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Is It Worth Taking Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha, a traditional Ayurvedic herb, offers potential benefits like stress reduction and improved cognitive function. However, its long-term safety remains uncertain.

Ashwagandha, also known as Withania somnifera, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 3,000 years. Recently, it has gained popularity in the wellness industry. This article explores whether taking ashwagandha is worth it, considering its benefits, risks, and scientific evidence.

Stress and Anxiety Reduction

Ashwagandha is well-known for reducing stress and anxiety. Several studies support this claim. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 61 adults over 60 days showed significant reductions in Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) scores, General Health Questionnaire-28 scores, and cortisol levels in the ashwagandha group compared to the placebo group, according to a study.

Participants experienced lower stress levels and improved overall well-being. This makes ashwagandha a promising option for those dealing with chronic stress and anxiety. The herb’s adaptogenic properties help the body manage stress more effectively.

Cognitive Function and Memory

Ashwagandha may also enhance cognitive function and memory. A study involving 50 adults with mild cognitive impairment showed significant improvements in immediate and general memory, executive function, attention, and the speed of processing information over an 8-week follow-up period (NCBI).

Another study found that a sustained-release formulation of ashwagandha improved memory and focus, psychological well-being, and sleep quality over a 90-day period (NCBI). These findings suggest that ashwagandha could be beneficial for individuals looking to boost their cognitive abilities.

Athletic Performance

Ashwagandha may enhance athletic performance. A systematic review and Bayesian meta-analysis found that ashwagandha supplementation could improve physical performance, including strength and endurance (Health.com).

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts might find ashwagandha useful for improving their physical fitness. The herb’s ability to increase energy levels and reduce fatigue can contribute to better workout performance and recovery.

Sleep Quality

Improving sleep quality is another potential benefit of ashwagandha. A study examining ashwagandha’s effect on sleep found tiny but significant benefits on overall sleep for those with insomnia, especially in those who took at least 600 milligrams per day for at least eight weeks (Verywell Health).

Better sleep quality can lead to improved overall health and well-being. Ashwagandha’s calming effects may help individuals achieve more restful and restorative sleep.

Other Potential Benefits

Ashwagandha has been suggested to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory, heart-protective, liver-protective, and immunomodulatory actions (Verywell Health). However, these benefits are primarily based on laboratory and animal studies. More human trials are needed to confirm these effects.

Known Risks and Side Effects

Short-Term Safety

Most studies indicate that ashwagandha is safe for short-term use. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial from India involving 80 healthy people who took either 300 mg of ashwagandha or a placebo twice a day for eight weeks found that ashwagandha appeared to be safe for healthy adults (Everyday Health).

Another study confirmed that taking 300 milligrams daily of ashwagandha was safe for both males and females over an eight-week period (Verywell Health).

Long-Term Safety

Long-term safety studies on ashwagandha are lacking. Most studies have only looked at people taking it for up to three months. The herb’s long-term effects are not well known (WebMD).

Liver Damage

In rare cases, ashwagandha may cause liver damage. A 2020 case study examined five adults who experienced signs of hepatotoxicity after using ashwagandha in varying doses. The liver damage did not progress to liver failure, and most cases were resolved within five months (Verywell Health).

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid ashwagandha. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) advises against its use during pregnancy due to its potential effects on hormones and the risk of miscarriage (Everyday Health).

Drug Interactions

Ashwagandha can interact with certain medications, especially those that cause drowsiness. It is essential to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen to avoid potential interactions (WebMD).

Key Takeaways

  • Ashwagandha reduces stress and anxiety.
  • Enhances cognitive function and memory.
  • Improves athletic performance and sleep quality.
  • Short-term use appears safe.
  • Long-term safety remains uncertain.
  • Potential rare side effects like liver damage.

Summary

Ashwagandha offers several potential health benefits, particularly in reducing stress and anxiety, improving cognitive function and memory, enhancing athletic performance, and improving sleep quality. However, the lack of long-term safety studies and the potential for rare but serious side effects, such as liver damage, should be considered.

For most healthy adults, short-term use of ashwagandha at recommended dosages (typically between 300 to 600 mg per day) appears to be safe and may provide significant benefits. Pregnant, breastfeeding women, and individuals taking other medications should consult with their healthcare provider before using ashwagandha.

In conclusion, while ashwagandha shows promise as a beneficial supplement, it is essential to approach its use with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Further research, particularly long-term studies, is needed to fully understand the safety and efficacy of ashwagandha.

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