Ashwagandha And Nutrition

  • Ria Kejariwal Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery - MBBS, Imperial College London, UK
  • Arunima Babu Masters, Biomedical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, UK
  • Olga Gabriel Master's degree, Forensic Science, Uppsala University, Sweden


In recent years, the world of nutrition and wellness has seen a surge of interest in ancient remedies and herbal supplements. One such remedy is ashwagandha, which is an ancient herb that has been used for over 2,500 years to combat stress, boost male fertility, and promote overall youth and vitality.1 Although it has been used for many centuries, it has recently become the topic of extensive research investigating the many beneficial components it contains and how they can benefit our health. Although current research has only been conducted on a small scale, and much more research must be conducted on ashwagandha, it is already revealing its many health benefits and potential uses, such as in lowering blood sugar levels, improving brain function, and even anticancer properties. 

What is ashwagandha? 

Ashwagandha, also known as ‘Indian ginseng’, ‘winter cherry’, or its botanical name ‘Withania somnifera’,  is one of the key herbs in Ayurvedic medicine.1 Ayurveda is a traditional healing system originating from India that uses nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness to establish balance between the body, spirit, mind, and the environment.

For centuries, ashwagandha has been used as one of the ‘Rasayana’ herbs in Ayurveda - one of the herbs that promote mental and physical youth and alleviate suffering. Many of the ‘Rasayana’ herbs are also adaptogens, which is the name given to natural substances that help the body to adapt to stress.

In Sanskrit, ashwangandha translates to ‘smell of the horse’, due to its scent and its ability to increase physical attributes associated with a horse, such as strength.

What is ashwagandha composed of? 

The ashwagandha plant is a shrub with red berries and yellow flowers that is native to India, Nepal, China, and Yemen.2  Each 100-gram dehydrated ashwagandha plant contains approximately: 

  • Energy: 245 Kcal 
  • Carbohydrate: 49.9 grams
  • Dietary Fibre: 32.3 grams 
  • Protein: 3.9 grams
  • Fat: 0.3 grams 
  • Calcium: 23 milligrams 
  • Vitamin C: 3.7 milligram 
  • Iron: 3.3 milligrams 3

However, the benefits of ashwagandha are actually thought to primarily be due to the bioactive compounds in the plant, rather than the nutrient content.4 The root stems, and leaves of ashwagandha contain many beneficial compounds such as flavonoids and antioxidants, which help protect cells from damage by harmful molecules called free radicals.2  Ashwagandha contains several other bioactive compounds, such as tannins, alkaloids, glycosides and steroid lactones, which are the main sources of benefits of the plant.1

Benefits of ashwagandha

Ashwagandha has had a long history of use in traditional medicine due to its many benefits. Whilst research has shown there to be many advantages of the herb, research behind how the drug works is still ongoing. Current research trials often only use very small doses of ashwagandha for very short periods of time, which means we currently don’t know much about the long-term effects or effects of higher ashwagandha doses. Trials so far often also have a small sample size, so larger trials need to be conducted as the larger the sample size, the more significant the results.1

Therefore, while there is more research needed on the benefits of ashwagandha, early research has shown that there are various benefits of the plant. 

Reduces stress and anxiety 

One of the most known properties of ashwagandha is its ability to reduce stress. It is known as an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body to adapt to stress. When we are stressed, our body produces a hormone called cortisol, which activates our flight or fight response. However, at elevated levels, cortisol can have negative effects on our bodies. Chronic stress can increase the likelihood of developing chronic diseases like high blood pressure (hypertension) or heart disease. Ashwagandha helps to normalise elevated cortisol levels, reducing the harmful effects of stress. 

Ashwagandha may also have a positive impact on those suffering from anxiety, with one study showing that participants with anxiety who took ashwagandha felt less anxious and had lower cortisol levels than the participants who took a placebo drug.5

Reduces symptoms of depression

As well as stress and anxiety, ashwagandha may have the potential to reduce symptoms of depression. Ashwagandha’s antidepressant effects may be due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Oxidative stress and inflammation have both been linked to depression. It has also been suggested that ashwagandha could increase serotonin levels, which could contribute to its antidepressant effects.5

In a clinical study on rats, the antidepressant effects of ashwagandha were seen to be comparable to imipramine, which is an antidepressant medication. Another benefit of the herb is that in comparison to standard mental health disorder medications, it shows less harmful side effects.5

Improves sleep 

People may take ashwagandha to improve their sleep. Improved sleep may be due to reduced stress levels, regulating the body’s internal clock, and increased GABAergic activity, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that has calming and relaxing effects.5

Studies that investigated the effect of ashwagandha on sleep and insomnia using measures like sleep quality ratings showed that the herb had an overall improvement in sleep quality in the participants.5

Improves athletic performance

Multiple studies have shown that ashwagandha has a positive impact on physical performance in many ways, regardless of your level of activity. 

