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Fact checked by Andrew Lenau ISSA CPT & Sports NutritionistFACT CHECKED
May 03, 2023
People have been taking herbs to boost their health for thousands of years. Over the past 20 years, there has been a lot of research to determine how effective many of those herbs really are. A key area of study has been focused on herbs that claim to encourage the body to increase its testosterone production. Of all the natural products that have come under the scientific spotlight, one that has gained a lot of attention is ashwagandha.
In this article, we go deep into the research to investigate the connection between testosterone and ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, is an herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It is commonly known as the Indian winter cherry or Indian ginseng. The herb is a small shrub that has yellow blooms and red berries. It has been used traditionally to treat such conditions as stress, depression, inflammation, and lack of energy. It is also considered to have antioxidant, hormonal, and vitality effects.
Ashwagandha is classed as an adaptogen. These are substances that help the body deal with physical and mental stress. They do this by adapting the body's response to stress, returning it to a balanced state.
The active compound in ashwagandha is believed to be withanolides. These steroidal lactones have been shown to produce several positive physiological effects on the body.
As an herbal substance, ashwagandha supplements and other supplements containing it are classified as foods rather than medicines by the FDA. As a result, ashwagandha supplements are not subject to the same rigid approval process as medicinal drugs.
The Hindi name for this plant is asgandh, alluding to the smell of horse sweat. It is also said that this herb endows users with a stallion's power and endurance. This plant, which is known as a rasayana in Ayurvedic medicine, has been traditionally used to promote longevity, mental stimulation, increased energy, and sexual prowess, as well as for its healing properties.
The dried root is frequently used in India to treat a variety of ailments, such as fevers, edema (fluid buildup), asthma, sterility, gastric ulcers, rheumatism, paralysis, and infant malnutrition. It is used for a variety of ailments in various regions of India. The Rajputs use the root for lumbago, arthritis, and dyspepsia (digestive problem), while the Punjabis use it for low back pain and as an aphrodisiac. The fresh root has been applied as a poultice for boils, glandular swellings, and decubitus ulcers (bedsores). The leaves are applied locally to cure boils or ulcers, and they are also taken internally to treat alcoholism and as an anthelmintic (destroying intestinal worms).
For centuries there has been anecdotal evidence that taking ashwagandha can boost men's strength, virility, and ability to build muscle. Although there have not been any large-scale clinical trials investigating the connection between ashwagandha and testosterone, there have been a number of smaller studies that show this herb boosts testosterone. These studies support the belief that taking ashwagandha promotes higher levels of testosterone in the body.
The interesting thing about the research that has been done to date on ashwagandha is that it shows that there are several mechanisms by which it may increase testosterone production in the body. This differs from most other herbal adaptogens, which only have one mechanism.
There are, in fact, three key mechanisms by which ashwagandha appears to support increased testosterone:
Reducing chronic stress
Increasing thyroid hormones
Stimulating the release of gonadotropic releasing hormone (GnRH)
The first study to focus on ashwagandha and testosterone was published in 2010. The purpose of the study was to find out how ashwagandha affected the quality of the sperm and the levels of reproductive hormones in infertile men. 150 men with infertility diagnoses between the ages of 25 and 40 participated in the study. Two groups were created, one of which received ashwagandha supplements and the other of which received placebos. The study lasted for 90 days.
At the conclusion of the study, the researchers discovered that semen quality had significantly improved in the group receiving ashwagandha supplementation, including an increase in sperm count, motility, and shape. The group that received ashwagandha also had a significant reduction in oxidative stress in their seminal plasma as well as an uptick in levels of testosterone and luteinizing hormone (LH).¹
A 2015 study focused on ashwagandha's effect on muscle and strength. For eight weeks, the subjects (57 young, healthy men) were randomized to receive either ashwagandha supplementation or a placebo.
Both groups underwent an 8-week resistance training program. The ashwagandha group was given 33 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily, while the control group was given a placebo.
At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found that the ashwagandha supplementation group had significantly more muscle strength than the control group. Reduced levels of muscle injury indicators like creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase in the ashwagandha group also showed a significant increase in muscle healing. The ashwagandha group also had far higher levels of testosterone at the end of the study. 96.2 ng/dL compared to 18.0 ng/dL for the placebo group.²
The precise mechanism by which ashwagandha may increase testosterone levels is not entirely understood. However, the current research indicates that ashwagandha may raise testosterone levels by lowering cortisol levels. Chronic stress can eventually result in lower testosterone levels since cortisol interferes with testosterone production. Ashwagandha may help to boost the body's testosterone synthesis by lowering cortisol levels.³
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It has an inverse relationship with testosterone. That means that when testosterone levels go up, cortisol drops, and vice versa. There are a couple of reasons for this. Cortisol has been shown to inhibit the production of LH and another hormone called follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). Both of these are produced in the pituitary gland. But they stimulate the production of testosterone in the testes.
