The liver processes the food you eat, the liquid you drink, the air you breathe, and the beauty potions you rub on your skin and helps provide energy for your body. It identifies toxic substances, processes or eliminates them, helps in blood clotting when required, and regulates hormones.1 2
The liver is the primary detox organ in your body. Protect the liver and treat liver problems in time because if the damage becomes irreversible, the entire body will be affected.
Any disease or injury to the liver affects the body’s functions directly. If not treated on time, a liver problem may lead to the formation of scar tissues, which can affect liver functioning and result in fibrosis. If the fibrosis is mild, the liver can function and heal on its own. However, if the fibrosis gets worse, the scarred tissue may become cirrhotic. After this point, the liver damage cannot be reversed.3
Since conventional liver medicines have adverse side effects and are very expensive, people typically look for alternative therapies for liver health like the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) or Indian ginseng. Ashwagandha is a stress-relieving herb that is considered a potent medicine for treating depression and anxiety, protecting the nervous system against degeneration like in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, preventing premature aging, and fighting cancer. It does all of these with its antioxidants that seek and destroy free radicals, which cause cell damage, inflammation, and rapid aging. This is what gives the herb its efficacy in fighting liver damage as well.
1. Ashwagandha Protects The Liver Against Toxins
Many toxins enter our body through the food we eat. Take carbendazim, for instance. Many of the fruits and cereals we eat are liberally sprayed with this fungicide, which affects our liver function.
In an animal study, rats showed liver lesions when infected with carbendazim. However, when treated with the powdered tuberous root of ashwagandha for 48 days, the rats were completely cured4. This study showed that ashwagandha can reverse carbendazim-induced changes in the liver.
2. Ashwagandha Prevents Liver Damage Caused By Medicines
Our liver is the most vulnerable organ when it comes to the harmful side effects of medication. Gentamicin, a common antibiotic, generates free radicals, the highly reactive molecules in our body that can trigger off a chain reaction, damaging the lipid membranes of the cells and the DNA and causing cells to malfunction or even die. Free radicals can be stopped by antioxidants, which react with them and stop the chain reaction.
A study on the effect of ashwagandha in preventing free radical damage provided a basic diet to two groups of rats but supplemented the diet of one group with ashwagandha root extract for 22 days. Both groups were then given equally high doses of gentamicin for 8 days.
It turned out that the levels of the liver marker enzymes like AST and ALT – high levels of which indicate liver damage – were significantly lower in the group of rats whose diet was supplemented with ashwagandha.
The researchers then concluded that ashwagandha acts as a free radical scavenger. On the one hand, it prevents free radicals from being formed, and on the other, it reacts with and destroys the existing ones.5 Thanks to this propert, it has a liver-protecting effect.
3. Ashwagandha Restores Natural Antioxidants In The Body
Paracetamol is a common anti-inflammatory drug prescribed for flu-like symptoms, fever, and pain. But most of us take it even without consulting the doctor. The fact is, the toxicity of this drug can affect the liver and lead to diseases that could be fatal.
In one animal study, the rats that were given high doses of paracetamol showed increased levels of bilirubin and other liver enzymes, which indicated liver cell damage and a high risk of liver malfunction. They were cured with ashwagandha.6 The study suggests that ashwagandha reverses the ill effects of the drug and restores the natural antioxidant levels in the patient.
4. Ashwagandha Averts Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
It’s common knowledge that liver diseases are mostly caused by excessive alcohol consumption. But about 10–24% of the general population around the world are affected by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) or hepatic steatosis, in which triglycerides accumulate in the liver cells, inducing liver damage in the form of advanced fibrosis and cirrhosis, even if the patient has never consumed any alcohol.
People with excessive abdominal fat, high cholesterol, high triglyceride levels, PCOS, and diabetes get affected easily. NAFLD is also related to insulin resistance, which increases the accumulation of triglycerides in the liver.7
Ashwagandha has proven benefits in lowering the bad LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin and can treat diabetes. It can also be used to treat PCOS as it lowers cortisol and balances the female reproductive hormones. All of these make it a good preventative against fatty liver diseases.
5. Ashwagandha Balances Thyroid Hormones That Help The Liver
Thyroid hormones are essential for healthy organ growth, development, and function; and the liver is essential for the conversion of thyroxine (T4) into triiodothyronine (T3), maintaining the T4–T3 balance in the body. People with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune thyroid disorder, have abnormal liver function, which in turn reduces thyroid activity.8 9
Ashwagandha effectively stabilizes the thyroid levels, as proved by a study in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. Ashwagandha root extract could stimulate thyroidal activity and also reduce the oxidative damage of the lipid membranes of liver tissue.10
The recommended dose is 1–2 tsps of ashwagandha powder or 300–1200 mg of ashwagandha extract twice daily with meals. It is both safe and efficient for short- and long-term use. Traditionally, ashwagandha powder is boiled in water to make a mild decoction or mixed with milk, buttermilk, clarified butter, or honey. You could also take 1–2 capsules of ashwagandha every day. See more about dosage here.
Precautions On Using Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha has some side effects. The powder can be slightly hard to digest and can cause some abdominal heaviness and flatulence. Occasionally, slight nausea or stomach upset is associated with first-time users, whether used in the powder or liquid form. Since there is no conclusive evidence on how safe the herb is on fetus and infants, breastfeeding and pregnant women are advised to avoid taking ashwagandha.
|↑1||How The Liver Works. Canadian Liver Foundation|
|↑2||Liver. U.S. National Library of Medicine|
|↑3||The Progression of Liver Disease. American Liver Foundation|
|↑4||Akbarsha MA et. al. Curative property of Withania somnifera root in the context of carbendazim- induced histopathological changes in the liver and kidney of rat. Phytomedicine. 2000 Dec; 7(6):499-507|
|↑5||Sultana, Nayma, Sadia Choudhury Shimmy, M. Tanveer Hossain Parash, and Jesmine Akhtar.”Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract on Some Serum Liver Marker Enzymes (AST, ALT) In Gentamicin Intoxicated Rats.” Journal of Bangladesh Society of Physiologist 7, no. 1 (2012): 1-7.|
|↑6||Sabina, Evan Prince, Mahaboobkhan Rasool, Mahima Vedi, Dhanalakshmi Navaneethan, Meenakshi Ravichander, P. O. O. R. N. I. M. A. Parthasarthy, and Sarah Rachel Thella. “Hepatoprotective and antioxidant potential of Withania somnifera against paracetamol-induced liver damage in rats.” Int. J. Pharm. Pharm. Sci 5, no. 2 (2013): 648-651.|
|↑7||Smith, Briohny W., and Leon A. Adams. “Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.”Critical reviews in clinical laboratory sciences 48, no. 3 (2011): 97-113.|
|↑8||”The relationship between the thyroid gland and the liver.” Qjm 95, no. 9 (2002): 559-569.|
|↑9||Huang, Miau‐Ju, and Yun‐Fan Liaw. “Clinical associations between thyroid and liver diseases.” Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology 10, no. 3 (1995): 344-350.|
|↑10||Panda, Sunanda, and Anand Kar. “Changes in thyroid hormone concentrations after administration of ashwagandha root extract to adult male mice.” Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 50, no. 9 (1998): 1065-1068.|