Ashwagandha: Benefits, Uses & Side Effects

Ashwagandha: Benefits, Uses & Side Effects

November 22, 2016
Updated March 25, 2021

What Is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is an exotic adaptogenic herb that is often called “Indian Ginseng” prized for its stamina enhancing abilities, stress relieving properties and a host of various other benefits.

For centuries it has been used aiding a wide variety of conditions and is most well-known for its therapeutic benefits.

As with most adaptogens, Ashwagandha is useful in helping the body handle stress by supporting a variety of bodily functions with its combination of withanolides, alkaloids, fatty acids, and amino acids.

The particular ability of Ashwagandha to help assist with mental acuity and reaction time (source), possibly due in part to cholinergic activity, also makes this herb of particular value to athletes.

Some research on the plant even indicates that it has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidizing, anti-stress, sleep-inducing and drug withdrawal properties.

3 Benefits Of Regular Ashwagandha Intake

As with most adaptogens, ashwagandha contains a host of beneficial medicinal properties, including withanolides, alkaloids, fatty acids, and amino acids.

While the leaves of the Ashwagandha plant and have valuable healing benefits, it is the root of the plant which contains the most powerful therapeutic qualities.

Ashwagandha has been studied for years by medical researchers, having completed over 200 studies on the healing properties of this floral wonder. Some of the most notable examples of the restorative effects of Ashwagandha are:

● Treat HPA Dysfunction
● Reduce anxiety and depression
● Helps combat the effects of stress
● Helps the body with stamina and endurance
● Reduce cell degeneration
● Stabilize blood sugar
● Helps lower cholesterol
● Helps protect the immune system
● Improves learning, memory, and reaction time
● Offers anti-inflammatory benefits

Although scientists don’t fully understand how adaptogens work, studies have shown that they can be extremely efficient at balancing hormones.

1. Ashwagandha & The Immune System

The immune system is the guardian of your personal fortress, equipped with physical barriers and highly specialized cells eager to engage in battles with foreign invaders.

From the day you are born, your immune system is learning how to handle the environment and destroy only those intruders that are potentially pathogenic. The brain has its built-in immune system eager to respond at the first sign of disequilibrium.

The brain’s specialized subset of cells that take part in the inflammatory response is known as microglia. They represent 10-20% of cells within the brain, and under normal conditions, they maintain homeostasis by recycling neurotransmitters and metabolic byproducts.

When called to arms due to injury, infection or disruption in homeostasis, these minuscule cells mobilize and transform into debris digesting cells capable of sounding the alarm to draw more immune cells to the afflicted site.

Since the recent discovery of microglial function in the 1990’s, they have become the focus how the brain responds and recovered from injury.

The fatal flaw of the human immune system, like any well-armed militia, is the ability to cause collateral damage as it performs its genetically programmed function. This is likely the case in many auto-immune conditions, especially following a head injury.

The initial response from microglia is appropriate to stabilize the injury, yet the release of inflammatory signals perpetuates the inflammatory state that exacerbates the original insult.

Halting the inflammatory response of microglia may be the holy grail in preventing many degenerative conditions affecting the brain and may potentially provide cognitive longevity through prevention.

A non-psychoactive constituent of cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), is a promising compound in understanding how to put the brakes on microglia. The primary receptor for CBD is known as CB2, in contrast to the CB1 receptor that is responsible for the psychoactive properties of THC.

CB2 receptors are prominently located throughout the brain but are mostly concentrated to microglia. If CBD binds to its CB2 receptor, it leads to a deactivated state of microglia that prevents the transformation to its pro-inflammatory function.

This anti-neuroinflammatory property of engaging the CB2 receptor on microglia has been tested and repeated multiple times in animal studies with promising results.

The problem with CBD is that it has a somewhat weak binding to the CB2 receptor. Human studies underway testing CBD for seizure prevention are using massive doses, such as 20 mg/kg.

The ban on hemp cultivation in the United States drives the price of CBD sky high, and thus makes consuming 1-2 g of pure CBD daily impractical.

Thankfully other natural compounds are showing a similar effect of inhibiting microglia.

Ashwagandha, which is also a component of ShroomTech Sport, is one such compound known to diminish inflammation.

The root extract from ashwagandha contains alkaloids termed “ withanolides.” These alkaloids have been well studied in the context of inflammation and have been shown to inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

2. Ashwagandha & HPA Dysfunction

Ashwagandha has also been proven useful in helping HPA dysfunction and chronic stress. The following is a description of how the HPA axis works taken from the

“The H in HPA stands for Hypothalamus, it a small part of the brain which acts as the beginning of the HPA axis.

Its purpose is to relay messages from the brain to the adrenal glands, the pituitary gland, and other organs, which is responsible for your circadian rhythm, your body temperature, and your energy levels.

The pituitary gland is even smaller than the hypothalamus, but it produces a remarkable number of the bodies hormones, including Luteinizing Hormone, Anti-Diuretic Hormone, and Growth Hormone.