Cortisol and testosterone both share a common precursor and substrate called pregnenolone. This substrate can convert into either cortisol or testosterone. The body can only produce so much pregnanolone. So when you have a high demand for cortisol production brought on by chronic stress, your testosterone production will be negatively affected.
Cortisol has also been shown to increase the body's production of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). This is a protein that binds to testosterone, preventing it from being used by the body.
Ashwagandha's ability to increase thyroid hormones is thought to be another way that it boosts testosterone production. When the brain detects a drop in thyroid hormone production, it releases a hormone called thyrotropin-releasing hormone. This stimulates the pituitary gland to produce thyroid-stimulating hormone, which prompts the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones.
Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone while increasing thyroid hormone production. This means that it is able to bypass the normal process by which thyroid hormones increase.⁴ As a result, a negative feedback loop goes back to the brain, telling it to stop producing thyrotropin-releasing hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone. The reason that matters is because both of these hormones both have a negative impact on the HPG axis. Their release causes an increase in prolactin levels as well as suppression of luteinizing hormone.⁵ Luteinizing hormone is a precursor to testosterone production in the testes. So, by taking ashwagandha, you can negate the testosterone-suppressing effects of natural thyroid production.
Ashwagandha is also thought to possess antioxidant qualities that could decrease oxidative stress in the body.⁶ Reducing oxidative stress helps to maintain normal testosterone levels because it harms the body's cells, including those that produce testosterone.
The luteinizing hormone (LH)-raising effects of ashwagandha have also been linked to an increase in testosterone production. The pituitary gland in the brain secretes LH, a hormone that is essential for controlling the testicular production of testosterone.
According to studies, ashwagandha can promote the synthesis of LH, which aids in raising male testosterone levels. For instance, one study discovered that males who took ashwagandha for 90 days had much higher LH levels than those who took a placebo.⁷
The testes get the signal to make more testosterone when LH levels rise. By increasing LH levels, ashwagandha may support normal testosterone levels and perhaps offer advantages, including increased muscular growth, better bone density, and increased libido.
Gonadotropic-releasing hormone (GnRH) is released by the hypothalamus in the brain to instruct the pituitary gland to release luteinizing hormone. This is triggered by low levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone derived from testosterone, as well as low levels of estrogen. However, there are other mechanisms by which GnRH is released, including by way of certain neurotransmitters which trigger its release.
That's where ashwagandha comes into the picture. It has been shown to be able to improve the signaling of 3 of the most important neurotransmitters that stimulate the release of GnRH.⁸ In this way, ashwagandha enhances the release of luteinizing hormone, which, in turn, results in greater production of testosterone by the Leydig cells in the testes.
Ashwagandha has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for physical and mental health conditions, including stress and anxiety, low energy, weak immunity, and brain fog. Here are eight specific areas where ashwagandha is believed to be beneficial:
Relieving stress and anxiety: Ashwagandha is believed to be able to contribute to a reduction in cortisol levels.⁹ Known as the stress hormone, cortisol heightens feelings of anxiety and negatively affects the production of anabolic hormones.
Enhancing cognitive function: There is some research indicating that ashwagandha may help people with moderate cognitive impairment by enhancing their memory, focus, and cognitive performance.¹⁰
Immune system support: Ashwagandha is thought to have immune-modulating effects and could help in the maintenance of a strong immune system.¹¹
Sleep support: Ashwagandha may help to promote relaxation and sound sleep habits.¹²
Increased inflammation: Ashwagandha is thought to have anti-inflammatory qualities. It may help to reduce bodily inflammation, which is associated with general ill health.¹³
Boosts virility: Ashwagandha is thought to have aphrodisiac effects and could improve both men's and women's sexual performance.¹⁴
Increases testosterone: Ashwagandha's claimed ability to help boost the body's natural production of testosterone has made it a key ingredient in testosterone boosters.¹⁵
Let's now drill down on the research-backed benefits of testosterone in an attempt to separate fact from fiction on this much-vaunted herbal supplement,
Luteinizing hormone (LH) is a hormone that is essential for controlling the testicular production of testosterone. It is secreted by the pituitary gland in the brain. There is some research to indicate that ashwagandha may raise LH levels, which, in turn, increases testosterone production.
Ashwagandha's effects on regulating reproductive hormone levels of healthy males were the subject of a 2015 study. The participants' hormonal profiles were evaluated at the start and end of the 12-week trial. The ashwagandha group had significantly higher levels of LH compared to the placebo group. The ashwagandha group's testosterone levels significantly increased.¹⁶
A 2010 study examined the impact of ashwagandha on the quantity and levels of reproductive hormones in infertile males. The subjects took ashwagandha root extract for 90 days. The participants' hormonal profiles and semen quality were evaluated at the beginning and end of the study. It was shown that LH levels were significantly higher in the ashwagandha group.¹⁷
Due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and adaptogenic qualities, ashwagandha may enhance the quality of sperm by lowering levels of oxidative stress, inflammation, and stress-related male fertility issues. Ashwagandha's effects on sperm quality have been the subject of quite a bit of research, especially in infertile males.
