Summer has arrived in the Pacific Northwest and with the higher temperatures more people can be seen running and cycling outside.  As the daylight hours increase, we will be more active and will need more energy throughout the summer months.  According to many traditions, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, Solanaceae family) is a perfect herbal support for the 21st century male who desires more energy, stamina, and vitality for exercise and sexual function.  It has also been used in later disease states where men suffer from extreme fatigue, low libido, infertility, memory loss, insomnia, and overall exhaustion and debility from work and lifestyle.  Chronic fatigue, insomnia and male infertility alone are of epidemic proportions.  To truly understand ashwagandha, we need to understand it in the context of Ayurvedic Medicine, where it has been used as an adaptogenic herb for centuries.

Ayurvedic Medicine is an ancient medicine indigenous to India dating back to 1500 BC.  Ayurvedic treatments go to the root of the patient’s physiological and psychological being, specifically their innate constitution.  The goal of Ayurveda is to bring people into their own natural harmony, not to cure disease.  This goes to the heart of disease and once the individual is brought into balance their disease typically is removed.  The constitution is treated by treating the main Dosha type with herbs and therapies of opposite elements to its qualities.  There are three dosas.  Kapha is the elements of water and earth; Vata is the elements of air and space; and Pita is fire.  This is a simple explanation of a complex and intricate ancient system of medicine, where the individual is treated by herbs, nutrition, massage, exercises and other intricate therapies opposite of its elemental constitution.[1]

In Sanskrit, ashwangandha means that which has the smell of a horse, as it gives the vitality and sexual vigor of a horse.  The root of ashwagandha (common botanical name is Indian Ginseng or Winter Cherry) is used in Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine.  Ayurveda considers it the main tonic for men, and calls it a “Rasayana,” meaning a powerful rejuvevantive.  It is also used as a strong aphrodisiac, tonic, nervine, sedative and astringent herb.  Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe ashwagandha for men who may suffer from exhaustion, emaciation, memory loss, nerve disease, cough, anemia, general debility, sexual debility, infertility, or insomnia.  In ancient Ayurvedic Medicine it is considered a nourishing and regulating herb of the metabolic processes.  It is used in similar ways to ginseng in Chinese medicine.  Ashwagandha is a great herb to keep in your medicine cabinet and to take daily to support immune function and stamina.[2]

Ashwagandha and the Research
Recent research has shown ashwagandha is superior to ginseng as an adaptogen, and that in rats it is a cognitive enhancer showing promise as an herbal treatment for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  It is a great immune tonic herb and aids in cases of anxiety and other psychological complaints.[3]

Other research shows its efficacy in lowering total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol and improving muscle strength.  In professional athletes, ashwagandha improves hemoglobin and VO2max.  In a research group of cyclists, ashwagandha increased VO2max by 13%, decreased time of exhaustion, and improved energy efficiency and endurance of the cyclists overall.[4]  It shows much promise as a natural athletic performance aid and as an alternative to anabolic steroids for athletes of all ages.

Furthermore, clinical trials reveal that ashwagandha is a growth promoter with anti-anemic activity in children.  Men aged 50-59, given 3 grams of ashwagandha per day for one year under double-blind trial conditions, showed an increase in hemoglobin, red blood cell count, increased seated stature, less greying of hair, decreased serum cholesterol and inflammatory marker (ESR).  Also, 71% of subjects receiving ashwagandha root reported better sexual performance.  Another clinical trial was done where 1 gram per day of ashwagandha was given to trainee mountaineers over 29 days in an uncontrolled trial. The researchers evaluated the mountain climbers’ psychological and physiological status at various altitudes and concluded ashwagandha improved sleep patterns, alertness, responsiveness and state of awareness together with physical capabilities.[5]

Safety of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) can be substituted with Withania coagulans.  No true contraindications, warnings or precautions exist for ashwagandha.  However, high doses can cause gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, and vomiting.[6]  A theoretical allergy can exist in individuals whom are allergic to the Solanaceae family (Nightshade family).

Male Fertility and Ashwagandha
A CDC study analyzed data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth and found that 7.5% of all sexually experienced men younger than age 45 reported seeing a fertility doctor during their lifetime—this equals 3.3 to 4.7 million men. Of men who sought help, 18% were diagnosed with a male-related infertility problem, including sperm or semen problems (14%) and varicocele (6%).  According to renowned herbalist KP Khalsa,  ashwagandha research trials have demonstrated human sperm protection qualities, improved semen quality, and could reverse infertility.  More research needs to be done to on the male fertility benefits of this plant.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root has many benefits for men today.  It can help improve athletic performance, sexual function, fertility, energy, and also calm the nervous system for the overworked CEO or small business owner.  It has many benefits.  Please contact your local herbalist or licensed naturopathic physician before taking ashwagandha or other botanical medicines.

Resources
[1] Frawley, David & Lad, Vasant.  The Yoga of Herbs:  An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine, 2nd Revised and Enlarged Edition.  Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, WI.  2008.  P. 10.

[2] Frawley, David & Lad, Vasant.  The Yoga of Herbs:  An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine, 2nd Revised and Enlarged Edition.  Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, WI.  2008.  P.  160-161.

[3] KP Khalsa, AHG.  Bastyr University Lecture notes.  2010.

[4] Sodhi, Virender.  Athletic Performance Enhancement with Ayurvedic Supplements.  http://ayurvedicscience.com/newsletters/athletic-performance-enhancement-with-ayurvedic-supplements/ (April 1, 2015).

[5] Mills, Simon and Bone, Kerry.  Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy:  Modern Herbal Medicine.  Churchill Livingstone, NY, NY, 2001.  P. 600.

[6] Mills and Bone.  The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety.  Elsevier Churchill Livingstone:  2005.  P. 631.

Writer Dr. Sam Madeira completed his doctorate degree in Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University in 2012. His areas of specialty are botanical medicine, men’s health, endocrinology, environmental medicine, and physical medicine with a focus in pain management. He currently specializes in men’s health and bio-identical hormone replacement therapy in Seattle. Dr. Madeira enjoys helping people find their unique path to health. Form more information, visit his web site at http://apollohealthclinic.com/about-us/.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or to sell any product.