Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a small shrub that grows in parts of India, the Middle East, and Africa. It is used as an ingredient in many different kinds of dietary supplements. The bottom line is: There is not yet enough reliable scientific evidence to support the use of ashwagandha for any specific purpose.

What is ashwagandha used for?

Ashwagandha has a history of use going back more than 3,000 years in Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine. Today it is commonly used in dietary supplements for conditions related to both physical and mental health, such as arthritis, diabetes, infertility, fatigue, anxiety, stress, and cognitive function. It is also promoted as an “adaptogen,” which means it is used to help the body adapt to stress.Topically, it is used for such things as backaches or muscle soreness.

Is ashwagandha safe or effective?

Ashwagandha has been investigated for so many purposes that it is difficult to determine its effectiveness for any specific use, but it appears to be relatively safe for oral use (as in dietary supplements) for up to about 12 weeks. The amounts (from as little as 30 mg to more than a gram daily) and the duration of use appear to depend on the intended effect.

Adverse effects have been reported mostly by those taking large doses and appear to be minor—including gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, and vomiting—with one important exception: Ashwagandha can induce abortion, so pregnant women should not take it!

Research continues into the various potential uses of ashwagandha and its extracts in medicine, dietary supplements, and even foods. This includes investigation into the use of withaferin A (a compound present in ashwagandha) for the treatment and prevention of cancer. However, most of the studies to date are relatively small, with inconsistent results, so more research is needed to determine its safety and effectiveness for various specific uses.

Is ashwagandha okay for active-duty military to use?

Ashwagandha is not prohibited for use by Military Service Members, and it should not produce a positive result on a routine military drug screening test.

Posted 16 January 2020

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