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Last updated December 12, 2019. 6 minute read

Ashwagandha and testosterone: the science behind the link

One double-blind study that noted increases in muscle size and strength in men taking ashwagandha while on a weight-lifting program also noted that the supplement seemed to boost testosterone. In fact, the testosterone levels of the men who took the root extract were over five times higher than those who didn’t.

Linnea Zielinski Written by Linnea Zielinski
Reviewed by Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Ashwagandha is a bit of a nutritional Swiss Army knife. Ashwagandha root is considered a drug of “Rasayana,” a Sanskrit word that translates to “path of essence” and a practice of Ayurvedic medicine that refers to the science of lengthening lifespan. Its health benefits extend to most parts of your body, from your brain to the aching joints in your feet. But, like the Swiss Army knife, you may be more interested in how masculine it makes you look and feel than its practicality or versatility. And while we hate to gloss over the myriad of benefits that come from taking this herb, yes, there’s a possible connection between ashwagandha and testosterone.

Vitals

  • Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic plant in the nightshade family.
  • Treatments made from its roots and berries have long been a part of traditional Ayurvedic, Indian, and African medicine.
  • Its potential benefits include improving overall well-being, lowering inflammation markers, and increasing muscle strength and size.
  • But one of its most sought after health benefits is its potential ability to boost testosterone.
  • Ashwagandha may help boost levels of T directly, but it may also do so through effects on cortisol.
  • Since the FDA does not regulate ashwagandha, it’s important to purchase a supplement from a company you can trust.

Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera, also called Indian ginseng or winter cherry, is an adaptogen, a family of medicinal plants such as herbs and roots popular in alternative medicine that help the body adapt to or deal with all kinds of stressors, from physical to mental. (Other popular adaptogens include American and Siberian ginseng, some fungi like cordyceps, and Rhodiola rosea.) Many of them have been used in the practices of Ayurveda and traditional Indian and African medicine for centuries, and ashwagandha is no exception.

Benefits of ashwagandha

This plant gets its potent medicinal power from withanolides, naturally occurring steroidal lactones that are found in the root and berries. And, as its status as an adaptogen suggests, it has the ability to affect our cortisol levels directly. High doses of ashwagandha were found to significantly reduce serum cortisol levels compared to a placebo in one study (Chandrasekhar, 2012). And another clinical trial observed significantly improved mental health, concentration, energy levels, social functioning, vitality, and overall well-being in employees with moderate to severe anxiety (Cooley, 2009).

On the other hand, are more hyped health benefits, like ashwagandha’s ability to boost muscle mass and potentially fight cancer. While animal studies on lung (Senthilnathan, 2006), breast (Khazal, 2014), ovarian (Kakar, 2014), brain (Chang, 2015), prostate (Nishikawa, 2015), and colon-specific (Muralikrishnan, 2010) variations of this disease show that Withania somnifera may have anti-cancer properties, more research needs to be done to confirm these findings. But preliminary studies in humans indicate that the herb’s reputation for increasing strength may hold true. Participants in one small study saw their body fat percentage drop and muscle strength increase after just 30 days of ashwagandha supplementation (Raut, 2012). Another double-blind study observed a greater increase in muscle size and strength in combination with resistance training in participants given the herb over those in the placebo group (Wankhede, 2015).

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Ashwagandha and testosterone

But this is really the one you’ve been waiting for, right? Ashwagandha has indeed been shown in some studies to increase testosterone. The same double-blind study that noted increases in muscle size and strength in men taking ashwagandha while on a weight-lifting program also noted that the supplement seemed to boost testosterone. In fact, the testosterone levels of the men who took the root extract were over five times higher than those who didn’t (Wankhede, 2015).

But it’s not just about the T levels in healthy men. Ashwagandha may also be able to help men struggling with infertility. The root doesn’t just boost levels of this reproductive hormone. It may also make significant improvements to semen quality by increasing sperm count and motility in infertile men. That’s what one study that included 75 fertile and 75 infertile men observed. Their testosterone production also increased, as did their levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) (Ahmad, 2010). You may be more familiar with LH’s role in women, but in men, it stimulates the production of testosterone. Yet another study involving infertile men sought to test the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on stress-related reproductive issues. Not only did the semen quality of participants improve, but their stress levels also dropped, and, by the end of the study, the partners of 14% of the men had become pregnant (Mahdi, 2011).

The potential testosterone-cortisol connection

It’s occasionally reported that there is a connection between testosterone levels and cortisol levels and that supplementation with ashwagandha may play a role in this. One older study did find that the elevation of cortisol decreased testosterone levels (Cumming, 1983). The big takeaway here, though, is that more research needs to be done before we fully understand this relationship.

Dosage and forms of ashwagandha

Although capsules and powders are by far the most common forms of ashwagandha, you may also see extracts and liquids available. They’re also very easy to purchase. You can find Withania somnifera supplements at health stores, supplement stores, and even on Amazon. But these supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so it’s important to buy from a company you trust. Daily doses of 125 mg of ashwagandha all the way up to 5 g have shown benefits in clinical trials. You should always consult a medical professional before beginning a supplement regimen and start at a lower dose to test your tolerance.

Potential side effects

Doses as large as 5 g per day were used in studies looking at the effects of ashwagandha supplementation. Though very few participants experienced side effects, one participant in a study on Withania somnifera dropped out after experiencing increased appetite and libido as well as vertigo (Raut, 2012). It’s generally well-tolerated, but certain people should still avoid the supplement. Anyone with a nightshade intolerance should avoid ashwagandha. This plant is part of the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.