Does Ashwagandha Increase Serotonin?

Updated on March 22, 2024
 by — reviewed by Jason Williams, PhD (Contributor: George Collins / Editor: Yoko Hill)
Exploring the effects of Ashwagandha on serotonin levels.

Does Ashwagandha increase serotonin?

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating our mood and emotions, plays a crucial role in our overall well-being. Low levels of serotonin can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and even physical symptoms.

Ashwagandha, a potent herb in Ayurvedic medicine, has become popular due to claims that it has a positive impact on serotonin levels in the brain. By boosting serotonin activity, Ashwagandha may have the potential to improve mood and alleviate symptoms of anxiety.

But, are these claims true?

In this article, we will explore the relationship between Ashwagandha and serotonin, and delve into the scientific evidence behind its potential to increase serotonin levels naturally.

Learn everything you need to know about the connection and how you can use Ashwagandha to better your life today!

Understanding Ashwagandha and Its Benefits

Ashwagandha, also known as Withania somnifera, is a popular herb that is classified as an adaptogen, belonging to a trendy class of supplements. The herb is derived from a flowering shrub and is known for its potential therapeutic effects on anxiety and stress.

It’s rapidly become one of the most popular and effective natural nootropics on the market!

It has been traditionally used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine for its many health benefits.(1)

The name Ashwagandha originates from two words in Sanskrit. The first part of the name, ‘ashwa’, means horse, and ‘ghanda’ means smell. This pertains to the raw power given by this root, similar to what we know as ‘horse power’. As well as the unique and slightly bitter smell that the root has. 

The intake of 100% natural Ashwagandha supplements was also shown to be associated with the following benefits:

  • Relieves Stress and Anxiety: Ashwagandha is widely known for its ability to help the body cope with stress. It regulates mediators of stress, including cortisol and heat shock proteins, and reduces the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Research has shown that ashwagandha can significantly reduce perceived stress levels and anxiety symptoms.
  • Enhances Physical Performance: Athletes can benefit from ashwagandha supplementation as it has been found to improve physical performance. It enhances strength, oxygen use during exercise, and maximum oxygen consumption (VO max). Ashwagandha also helps increase muscle strength and size when combined with resistance training.
  • Improves Mental Health: Ashwagandha may be effective in managing depression, anxiety, and other mental health-related issues. Studies have shown that it can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as improve cognitive impairment in certain populations. However, more research is needed in these areas.
  • Boosts Testosterone and Fertility: Ashwagandha has been found to increase testosterone levels and improve male fertility. It boosts sex hormone production, sperm concentration, semen volume, and motility. This herb may be beneficial for men with low testosterone levels or fertility issues.
  • Regulates Blood Sugar Levels: Ashwagandha shows promise in managing diabetes and balancing blood sugar levels. It has the potential to lower hemoglobin A1c levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce blood lipid markers. However, more well-designed studies are needed to establish its effectiveness.
  • Reduces Inflammation: Withaferin A (WA), a compound found in ashwagandha, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It can help reduce the levels of inflammatory proteins in the body, such as interleukin-10 (IL-10). Some studies have even suggested that Ashwagandha may help reduce inflammatory markers in individuals with COVID-19.(2)
  • Enhances Cognitive Function: Ashwagandha has been shown to improve cognitive function, memory, reaction time, and the ability to perform tasks. It may benefit older adults with age-related cognitive decline and individuals with schizophrenia.(3)
  • Promotes Restful Sleep: Ashwagandha can aid in improving sleep quality and reducing sleep disturbances. It helps individuals fall asleep faster, improves overall sleep quality, and enhances morning alertness. It is especially beneficial for individuals with insomnia or sleep-related disorders.

Overall, Ashwagandha is a popular adaptogenic supplement that has been traditionally used to reduce stress and promote well-being.

However, more research is needed to fully understand its mechanisms of action (MOA).

