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Can Ashwagandha Cause Anxiety?

Ashwagandha has been used in ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years, but has also recently become popular outside ayurveda for its many supposed health benefits. Although not impossible, it is unlikely for ashwagandha to cause anxiety. In fact, it is more commonly used by people to reduce stress and anxiety. In this article, we will take a closer look at ashwagandha and its effect on stress and anxiety.

Key Takeaways

  • Can ashwagandha cause anxiety it is unlikely as it is actually commonly used to reduce stress and anxiety, and there is clinical evidence to support this link between ashwagandha and stress relief.
  • However, everyone can react differently to medicinal herbs and supplements, and so anxiety as a side effect cannot be ruled out completely.
  • If you experience heightened levels of anxiety or any other side effects when taking medication or supplements, consult a healthcare practitioner immediately.

Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, is a herb that has been used for centuries as a traditional Ayurvedic medicine.

Various parts of the plant can be used as it contains hundreds of active compounds, and those you find in the root of the plant can vary widely from those found in the leaves, but in supplements, you will find it is typically an extract of the plant’s roots that are used.

Its root has a horsey smell and is said to confer the strength and virility of a horse.

This is where ashwagandha gets its name. In Sanskrit, ashva means “horse” and gandha means “smell”, so ashwagandha literally means “smell of horse” (Source)

Ashwagandha has risen in popularity in the mainstream following the emergence of clinical research supporting its various health benefits.

Ashwagandha is considered by many as an adaptogen, meaning it can enhance the body’s resilience to stress.

From its long history up to the present day, ashwagandha has been used to treat insomnia and bolster the immune system, as well as to reduce stress. It is also thought to boost testosterone, slow the physical effects of ageing and more.

Having been used for over 3,000 years as an Ayurvedic remedy against various ailments, clinical science has recently linked ashwagandha supplementation to health benefits such as reduced stress and anxiety and improved blood sugar levels, mood, and memory.

Test tube and animal studies suggest that ashwagandha may be beneficial to these various aspects of health, but evidence in human studies thus far has varied. (Source)

Can Ashwagandha Cause Anxiety?

Although it is unlikely that ashwagandha will make you feel more anxious, it is not impossible. Everybody can react differently to medicinal herbs and supplements.

However, ashwagandha is perhaps most commonly taken to reduce stress and anxiety.

While the current clinical research on ashwagandha deals with relatively small numbers of human participants, a meta-analysis consolidating these smaller studies showed a promising link between ashwagandha and stress relief. Additional research is still needed to demonstrate this connection on a larger scale though. (Source)

Another recent review of existing evidence found that ashwagandha extracts exhibited noteworthy anti-stress and anti-anxiety activity, but concluded that there is still a lack of evidence to form definitive guidelines regarding appropriate dosage and form of ashwagandha for treating stress-related disorders such as anxiety. (Source)

Consult with a healthcare practitioner before taking any new supplement, including ashwagandha, and also talk to them immediately if you experience an increase in anxiety or any other side effects.

Ashwagandha Root and Powder

What Effects Does Ashwagandha Have?

It is still not fully known exactly how ashwagandha affects the body.

But there are a few theories about why people may report less stress after taking ashwagandha, based on what experts know about adaptogens overall.

It is thought that ashwagandha may potentially suppress dopamine receptors in the brain, which go into overdrive when we’re stressed. (Source)

Ashwagandha is also thought to help regulate levels of cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”.  (Source)

As ashwagandha is potentially capable of balancing cortisol levels, it may help those taking it to remain calm during stressful situations. This in turn, may lead to people being better able to cope with stress in general and they may find themselves less anxious overall.

So while ashwagandha won’t necessarily boost your mood, it may help the body handle stress more efficiently.

Cortisol can also decrease our serotonin levels. Serotonin is known as the “happy hormone”, and low levels of serotonin are linked to anxiety, depression and other mood problems, as well as issues with sleep and digestion. (Source)

Since ashwagandha is believed to help balance cortisol levels, it may also keep serotonin levels in check and, as a result, may improve mood.

