Ashwagandha: Herbal Remedy with Dangerous Repercussions

By Samantha Gilbert, FNC, CHNP, CNC     Last updated on November 16th, 2021

Ashwagandha is a powerful herb. In this week’s post, I share the hidden dangers of this adaptogenic herb.

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha, also known as winter cherry, is a powerful herb in Ayurvedic medicine. The herb grows in India, the Middle East, and northern Africa, and is in the same family as the tomato. Due to its increasing popularity in the west, it is now also being grown in North America.

Ashwagandha proponents claim this herb can be used to alleviate stress, fatigue, low energy, improve problems with learning and concentration, reduce anxiety, stabilize brain-cell degeneration, lower cholesterol, and reduce inflammation. This popular herb is also being touted as a fantastic immune booster and superfood.

Many people, however, experience negative reactions to ashwagandha. Like all herbs, ashwagandha cannot be recommended without a thorough understanding of how it will react in unique individuals with specific conditions and in specific circumstances.

Side Effects of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is often called “Indian ginseng” because it can be energizing, but botanically speaking, ginseng and Ashwagandha are completely unrelated. I urge you to be careful about buying into any “one size fits all” marketing claims.

Ashwagandha can do a lot of damage to folks with abnormal methylation issues and copper toxicity. The overall long-term safety of ashwagandha is also unknown.

Here are a few of the common negative reactions to ashwagandha intake:

1. Gastrointestinal Issues

Common gastrointestinal side effects of ashwagandha are diarrhea and nausea. Excessive ashwagandha intake can irritate the gastrointestinal tract.

2. Increased Fatigue

Ashwagandha is touted as a wonderful remedy for adrenal fatigue (or more accurately put, hypothalamic-adrenal-pituitary axis dysfunction (HPA-D). In my clinic, though, I’ve noticed that adrenal fatigue is a secondary concern compared to copper toxicity, undermethylation, pyrrole disorder, zinc deficiency, and systemic oxidative stress. By not addressing the underlying disorder first, ashwagandha can actually intensify any pre-existing symptoms of fatigue.

The first question one should ask is “what’s causing my adrenal fatigue to begin with?“ The answer might be related to copper.

Excess copper, elevated kryptopyrroles, and undermethylation are classic underlying causes of chronic fatigue. Copper is especially insidious. It causes an increase in norepinephrine while lowering dopamine, which puts stress on the adrenal glands, thus impairing hormone activity and increasing fatigue.

3. Depression

Part of the hype around ashwagandha involves its supposed mood-elevating properties, yet ashwagandha may actually contribute to depression. Its Ayurvedic properties include building, stabilizing, and the lowering of “qi,” so anyone who already experiences low energy, lack of motivation, mental fog, or occasional depressive states should be wary.

Ashwagandha can also cause blood sugar levels to drop rapidly. Low blood sugar results in physical weakness, mental dullness, and confusion, which are all symptoms known to increase the likelihood of depression.

4. Insomnia

Because it’s been known to elevate heart rate, ashwagandha can increase insomniac tendencies. Additional side effects of ashwagandha are headaches and gastrointestinal distress, which can also prevent restful sleep.

5. Anxiety

The Ayurvedic energy of ashwagandha is “heating,” meaning it tends to increase inflammation as well as “hot” emotions such as irritation and frustration — both of which contribute to anxiety.

As mentioned above, ashwagandha can cause a rapid drop in blood sugar levels, and low blood sugar symptoms can both mirror and increase the intensity of anxiety. An increased heart rate, racing mind, shakiness, irritability, and panic are all symptoms that can intensify due to low blood sugar.

6. Disruption of Hormones

Proponents of ashwagandha don’t understand the connection between methylation cycles and adrenal fatigue, and ashwagandha’s role in hormonal disruption.

Hormone production requires a feedback mechanism, which is why we look at the methylation cycle instead of simply measuring hormone levels. If the methylation cycle is imbalanced, resulting disorders can disrupt the hormones, neurotransmitters, and feedback mechanisms that drive hormone production — especially those produced by the adrenal glands.