The 2010 study mentioned above also showed that supplementing with ashwagandha significantly improved semen quality. This included a rise in sperm count, motility, and shape.
The effects of ashwagandha root extract on sperm quality in males with oligospermia, a disorder characterized by a low sperm count, were examined in a study that was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2013. The semen parameters of the participants were evaluated at the start and end of the trial, which involved giving them ashwagandha root extract for a total of 90 days. The researchers found a substantial improvement in the sperm count, semen volume, sperm motility, and sperm morphology of the ashwagandha group to those of the placebo group.¹⁸
A 2018 study examined the effects of ashwagandha root powder on the semen parameters in males with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratozoospermia (OAT), a condition marked by low sperm count, poor sperm motility, and abnormal sperm morphology. The participants were divided into two groups. The ashwagandha group was given ashwagandha root powder for 90 days, while the other group was given a placebo. The semen parameters of the participants were evaluated at the start and conclusion of the trial. The study team discovered that sperm count, sperm motility, and semen volume were all significantly higher in the ashwagandha-treated group than in the control group.¹⁹
Ashwagandha has been used for millennia as a way to reduce stress and control anxiety. A handful of recent studies have investigated this ability. In a 2012 study, participants were given either ashwagandha or a placebo for 60 days. Their stress and anxiety levels were assessed before and after the study period. The ashwagandha group had significantly lower serum cortisol levels, which was associated with lowered stress. The researchers concluded that a "high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual's resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life." ²⁰
A 2009 study that was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine specifically looked at how beneficial ashwagandha was in treating people with chronic stress. After 60 days, the stress and anxiety levels of these people were significantly lower. Significant differences between groups were also observed in mental health, concentration, fatigue, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life, with the ashwagandha group displaying improved results in each of these areas.²¹
There is some evidence to indicate that ashwagandha may help to reduce the symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression. A 2019 study that was published in Annals of Clinical Psychiatry tested the effects of ashwagandha on people with schizophrenia. Sixty-six people were given 1000 mg of ashwagandha daily for a period of twelve weeks. All participants had lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than the second group who took a placebo pill.²²
According to the same 2012 study as above, taking ashwagandha helped adults who were chronically stressed and reduced their symptoms of depression by 77%. The ashwagandha group took 600 mg per day for 60 days, while the control group took a placebo. The control group reported a decrease in depressive symptoms of just 5%.²³
The adaptogenic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties of ashwagandha are believed to be able to improve strength levels by reducing muscle damage, inflammation, and stress.
A 2015 study looked at the effect of ashwagandha root extract on muscle strength in young men who worked out. During the 8-week trial, the ashwagandha group was given 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract per day, while the control group was given a starch placebo. At the start and end of the study, the participants' strength levels were measured on the bench press and the leg extension. The average bench press increase was 46 kg in the ashwagandha group compared with 26.4 kg for the placebo group. The leg extension improvements were just as impressive, being 14.5 kg for the ashwagandha group compared with 9.8 kg for the placebo group. The ashwagandha group also experienced reduced muscle damage post-workout. Muscle mass was also significantly greater in the ashwagandha group.²⁴
Another study looked at the effects of ashwagandha extract on the muscle strength and endurance of elite athletes. Forty elite athletes were randomly selected and then divided into two groups. One group was given 1000 mg of ashwagandha root extract every day divided into 2 500 mg dosages, while the other group was given a placebo. This is one of the very few studies to look at how ashwagandha impacts the performance of very fit people. The results showed that all of the parameters of muscular and cardiovascular endurance were significantly higher in the ashwagandha group than in the placebo group. These included VO2 max, where the ashwagandha group improved by 13% compared to no change in the placebo group.²⁵
One of the most important aspects of having your body functioning at a high level is sleep. Ashwagandha may help to promote sleep by lowering stress and anxiety levels. The herb has adaptogenic properties that assist the body in coping with stress by controlling the release of stress hormones and lowering oxidative stress and inflammation. Stress and anxiety are frequent causes of sleep disruptions.
