Ashwagandha and pregnancy: is it safe?

Ashwagandha is a popular Ayurvedic adaptogen that is thought to increase vitality and strength, and level out your mood with its de-stressing effects (1). 

In fact, one study saw a reduction in morning cortisol levels of healthy adults who took ashwagandha daily (1). 

Cortisol is the pesky hormone that is released when you’re stressed, and too much can cause things like weight gain, and disrupt your sleep.

So, could ashwagandha be the answer to mood-balancing, stress-free days? And is it even safe to take during pregnancy? Let’s find out.

What is ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub, Withania somnifera, that grows in India, the Middle East, and Africa. It is also called “Indian Winter Cherry” or “Indian Ginseng” and belongs to the nightshade family like eggplants.

Its root is said to smell like a horse and is available in powder form (2).

Ayurveda is a system of natural medicine that originated in India thousands of years ago. It’s believed that bodily imbalances and stress are the cause of disease, and Ayurveda incorporates certain lifestyle interventions and natural therapies to help you re-balance. 

Is ashwagandha safe during pregnancy?

In a study done with pregnant rats, researchers observed no toxicity effect on the mother or the developing fetus at levels up to 2000 mg/kg/day (3).

If you have come across certain “mommy blogs” talking about the positive effects of ashwagandha during pregnancy, tread lightly. These mother-to-mother support systems are helpful in some ways, but should not be taken as the word when it comes to YOUR pregnancy.

When it comes to the safety of herbs and other natural remedies, it is best to speak with your doctor regarding your personal circumstances. Many medical professionals caution against taking ashwagandha while pregnant as it may induce a miscarriage at high doses (4, 5).

Those with thyroid imbalances should take extra precautions since ashwagandha may worsen symptoms (6). 

While there isn’t much research on ashwagandha and pregnancy, there is some research done on the effects it has on stress, and even on cancer, in animal and human studies (7). 

Nutrition breakdown

100 g Ashwagandha Powder

Calories: 45 calories

Carbohydrates: 10 g

Sugar: 0 g

Fat: 0 g

Protein: 1 g

Fiber: 0 g

Potassium: 282 mg

Calcium: 32 mg

Iron: 0.31 mg

Phosphorus: 20 mg

Niacin: 0.4 mg

All values provided by USDA nutrient database.

Are there benefits to consuming ashwagandha while pregnant?

As mentioned earlier, there is not a lot of research on ashwagandha and pregnancy, but there are studies showing positive effects in rats and healthy humans (8, 9). 

A few different articles reviewed the current literature published testing ashwagandha and its role in cancer prevention. 

What they saw across these studies was that withanolides (naturally occurring compounds in ashwagandha that have been used for 3000 years in traditional Ayurvedic practice for its pharmacologic effects) can debilitate the inflammatory response and certain enzymes involved in the metastatic progression of cancer (10, 11).

The most popular and widely seen reason for supplementing with ashwagandha is for its stress-reducing properties. 

In this study, healthy adults consumed 300 mg of ashwagandha powder in capsule form for 60 days, and the researchers saw a 27.9% reduction in cortisol levels on day 60 compared to day 0 (12)! 

Stress (and having increased levels of cortisol circulating through your body) can increase your heart rate, make you prone to headaches or digestive problems, cause sleeplessness, and weight gain.

Can ashwagandha boost male fertility?

What’s interesting is that quite a few studies have been completed on ashwagandha for men. 

A study completed in 2009 showed that men who took 5 mg/day of ashwagandha root powder for 3 months had less stress and improved semen quality (13). 

Three other studies also showed significant improvements in male fertility with ashwagandha supplementation (14, 15, 16).

Are there potential side effects?

A literature review of 69 human studies reported no serious adverse effects of oral ashwagandha intake (17). There were some minor and mild effects, like abdominal discomfort and drowsiness, for these were minimal and did not last. 

In addition to those findings, they also saw that no toxicity effects were present months after consuming this adaptogen. 

However, keep in mind, these results were from non-pregnant individuals. 

How can I use ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is commonly blended into smoothies or other hot drinks to enjoy. 

You can drink your adaptogenic beverage at any time of the day, though with the potential sleepy side effects mentioned earlier, you may want to try it at night.

Without altering the taste, you can even sprinkle it into the food you make,  as long as you use less than a teaspoon of ashwagandha powder. 

Alternatively, you (or your partner) can take it in capsule form while trying to conceive, if okayed by your physician.

The bottom line

Since there are very few studies looking into ashwagandha while pregnant, you may want to wait to try out this trendy adaptogen until after your baby is born. 

Ashwagandha has been around and used for many years in Ayurvedic medicine, and could be a potentially positive herb to add to your daily routine. 

If you are interested in the anti-stress effects, know that there are many other ways to reduce stress, like exercising, meditation, talking and laughing with loved ones, or doing some of your favorite activities. 

There are some promising results for male fertility, but no significant results for female fertility, unfortunately.

By Alexa  D’ Orazio, Dietetic Intern and Ryann Kipping, RDN, CLEC | Owner & Founder

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