Lastly, we have the adrenal glands. We each have two of them, and they sit just above our kidneys. Although separate from the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, they are deeply connected.

The adrenals produce even more hormones than the pituitary gland does – steroid hormones like cortisol, sex hormones like DHEA, and stress hormones like adrenaline and dopamine.

The hormones produced by the adrenals control chemical reactions over large parts of our bodies, including something you might have heard of called our ‘fight-or-flight’ response.

That’s the simple explanation of where each part of this network sits and what it does, but the fascinating bit comes when you see how they interact. So let’s take a walk through a typical response to a stressful situation.

We begin with the stressor. That could be a moment of imminent physical danger, or it could be simply thinking about a public speaking engagement next week. Whichever it is, the reaction from your body is pretty much the same.

Next, your hypothalamus releases corticotrophin-releasing hormone, which sends a message to the pituitary. This stimulates the pituitary’s ACTH production, which then prompts your adrenals to make cortisol.

Among other things, cortisol raises the sugar in your bloodstream and prepares your body for the high-energy ‘fight-or-flight’ response that it is anticipating. Your adrenals also release adrenaline, which raises your heart rate and increases your blood pressure.

These interactions continue until your hormones reach the levels that your body needs, and then a series of chemical reactions begins to switch them off.

For example, the cortisol released by the adrenals inhibits the hypothalamus and pituitary (so they stop sending signals to produce more cortisol!).

This is just one of the automatic switches that we call negative feedback loops, and these loops are one reason why the HPA axis is so extraordinary.

So what happens when you have severe adrenal fatigue? Well, those signals might still get sent from the hypothalamus to the pituitary gland, and from the pituitary gland to the adrenal glands. But when the message reaches your adrenals, nothing happens.

The adrenal glands have become so depleted that they are unable to release or produce the hormones that you need to react to a stressful situation.

In fact, our body constantly needs the hormones that the adrenal glands produce. When they become this worn out, we find that many of our hormone levels begin to drop.

Other parts of the endocrine system attempt to compensate for the weakened adrenals, but that only leads to lower hormone and neurotransmitter levels elsewhere.

Soon, we start to feel tired and lethargic and exhibit the typical symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

Ashwagandha may even have the ability to improve cortisol levels, improves insulin sensitivity and naturally balances hormones.

Research performed on a 57-year-old woman with non-classical adrenal hyperplasia was given ashwagandha for six months.

After treatment, she saw improvements in four adrenal hormone markers, including corticosterone and 11-deoxycortisol, which decreased by 69 percent and 55 percent respectively.”

3. Ashwagandha Increases Stamina and Endurance

Studies can also boost endurance during physical activity by improving brain function.

Due to its positive calming, yet energizing, effects on the mind and ability to lower stress hormones, ashwagandha showed improvements in concentration, motivation, and stamina in conducted studies.

On study looking into the effects of ashwaghanda supplementation for increasing endurance was performed on forty elite indian cyclists who received 500 mg of ashwagandha capsules twice daily for eight weeks.

The baseline treadmill test for the cyclists were performed to measure their aerobic capacity in terms of maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max), metabolic equivalent, respiratory exchange ratio (RER), and total time for the athlete to reach his exhaustion stage.

After eight weeks of supplementation, the treadmill test was again performed and results were obtained.

There was significant improvement in the experimental group in all parameters, whereas the placebo group did not show any change with respect to their baseline parameters.

The extract also showed the ability to reduce pain in the bodies muscles and joints while simultaneously keeping energy levels constant, which is another reason why it could be a promising supplement for athletes.

Ashwagandha Dosage

When starting to supplement Ashwagandha, begin with 500mg 1-2x daily along with following a diet high in healthy fats, protein, and fiber as well as removing refined grains and sugars from your diet.

These dietary changes along with supplementing with ashwagandha can help you see great results in reducing stress, balancing hormones, and healping the body with cellular energy and cardiovascular endurance.

For stress: Take 100-200 mg standardized extract or 2 to 4 mL liquid extract twice a day.
For antioxidant protection: Take 100-200 mg standardized extract or 2 to 4 mL liquid extract twice a day.
For immunity: Take 100-200 mg standardized extract or 2 to 4 mL liquid extract twice a day.
For relaxation: Take 100-200 mg standardized extract or 2 to 4 mL liquid extract twice a day.

Take ashwagandha with a meal or a full glass of water.

Ashwagandha Side Effects

Ashwagandha is generally considered well-tolerated in small to medium doses. But there haven’t been enough long-term studies to examine possible side effects.

Because Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, some patients report being excessively energized by it, especially during the first few days of use. Conversely, others have reported mild sedation.

At any rate, either of these side effects, although uncommon, should be considered during your first few days taking ashwagandha.

The most common side effect experienced with ashwagandha related to the gastrointestinal system and include mild stomach upset, diarrhea, (when using the liquid form) mouth irritation. These are all best avoided by taking ashwagandha in capsule form with food.

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