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Should Ashwagandha Be Taken Long Term?

Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, is a popular herb in Ayurvedic medicine. It is known for its adaptogenic properties, which help the body manage stress. But should ashwagandha be taken long term?

Ashwagandha has gained attention for its potential benefits in stress management, cognitive enhancement, and overall well-being. This article explores whether it is safe and beneficial to take ashwagandha long term.

Benefits of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is effective in reducing stress and lowering cortisol levels. A systematic review by Italian researchers found that ashwagandha supplementation for 30 to 112 days significantly reduced cortisol secretion by 11% to 32.63% in stressed individuals, according to a study. This reduction in cortisol levels is due to bioactive compounds like withaferin A, which interact with glucocorticoid receptors in the brain.

Cognitive Function and Memory

Ashwagandha improves cognitive function and memory. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 130 healthy adults showed that a sustained-release formulation of ashwagandha root extract (300 mg) taken daily for 90 days resulted in significant improvements in memory, focus, psychological well-being, and sleep quality, according to a study. The adaptogenic properties of ashwagandha help reduce stress and enhance cognitive abilities.

Sleep Quality

Ashwagandha enhances sleep quality, especially in individuals with nonrestorative sleep. A 2020 study indicated that taking 120 mg of ashwagandha two hours before bedtime for six weeks significantly improved overall sleep quality, according to a study. Improved sleep quality is crucial for overall health, as poor sleep is linked to cognitive decline and increased stress levels.

Safety and Side Effects

Ashwagandha is generally safe for short-term use. Most studies evaluating its effects have been conducted over six to twelve weeks. During these periods, ashwagandha is well-tolerated with minimal side effects. Common side effects include mild gastrointestinal discomfort, such as upset stomach, diarrhea, and nausea.

Long-Term Use

The safety of long-term use of ashwagandha is less well-documented. Some studies suggest that ashwagandha can be taken for up to two years without severe side effects. However, potential side effects of prolonged use include thyroid issues, gastrointestinal irritation, and possible interactions with medications like sedatives, thyroid hormone replacements, and immunosuppressants.

Expert Opinions

Experts agree that ashwagandha is one of the safer long-term supplements. However, they emphasize consulting a healthcare provider before starting any long-term supplementation, especially for individuals taking multiple medications or those with underlying health conditions. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid ashwagandha due to insufficient evidence on its safety during pregnancy and lactation.

Mechanisms of Action

The exact mechanisms by which ashwagandha exerts its effects are not fully understood. However, several hypotheses exist. Withaferin A, a bioactive compound in ashwagandha, is believed to interact with glucocorticoid receptors in the brain, modulating cortisol levels. Ashwagandha’s sedative and hypnotic activities may indirectly affect cortisol levels by regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis response to stress through gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) signaling, according to a study.

Recommendations for Long-Term Use

For long-term use, adhering to recommended dosages is crucial to minimize adverse effects. Studies show that a daily dose of 300 mg to 500 mg of ashwagandha is effective for reducing stress and improving cognitive function and sleep quality. Taking ashwagandha with food can reduce the likelihood of gastrointestinal discomfort.

Monitoring and Consultation

Regular monitoring and consultation with a healthcare provider are essential when taking ashwagandha long-term. This is particularly essential for individuals with pre-existing health conditions or those taking other medications. Healthcare providers can help determine the appropriate dosage and duration of use based on individual health needs and goals.

Periodic Breaks

To mitigate potential risks associated with long-term use, taking periodic breaks from ashwagandha supplementation is recommended. For instance, after taking ashwagandha for six to twelve weeks, a short break of one to two weeks can help prevent the development of tolerance and reduce the risk of side effects.

Key Takeaways

  • Ashwagandha reduces stress and cortisol levels.
  • Improves cognitive function and memory.
  • Enhances sleep quality.
  • Generally safe for short-term use.
  • Long-term use requires caution and monitoring.
  • Consult healthcare providers before long-term use.

Summary

Ashwagandha offers significant benefits in reducing stress, improving cognitive function, and enhancing sleep quality. While generally safe for short-term use, the safety of long-term use requires careful consideration. Current evidence suggests that ashwagandha can be taken for extended periods, up to two years, without severe side effects. However, consulting a healthcare provider before starting long-term supplementation is essential, especially for individuals with underlying health conditions or those taking other medications.

A balanced approach involving regular monitoring, adherence to recommended dosages, and periodic breaks is advisable for those considering long-term use of ashwagandha. Further research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects and mechanisms of action of ashwagandha to optimize its use in stress management and overall health.

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