Hormone therapy, glandulars (such as desiccated glandular supplements), and/or herbal remedies may be problematic for you and may create adverse symptoms that can impair your progress and increase adrenal issues, especially if you have a methylation disorder and/or copper toxicity.

This is because most adrenal supplements contain copper-carrying and stimulatory ingredients (such as organs and glands, and adaptogenic herbs) that can be detrimental to the methylation cycle.

Have You Had a Bad Reaction to Ashwagandha?

If you’ve had a negative experience with ashwagandha, I’d love to hear your story in the comments below. If taking this herb made you feel worse instead of better, please know that you aren’t alone.

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I offer a free 1:1 consultation to help you disconnect from the hype and the marketing jargon, and address the true source(s) of your discomfort. It’s time for your healing journey to truly begin.

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226 thoughts on “Ashwagandha: Herbal Remedy with Dangerous Repercussions”

  1. Thanks for this article, makes so much sense, wish I had read it years ago, always new there was a root cause I needed to uncover and I have just had testing to find that I do indeed have copper toxocity and pylori.

    Thankfully Ashwaganda is not one I have relied on but I have tried it. I do rely on other adaptogens though to help cope with my high cortisol. It dampens symptoms but I know I am not addressing the root cause with them.

    Question is how to address these underlying issues effectively, inaddition to adding b6 and zinc supps? Adding zinc creates huge anxiety for me its so distressing I am unable to supplement at the requred level.

    Thank you

  2. This article is not completely correct. As will all foods/herbs/spices/plants dosage is key. There is the therapeutic/health dosage and there is the medicinal/functional dosage. The therapeutic dosage for Ashwagandha (for everyone) is between 100mg to 250mg in divided doses per day. The functional dosage can go upto 2g. At low doses it does regulate neurotransmitters providing an anxiolytic effect.
    “Ashwagandha is used in Ayurveda to balance vata and kapha; in excess, and because of its heating, unctuous, building nature, it can imbalance pitta, and also worsen ama (toxic build-up).”

    1. I encourage you to actually read this article in its entirety. It was written to inform those with abnormal methylation issues and copper toxicity that ashwagandha can do a lot of damage. This is what we see clinically. Therapeutic dosages for these individuals are still harmful. Keep in mind we are all biochemically unique. What works for one person does not work for everyone, even at lower doses.

      1. Hi Sam,
        For someone who is healthy, not taking any prescribed drugs, but has general anxiety disorder (from low to medium I.e. heart race but no panick attacks), I am seeking herbs to help minimize the underlining anxiety and provide better clarity, brain function as well. With that, do you feel ashwagandha could provide benefits? Thank you.

    2. I recently took Ashwagandha, a new Doctor. I had been up since 3 am. i experienced a huge panic attack. I have ptsd. I think I may have taken too much. It comes in a squirt mechanism. Thank God there were friends I could call or I might have ended in the ER.

  3. I was wondering.
    Is a nutrientbalancing program through a hairmineralannalys just as god as loking at metylationstatus.
    In corekting metylation problems.

    1. HTMA is a great diagnostic tool, but it’s not the holy grail many make it out to be. It is not useful in determining methylation status, nor does it replace the need to check methylation status.

  4. I belong to support group named bioavailable copper. On Facebook. I think you should look at what it says about toxic copper as opposed to bio available copper. Very interesting information. I would like to know your thoughts about this form of copper.

    1. I’m well versed in the difference between copper toxicity and bioavailable copper. It’s never about eliminating all copper from the body. Zinc and copper must be in balance with one another.

  5. Ashwagandha has been used for literally thousands of years with generations of people who understands how to use it and respect the great power it holds. Any herb can be harmful in the wrong hands, ashwagandha is single handedly responsible for healing my son’s extreme eczema that doctor’s couldn’t treat for 3 years. I use it daily as do my children and when combined with triphala and chavanprash, have become the only supplements needed to keep my family balanced and healthy.

