If you have ever strolled down the aisle of a health foods store or talked with a family member or friend about herbal supplements, Ashwagandha has likely come up. While it is a relatively common supplement, many ask the question: What about Ashwagandha for kidney patients? Pronounced “aash-wuh-gaan-duh,” this herb has an array of health claims that go along with it. However, if you have kidney disease you may be wondering if this herb is truly something that is beneficial for your kidney health. There are some potential benefits and some characteristics of Ashwagandha that may be potentially harmful. That being said, let’s dive into the pros and cons of Ashwagandha for kidney patients.
This article was written by Shelby Anderson, RD, LD, and reviewed by Jen Hernandez RDN, CSR, LDN
Table of Contents
What is ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is an herb that is a member of the Solanaceae family.
The scientific name of the herb is Withania somnifera and translated it means “smell of horse.”
It is also commonly known as “Indian Ginseng” or a “royal herb” due to its powerful health benefits.
It grows abundantly in Africa, the Mediterranean, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, and many other countries.
Ashwagandha is very popular in Ayurvedic medicine, which is an ancient Indian system of medicine that offers a more natural and holistic approach to health.
Ashwagandha is also considered an adaptogen.
An adaptogen is a classification of herbs that help an organism adapt to its environment and avoid damage from environmental factors.
Ayurvedic medicine and Ashwagandha have been used for thousands of years.
Many Americans and those from Western cultures are beginning to explore and incorporate these practices and herbs into their personal healthcare.
What about ashwagandha for kidney patients? Are there benefits, risks, or other factors that may affect kidney health?
We dive into all of this and more!
Forms of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha comes in many different forms. Normally Ashwagandha comes from a fresh root.
The root is known to smell like a horse, which is how Ashwagandha got its name.
The leaves, roots, stem, and more parts of the plant have been used traditionally to treat different ailments.
However, nowadays typically the fresh root is used. From the fresh root many different forms of the herb can be made. These include:
- Fresh root extract
- Capsules or tablets
- Tea (both pure and blended teas)
If you have ever perused the aisles of a supplement or health foods store, you have likely come across at least one of these forms of Ashwagandha.
Potential Benefits of Ashwagandha
Let’s first dive into the potential benefits of Ashwagandha.
In Ayervedic medicine, Ashwagandha is typically used for:
- immune health
- reproductive health
- brain function purposes
Nowadays, Ashwagandha is typically used for its effects on anxiety and stress.
There is also potential for use in other areas including:
- immune-boosting properties
Let’s talk about what the research says about each.
May Help Relieve Stress and Anxiety
Most research available about Ashwagandha is mainly related to stress and anxiety-reducing properties.
Many kidney patients report that they can feel overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious about life, their health, and their future.
Learn more about stress and kidney disease here.
Ashwagandha and Stress
There have been many animal studies and some human studies that show that Ashwagandha can help the body’s immune response and thus help control levels of stress hormones.
In one study, Ashwagandha root extract was given to rats.
These rats were put in stressful situations and then given Ashwagandha root extract. The rats then began to show significant anti-stress effects.
Another study found that when the alcoholic, whole plant extract of Ashwagandha was given to mice in forced stressful situations, the stress-induced elevation of blood urea, blood lactic acid, and adrenal hypertrophy was reduced.
In a 60-day randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study (this is the gold standard of research!) with healthy adults, half of the adults were given a placebo and the other half were given Ashwagandha extract.
At the end of the study, the Ashwagandha extract group saw a significant reduction in their Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale score, morning cortisol (a stress hormone) levels and other positive outcomes.
Overall, we need more long-term research exploring the affects of Ashwaghanda on stress. However, the research available today is very promising!
There are also plenty of other ways of managing stress.
A supplement may be helpful, but looking at other lifestyle changes and seeking out additional help may be a more effective line of treatment.
Take a look below, do any of these stress management techniques stick out to you as something you would like to incorporate into your daily routine?
Ashwagandha and Your Immune System
There is also research available exploring the effect that Ashwagandha has on the immune system.
In a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study, human participants were given either Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) extract or a placebo for 30 days.
In the group that received the Ashwagandha there were significant increases in immunity markers compared to the placebo group.
We still need more long-term research to draw any conclusions. However, maintaining a healthy immune system is crucial for kidney patients. Ashwagandha for kidney patients may be beneficial to help aid the body in fighting off illness.
Potential for Helping with Inflammation
As the kidneys age and overall function declines, chronic inflammation may increase. This, in turn, may worsen kidney function.
Managing and reducing inflammation may be helpful for preserving precious kidney function.
Ashwagandha may have a potentially beneficial effect on inflammation.
One study compared the effects of Ashwagandha, elderberry water-soluble extract, and sutherlandia on inflammatory markers.
The study found that Ashwagandha had the most significant effect on inflammation.
However, this study was conducted in vitro (in a test tube) and we need more animal and human studies to draw any conclusions.
