Is Ashwagandha Safe?

Following the recent publication by the RIVM (March 2024), which was picked up by several news channels, we would like to provide a word of explanation about the safety of Ashwagandha.

The RIVM's reporting comes as a surprise as there is little scientific research available on the negative effects of Ashwagandha. The publications on news channels also generalize the very different herbs. In this article we provide a brief answer to the question of whether Ashwagandha is safe. We list a large number of scientific studies and research that support this answer.

First of all, it is important to note that there are absolutely no fatal side effects from using Ashwagandha (Whitania somnifera). This only concerned a few cases due to the use of another named herb, Tabernanthe iboga. However, the way this was presented in the media may suggest that use of Ashwagandha could pose the same danger.

Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years as a stress reliever and brain tonic. Its use as a supplement has also been known for years, and studies show its positive effects. Studies into the effectiveness and safety of Ashwagandha in humans have never shown such an undesirable side effect on the liver.

It is therefore generally a safe herb, but it is important to be alert when using thyroid medications and antidepressants. Do not use it during pregnancy or breastfeeding. However, there are very rare cases of liver problems occurring while taking Ashwagandha.

No scientific connection has yet been made between Ashwagandha and the effect on the liver. It is still unclear whether the reported cases are directly related to Ashwagandha or whether other factors were involved, such as use of other substances, medication or an illness. At the moment, one of the possibilities seems to be that it concerns a hypersensitivity to Ashwagandha that occurs in very rare cases. Ashwagandha is safe to use for most people.

The RIVM reporting, and (mainly) the way in which it is reported and treated in the media, raises many questions and unnecessary concerns. Based on the many users worldwide, the long history of safe use and the extremely low number of reports of this side effect, this can still be safely recommended as a supplement. In the extremely rare case that such an undesirable effect should occur, stopping intake is sufficient to resolve the complaints.

Several scientific studies have been conducted on the safety of Ashwagandha.

  1. Verma, N., Gupta, S. K., Tiwari, S., & Mishra, A. K. (2021). Safety of ashwagandha root extract: a randomized, placebo-controlled, study in healthy volunteers. Complementary therapies in medicine, 57, 102642. 
  2. Raut AA, Rege NN, Tadvi FM, Solanki PV, Kene KR, Shirolkar SG, Pandey SN, Vaidya RA, Vaidya AB. Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2012 Jul;3(3):111-4. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.100168. PMID: 23125505; PMCID: PMC3487234. 
  3. Mishra, L. C., Singh, B. B., & Dagenais, S. (2000). Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Alternative medicine review, 5(4), 334-346. 
  4. Zahiruddin, S., Basist, P., Parveen, A., Parveen, R., Khan, W., & Ahmad, S. (2020). Ashwagandha in brain disorders: A review of recent developments. Journal of ethnopharmacology , 257 , 112876. 
  5. Langade, D., Kanchi, S., Salve, J., Debnath, K., Ambegaokar, D., & Langade, D. G. (2019). Efficacy and safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root extract in insomnia and anxiety: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Cureus, 11(9). 

Pharmacist Dirk
Founder Metis Supplements

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