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What is ashwagandha? What is it used for?

Ashwagandha is a small bush related to the pepper family found throughout India and Africa. In India, the shoots and seeds of the plant are used to thicken milk. The roots are used medicinally and are frequently included in ayurvedic formulas.

The compounds that give ashwagandha its medicinal properties are called withanolides. Animal studies have found that ashwagandha root stimulates the immune system, can reduce inflammation, and may even improve memory. These properties have caused some practitioners to label ashwagandha as a tonic or adaptogen — an herb with multiple (yet nonspecific) actions that counteract the effects of stress and promote health and wellness.

How much ashwagandha should I take?

Some herbalists recommend 3-6 grams of dried ashwagandha root taken daily, either in capsule or tea form. Tinctures (2-4ml) and extracts can also be taken daily.

What forms of ashwagandha are available?

Dried ashwagandha root is available in some specialty stores. Many nutritional stores also sell ashwagandha extracts and tinctures.

What can happen if I take too much ashwagandha? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

To date, no significant side-effects or known drug interactions have been reported with ashwagandha. The herb has been used safely by children in India. However, it has not been tested in pregnant or lactating women. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult with a health care provider before taking ashwagandha supplements.

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  • Anabalgan K, Sadique J. Antiinflammatory activity of Withania somnifera. Indian J Exp Biol 1981;19:245—9.
  • Bhattacharya SK, Kumar A, Ghosal S. Effects of glycowithanolides from withania somnifera on an animal model of Alzheimer's disease and perturbed central cholinergic markers of cognition in rats. Phytother Res 1995;9:110—3.
  • Bone K. Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs. Queensland, Australia: Phytotherapy Press, 1996, 137—41.
  • Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 514—5.
  • Wagner H, Nörr H, Winterhoff H. Plant adaptogens. Phytomed 1994;1:63—76.


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