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The popularity of Ayurvedic medicine has been increasing by the day. The origin of this traditional medical practice goes hundreds of years back and involves the use of many natural herbs and plants for healing benefits. One of the most notable herbs that conventional Ayurvedic healers have been using for multiple health benefits is ashwagandha, particularly for stress reduction, energy boost, and improvement in fertility levels.
Today, ashwagandha has become a mainstream product, available in plant extracts and supplemental forms throughout the country. As more people use this herb, they are coming up with newer ways to consume it, such as by mixing it with alcohol. Some users claim that mixing ashwagandha and alcohol makes them less inhibited, more relaxed, and very sociable, a state that everyone desires. However, these people may not know that these apparent benefits come at a cost that can sometimes lead to life-threatening side effects. Understanding this ashwagandha and alcohol side effects and possible interactions is important for anyone who wishes to consume them together.
An Overview of Ashwagandha
Scientifically known as Withania somnifera, Ashwagandha is a herbaceous shrub and one of the key ingredients on which Ayurvedic medicine is based. The shrub offers support during highly stressful times while increasing vitality and giving users inner peace. Also called Indian ginseng, ashwagandha possesses strong adaptogenic properties that closely resemble the effects of Chinese ginseng.
The roots of Ashwagandha contain various alkaloids, such as anhydride, anaphoric, withaferin A, cuscohygrine, and whitasomniferanolide. They are also rich in withanolides, the active ingredient of ashwagandha. The unique mixture of these alkaloids and other active ingredients helps the body become more resilient, particularly during stressful durations. Additionally, they also make a user experience the following benefits:
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Control the symptoms of certain mental health issues
- Improve athletic performance
- Boost testosterone to increase fertility in men
- Reduce inflammation
- Control blood sugar levels
- Improve brain function and regulate sleep cycles
Does Alcohol Affect Ashwagandha? Can You Mix Both?
Experts generally advise against mixing ashwagandha and alcohol. To understand why one should not use this combination, it is imperative to understand how both substances work in the brain and what their mixture can result in.
How Alcohol Works
Alcohol is a substance that works by altering different natural chemicals in the brain. Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is one of these chemicals whose function is to block or inhibit neural activity in the brain to produce feelings of calmness. While alcohol molecules are not exactly like GABA, both substances have a similar structure which means the brain may sometimes find it difficult to differentiate one from the other. For this reason, some people believe that alcohol works similarly to GABA to produce the same effects.
Alcohol also has other mechanisms of action simultaneously, such as blocking glutamate, an excitatory chemical in the brain. When glutamate activity reduces in the brain, alcohol dominates, eventually leading to sedation and drowsiness. This reduction in glutamate activity is also one of the reasons why many people experience a slowed-down reaction time when they are drinking alcohol. Lastly, alcohol triggers the release of dopamine in the body. As a natural chemical, dopamine is responsible for regulating the reward system in the brain. By constantly triggering the reward system, long-term alcohol consumption causes dependence and addiction to set in.
Compounding the Effects of Ashwagandha and Alcohol
Many experts consider ashwagandha an adaptogen, meaning it cannot cause any serious side effects or risky interactions with other substances. However, the latest studies have found it to interact with certain medications, advising people to talk to a doctor before using it with medications. The herb is also considered to have similar effects on the brain as any alcoholic beverage. Some researchers believe that ashwagandha boosts the GABA levels in the brain; hence, an alcohol-ashwagandha cocktail is likely to seriously inhibit overall brain activity. As a result of increased neural inhibitions, people using both substances together can experience extreme confusion, drowsiness, and other undesirable effects on health.
Unfortunately, experts do not have enough studies looking at the potential ashwagandha and alcohol interactions. Hence, it can be difficult to say whether the combination is most definitely bad or not. In some cases, the nature and severity of the consequences may vary depending on the individual. For instance, some individuals can mix ashwagandha with alcohol and feel relaxed and calm, whereas others may become too calm to the point that they start feeling drowsy.
As with every other supplement, it is best to consult a doctor before mixing ashwagandha with alcohol. So far, research states that mixing the two should not be dangerous. However, it is never a bad idea to exercise extra caution when it comes to determining what to put inside the body.
Possible Physical Ashwagandha and Alcohol Interactions
So far, experts have no evidence that proves alcohol and ashwagandha negatively interact with each other. When mixing this combination or any other substances with alcohol, the main concern is always liver damage. The liver is one of the most important organs in the body and is responsible for breaking down and kicking out all toxic compounds that enter the bloodstream. When a person drinks alcohol, the liver comes under great stress to break it down and eliminate it before it starts piling up in the bloodstream. Taking any other substance that requires breakdown when the liver is already busy breaking down alcohol can put undue stress on the organ. This damages the liver cells due to overworking and burnout and reduces its efficiency, causing toxic substances to accumulate in the bloodstream.
