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You have no doubt caught on if you are into supplements and health: the uproar around ashwagandha. A supplement that has been used traditionally for centuries and has now gained many fans in the West. Didn't hear about the riot? Or do you wonder how harmful ashwagandha is now? We'll bring you right up to date below.

What is ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is also known as Winter Cherry and Indian ginseng. It is an herb that originated in India. Actually, it is a shrub, but people only use the roots since this is where the good stuff is. Those roots are dried and ground into powder. And this is how it finds its way into supplements.

The effects on your health

Ashwagandha root has several positive effects that have been scientifically proven. Other effects still need to be studied better to make firm statements about them. Some of the possible effects of ashwagandha include:

  • better focus without becoming nervous
  • more energy and better stamina
  • anabolic effect; more muscle building
  • better VO2max; oxygen uptake capacity
  • reduced feelings of stress and anxiety
  • less cortisol (stress hormone)
  • can help with depression
  • can help with sleep problems
  • can help men who have fertility problems
  • can help regulate your blood sugar levels
  • can be anti-inflammatory

So ashwagandha seems like a wonder drug that everyone should use. So why should we still be careful with it? You can read about that below.

Damage to liver and other risks of ashwagandha

Side effects centre Lareb revealed back in late 2023 that it had received several reports about ashwagandha. Four people were found to have suffered liver damage after using ashwagandha. Three of those four people recovered that damage after they stopped taking ashwagandha. The RIVM website on the possible harmful effects of this supplement also says that people used to use it to induce miscarriage. So if you are pregnant and want to stay that way, we definitely recommend you not to take ashwagandha supplement. Furthermore, RIVM reports that not only Dutch doctors have reported (liver) damage from users of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha), but also foreign doctors. So the panic around ashwagandha supplements is not a local riot.

When and how do we know for sure whether ashwagandha is safe or unsafe?

There have been quite a lot of studies on ashwagandha, so you would think that those liver damage and other risks should have been obvious by now. But the point is that studies usually last only a few weeks. Also, the dose varies quite a bit between studies. In one study they used 700mg a day, in another less than 200mg.

Awkwardly, it is not known how much ashwagandha the people who took it suffered liver damage. So how much and how long you should use ashwagandha before you are at risk of liver damage is not known. This could be months or years. And it can vary greatly between individuals. Ashwagandha may also actually become harmful by reacting with other supplements or medicines. If you want to play it safe, use it sporadically or, if you want to follow the advice of RIVM, not (for the time being). Especially if you are pregnant or want to become pregnant.