Ashwagandha root extract's benefits on healthy individuals' sleep quality were part of a 2012 study that was published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. The study involved 64 people, with half of them taking 600 mg of ashwagandha daily for 60 days. The subjects' sleep quality was evaluated during the trial. Cortisol levels were also lower in the ashwagandha group.²⁶
A 2015 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the benefits of ashwagandha root extract for insomniac patients. Over the course of the study's ten weeks, participants were given either ashwagandha root extract or a placebo. Comparing the ashwagandha group to the placebo group, the researchers discovered that the ashwagandha group had much better sleep quality. A significant decrease in anxiety and depressive symptoms was also seen in the ashwagandha group. The sleep efficiency score for the ashwagandha group increased from 75.63 at baseline to 83.48 at the end of the study. This compared to a baseline of 75.14, increasing to 79.68 for the placebo group.²⁷
Although ashwagandha is generally regarded as safe, some people may experience some side effects. Here are a few of the most common ashwagandha adverse effects:
1. Stomach issues: Abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and constipation are a few gastrointestinal problems that some people using ashwagandha may have. The herb may have a laxative effect on the digestive tract, potentially explaining these effects.
2. Headaches: Although they are very uncommon, some people who use ashwagandha occasionally report getting headaches.
3. Drowsiness: Ashwagandha may make you feel sleepy, especially if you take it in large doses or when mixed with other sedatives.
4. Reduced blood pressure: Ashwagandha may lower blood pressure, which is good for those who have hypertension but may make some people feel lightheaded or dizzy.
5. Allergic reaction: An allergic reaction to ashwagandha may cause some people to exhibit symptoms like hives, itching, and breathing difficulties.
6. Thyroid problems: Ashwagandha can increase thyroid activity, which is useful for persons with hypothyroidism but may exacerbate the symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
7. Medication interactions: Certain medicines, including sedatives, thyroid hormones, and drugs for high blood pressure or diabetes, may interact with ashwagandha.
The intensity and frequency of side effects might change from person to person and can also depend on the dosage and length of usage.
Reddit users report a number of side effects, some of them quite serious. Here's the experience of Reddit user u/YouWon'tNeedThat:
"I started taking Ashwagandha about 2-3 months ago daily to help with my anxiety. Things went well for about a month until I started seeing some unwanted changes. I've been having more frequent urination, saw a flare in my psoriasis that I hadn't had major issues with in years, my hair is thinning and I've had thick hair since the beginning of time, feel like my estrogen levels may have been effected, etc. I began taking 400 mg and for about a month or so took 650 doses and I'm thinking that might have put me over the edge."
If you experience any negative side effects, you should stop taking ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha comes in the following forms:
The purest and most conventional form of ashwagandha is available as raw ashwagandha root, which is made by drying and powdering the roots of the ashwagandha plant. It is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine for its therapeutic advantages, in addition to being utilized as a nutritional supplement.
Ashwagandha extract is a distilled form of the herb that is made by extracting the active ingredients from the plant's roots and leaves. Ashwagandha's withanolides, which are its active components, are usually found in capsule or tablet form and can include higher quantities of these compounds.
The powdered root is traditionally steeped in hot water to make ashwagandha tea. As a popular all-natural remedy for stress and anxiety, ashwagandha tea is frequently eaten.
Ashwagandha powder is combined with a carrier oil, such as sesame or coconut oil, to generate ashwagandha oil. As a result of its alleged anti-inflammatory properties, ashwagandha oil is commonly used in Ayurvedic massage.
The withanolide content of standardized, patented extracts of ashwagandha are higher than standard ashwagandha. This include popular extracts such as KSM-66® and Shoden®. It is asserted to reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and offer further health benefits. It is commonly marketed as a high-end ashwagandha variety.
The ideal dosage of ashwagandha depends on a number of things, including the type of ashwagandha, why it is being taken, the person's age, health, and any other medications they may be taking. Typically, 1-2 grams of ashwagandha root or powder each day, divided into two or three dosages, is advised. The suggested dosages for ashwagandha extract capsules or pills can vary, but they commonly range from 300 to 500 mg daily.
To prevent any possible adverse effects, it is important to start with a lower amount and gradually increase it to the advised dose over a few weeks. Some people that experience stomach discomfort may opt to take ashwagandha at night. It is best to speak with a healthcare provider if you are taking ashwagandha for a particular medical issue to establish the ideal dosage for you. In addition, women who are expecting or nursing should avoid taking ashwagandha or talk to their doctor before doing so.
And if your next question is regarding how long it will take the supplement to start working, you can get more information by heading to our article: How Long Does Ashwagandha Take To Work?
Ashwagandha shows a lot of promise in terms of its ability to boost natural testosterone production. Even though the available studies are limited in their size and scope, they show some pretty impressive results. It appears that the main ways that ashwagandha increases testosterone are by enhancing the production of luteinizing hormone, a precursor to testosterone, reducing cortisol levels, and decreasing oxidative stress.
We conclude that ashwagandha has enough research backing to make it a credible testosterone-boosting ingredient. Look for it as a key ingredient in any testosterone-boosting supplement you are considering purchasing.
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