Ashwagandha: An Herb for Women's and Men's Health
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, is an herb which grows primarily in India. It is sometimes referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its rejuvenating properties. It also has calming effects, especially in regard to stress. In fact, the latin word somnifera means "sleep inducing." Ashwagandha is considered to be one of the adaptogenic herbs. The term "adaptogenic" means that the plant extract is thought to increase the body's ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning. In essence, it helps the body function as it should, especially when faced with stressors that might throw the body off balance. Typically the root of the Ashwagandha plant is used to make supplements for adaptogenic and therapeutic purposes.
Effects on Sexual Health
The Kama Sutra, one of the oldest texts on human sexuality, mentions ashwagandha in its literature as a potent sexual stimulant. In fact, it's still considered an aphrodisiac today. But beyond the bedroom, there are several mechanisms by which the plant extract can help both men and women.
It's clear that both sexes can benefit from ashwagandha supplementation. This powerful herb's adaptogenic properties ensure that stress is reduced, cortisol is decreased, and reproductive organs and hormones function optimally. Most importantly, because of its calming effects, it may allow both genders to relax and enjoy life more fully.
How it helps women
Diminishes "Female Sexual Distress"
Improves thyroid functioning
A 2015 study published in BioMed Research International found that women taking ashwagandha twice a day for eight weeks had an increase in sexual satisfaction versus a placebo group who experienced no improvement. The study noted that the herb helped to ameliorate diminished sexual desire in women.
One of the mechanisms by which ashwagandha may benefit women is in its anti-stress effect. The herb helps to reduce cortisol levels. When someone experiences chronic stress, cortisol levels tend to remain elevated. Increases in cortisol often lead to sexual arousal difficulties. Women who experience adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue also tend to be less sexually aroused. Reducing cortisol often helps with these conditions as well.
Another study followed 64 men and women with a history of chronic stress. They were given a 300 mg ashwagandha extract dosage twice per day or a placebo for 60 days. The cortisol levels of the treated group had a 27.9% reduction from baseline while placebo had a 7.9% reduction.
Ashwagandha can also help androgen deficiency syndrome which contributes to a lack of sexual desire in some women. Testosterone levels in women tend to decrease with age, and reduced testosterone level may be associated with Female Sexual Distress (FSD). A general boost in testosterone from ashwagandha supplementation may ensure that women do not experience FSD.
In addition, ashwagandha supports thyroid function, an organ responsible for regulating hormones. It also stimulates blood flow to a woman’s reproductive organs, increasing sensitivity.
How it helps men
Increases sperm count and motility
Improves blood flow
Reduces erectile dysfunction
Just as women benefit from increased testosterone, so do men. After the age of 30, it's estimated that a man's testosterone levels drop by 2% each year. Testosterone is responsible for sex drive, so it follows that low testosterone can lead to low libido. In a 2013 study, supplementation with ashwagandha was found to increase serum testosterone levels by 17% after just 90 days of treatment.
In the same study, those who were given ashwagandha versus the placebo had a 167% increase in sperm count. Sperm motility also improved. Thus, ashwagahnda may help with infertility in men.
Earlier we mentioned that decreasing cortisol levels can promote relaxation. Ashwagandha also helps to relax vasculature and can contribute to decreased blood pressure. The herb assists vasodilation which can also increase blood flow to the genitals. This may improve issues with erectile dysfunction and overall sexual arousal.
Lastly, a study that followed male athletes found that those who supplemented with 500 mg of ashwagahnda twice daily for eight weeks doubled their endurance versus the placebo group that had no notable changes. Researchers concluded that ashwagandha’s anti-inflammatory properties, combined with its anti-stressors, made the herb successful in enhancing sports performance and overall endurance. This can translate to better sexual performance as well.
Benefits for Overall Health
Ashwagandha has health benefits that reach far beyond the bedroom. Some of these include:
Correction of adrenal fatigue
Improved memory: Ashwagandha is neuro-protective. It's rich antioxidant qualities help increase memory and decrease brain fog. The herb’s stress-fighting effects also improve long-term recall. Cortisol has been shown to damage and kill cells in the hippocampus, the brain area responsible for episodic memory. Chronic stress causes premature brain aging.
Increased energy: Studies have shown that ashwagandha improves energy levels and mitochondrial health. And as seen above, the herb can increase endurance, giving lasting vitality to workouts.
Better moods: In a study of rats, ashwagandha was compared to a benzodiazepine and a tricyclic anti-depressant. It was found that ashwagandha exhibited an antidepressant effect and was a mood stabilizer in clinical conditions of anxiety and depression.
Weight loss: Too much cortisol in the body has been linked to weight gain and over-eating. Since ashwagandha decreases cortisol, this may assist with weight loss. The herb also assists thyroid functioning which helps overall metabolic rate. It also can help achieve restful sleep, and it's known that when people suffer from a lack of sleep, hunger hormones ramp up and cravings occur.
Cholesterol regulation: Rat studies have shown that supplementation with ashwagandha may decrease cholesterol by as much as 53%. One study on humans found that the group taking the highest dosage of ashwagandha experienced a 17% decrease in LDL cholesterol and an 11% decrease in triglycerides.
Muscle strength: A study published in BioMed Central followed two groups of men who began a strength training regimen for eight weeks. One group supplemented with ashwagandha while the other took a placebo. Researchers found that the men who were given ashwagandha demonstrated significant increases in muscle mass and strength as opposed to the placebo group. They also exhibited a greater decrease in body fat percentage.
Cancer prevention: According to one study, ashwagandha exhibits cancer-killing properties and reduces the side effects of chemotherapy without interfering in chemo’s effectiveness.
Pain reduction: Ashwagandha is a natural anti-inflammatory. In studies, it's been shown to significantly reduce joint pain. It is particularly helpful in easing the pain and swelling of arthritis.
Corrects adrenal fatigue: The adrenals are endocrine glands that are responsible for releasing hormones, specifically cortisol and adrenaline, in response to stress. Ashwagandha can help temper that stress response and support the adrenal glands so adrenal fatigue doesn't occur. Some symptoms of adrenal fatigue are depression and/or anxiety, lethargy, low blood sugar, food sensitivities or allergies, constipation and/or diarrhea, morning fatigue, and afternoon slump or lack of energy, "wired and tired" at the day's end, decreased ability to handle stress, decreased sex drive, and muscular weakness.
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