The Connection Between Ashwagandha and Serotonin

One of the key functions of Ashwagandha is its ability to influence serotonin levels in the brain.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in regulating mood and emotions, as well as various other functions in the body.

Serotonin is known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter because it contributes to feelings of happiness, well-being, and relaxation. Similar to dopamine, it is also involved in memory, digestion, sexual functioning, inflammation reduction, and blood clotting.

When our serotonin levels are low, we may experience symptoms such as appetite issues, mood swings, and decreased overall well-being.

So, how does Ashwagandha affect your serotonin levels? 

Ashwagandha acts as a natural serotonin booster by influencing the production and regulation of this neurotransmitter in the brain.(4)

This adaptogenic herb helps balance serotonin levels and promotes healthy brain function for improved mood and overall well-being.

How Ashwagandha Influences Serotonin Levels

By understanding the mechanisms through which Ashwagandha affects serotonin levels, we can better appreciate its potential benefits for mental and physical health.

Let’s have a closer look at the contributing factors from Ashwagandha that stimulate increased serotonin levels: 

  • Neuroprotection: Ashwagandha has been shown to possess neuroprotective properties, which means it helps protect the brain from damage caused by stress and other factors. By reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, Ashwagandha supports healthy serotonin production and transmission.
  • Stress hormone regulation: Chronic stress can negatively impact serotonin levels in the brain. Ashwagandha acts as an adaptogen, helping the body adapt to and manage stress more effectively. It works by regulating the production of stress hormones like cortisol, which can otherwise deplete serotonin levels. By reducing cortisol levels, Ashwagandha supports optimal serotonin function.
  • Cortisol reduction: Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress. Elevated cortisol levels can disrupt serotonin production and transmission. Ashwagandha has been shown to lower cortisol levels, thus protecting serotonin levels from depletion caused by stress.(5)
  • Brain health: Ashwagandha has been found to have beneficial effects on overall brain health. It helps enhance cognitive function, improve memory, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. These effects may be attributed to its influence on serotonin levels. By supporting optimal serotonin function, Ashwagandha promotes a healthy brain and improves overall well-being.

Who Can Benefit from Ashwagandha’s Serotonin-Boosting Effects?

It’s important to note that the research on Ashwagandha’s effects on serotonin levels is still emerging, and more studies are needed to fully understand its mechanisms of action.

However, the available evidence suggests that Ashwagandha can positively influence serotonin levels through its neuroprotective properties, stress hormone regulation, cortisol reduction, and overall support for brain health.

By increasing serotonin levels, Ashwagandha may have significant benefits for individuals struggling with:

  1. Stress Management: Ashwagandha has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogen, which helps the body adapt and cope with stress. Chronic stress can deplete serotonin levels, leading to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Ashwagandha’s ability to modulate stress hormones like cortisol and support the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis can help restore balance and promote a sense of calmness and well-being.
  2. Mood Disorders: Imbalances in serotonin levels are often associated with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Ashwagandha may help regulate serotonin receptors in the brain, promoting a more positive mood and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that Ashwagandha supplementation can lead to significant reductions in perceived stress, and anxiety levels, as well as improvements in overall mood.(6)
  3. Insomnia: Poor sleep quality and insomnia can contribute to low serotonin levels, resulting in mood disturbances and further exacerbating sleep difficulties. Ashwagandha has been found to improve sleep quality and reduce sleep onset latency, making it an ideal natural remedy for individuals struggling with insomnia.(7) By promoting relaxation and reducing stress, Ashwagandha can help regulate sleep patterns and enhance overall sleep quality.
  4. Chronic Fatigue: Chronic fatigue is often characterized by persistent exhaustion and low energy levels, which can be linked to serotonin imbalances. Ashwagandha’s adaptogenic properties can help combat fatigue by reducing stress and improving energy levels.(8) By supporting healthy serotonin levels, Ashwagandha may help alleviate symptoms of chronic fatigue and increase overall vitality.

By addressing serotonin imbalances and promoting a sense of calmness, Ashwagandha plays a supportive role in improving mental health and overall quality of life.

