ashwagandha root and ground in a mortar and pestle

This Stress-Fighting Herb May Boost Testosterone

Can you stoke your T levels with ashwagandha?
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Fast Facts

  • Ashwagandha is a plant that has been used for centuries to promote health, wellness and longevity.
  • Recent research suggests that Ashwadandha may also raise testosterone levels, however more research is needed.
  • Ashwagandha may also help increase muscle mass and improve fertility—symptoms that are commonly associated with low testosterone.

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Ashwagandha is a plant known in Ayurvedic medicine for its powerful healing properties. Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb—meaning it boosts the body’s resilience against external stressors—which has been used for centuries to help relieve stress, increase energy levels, and improve concentration (1). Now, growing evidence suggests that the herb may have another superpower: helping to increase testosterone levels in men.

The herb’s name evokes virility and strength. Ashwagandha is Sanskrit for “smell of the horse,” which refers both to the plant’s purported ability to give people who take it the stamina and power of a Triple Crown winner and its smell: fresh ashwagandha root has top notes of an equine stall.

Ashwagandha has been used for more than 2,500 years to treat disease and promote health, wellness, and longevity. But can it help raise flagging T levels? We’ve dug into the science of testosterone and ashwagandha to see if the herb can help you maintain healthy levels of the hormone, or if the claims reek of manure. We’ll also examine whether the herb can provide benefits like increasing strength and boosting fertility.

Here’s what you need to know about testosterone and ashwagandha.

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha—or Withania somnifera—is an evergreen shrub from Asia and Africa commonly used for making your brain and body more resilient to stress.

The idea that taking a supplement can make you like the Man of Steel—impermeable to stress—is appealing, and is supported by some legitimate science. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says that ashwagandha is “possibly effective” in that capacity—and may be specifically useful in buffering against stress-related weight gain. And clinical studies have shown that ashwagandha is effective at reducing cortisol (2), the stress hormone.

But can the herb boost testosterone levels?

Related: Foods That Boost Testosterone

Ashwagandha and Testosterone: The Science

Though it’s not a slam dunk, there’s reason to be hopeful that ashwagandha may indeed increase your testosterone. One meta-analysis, published in Advances in Nutrition in 2021 (3), looked at four randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled studies on a total of 197 men. Three of those studies showed that supplementing with ashwagandha root or leaf extract for at least eight weeks effectively raised testosterone levels better than a placebo, while one study showed that the herb was ineffective.

What’s interesting about this study is that the researchers reviewed a host of herbs as possible testosterone boosters (including Asian ginseng, rhodiola, and maca) and only two—ashwagandha and fenugreek seed extracts—were helpful. Researchers suspect that herbals like ashwagandha might counteract inflammation, cortisol production (the stress hormone), and oxidative stress, all factors that may drag down testosterone levels.

In another study, overweight men who took ashwagandha daily for 8 weeks saw a nearly 15% greater increase in testosterone than those who took a placebo, and an 18 percent greater increase in DHEA-S, a sex hormone involved in testosterone production.

Still, scientists say that more research is needed. They’re not yet sure how quickly ashwagandha works to trickle up testosterone, long-term effects, and who exactly would benefit the most from the herb.

If you’re suffering from hallmark symptoms of low testosterone—a diminished sex drive, erectile dysfunction, brain fog, fatigue, or loss of strength—and a blood test shows that your levels are lower than they should be, your physician will likely recommend starting testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). If you’re intrigued by the findings above and are curious whether herbal supplements could also be part of your treatment plan, discuss it with your doctor; you should never add any medication—herbal or prescription—to your treatment arsenal without his or her sign off.

Related: The Benefits of TRT 

Worried about low testosterone?

Hone can measure your testosterone levels. If they’re low, physicians can prescribe treatment to boost T and improve symptoms.

Ashwagandha and Muscle Mass

Could ashwagandha give you a leg up in the gym? Possibly (and maybe even literally). The adaptogen has also been popularized as a potential natural antidote for muscle growth and athletic prowess. Recent studies suggest the herb may indeed enhance physical performance (4).

In one study, men—ranging from ages 18 to 50—who took 300 milligrams of ashwagandha root extract twice a day and began resistance training for eight weeks saw greater improvements in muscle mass (particularly in the arms and chest) as well as strength in the bench press and leg extension compared to a placebo group, concluded a randomized controlled trial in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (5).

