What is Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng and winter cherry, is a well-known and highly revered Ayurvedic herb and adaptogen.
In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha means “smell of the horse” which refers to both its unique smell and ability to increase stamina and strength of a stallion (6).
Ashwagandha has a rich history throughout India and Africa being used for over 3000 years as an anti-ageing herb for malnutrition, respiratory infections, edema, infertility and digestion (6).
In Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha is considered a “Rasayana” herb. This means it helps deeply rejuvenate the body and maintain youth, both mentally and physically, and prolong life (4, 6).
In more modern times and within Western herbalism, Ashwagandha is a top tier adaptogenic herb for nourishing a depleted nervous and adrenal system. Ashwagandha is a calming adaptogen that reduces stress and anxiety, a natural anti-anxiolytic herb that helps fight fatigue and exhaustion, balances endocrine function, promotes better sleep and enhances brain power and cognitive function (6).
The unique constituents in Ashwagandha– alkaloid compounds (withanine, withasomnin), steroidal lactones (withanolides) and saponins¬– are responsible for its incredible health promoting benefits (8).
Ashwagandha is also a nutritive superfood rich in minerals such as iron, amino acids–alanine and aspartate–fructose and lactate (1-3).
This ancient adaptogenic herb is second to none when it comes to toning the adrenals, boosting energy, preventing fatigue, increasing longevity and overall health benefits. Ashwagandha supports multiple systems in the body with benefits for men and women which we will discuss further in this article.
Table of Contents
How do Adaptogens work?
Adaptogens are a special class of non-toxic herbs that work to increase resistance to non-specific stress. Regardless, if the source of stress is physical, emotional, psychological or environmental–adaptogenic herbs works to preserve cortisol within the adrenal glands, buffer the stress response and prevent chronic HPA axis activation.
The HPA axis is our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which connects the brain to the adrenals. When we perceive a stressor, whether it’s a deadline, being late for work or going through a breakup, the body releases ACTH–adrenocorticotropic hormone–from the hypothalamus (the master regulator of the brain).
ACTH then travels to the pituitary gland and releases CRH–corticotropin releasing hormone–which stimulates the adrenal glands to release stress hormones–cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. It’s this release of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline that we experience as the “stress response” that fight-or-flight state, that shortness of breath, that anxiety, that fear, that panic.
In short term doses, stress hormones are absolutely necessary for survival. But when the body is chronically stressed out, they drive all key disease states and cause disruptions to hormones, blood sugar, blood pressure, fertility, energy production, digestion, mood and immunity.
Adaptogens work their magic along the HPA axis by essentially telling the brain and adrenals “hey, it’s okay, we don’t need to sound the alarms, we’re okay.” Adaptogens blunt the activation of the HPA axis pathway which preserves cortisol and keeps the body in the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system state.
On top of being powerful anti-stress herbs, adaptogens are also potent antioxidants that work to decrease oxidative stress and prevent free radical damage that drive DNA and cellular dysfunction, lowers inflammation, boosts immunity and improves overall wellbeing.
Every adaptogenic herb, including Ashwagandha, contains unique compounds and benefits that can be utilised in a clinical, pathological setting – helping to restore balance and harmony to specific organs and body systems that are out of balance and driving the symptoms we experience.
Like tonic herbs, true adaptogens are non-toxic and can be safely consumed every day over the long term to strengthen and restore a healthy body.
The Health Benefits of Ashwagandha for Men
Ashwagandha benefits for mens health have been used for centuries to improve vitality, libido, strength and stamina.
Ashwagandha root is often included in mens health multivitamin formulations, athletic supplements and nootropics brain enhancing blends to elevate mental and physical performance.
If you’re feeling flat, tired, lethargic, unmotivated, have low libido, or are just wanting to take everything to another level, Ashwagandha benefits for men can help with that.
1. Reducing Stress and Anxiety
Being an adaptogen, Ashwagandha benefits the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) by blunting the stress response and activation of the sympathetic nervous system – our fight or flight response. Ashwagandha has been shown to work at the hypothalamic level (3).
Ashwagandha contains glycosides that elicit an anti-stress effect on the body. Studies have shown that glycosides reduce corticosterone, blood lactic acid and adrenal hypertrophy in mice when forced to swim until exhaustion – a physical stressor that would activate their own sympathetic nervous system and stress response (1, 2).