Alongside Ashwagandha, there are also a ton of other ways to reduce inflammation. Take a look at these other anti-inflammatory herbs and spices:
If you are someone that enjoys tea, there are plenty of teas and tea blends available that include anti-inflammatory herbs and spices.
Be sure to check the label and ingredient list in any tea that you purchase.
There may be ingredients that you aren’t familiar with. Be sure to check with your doctor or dietitian before introducing any new herbs or supplements, even in a tea form!
Ashwagandha and Heart Health
High blood pressure is the second leading cause of chronic kidney disease. Subsequently, the first leading cause of death in those with chronic kidney disease is heart disease.
Therefore, maintaining good heart health is crucial for any kidney patient. Ashwagandha could play a role in promoting that heart health.
In a study with rats and frogs, the rats that were given Ashwagandha showed an increase in their heart weight and the frogs that received the Ashwagandha showed an increase in the heart’s ability to contract.
The positive effect that Ashwagandha has on stress can also be very beneficial for heart health.
Remember, there is a positive relationship between stress and the cardiovascular system (the heart system).
Stress can have a negative effect on the heart- particularly heart rate, blood pressure, and the kidneys.
Even when stressed for a short amount of time. You can learn more here.
Therefore, including Ashwagandha as well as other lifestyle stress management techniques could have a very positive effect on kidney health.
Potential Cons of Ashwagandha for Kidney Patients
With every benefit, there must be a con. Luckily, Ashwagandha is generally considered safe to consume. Oftentimes there are not any side effects.
However, there are a few cases where we may need to be cautious with Ashwagandha.
Limited Research with Kidney Disease & Humans
While there are some studies regarding the potential benefits of Ashwagandha, there are no studies focused on the effects for those with kidney disease.
Research regarding Ashwagandha has looked at other concerns, including the above-mentioned potential benefits.
One study looked at how Ashwagandha may have kidney-protective effects on rats that were given an antibiotic regimen of gentamicin for seven days.
However, gentamicin is already considered a potentially harmful medication for those with kidney issues. It is already considered one of the medications to avoid for someone with kidney issues.
Additionally, studies most often look at rats. We’re not rats. Hopefully, animal research will inspire more research with humans to take into consideration our own body and systems.
Regardless of the potential benefits, it’s important to consider that the research connecting potential benefits to the impact of kidney health is limited.
Kidney Transplant Rejection
Ashwagandha has been shown to cause kidney transplant rejection.
This is one of the major reasons caution is advised when it comes to ashwagandha for kidney patients.
Possible Medication Interactions
There may be possible interactions with certain medications.
In particular, there may be interactions with:
- Blood pressure medications
- Drugs that suppress the immune system
- May not be suitable for those that are pregnant or breastfeeding
These are potential interactions and this is not an all-inclusive list.
Talk with your doctor about if Ashwagandha is safe or appropriate for you.
Potential Dangers of Herbal Supplements
Although Ashwagandha is considered a “natural” or holistic treatment, there still may be harmful effects.
In particular, we need to point out that Ashwagandha is an herbal supplement and not a medication.
Therefore, the dose, content, or pureness is not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
This could mean that there may be heavy metals or other unfavorable items in the supplement that may potentially cause further harm to the kidneys. Learn more about herbal supplements and kidney disease here.
Talking to your dietitian about a safe and appropriate dosage of herbal supplements and suggestions on reputable supplement brands!
Our dietitians are here to help. You can set up an introductory meeting with one of our dietitians here.
Will Ashwagandha lower creatinine levels?
While many may promise that Ashwagandha will lower creatinine levels, the research is not there yet.
One study found that when provided with Ashwagandha, horses had lower creatinine levels. However, there was no documentation of kidney disease with the horses.
Simply put: ashwagandha has not yet been scientifically researched nor proven to lower creatinine levels.
Ashwagandha has been used as a medicinal herb for many years by humans.
As the desire for more natural and holistic treatments increases in Western society, Ashwagandha has emerged as a promising candidate for a remedy of many ailments.
Ashwagandha has quite a bit of early research conducted on the positive effects that it has on stress, anxiety, immune health, inflammation and much more.
However, we need a lot more human studies and long-term research to prove anything.
For kidney patients, the positive effects on stress, heart health, and inflammation may be particularly helpful.
Talk with your doctor or dietitian about if ashwagandha can fit into your treatment plan.
2 thoughts on “Ashwagandha for Kidney Patients: A Dietitian’s Perspective”
I am hearing that Ashwagandha may increase the chance of rejection in people who had kidney transplant. This article only barely mentions this and I think your readers include many who have had transplants. I would recommend that a warning for kidney transplant recipients be clear and not just a one liner way down in the article after all the positive benefits for no transplant people.
Excellent point, Donna! We will be sure to provide more context in our next update. Thank you so much for this feedback, it’s greatly appreciated. 💚