The group that took ashwagandha also had a greater reduction in body fat percentage and a significantly larger average increase in testosterone levels, with an average testosterone increase of 96.2 ng/dL versus 18.0 ng/dL in the placebo group.

In the study, ashwagandha supplementation was found to increase testosterone, which leads to muscle growth. The herb may also diminish cortisol, something that also stands in the way of strength gains. As an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, ashwagandha also counteracted some of the muscle damage that occurs during exercise, suggesting that it improved recovery, too. And with better recovery, you can get back out to the gym and work hard again.

Another meta-analysis found that taking ashwagandha significantly enhanced VO2 max (6)—the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense physical activity—in healthy adults and athletes.

Related: Can Vitamin D Boost Testosterone?

In one study, men who took ashwagandha daily for 8 weeks saw a nearly 15% greater increase in testosterone than those who took a placebo.

Ashwagandha and Fertility

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, among couples who are having a tough time getting pregnant, there’s a 50 percent chance the man has a fertility problem, such as having too few sperm, they don’t swim well, or being misshapen.

Fertility is a complex issue and there’s no one fix, but researchers are looking into if ashwagandha can support the health of your swimmers. In a review of four studies looking at men who supplemented with ashwagandha, taking the herb for 60 to 90 days was found to improve semen health, sperm count, and hormone levels, concluded by research in Phytomedicine.

Ashwagandha has antioxidant properties that reduce oxidative stress, which creates free radicals known to mess with semen and hormone health. And, its potential to de-stress your mind may also help, too.

Ashwagandha and Erectile Dysfunction

Given the evidence that testosterone may increase testosterone levels and fertility, it’s only natural to wonder if the herb could help with another common sexual challenge: erectile dysfunction.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of research on ED and ashwagandha. One trial in 2011 (7) compared ashwagandha and placebo powders in the treatment of ED caused by psychological factors (e.g. stress, anxiety), but the herb didn’t improve performance.

Related: Why You Can’t Get and Keep an Erection

How to Use Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is available in capsule or tablet supplements, powders that you can stir into protein shakes or coffee, gummies, and tinctures. You can buy it at health stores, at pharmacies, and online stores that sell natural supplements.

But keep in mind that supplements aren’t FDA-approved, and aren’t regulated by any governing body. In other words: there’s no guarantee that what’s inside the bottle matches the claim on the label. That’s why it’s critical to get an A-ok from your doctor before taking ashwagandha or any other supplement.

Another reason to get the doc-approved green light? Certain medications may interact with ashwagandha, including those taken for diabetes, high blood pressure, sedatives, thyroid drugs, and immunosuppressants. Safety first.

Potential Side Effects

If you have certain health conditions, you should move forward cautiously with ashwagandha use—and again, we can’t stress this enough, only with the okay with your doctor—including if you have an autoimmune condition or thyroid disease, according to the National Library of Medicine. Likewise, if you have surgery scheduled, stop taking it at least two weeks before, as it may affect your response to anesthesia. Otherwise, the herb is thought to be safe to take for three months.

The Bottom Line

Some research suggests that ashwagandha can raise testosterone levels in men and help with erectile dysfunction. However, more research is needed. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplement, including ashwagandha.

References:
1. Tandon N, Yadav SS. Safety and clinical effectiveness of Withania Somnifera (Linn.) Dunal root in human ailments. J Ethnopharmacol. 2020 Jun 12;255:112768. DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2020.112768. Epub 2020 Mar 19. PMID: 32201301.
2. Lopresti, Adrian L et al. “An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Medicine vol. 98,37 (2019): e17186. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000017186
3. Smith, Stephen J et al. “Examining the Effects of Herbs on Testosterone Concentrations in Men: A Systematic Review.” Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.) vol. 12,3 (2021): 744-765. doi:10.1093/advances/nmaa134
4. Bonilla, Diego A et al. “Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) on Physical Performance: Systematic Review and Bayesian Meta-Analysis.” Journal of functional morphology and kinesiology vol. 6,1 20. 11 Feb. 2021, doi:10.3390/jfmk6010020
5. Wankhede, Sachin et al. “Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 12 43. 25 Nov. 2015, doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9
6. Pérez-Gómez, Jorge et al. “Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) on VO2max: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Nutrients vol. 12,4 1119. 17 Apr. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12041119
7. Mamidi P, Thakar AB. Efficacy of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera Dunal. Linn.) in the management of psychogenic erectile dysfunction. Ayu. 2011 Jul;32(3):322-8. doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.93907. PMID: 22529644; PMCID: PMC3326875.

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