Ashwagandha is also a potent antioxidant that increase the levels of SOD (superoxide dismutase), catalase and glutathione peroxidase – three endogenous master antioxidants (within the body) that work to decrease additional oxidative stress (1).
As well as buffering the stress response and boosting endogenous antioxidants, Ashwagandha has also shown to modulate serotonin receptors and GABA activity, improving mood, balancing an overactive and wired nervous system, regulating appetite, energy levels and supporting healthy sleep (1, 3).
2. Improvements in Cardiorespiratory Endurance
In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha translates to “smell of the horse” which refers to its ability to improve stamina and power in the individual who consumes it (6, 8, 9, 12).
In respect to cardiorespiratory endurance, Ashwagandha has been shown to improve VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake), the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise–respiratory exchange ratio and delay exhaustion. Ashwagandha showed it can increase the time for maximum output and thus, improve aerobic capacity (9, 10, 12, 13).
Through its adaptative qualities, Ashwagandha delays the onset of fatigue, improves endurance and has been shown to buffer and decrease blood lactic acid levels (1, 2, 12, 13).
3. Enhanced Muscle Recovery and Growth
A handful of studies have taken place in where men that supplemented with Ashwagandha root whilst performing resistance training for a maximum of 10 days and up to 12 weeks.
In the group of men that supplemented with Ashwagandha, all studies saw improvements in muscle mass and strength, VO2 max, barbell velocity, power, recovery, stamina, and greater improvements in body compositions when compared to the placebo group, as well as improvements in their basal testosterone levels (8, 9).
One mechanism in which Ashwagandha root is able to improve and enhance recovery and muscle mass and strength is by blunting the catabolic effects of cortisol.
Cortisol is catabolic – meaning it breaks down muscle strength to liberate stored glucose for an immediate energy source. Cortisol also blunts growth hormone and testosterone levels release – two key compounds required to stimulate muscle strength, growth and assist recovery.
Being a nutritive herb, Ashwagandha itself is rich in compounds that assist recovery and muscle growth including amino acids such as alanine and glutamine, and minerals such as iron (3).
Try using products to assist in workout recovery.
4. Provides a Fertility Boost
Both traditionally and in modern herbalism, Ashwagandha has been used to improve fertility and libido in men (3, 6, 9).
Ashwagandha has been shown to improve sperm count and motility through inhibiting lipid peroxidation and the formation of free radicals that damage sperm (3).
Ashwagandha protects the sperm and its encased DNA from being damaged by oxidative stress, improving fertility and sperm function (3).
Being a powerful adaptogen, Ashwagandha benefits the adrenals, supports HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, HPG (hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal) axis and reduces stress.
Stress is a driving factor in male infertility. Chronic stress decreases spermatogenesis, sperm function, sex drive and sex hormones – testosterone levels and luteinising hormone (LH) - production (3, 10, 11). One particular study showed an increase in sperm motility and concentration in males who received 5g/day of Ashwagandha root powder for three months (3).
Ashwagandha improves fertility through modulating antioxidant enzymes and working on the HPG axis – the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis.
Ashwagandha acts on both the hypothalamus which releases GnRH hormone, stimulating Follicle Stimulating Hormone and Luteinising Hormone release – which matures sperm, as well as directly on testicular cells and balancing male endocrine function. Specifically, it’s the withanolides compounds within Ashwagandha that have been shown to offer this benefit (3).
Ashwagandha is also a classic aphrodisiac, similar to that of Ginseng, and has been used for centuries to improve sexual prowess in men and women (6).
5. Supports a Better Night’s Sleep
Ashwagandha is a calming adaptogen that effectively nourishes the nervous system which directly influences the quality of sleep. The adaptogenic qualities of Ashwagandha assists in bringing the body back to a place of calmness, relaxation and promotes more of a parasympathetic nervous system state which is required for deep, rejuvenating sleep to occur.
In Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha helps to balance Vata – the air and ether dosha, that brings individuals to a more grounded space and out of their busy minds. We know over thinking to be a key reason many of us find it difficult to fall asleep, and Ashwagandha can assist in this way.
Ashwagandha benefits have been shown to be sleep inducing, improve sleep quality and help manage insomnia (14, 15).
Additionally, stress can be a big factor in reducing the quality of sleep, whether the stressors be physical, emotional or psychological. Cortisol and melatonin – our “get good sleep” hormone are polar opposites. Normally, a healthy dose of cortisol spikes in the morning and drops throughout the day, while melatonin peaks in the evening as cortisol flatlines. This is also referred to as our circadian rhythm which regulates our sleep patterns and energy output.
