Ashwagandha root has been an Ayurvedic medicine go-to for ages to help energy levels and reduce stress. But can this herbal remedy actually help anxiety?
TBH, ashwagandha is no cure-all for mental health conditions, but its stress-busting effects might offer indirect benefits to ease anxiety.
Here’s everything you need to know before using ashwagandha for anxiety. Plus additional health benefits you might get from this Ayurvedic favorite.
Ashwagandha — aka, Withania somnifera — is an evergreen herb native to parts of Asia and Africa. An extract derived from the herb’s roots has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.
Some ashwagandha products are marketed under the herb’s other names, including:
Ayurveda fans tout ashwagandha as a remedy for everything from Alzheimer’s to insomnia. But the National Library of Medicine only lists possible effectiveness against one thing: stress.
That’s because ashwagandha is an adaptogen, meaning that it might help adapt (read: improve) the way your body handles stress.
Still, stress is kind of a big deal when it comes to your wellness. Too much stress can unleash a horde of other health probs (including anxiety).
A recent review found that though ashwagandha helps relieve stress, there hasn’t been enough research to recommend it as a treatment for anxiety.
That said, you still *can* still take ashwagandha for anxiety symptoms, but its effectiveness likely depends on why you’re experiencing anxiety.
Anxiety is more than just stress and comes in many forms, including:
- generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- social anxiety disorder
- separation anxiety disorder
- panic disorder
- phobia-related disorders (agoraphobia, claustrophobia, etc.)
So, if you have anxiety related to PTSD, genetics, or depression, it’s unlikely ashwagandha will help. But if your anxiety-induced nausea, headache, or chest pain is flaring due to stress, ashwagandha may help by:
- regulating stress hormones (that whole adaptogen thing)
- affecting gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the neurotransmitter that tells your brain to chill the eff out
Animal research from 2000 (remember “Bennifer”?!) also found that ashwagandha has a calming effect similar to lorazepam, a common anti-anxiety med. Of course, mice aren’t people, so we obviously need more studies.
As we said, science shows that ashwagandha can be used to dial down stress.
A small 2019 study found a 600-milligram (mg) daily dose of ashwagandha led to a “statistically significant reduction” in anxiety and stress. Ashwagandha was also linked to lower cortisol (the “stress” hormone) and better sleep — both important factors for mental health.
Another 2019 study also found that a daily dose of 240 mg led to lower stress levels.
So again, there’s more evidence supporting taking ashwagandha for stress than for an anxiety disorder.
Most folks reach for ashwagandha in search of a mental health boost. But here are a few other potential benefits of the herb.
- Improved sleep. One small, 12-week study found that older adults who took ashwagandha every day reported better sleep quality. And some research suggests it could soothe insomnia in folks with anxiety.
- Better athletic performance. In one study, ingesting 500 mg of ashwagandha extract boosted participants’ upper- and lower-body strength. Evidence is limited — but there’s some promise!
- Arthritis management. Research including animals and humans suggests that ashwagandha could dial down inflammation and stiffness from arthritis.
- Prevent memory loss. While it’s no magic bullet, ashwagandha showed promising results in a 2017 study of older adults with mild memory or cognitive function loss. The ashwagandha group scored better on both general and short-term memory tests than the placebo group.
- Blood sugar regulation. A 2020 review revealed that ashwagandha helped folks with diabetes dial down their blood sugar *and* cholesterol.
- Potential testosterone boost. Some older research suggests that ashwagandha might help boost male fertility. But the study is super small and dated, so we need more research to confirm.
Like giloy or moringa, ashwagandha doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all, expert-backed dose. Studies have found that you can take it at any time of day, and with or without a meal.
Ashwagandha comes in several forms, including:
- liquid extracts
Some research suggests that 250 to 600 mg per day can help reduce stress. Other studies use higher doses, and some supplement companies suggest up to 1,500 mg. Regardless of the dose, it can take weeks or months to see results.
Your best bet is to consult a doctor or registered dietician before dropping money on an ashwagandha supplement. A medical pro can help you find the best type and dose for you.
Ashwagandha is generally considered safe in small doses — and for up to 3 months. But there hasn’t been enough research to determine the effects of long-term use.
Going overboard on ashwagandha can mess with your GI system, triggering unpleasant side effects like:
Oh, and because research-backed info on ashwagandha is still pretty limited, some folks should avoid the herb altogether. Those groups include:
- pregnant and breastfeeding peeps
- folks with autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.)
- anyone with a thyroid condition
Like other medicinal herbs, ashwagandha can interact badly with some meds. Always, always check with your doctor before taking it alongside other medicines.
📢 Safety PSA 📢
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says toxic metals have been found in some Ayurvedic products. Big yikes.
Be super vigilant about picking high quality products and well-reviewed brands before putting something in your body.
Ashwagandha is an herbal supplement known to soothe stress, which is a common anxiety trigger. That means it *might* help your anxiety.
Ashwagandha is not a quick fix for stress, anxiety, or insomnia. It works like a supplement, not a prescription medication. The herb can take several weeks to make a difference — and it might not work for everyone. And like any supplement, make sure you purchase a trusted ashwagandha product.
Check with your doctor before using ashwagandha for anxiety. This Ayurvedic remedy can interfere with some prescription medications.