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Last updated July 14, 2020. 3 minute read

Is ashwagandha good for the liver? Here's what we know

Ashwagandha may help with stress, anxiety, low testosterone, diabetes, skin diseases, epilepsy, and autoimmune diseases, among other health problems. As with most herbal medicines, the research is limited and more information is needed to determine the health benefits of ashwagandha.

Linnea Zielinski Written by Linnea Zielinski
Reviewed by Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

The scientific name is Withania somnifera, but ashwagandha is also called “Indian ginseng” or “winter cherry.” Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, a type of herbal medicine that is thought to help balance physical, mental, and emotional stresses in the body. It is an ancient herb and is commonly used in the form of traditional Indian medicine known as Ayurvedic medicine.

Ashwagandha may help with stress, anxiety, low testosterone, diabetes, skin diseases, epilepsy, and autoimmune diseases, among other health problems (NIDDK, 2019). As with most herbal medicines, the research is limited and more information is needed to determine the health benefits of ashwagandha.

Vitals

  • Ashwagandha is an overall safe Ayurvedic herb that may help with stress, anxiety, liver health, and other medical problems.
  • Animal studies have shown that ashwagandha may improve liver damage from toxins, radiation, fatty liver disease, etc.
  • However, a few instances of people developing liver function problems, with symptoms like jaundice, have been reported.

Is ashwagandha good for the liver?

Ashwagandha is generally regarded as safe and may even be beneficial to the liver based on the data from animal studies. One study found that diabetic mice given Withania somnifera extracts had an improvement in their liver enzyme levels (Udayakumar, 2009).

Other studies have looked at the effect of ashwagandha on animals with metal or radiation-induced liver toxicity. Animals who received ashwagandha before exposure to the toxins had fewer signs of liver damage than the ones who did not receive the herbal extract (Hosny, 2012). The theory behind this apparent protective effect is that the ashwagandha may enhance antioxidant activity (Hosny, 2012).

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Similarly, a study examining animals with gentamicin-induced liver toxicity found that those treated with ashwagandha had an improvement in their liver enzymes (Sultana, 2012). Again, the proposed mechanism is the antioxidant and free-radical scavenging activity of ashwagandha (Sultana, 2012). Ashwagandha also improved liver function tests in mice with fatty liver disease (Patel, 2019). Many of these animal studies suggest that ashwagandha may have a protective effect on liver health.

However, there have been a few instances of liver injury. One case series reported several cases of people who developed liver problems while taking ashwagandha; the dose in these cases ranged from 450–1,350 mg. 

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The people in these liver case reports developed jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) along with other symptoms like nausea, abdominal pain, lethargy (sleepiness), and itching (pruritus) (Björnsson, 2020). It took anywhere from 2–12 weeks for the liver symptoms to develop after the first dose of ashwagandha (Björnsson, 2020). 

Another case of liver injury was in a person who increased his dose of ashwagandha by two to three times before starting to develop liver symptoms of jaundice, etc. (Björnsson, 2020). Fortunately, in most cases, once people stopped the ashwagandha supplements, their symptoms resolved with no permanent liver injury Björnsson, 2020).

In conclusion

Before starting an herbal supplement, consult with your healthcare provider. Ashwagandha is safe for most people, but there have been a few reports of health issues while taking this herb.

Formulations and doses of ashwagandha may vary by manufacturer, so read labels carefully before using—confirm the amount of ashwagandha and whether it has been combined with other active ingredients. There is also some concern that ashwagandha should not be used by certain groups of people like pregnant or breastfeeding women, and people with medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.) or thyroid problems (MedlinePlus, 2020).

Never increase the recommended dose without professional consultation. If you develop any symptoms while taking this or any other herbal supplement, stop taking it, and talk to your healthcare provider.