When we’re stressed out, cortisol release becoming dysregulated and it can be high throughout the afternoon and night. This causes melatonin production to be blocked which results in disrupted sleep and insomnia.
Ashwagandha works on regulating cortisol output and improves the balance between cortisol and melatonin and thus, improves sleep quality.
The Health Benefits of Ashwagandha for Women
For me, Ashwagandha is one of my all-time favourite adaptogens to improve women’s health and overall wellbeing.
Being an adaptogen, Ashwagandha has the ability to buffer the chronic stress we experience, improves hormones, menstrual cycles, mood, hair, skin, and energy levels.
Ashwagandha truly is a super herb for women’s health.
1. Stress Relief
In today’s modern age, stress is all around us and is mostly inescapable. As women, stress impacts our periods, fertility, suppresses weight loss, metabolism, appetite, sleep, skin, immunity and mood.
Ashwagandha is a top adaptogen that elicits stress-reducing activity. It works on the HPA axis – the connection between our brain and adrenals. Ashwagandha decreases cortisol levels, literally enabling us to remain more chill and have a greater resilience to the “things” that will usually stress us out (1, 3, 16).
One study showed a 28% decrease in serum cortisol levels as well as an improvement in depression and general wellbeing (16).
Being a traditionally Vata balancing herb, Ashwagandha helps ground and calm an overactive mind, improving the way we’re able to handle and adapt to stress as well as prevent any anxiety symptoms caused by stress.
Ashwagandha also improves serotonin receptors and GABA activity which helps improve mood, increase energy levels and promote better sleep (1, 3).
2. Balances Hormonal Health
Stress is a key factor driving imbalances in the female sex hormones. Stress elevates cortisol exposure which disrupts blood sugar levels and drives hormonal conditions such as PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).
Additionally, oxidative stress and other external stressors drive pro-inflammatory mediators that can manifest into conditions such as amenorrhea, endometriosis and painful periods.
Epigenetics refers to the branch of science that explores the role of our lifestyle in regulating gene expression. Stress is a key epigenetic regulator and major factor. Stress is at the core of all illnesses, disease states and hormonal imbalances.
Ashwagandha works by balancing hormone levels and preventing stress from further disrupting proper hormone functioning, enabling a healthy production and balanced ratio of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels.
Additionally, Ashwagandha is a potent anti inflammatory herb that works on lowering inflammation.
Inflammation is a key sign and precursor to hormone imbalances. Pro-inflammatory markers being seen and elevated in those who experience painful menstruation and ovulation (17, 18, 20).
Ashwagandha works to harmonise menstrual cycles and reduce PMS symptoms and associated pains.
Ashwagandha is also a mood elevating herb. It has been shown to increase serotonin receptors and GABA pathways that improve mood, regulate appetite, promote sleep and calmness, and support healthy hormones (1, 3, 17).
3. Brain Power
Ashwagandha has traditionally been used to improve memory and cognition. One particular study has shown that after consuming 300mg of Ashwagandha twice daily, there was a significant improvement in memory and performance (5).
Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Ashwagandha to improve neural growth and prevent neurodegeneration and associated diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia (18, 19, 20).
The adaptogenic properties of Ashwagandha effectively boosts brain power, memory and cognitive function by buffering stress and preventing brain fatigue that drives brain fog, memory loss and a decrease in cognition.
Being an adaptogen, the dual directional activity of Ashwagandha has the potential to elevate alertness or calm an overactive, scattered mind improving concentration and thought processing.
4. Hair and Skin Health
Ashwagandha is a potent antioxidant that helps lower oxidative stress thereby improving hair and skin health.
The withaferin compounds found in Ashwagandha have shown to increase the levels of SOD, catalase and glutathione peroxidase – the body’s three endogenous master antioxidants that decrease oxidative stress (1, 17, 20).
Oxidative stress is the main driver behind skin ageing and arrested hair growth. Oxidative stress damages healthy cells, DNA and increases telomere depletion.
All of this literally ages the cell, dysregulating our skin cell function and thus appearance. Whether the stress is caused from the environment or our own bodily processes, Ashwagandha works to buffer all kinds of bodily stressors and enables healthy cellular turnover and thus, prevent skin from being damaged by UV rays, pollution and toxic ingredients.
