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 like tomatoes and peppers, is a nightshade. Nightshades can cause joint issues or flare up autoimmune symptoms in some individuals. 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 people with abnormal methylation issues and copper toxicity. The overall long-term safety of ashwagandha is also unknown.
Here are some common negative reactions to ashwagandha:
1. Gastrointestinal Issues
Common gastrointestinal side effects of ashwagandha are diarrhea and nausea. Excessive ashwagandha intake can irritate the gastrointestinal tract and can exacerbate a pre-exisiting gut infection.
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 a gut infection such as SIBO or yeast overgrowth, or any of the imbalances I mention above.
Excess copper, elevated kryptopyrroles, and undermethylation are classic underlying causes of chronic fatigue and oxidative stress. 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.
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.
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.
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 copper overload, 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, copper toxicity, and/or a gut infection.
This is because most adrenal supplements contain copper-carrying and stimulatory ingredients (such as organs and glands, and adaptogenic herbs) that can be detrimental and lead to adverse reactions. This is why I always test copper and methylation along with a DUTCH hormone panel that includes cortisol patterns and sex hormone cycling.
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 are not alone. To date, no studies have been done to verify the adverse events associated with ashwagandha, especially in individuals with copper toxicity, methylation imbalances, and gut infections. This article is the result of clinical study and application with this powerful adaptogenic herb.
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