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Ashwagandha for Anxiousness: An Herb for Our Times

calm May 07, 2020

Henry Emmons, MD

What is Ashwagandha?

In Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha is thought to be one of the most valued remedies for a variety of conditions. It is one of my favorite herbs, and one of the few that I use personally as part of my daily regimen. It is known as an “adaptogen” or a “tonic” herb. That means that it isn’t considered to be a medicinal herb, per se, but is rather a general health tonic, one that is used to improve the body’s ability to adapt to stress.

At Natural Mental Health, we’re most interested in Ashwagandha’s ability to support the body under stress, reduce anxiousness, and help with sleep. It is one of the rare substances that seems to improve mental focus and alertness, while at the same time toning down the stress response and calming anxiousness. It appears to calm the brain when it is overactive, and stimulate it when it is under-active. Not too much, not too little, but helping us to stay in the right mental zone. Who couldn’t use a little help with that?

How to Take Ashwagandha: Dosage

The usual dosage is 250 mg twice daily (standardized to 1.5% withanolides). I prefer to use it as part of a more comprehensive formula including other adaptogens (e.g. eleuthero and rhodiola) and some key amino acids. In combination, these ingredients support one another synergistically. The whole becomes more powerful than its parts.

Sleep and Stress Support

If you need help reducing your reaction to stress, supporting your sleep or calming anxiousness, consider Stress Support. Or, if your energy is low and you have to drag yourself out of bed, say in the middle of winter, you might prefer using Adapt. Both can be used for several months when needed to improve symptoms until your body returns to balance. 


Potential Interactions and Side Effects

Known scientifically as Withania somnifera, ashwagandha is commonly called “winter cherry” and is part of the nightshade family. So, if you are someone who is sensitive to nightshades (e.g. tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant), you could potentially react to ashwagandha as well. Beyond that, it is quite well-tolerated in my experience. Theoretically, it could increase the sedating effects of certain medications like benzodiazepines (Ativan, Xanax, Valium), but I have rarely seen anyone complain of significant side effects. There is also some concern that it could interfere with the effect of immunosuppressant drugs, since it may enhance the immune system response. Finally, like most natural therapies, there is no good research to say that it is safe during pregnancy, so I don’t recommend folks take it if pregnant or nursing. 


1. Chandrasekhar, et al. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine 34(3), 255-262.

2. Mishra et al. (2000). Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): A review. Alternative Medicine Review 5(4), 334-346.


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