The condition described above is often known as hepatotoxicity, and many routine medications, such as aspirin, can also trigger it when taken with alcohol. Hence, experts warrant extreme caution while mixing anything, be it medications or herbal supplements, with alcohol and consult a doctor before doing so. Fortunately, there are very limited cases involving hepatotoxicity secondary to ashwagandha use, and most of them had missing information about ashwagandha use. For this reason, hepatotoxicity and liver damage are not a primary concern due to mixing alcohol with ashwagandha.
Another potential physical interaction that can possibly take place by mixing both substances is the toxic effect on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Alcohol possesses the ability to raise blood pressure and can easily damage the heart and associated vessels when combined with most substances, such as benzodiazepines and cocaine. However, because the physical effects of ashwagandha are very subtle, the combination may not carry any concerning risks.
Despite no apparent physical interactions taking place between alcohol and ashwagandha, it is still an idea to consult with a healthcare practitioner regarding their combination and their safety.
Can Ashwagandha Control the Negative Effects of Alcohol?
While experts do not recommend mixing ashwagandha and alcohol due to unforeseen risks, many use this herb to offset the latter’s negative effects. Following a night of heavy drinking, waking up with a headache, intense thirst, exhaustion, and poor focus is common. These effects are secondary to alcohol toxicity and can take a toll on the body, depending on individual factors like metabolism and liver health.
Some people are of the viewpoint that using ashwagandha when someone is planning to drink can shorten the duration of these side effects and speed up the recovery time in the following three ways:
Improving Mental Clarity
Over time, the brain starts accumulating junk protein in various nervous system areas, including between brain cells. When these protein levels become too high, they can disrupt neural transmissions, making it difficult for a person to focus, remember, and think. While the body can slowly clear these toxic proteins out of the system, the simultaneous use of more toxins, such as alcohol, can interfere with this clearing process.
Due to its high antioxidant content, many consider ashwagandha as a possible remedy to support brain function. Remember that experts still need more studies to determine the potential effects of ashwagandha on overall brain health.
Supporting Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
Depending on how much a person drinks, alcohol can cause rises in blood sugar levels. This is particularly true for people who mix their drinks with extra sweet mixers. Such people may wake up the next day feeling extremely dehydrated, ravenous, and dizzy. Many of these people like taking ashwagandha during this time as they believe it supports a healthy metabolism, making it easier for the body to use sugar and balance its levels in the blood. These benefits are attributed to the presence of a compound in ashwagandha called withaferin A. However, more research is needed to confirm this link.
Assisting With Alcohol Detox
Not everyone drinking alcohol has a dependence on it. However, the phenomenon of alcohol tolerance and dependence is much more common than most people believe. Even a small harmless drink every day can indicate an underlying dependence in many people. The number of people dependent on alcohol in today’s modern world is extremely high owing to the high-stress levels associated with the current lifestyles. However, because alcohol use has many side effects, many people wish to stop drinking entirely. Quitting alcohol after developing dependence can be very hard, leading to painful withdrawal symptoms while adding to the current stress levels. However, some people have reported feeling much more comfortable and at ease while quitting alcohol due to the simultaneous use of ashwagandha.
Using Ashwagandha and Alcohol Safely
Ashwagandha is commonly available across the country, both in stores and online. These supplements are available in different forms, such as tinctures, powders, and capsules. People who are interested in taking these capsules while drinking can consider adding them to their post-drinking routine. They can pop a pill following the last alcoholic drink or mix the powder in a smoothie or juice and have it after an alcoholic session.
Some experts also recommend adding ashwagandha into the pre-drinking routine as some studies have shown that doing so can reduce the severity of side effects of the upcoming alcohol session. Remember that while ashwagandha may reduce some of the alcohol’s side effects, it may not be a substitute for responsible drinking.
Can Ashwagandha help with hangovers?
A hangover is one of the most common and unpleasant side effects of drinking alcohol and may cause symptoms such as nausea, headaches, fatigue, and dehydration. Taking this herb after a drinking session has been reportedly seen to alleviate the symptoms of a hangover by providing the body with antioxidants while reducing alcohol-triggered inflammation. Moreover, ashwagandha also regulates cortisol levels to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.
How long after taking ashwagandha can you drink alcohol?
The answer to this question depends. Most people consider ashwagandha as a natural medicine with plenty of benefits, such as stress and anxiety reduction. However, just like any other medication, people must discuss it with a doctor before combining the herb. In general, it is safe to take any herbal supplement, including ashwagandha, one week after the last alcoholic drink. Alternatively, some experts believe that it is safe to take alcohol after consuming ashwagandha if you believe that it improves the underlying symptoms. However, stop using the substances together if the combination is causing diarrhea or other side effects.
Can you overdose on Ashwagandha?
While it is uncommon, overdosing on ashwagandha is possible, especially in people combining it with other substances with similar effects on the body, such as alcohol. Large doses of this supplement can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach upset. Rarely, liver problems may occur, which may become irreversible.