A popular herb in Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is known by many names. The root and berry of the Ashwagandha plant are used for medicinal purposes. It is used in Ayurveda, Indian medicine, Unani medicine and also has mention in traditional African medicine. There have been many studies which show its anti-inflammatory effects and ability to relax the central nervous system in animals. It is believed to help the body cope with stress, improve thinking ability, decrease pain, and prevent the effects of aging along with many other benefits. 

Ashwagandha and Cancer

There have been many animal, human, and laboratory studies showing the benefits of Ashwagandha in the incidence, treatment, and management of side-effects in Cancer patients.

  • In some studies it was found that Ashwagandha might reduce the growth breast, colon, lung, and central nervous system cancer cells without damaging the normal cells.
  • However, it was ineffective against the drug-resistant stem-like cancer cells.
  • A bioactive component of Ashwagandha – Withaferin A (WA) when used along with Oxaliplatin could offer an effective strategy against Pancreatic Cancer.
  • In an animal study, Ashwagandha showed a reversal chemotherapy-induced neutropenia.
  • In a non-randomized comparative trial on 100 breast cancer patients, it showed the potential against cancer-related fatigue and an improvement in the overall quality of life.


Ashwagandha may interfere with some chemotherapy drugs and may also enhance the effects of sedative drugs.

Although some research suggests its usefulness in breast cancer, Neil McKinney, ND, says he avoids use in breast cancer as it can elevate DHEA. Dr. Mckinney also does not recommend using this herb in prostate cancer, as it may increase testosterone. He further notes that ashwagandha is contraindicated in hemochromatosis patients.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s About Herbs site cautions:

  • Avoid in pregnancy, as use may induce abortions
  • Other possible reversible adverse reactions and herb-drug interactions
  • May affect certain lab tests that measure thyroid functioning and digoxin levels

References & More Information

  1. Credit: Beyond Conventional Care Therapies
  2. Integrative Oncology Cancer Care
  3. Medicine Net: Ashwagandha. Viewed on October 2, 2018.
  4. Mishra LC, Singh BB, Dagenais S. Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Altern Med Rev. 2000;5(4):334-346.
  5. Kumar S, Harris RJ, Seal CJ, Okello EJ. An aqueous extract of Withania somnifera root inhibits amyloid β fibril formation in vitro. Phytother Res. 2012;26(1):113-7.
  6. Shah N, Singh R, Sarangi U, et al. Combinations of ashwagandha leaf extracts protect brain-derived cells against oxidative stress and induce differentiation. PLoS One. 2015;10:e0120554.
  7. Sumantran VN, Chandwaskar R, Joshi AK, et al. The relationship between chondroprotective and antiinflammatory effects of Withania somnifera root and glucosamine sulphate on human osteoarthritic cartilage in vitro. Phytother Res. 2008;22(10):1342-1348.
  8. Bhat J, Damle A, Vaishnav PP, et al. In vivo enhancement of natural killer cell activity through tea fortified with Ayurvedic herbs. Phytother Res. 24(1):129-35.
  9. Jayaprakasam B, Zhang Y, Seeram NP, et al. Growth inhibition of human tumor cell lines by withanolides from Withania somnifera leaves. Life Sci. 2003;74(1):125-132.
  10. Widodo N, Kaur K, Shrestha BG, et al. Selective killing of cancer cells by leaf extract of ashwagandha: identification of a tumor-inhibitory factor and the first molecular insights to its effect. Clin Cancer Res. 2007;13(7):2298-2306.
  11. Maliyakkal N, Appadath Beeran A, Balaji SA, Udupa N, Ranganath Pai S, Rangarajan A. Effects of Withania somnifera and Tinospora cordifolia extracts on the side population phenotype of human epithelial cancer cells: Toward targeting multidrug resistance in cancer. Integr Cancer Ther. 2015;14:156-171.
  12. Li X, Zhu F, Jiang J, et al. Synergistic antitumor activity of withaferin a combined with oxaliplatin triggers reactive oxygen species-mediated inactivation of the PI3k/Akt pathway in human pancreatic cancer cells. Cancer Lett. 2015;357:219-230.
  13. Gupta YK, Sharma SS, Rai K, et al. Reversal of paclitaxel induced neutropenia by Withania somnifera in mice. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. Apr 2001;45(2):253-257.
  14. Biswal BM, Sulaiman SA, Ismail HC, Zakaria H, Musa KI. Effect of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on the development of chemotherapy-induced fatigue and quality of life in breast cancer patients. Integr Cancer Ther. 2013;12(4):312-22.
  15. Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts. 2010.
  16. McKinney N. Naturopathic Oncology, 3rd Edition. Victoria, BC, Canada: Liaison Press. 2016. pp. 310 and 202.
  17. About Herbs. Ashwagandha. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. April 13, 2018. Viewed August 14, 2018.

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