Precautions and Side Effects of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha offers several potential advantages. However, it’s important to be aware of the precautions and potential side effects associated with its use.

Here are five important considerations to keep in mind when using Ashwagandha:

  1. Drug Interactions: Ashwagandha has the potential to interact with certain medications, particularly those that act on the central nervous system or affect hormone levels. If you are already taking medication for conditions like anxiety, depression, or thyroid disorders, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating Ashwagandha into your routine. They can assess any potential interactions and provide guidance on appropriate dosage.
  2. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Limited research is available on the safety of Ashwagandha during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is recommended that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding avoid the use of Ashwagandha unless specifically advised by their healthcare provider. Since the effects on infants and unborn babies are not yet fully understood, it’s better to err on the side of caution.
  3. Medical Conditions: Individuals with certain medical conditions should exercise caution when using Ashwagandha. For example, individuals with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, should consult a healthcare professional before starting Ashwagandha supplementation. Similarly, people with diabetes, hypertension, or stomach ulcers should also seek medical advice beforehand.
  4. Potential Allergic Reactions: Although rare, some individuals may have an allergic reaction to Ashwagandha. It is advisable to perform a patch test before using any new Ashwagandha product or supplement. If you experience symptoms such as rash, itching, swelling, or difficulty breathing, discontinue use immediately and seek medical attention.
  5. Gastrointestinal Discomfort: While Ashwagandha is well-tolerated, some individuals may experience gastrointestinal discomfort when using it. This may include symptoms like nausea, upset stomach, or diarrhea. To minimize these potential side effects, it is recommended to start with a low dose and gradually increase it as tolerated.

Conclusion: Can I Use Ashwagandha to Boost Serotonin?

Ashwagandha has been found to have numerous potential health benefits, including increasing serotonin – leading to a reduction in stress and anxiety.

It also has a positive impact on physical performance and testosterone levels.

However, more research is needed to fully understand its effects and to determine the full extent of its benefits as a natural anti-depressant.

If you’re considering using Ashwagandha, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure it is safe and appropriate for your individual needs.

Stay informed and make empowered decisions about your health.

Sources, Studies, and Scientific Research
  1. Singh, Narendra et al. “An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda.” African journal of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicines : AJTCAM vol. 8,5 Suppl (2011): 208-13. doi:10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9 ↩
  2. Kashyap, Vivek K et al. “Withania somnifera as a potential future drug molecule for COVID-19.” Future drug discovery vol. 2,4 FDD50. 1 Oct. 2020, doi:10.4155/fdd-2020-0024 ↩
  3. D’Cruz, Migita, and Chittaranjan Andrade. “Potential clinical applications of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in medicine and neuropsychiatry.” Expert review of clinical pharmacology vol. 15,9 (2022): 1067-1080. doi:10.1080/17512433.2022.2121699 ↩
  4. Speers, Alex B et al. “Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on Stress and the Stress- Related Neuropsychiatric Disorders Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia.” Current neuropharmacology vol. 19,9 (2021): 1468-1495. doi:10.2174/1570159X19666210712151556 ↩
  5. Lopresti, Adrian L et al. “An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Medicine vol. 98,37 (2019): e17186. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000017186 ↩
  6. Chandrasekhar, K et al. “A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.” Indian journal of psychological medicine vol. 34,3 (2012): 255-62. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022 ↩
  7. Park, Chun Woong et al. “Sleep-promoting activity of amylase-treated Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera L. Dunal) root extract via GABA receptors.” Journal of food and drug analysis vol. 31,2 278-288. 15 Jun. 2023, doi:10.38212/2224-6614.3456 ↩
  8. It also has unique withanolides that stimulate energy.((Wang, Jia et al. “Effect of Ashwagandha Withanolides on Muscle Cell Differentiation.” Biomolecules vol. 11,10 1454. 4 Oct. 2021, doi:10.3390/biom11101454 ↩