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Sep 01, 2021
3 min read

Is ashwagandha good for the liver?

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, there have been reports of people developing liver function problems, with symptoms like jaundice and others.

mike bohl

Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Written by Chimene Richa, MD

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Ashwagandha has been touted as a potential treatment for everything from anxiety to thyroid problems. But is ashwagandha good for liver issues? Animal studies say yes, but does that translate to humans? Read on to learn more. 

What is ashwagandha?

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 thought to help balance physical, mental, and emotional stresses in the body. It is an ancient herb and is commonly used in the 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.

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 improved 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. The theory behind this apparent protective effect is that the ashwagandha may enhance antioxidant activity (Hosny Mansour, 2012).

Similarly, a study examining animals with a different type of liver toxicity, caused by an antibiotic called gentamicin, found that those treated with ashwagandha had an improvement in their liver enzymes. 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).

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Could ashwagandha harm the liver?

Many 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 (Björnsson, 2020). 

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. Fortunately, in most cases, once people stopped the ashwagandha supplements, their symptoms resolved with no permanent liver injury Björnsson, 2020).

Talk to your healthcare provider

Before starting an herbal supplement, consult with your healthcare provider. Ashwagandha is safe for most people, but there have been a few reports of side effects 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 those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, 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.

References

  1. Björnsson, H., Björnsson, E., Avula, B., Khan, I., Jonasson, J., & Ghabril, M., et al. (2020). Ashwagandha‐induced liver injury: a case series from Iceland and the US drug‐induced liver injury network. Liver International, 40(4), 825-829. doi: 10.1111/liv.14393. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31991029/
  2. Hosny Mansour, H. & Farouk Hafez, H. (2012). Protective effect of Withania somnifera against radiation-induced hepatotoxicity in rats. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 80, 14–19. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2012.02.003. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22377401/
  3. MedLinePlus. (2020). Ashwagandha. Retrieved Aug 25, 2021 from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/953.html#Safety
  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). (2019). Ashwagandha. Retrieved on Aug 25, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548536/
  5. Patel, D., Yan, T., Kim, D., Dias, H., Krausz, K., Kimura, S., et al. (2019). Withaferin A improves nonalcoholic steatohepatitis in mice. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 371(2), 360-374. doi: 10.1124/jpet.119.256792. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31420528/
  6. Sultana, N., Shimmi, S., Parash, M., & Akhtar, J. (2012). Effects of ashwagandha (withania somnifera) root extract on some serum liver marker enzymes (AST, ALT) in gentamicin intoxicated rats. Journal of Bangladesh Society of Physiologists, 7(1), 1-7. doi: 10.3329/jbsp.v7i1.11152. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235919628_Effects_of_Ashwagandha_Withania_somnifera_Root_Extract_On_Some_Serum_Liver_Marker_Enzymes_AST_ALT_In_Gentamicin_Intoxicated_Rats
  7. Udayakumar, R., Kasthurirengan, S., Mariashibu, T. S., Rajesh, M., Anbazhagan, V. R., Kim, S. C., et al. (2009). Hypoglycaemic and hypolipidaemic effects of Withania somnifera root and leaf extracts on alloxan-induced diabetic rats. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 10(5), 2367–2382. doi: 10.3390/ijms10052367. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695282/