Ashwagandha & Depression: A Viable Natural Remedy?

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression affects 6.7% of adults (one in 15) in a given year. Depression is more than simply feeling sad, and it can affect a person’s work, relationships, family, and daily life in several ways. Trying to live with depression on your own without therapy or medicine can be challenging. However, many people worry about the potential side effects of prescription drugs and are hesitant to take antidepressant medications. Instead, they may seek out holistic options and natural remedies, such as ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha has been touted as a possible treatment for depression, but many people wonder if it works well enough to replace antidepressant medications. While ashwagandha may not be as effective as antidepressants, it does show some promise in several key areas. 

However, before taking a natural supplement for depression, it may help to do some research to determine what the scientific literature says about the efficacy of such remedies. Below, we’ll discuss ashwagandha, its use for depression and other conditions, and ways to seek help for depression symptoms. 

There are many treatment options for depression

What is ashwagandha and what can it do?

Ashwagandha, sometimes called Indian ginseng, Indian winter cherry, or poison gooseberry, is a perennial nightshade shrub with small bell-shaped flowers and orange-red fruit.

Both ashwagandha and ashwagandha extract are quite potent and could be very off-putting to people who are sensitive to smells. To give you some idea of the herb’s odor, many have often compared the smell to that of a horse. The word ashwagandha comes from two words in Sanskrit that mean “horse” and “smell,” respectively. In the past, some thought that the plant could give you the same strength and virility as a horse.

For thousands of years, people have used the ashwagandha plant’s stem and berries to make medicines to treat a variety of ailments, including anxiety, arthritis, asthma, hiccups, and much more. The medical herb is commonly used in Ayurveda, the alternative medicine system that originated in India.

In the United States, ashwagandha extract is typically sold in health stores, mostly for the plant’s anti-anxiety benefits. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which the Cleveland Clinic describes as “plants and mushrooms that help your body respond to stress, anxiety, fatigue and overall well-being.” 

The following are some possible benefits of taking ashwagandha.

Decrease cortisol levels

Ashwagandha root extract may help reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone, and, according to the Mayo Clinic, having too much cortisol can lead to anxiety. Because it can reduce cortisol levels, ashwagandha may be a useful natural option that helps those experiencing mild anxiety.

Improve insomnia

Research shows that Ashwagandha may also serve as a sleep aid. The plant’s species name—somnifera—means “sleep-inducing” in Latin. One double-blinded, randomized study published in 2019 concluded that ashwagandha root extract improved insomnia when administered at a dose of 300 mg twice daily. Before taking ashwagandha for insomnia, it’s recommended that you speak with a healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with any other medications you’re taking.  

Increase fertility

One study suggests that ashwagandha may help improve semen quality in men experiencing infertility. The study treated 180 men with somnifera root power for three months and measured “sperm concentration, motility, lipid peroxide, and hormonal perturbation.” The authors concluded, “The results suggest that Withania somnifera may be used as an empirical therapy for clinical management and treatment of infertility.”

Ashwagandha for depression

According to research published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, ashwagandha can help relieve depression as a result of the withanolides and alkaloides it contains.

A review published in Current Neuropharmacology found that it could help relieve symptoms of depression, possibly through serotonergic and GABAnergic pathways and modulation of the “hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and sympathetic-adrenal medullary axes.” 

Another study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, suggests that ashwaganda may reduce stress and anxiety, which can sometimes coexist with depression. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, “Anxiety and depressive disorders are among the most common psychiatric illnesses; they are highly comorbid with each other, and together they are considered to belong to the broader category of internalizing disorders.”

While ashwagandha can reduce depression, it might be best to speak with a healthcare before taking it, especially if you take other medications. Sometimes the strength or quality of natural remedies like ashwagandha extracts may vary across products, so it may be wise to exercise caution when trying these products. 

Other natural treatments for depression

While the medical community conducts additional research into how ashwagandha affects depression, there are effective treatment options readily available that don’t require medication. Consider trying these approaches to relieve depression:

  • Exercise regularly. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise leads to the release of endorphins, which are one of the body’s “feel-good” chemicals. Taking walks, practicing yoga, or engaging in other forms of movements or workouts may also raise the dopamine level in the brain, which can subsequently lift your mood. If you’re just beginning, you may want to avoid strenuous exercises like running, which could wear you out quickly.
  • Do something you love to do. Depression can make you lose interest in previously pleasurable activities. To combat this symptom, it may help to make plans with someone to engage in one of your favorite activities. This may help when you’re experiencing low motivation. You might set a time to go out for dinner, go hiking together, see a movie, etc. With time, you may begin to enjoy your favorite activities again.
  • Follow a routine. Depression symptoms may cause you to deviate from your well-structured daily plans. Setting a daily routine of the things you would like to accomplish each day may help you manage depression symptoms more effectively.
  • Talk to someone. Reaching out for help is sometimes mistakenly seen as a weakness, but it takes strength to seek support. Talking to someone may go a long way in alleviating symptoms of depression.

Help is available if you’re feeling depressed

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression and ashwagandha or other remedies don’t help, you may benefit from speaking to a licensed therapist. Seeking the support of a therapist may be an effective way to ease the symptoms of depression and develop a plan of action toward long-term wellness. They may also refer you to a psychiatrist or other physician who can prescribe medication for depression if needed.

If your symptoms of depression make it difficult to leave home to see a therapist, you might consider online therapy, which has been proven to be effective by numerous peer-reviewed studies. One study published in the journal JMIR Mental Health found that online therapy was effective for both anxiety and depression. The researchers concluded that the “results suggest that digital interventions can support sustained and clinically meaningful improvements in depression and anxiety.”

With online therapy at BetterHelp, you can discuss your symptoms with a licensed therapist via audio, videoconferencing, or live chat if you feel more comfortable. You can also contact your therapist in between sessions through in-app messaging, and they’ll respond as soon as they can.

Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar concerns.

“I love the experience I am having with Kimmil and I’m only a month in. She listens and provides ways to cope with my anxiety without jumping to “here’s the medication you need to take,” which is the one thing that keeps me here to find solutions outside of medications.”

“Laurie is helping me to take control of structures and routines in my life to help me overcome anxiety, ptsd, and manage my major depression. I have never been so pleased with a counselor as I am with her. Her first step with me was to ask about my sleep- which I have been waiting for a doctor to ask me about for years (instead of ‘here try this pill,’ her strategy is ‘let’s begin at square 1’). Laurie is logical, rational, smart, warm and understanding. I love working with her and feel her support in my corner because she always chats me back in a timely manner. I am truly so grateful for her guidance and care.”

There are many treatment options for depression


If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, you may benefit from a natural remedy like ashwagandha. However, you might consider speaking with a healthcare provider before taking any new medications, especially if you already take medication for depression or any other condition. You may also benefit from speaking with a licensed therapist about your depression symptoms. 

With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has knowledge of ashwagandha and other remedies for depression, and you can usually start therapy within 72 hours. Together, you can develop a treatment plan that makes sense for your situation and feels right for you. Take the first step toward relief from depression and contact BetterHelp today.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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