Ashwagandha is also rich in iron, a key mineral required for healthy skin and proper immune function. The immune system acts as the first line of defense from invading pathogens, therefore a strong and healthy immunity is very important for maintaining healthy glowing skin (1, 2).
When it comes to hair growth, Ashwagandha acts again, as a buffer to stress. Chronic stress halts hair growth, depletes nutrient absorption, digestion and causes blood sugar imbalances. All these factors inhibit hair to receive the correct blood flow and nutrients required to grow healthy and maintain its strength.
Commonly Asked Questions
How Much Ashwagandha Should a Man Take?
To receive optimal benefits for men, it's recommended to consume between 500 mg – 1 grams of Ashwagandha root extract powder per day (6, 20).
Try this Ashwagandha powder product.
How long does it take for Ashwagandha to take effect?
Every individual is different depending on their level of sensitivity. Generally, Ashwagandha supplementation will begin to support your overall health and wellbeing as soon as you consume it.
The physical and tangible effects of Ashwagandha supplementation may be felt or experienced after eight days or less.
Is it safe to take Ashwagandha daily?
Ashwagandha is safe to take on a daily basis and works as a nourishing adaptogenic herb and preventative medicine to lower stress, boost energy levels and improve brain health.
Are there any side effects to frequent use?
In mice studies, the side effects of Ashwagandha in large doses induced miscarriage and abortion, therefore, it is not recommended to consume Ashwagandha during pregnancy (20).
Despite Ashwagandha’s long history of use, currently there is a lack of clinical safety and toxicity data and has no reported herb-herb or herb-drug interactions (3).
Further, Ashwagandha has mild blood-glucose lowering properties and may affect blood-sugar lowering and anti-diabetic medications (20).
The potent health benefits and long-standing history of Ashwagandha has crowned this herbal medicine the king of adaptogens.
Ashwagandha works effectively to protect and teach the body to intelligently adapt and better handle all the kinds of stressors that life throws at us every day.
Ashwagandha works to nourish a depleted nervous system, restores adrenal health, improves sexual performance and function in males, boosts energy, improves brain power and mood health, enhances cardiorespiratory function, promotes sleep, balances hormones, improves hair and skin health, reduces stress and improves overall wellbeing.
Start adding Ashwagandha into your everyday routine and feel the difference of how it can improve your health and quality of life!
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- Biological activities of Withania somnifera. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rupesh_Dudhe2/publication/265245087_Biological_activities_of_Withania_somnifera/links/551e4f430cf29dcabb03ae02.pdf
- Role of Withania somnifera(Ashwagandha) in the management of male infertility. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1472648317306259?casa_token=iSdr-GgzO4IAAAAA:z1vwupH19bOEW7gCIs2rEFiHGrZQUpFOvT2mbRdzf1xRcKacsKT0rn-DdSgEPM3AtM32fZxBOQ
- Steroidal Lactones from Withania somnifera, an Ancient Plant for Novel Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19633611/
- Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19390211.2017.1284970
- Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes
- Clinical Evaluation of the Spermatogenic Activity of the Root Extract of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Oligospermic Males: A Pilot Study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3863556/
- Effects of an Aqueous Extract of Withania somnifera on Strength Training Adaptations and Recovery: The STAR Trial. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/10/11/1807/htm
- A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study Examining the Hormonal and Vitality Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Aging, Overweight Males. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6438434/
- Lifestyle and fertility: the influence of stress and quality of life on male fertility. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6260894/
- Effects of psychological stress on male fertility. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrurol.2015.112
- Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) and Terminalia arjuna (Arjuna) on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy young adults - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996571/
- Effects of eight-week supplementation of Ashwagandha on cardiorespiratory endurance in elite Indian cyclists. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3545242/
- Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Insomnia and Anxiety: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6827862/
- Clinical evaluation of the pharmacological impact of ashwagandha root extract on sleep in healthy volunteers and insomnia patients: A double-blind, randomized, parallel-group, placebo-controlled study - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874120331585
- A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573577/
- A Decade of Molecular Understanding of Withanolide Biosynthesis and In vitroStudies in Withania somnifera(L.) Dunal: Prospects and Perspectives for Pathway Engineering - https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2015.01031/full
- Natural Withanolides in the Treatment of Chronic Diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7121644/
- Withanoside IV and its active metabolite, sominone, attenuate Abeta(25-35)-induced neurodegeneration https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16553605/
- Medicines Complete – Ashwagandha https://about.medicinescomplete.com