    1. I’m so glad it’s been beneficial for you, Lisa. You hit the nail on the head with this statement “Any herb can be harmful in the wrong hands.” It may work for you and your family, but it is not appropriate for everyone, especially those with the chemistries mentioned in this post.

    2. It has been the only thing that helped a horrible onset of adult acne. For a year I was getting clogged pores and it was spreading. Nothing helped. Tried organic , natural, drug store, curology etc…2 weeks in 1 capsule at night (organic India) brand my skin is 80% better already. I am thrilled with it! Helps me sleep like a baby as well

    3. It caused severe heart palpatations when I’ve taken it. I felt my heart actually stop several times and I was afraid to go to sleep for fear my heart would stop in my sleep. I have hypothyroidism and hashimotos. Ashwagandha is a nightshade and should not be taken by people with autoimmune diseases.

  6. Hi,Ive been taking ashwaganda 200mg as part of a propriety blend for thyroid support(NaturesWellness),also taking homemade pine pollen tincture for boosting testosterone, while using( Lidell)VitalAge Defiance ) used to be called Vital HGH like 10 years,ago,and it contains homeopathic ingredients,which includes pituitary,hgh,hepar suis…sources unknown..My question is: what are the (copper toxicity ) symptoms that one would get from ashwaganda if taken with glandulars/androgen boosters.. I have develeloped a rash on inner thigh that looks like either eczema, or several other ailments since using all of these supplements ,thanks

  7. Thanks for your article, which I found while websearching! I am a miserable menopausal woman, with untreated hypothyroidism (my levels aren’t THAT out of whack, so I mostly get along ok). I’ve been having horrendous hot flashes, irritability, anger, total unpleasantness! I took a morning saliva test and found that my cortisol is very low in the am (3.2), and my estrogen to progesterone levels are low, too (pg/e2: 84). I began using natural progesterone and estrogen cremes, and yesterday, started taking ashwaghanda. I must say that I probably took more than I ought to have (this is a tincture prepared in alchohol, and poured into my glass of water what I figured was one dropper’s worth). I felt many strong (and I mean STRONG) emotions and sensations. I felt anger, sorrow, almost a druggy sort of sleepiness, hopelessness, irritability, and I had wierd thoughts as I rested). Have you any idea of why this may have happened? Isn’t ashwaghanda supposed to help adrenal fatigue and get my hormones back in line? Thank you.

  8. I tried Ashwaghanda for a couple days and was totally out of it. I had zero concentration and I was totally scattered. I already feel that way from hypothyroidism and don’t need any of it. Thanks for the info, I do have methylation problems and didn’t realize the connection till I came across your article. I have not found anything to help my concentration problems which is the most frustrating part of this.

    1. I have found that my biggest concentration problems are due to Gluten intolerance. You might want to go off of Gluten for 3 weeks and see if that fixes the problem.

  9. I appreciate this article! Thank you for posting it.

    I’ve been doing lots of digging into both ashwagandha and moringa to see if either of them could potentially help my husband who has suspected food sensitivity or adrenal fatigue (difficult time digesting vegetable; is DEEPLY tired upon waking, in the afternoons, and evenings; sometimes gets these odd cyst-like, deep, red, sometimes pussy body zits, and very dry skin)

    I don’t know where to turn with my tight budget, to be honest. I was hoping some herbs could help and I have found a few seemingly thorough and reputable studies on the effectiveness of ashwagandha. But it seems everything that I find on various topics that might help (i.e. ashwagadha), there is something out there (if you research enough) to show you that it isn’t safe or truly effective and then I’m stuck back at square one.

    I’m really at a loss for what to do. Do you have any resources you recommend to determine the cause of adrenal fatigue? or would you recommend going straight into an elimination diet and skipping supplements?

    I’m sorry to ask so many questions – I realize this is a ridiculously long comment and not exactly what you are probably looking for in the comments section. I also realize that you may not be able to give advice like that in the comments section. TIA for whatever feedback you are able to provide. 🙂

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