Ashwagandha can increase your VO2 max, which is your maximum oxygen consumption during intense exercise and a measure of cardiovascular fitness. A high VO2 max is associated with a reduced likelihood of heart attacks and strokes.1

Studies have also shown that ashwagandha can increase muscle power and strength, as well as reduce fatigue and speed up recovery in healthy individuals.1

Increases testosterone levels and male fertility 

In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha has been used as a natural remedy for treating sexual dysfunction. It has also been used to improve male fertility and increase levels of testosterone. Improved fertility is thought to be due to boosted testosterone levels, reduced stress, and improved sperm quality.

One study conducted on 50 healthy men aged 21-45 who wished to increase their sex drive showed that after 8 weeks, participants taking ashwagandha saw an increased sex desire and performance compared to individuals taking the placebo. This was measured via responses to a questionnaire. Testosterone levels in the placebo group increased by 2%, while there was a 17% increase in the ashwagandha group.

Research has also shown that in men with low sperm count, ashwagandha increases sperm concentration, sperm motility, and semen volume.

Improves underactive thyroid function 

Many studies have shown that taking ashwagandha can increase your thyroid function, which could help millions of people who have an underactive thyroid or Hashimoto’s disease. Studies have shown that taking ashwagandha has increased thyroxine (T4) levels, a hormone produced by the thyroid gland. This means the herb could be useful in normalizing T4 levels in those who have decreased thyroid function. However, this also means that ashwagandha may not be suitable for those with an overactive thyroid gland.7

Reduces blood sugar levels

Ashwagandha contains a special type of compound with antioxidant properties called phenolic compounds. One example of phenolic compounds is flavonoids. Research has shown phenolic compounds have the ability to lower blood sugar levels. 

Studies have shown that ashwagandha increased insulin secretion and improved insulin sensitivity in muscle cells, which means it could be potentially used as a treatment in people with diabetes.8

Reduces inflammation 

As ashwagandha can reduce stress hormones such as cortisol in the body, it can also reduce inflammation. It has been shown to decrease markers of inflammation, such as a marker called C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Reducing inflammation can also boost the immune system.8

Improves brain function and memory 

Stress can cause damage to our brains and nervous systems, which makes ashwagandha an important ally of our brains. Not only this, but its antioxidant properties can also protect cells in the brain from being damaged, which can help mitigate neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.2

In addition to this, studies have shown that participants who took ashwagandha were seen to have improved cognitive abilities in terms of improved attention, executive function, improved short-term memory, reaction time, and overall performance on cognitive tasks.2

Anti-cancer properties 

Research has shown that ashwagandha has anti-cancer properties and can help prevent tumours from growing and dividing. This is thought to be due to the antioxidant properties of ashwagandha, and its ability to improve immune system functioning.

Animal studies have shown that ashwagandha could be used to treat various types of cancer, such as breast, lung, colon, brain, and ovarian cancer. Ashwagandha has shown many potential benefits for cancer patients, such as helping reduce the harmful effects of anti-cancer medications, increasing life span, and increasing the white blood cell count in patients, which improves immunity.8


Where do I find ashwagandha? 

Ashwagandha supplements can be found at pharmacies, health stores, and supermarkets.  They are not prescribed by the NHS. Avoid buying supplements from unregulated websites, and when buying herbal medicines, make sure they have the traditional herbal remedy (THR) marking on them.

How can I take ashwagandha? 

The supplements can come in different forms such as:

  • Capsules 
  • Oil 
  • Powder
  • Tablets 

Some people take ashwagandha as a daily capsule or tablet, which is usually taken once a day with a meal. Others may prefer it as a drink, and add powder to smoothies or juices. If you are adding ashwagandha to drinks, it is good to know that it has a slightly earthy taste. Make sure you read the individual guidelines on how to take ashwagandha on the packaging. Also, ashwagandha should be used as an addition to a healthy and varied diet, not to substitute parts of it.

How much ashwagandha should I take? 

There is no official guideline on how much ashwagandha to take per day. Instead, you should follow the recommended dose either given by your GP or stated on the packaging of your supplements.

