Auburn pharmacy’s Calderón investigating safety of common supplement ashwagandha

Published: July 30, 2021
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When adding botanicals to a medication regimen, there is always concern regarding how the drug and the supplement will interact. To help understand the safety of some of these interactions, Auburn University’s Angela Calderón is leading a study on the potential interactions between certain drugs and the common supplement ashwagandha.

Calderón, an associate professor in the Harrison School of Pharmacy’s Department of Drug Discovery and Development, is supported by a $148,960 R03 grant from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health for the project titled “Evaluation of the potential of ashwagandha extracts to produce CYP-mediated drug interactions.”

Specifically, Calderón and her team are investigating how Withania somnifera, commonly known as ashwagandha, interacts with certain liver enzymes and how these interactions can affect medications.

“My team will evaluate the potential of ashwagandha extracts to produce botanical-drug interactions,” she said. “In vitro experiments will be performed to determine if ashwagandha extracts inhibit or induce cytochrome P450 enzymes, the enzymes responsible for the hepatic metabolism of drugs. Inhibition or induction of liver enzymes is one mechanism by which some botanicals taken with other medicines may decrease the efficacy or increase toxicity.”

Naturally grown in India, the Middle East and Africa, ashwagandha is traditionally used as a rejuvenating herb. A popular botanical dietary supplement in the United States, it is being studied for its ability to improve resilience to neurological changes experienced in aging in the BENFRA Botanical Dietary Supplements Research Center.

“Early aging research shows that taking ashwagandha root extract helps to improve well-being, sleep quality and mental alertness by minor to moderate amounts in people aged 65-80 years,” Calderón said. “Some stress research shows that taking standardized ashwagandha root extracts 240 mg or 300 mg twice daily after food appears to improve symptoms of stress.”

For many people in older populations, the use of multiple drugs or medications is common for their chronic conditions. With so many potential botanical drug interactions, a primary outcome of the study is identifying safe uses of ashwagandha-containing dietary supplements.

Collaborators on the project include Satyanarayana Pondugula from Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Amala Soumyanath, director of the NIH-funded BENFRA Botanical Dietary Supplements Research Center at Oregon Health and Science University.

Pondugula will assist on hepatocytes culture cytochrome P450 enzyme induction experiments, while Soumyanath will supply ashwagandha extracts for the study.

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