effects is limited. Pregnant women should not take ashwagandha and it is not advisable to give it to children. People taking sedatives should avoid taking ashwagandha.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society has reported that ashwagandha appears to activate the immune system, however the society also expressed concern that this could be a potential risk for people with multiple sclerosis.