Are there any risks or side effects?

Ashwagandha is not yet approved by the NHS, most clinical trials have only taken place over a short period of time, and the long-term effects of ashwagandha are still unknown. Therefore, there is not enough scientific evidence to approve it as a medical treatment. 

Some side effects of ashwagandha have been reported, including: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Upset stomach 
  • Drowsiness

If you experience any of these or any other side effects, you should stop taking the supplements and speak to your healthcare provider.

Who shouldn’t take it? 

Ashwagandha should never be taken during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding. In addition, it is recommended that you should not take in the following instances without speaking to your healthcare provider first if you:  

  • Are using diabetes, blood pressure or thyroid medications 
  • Are using immunosuppressants or sedatives 
  • Have a thyroid gland disorder 
  • Have an autoimmune disorder
  • Are about to have surgery 


Over the recent years, the ancient Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha has made its mark in the world of nutrition and wellness. For over 2,500 years, this herb has been used to combat stress, enhance male fertility, and promote overall vitality. 

Many researchers have been investigating ashwagandha, and have discovered many potential benefits of the herb. Stress reduction, alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression, improving sleep quality, enhancing athletic performance, and improving male fertility are just some of the benefits.  

Furthermore, research has also found some of the potential ways ashwagandha could be used in the future. Ashwagandha may contribute to lowering blood sugar levels, anti-inflammatory effects, and protection against neurodegenerative diseases via its antioxidant properties. It has also been found to increase thyroxine levels, which may be beneficial for those suffering from an underactive thyroid gland. Early research even suggests that it may have anti-cancer properties, as it could inhibit tumour growth and division, and also boost immune function. 

However, despite all these benefits, there is still lot of research left to be done on ashwagandha. The long-term effects and optimal dosages of the herb are still in question. As ashwagandha is not approved by the NHS, it is important to buy the herb from reputable sources and to take the supplements as and when directed by the supplement packing or your health care provider. In the future, we can hope that research will reveal more about the health benefits and uses of ashwagandha, as well as the implications of its long-term usage. 


  1. Bonilla DA, Moreno Y, Gho C, Petro JL, Odriozola-Martínez A, Kreider RB. Effects of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) on physical performance: a systematic review and Bayesian meta-analysis. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol [Internet]. 2021 Feb 11 [cited 2023 Sep 8];6(1):20. Available from:
  2. Zahiruddin S, Basist P, Parveen A, Parveen R, Khan W, Gaurav, et al. Ashwagandha in brain disorders: A review of recent developments. Journal of Ethnopharmacology [Internet]. 2020 Jul 15 [cited 2023 Sep 8];257:112876. Available from:
  3. Kumari S, Gupta A. Nutritional composition of dehydrated ashwagandha, shatavari, and ginger root powder. International Journal of Home Science [Internet]. 2016 Aug 13 [cited 2023 Sep 8];2(3):68–70. Available from: 
  4. Gómez Afonso A, Fernandez-Lazaro D, Adams DP, Monserdà-Vilaró A, Fernandez-Lazaro CI. Effects of withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on hematological and biochemical markers, hormonal behavior, and oxidant response in healthy adults: a systematic review. Curr Nutr Rep [Internet]. 2023 Sep 1 [cited 2023 Sep 8];12(3):465–77. Available from:
  5. Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract. Medicine (Baltimore) [Internet]. 2019 Sep 13 [cited 2023 Sep 8];98(37):e17186. Available from:
  6. Speers AB, Cabey KA, Soumyanath A, Wright KM. Effects of withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on stress and the stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Curr Neuropharmacol [Internet]. 2021 Sep 14 [cited 2023 Sep 8];19(9):1468–95. Available from:
  7. Gannon JM, Forrest PE, Roy Chengappa KN. Subtle changes in thyroid indices during a placebo-controlled study of an extract of Withania somnifera in persons with bipolar disorder. J Ayurveda Integr Med [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2023 Sep 8];5(4):241–5. Available from:
  8. Kumar K, Kumar J. Medicinal properties of Ashwagandha and their uses. AGICULTURE & FOOD: e- Newsletter [Internet]. 2019 Oct;1(10):81–4. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Ria Kejariwal

MBBS, Medicine, Imperial College London

Ria is a third-year medical student at Imperial College London, with a strong passion for research and health writing. Her experience of crafting articles and publishing a book allows her to combine her passion with her writing skills to inspire and educate the public on ways to live richer and healthier lives. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
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