However, it is important to highlight that ashwagandha is not a cure-all for anxiety or an instant fix, so do not expect immediate results.

It doesn’t work like an Aspirin, but rather works over time, as with any adaptogen. 

What Is The Best Way To Take Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is commonly taken in capsule, gummy, tea, or powder form.

Although no standard dosage has been established for ashwagandha, studies have used daily dosages ranging from 120–5,000 mg of a root extract.

The most common dosing protocol is 600 mg daily, divided into two 300 mg doses, with one taken in the morning and the other in the evening, and this has been considered safe for healthy adults. (Source)

Some people who find themselves feeling anxious at a certain time of day may find it beneficial to take ashwagandha an hour or two before they expect their anxiety to kick in.

It is generally considered safe to take ashwagandha daily, with some studies finding daily supplementation of 300mg for 90 days safe and well tolerated. However, there is no significant data on the effects of taking it in the longer term. (Source)

For this reason, only taking ashwagandha for the amount of time specified by your healthcare practitioner is advisable.

Ashwagandha is usually taken with a specific purpose in mind, to manage anxiety for example, and is not traditionally taken continually over an extended period of time.

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Can Ashwagandha Be Combined With Other Adaptogens?

There are many other plants aside from ashwagandha that are classed as adaptogens. Take Rhodiola as another example.

People often wonder whether it is safe to take multiple adaptogenic plants together and whether this enhances their effectiveness.

There has been no research into the effect of taking a combination of adaptogens, so it is yet to be confirmed what the outcome of this may be.

There are many supplements on the market that contain a combination of adaptogenic ingredients.

Human Tonik’s Supergreen Tonik is an example of this – it includes ashwagandha, Rhodiola, bacopa and ginkgo leaf, amongst others. And while there are no definitive guidelines established regarding the dosage of adaptogenic plants, for most people taking supplements with a combination of adaptogens seems to be safe.

Regarding their effectiveness, although there is no clinical evidence, it is likely that the more adaptogenic ingredients you consume, the stronger the effect.

However, this is also likely to raise the risk of side effects. Always consult a healthcare practitioner before taking any new supplements, especially if you are taking other supplements or medication.

It is also important to stop taking a supplement and consult your doctor if you are experiencing any side effects.

Is There Any Reason Not To Take Ashwagandha?

While ashwagandha is generally considered safe for the general population, there are some circumstances where supplementing with ashwagandha is not advised. 

Pregnancy And Breastfeeding

Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid ashwagandha.

There is no conclusive evidence to support supplementing with ashwagandha at this time, and it may potentially cause harm. 

Consult your healthcare practitioner before taking any supplements when pregnant or lactating.

Surgery

In order to avoid any interaction with medications or anaesthesia during surgery, follow your surgeon’s recommendations.

This typically involves stopping all supplements including ashwagandha at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery. 

Certain Medication

Ashwagandha may interfere with certain medications.

You may need to avoid taking ashwagandha if you are taking other medication, including:

  • Immunosuppressant medication
  • Sedative medication
  • Thyroid hormones
  • Diabetes medication
  • Antihypertensive medication

Consult with your healthcare practitioner before taking ashwagandha if you are taking other medication or supplements, and supplementation should cease if any side effects occur.

Ashwagandha Root And Powder On Grey Table

In Summary

Ashwagandha is a herb that has been used in ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years but has also recently become popular outside ayurveda for its many supposed health benefits.

It is unlikely for ashwagandha to cause anxiety, as it is actually commonly used to reduce stress and anxiety.

While research shows a promising link between ashwagandha and stress relief and anxiety alleviation, studies have been relatively small and so more research is needed to substantiate this connection on a larger scale.

Everyone can react differently to medicinal herbs and supplements, and so anxiety as a side effect cannot be ruled out completely.

Always consult a healthcare practitioner before taking any new supplements, especially if you are already taking other supplements or medication. It is also important to stop taking a supplement and consult your doctor if you are experiencing any side effects.

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