Ashwagandha is a fragrant herb that's been featured in traditional medicine for thousands of years. These days, it's still widely used in the holistic health space for easing stress.* But as more research continues to put the age-old remedy to the test, we're learning more about ashwagandha's other potential benefits—some of which are especially relevant to men. Here's what to know.
What is ashwagandha?
"Additionally, it's supportive for thyroid health, the immune system, fertility, and much more—from muscle tone to cardiorespiratory endurance to mental health and beyond,"* adds herbalist Rachelle Robinett, R.H.
Benefits of ashwagandha for men.
In terms of ashwagandha's benefits for men, here's what recent research is finding:
It helps ease stress.
"Ashwagandha has a long history of traditional use as a natural aid to improve mood, energy, and general well-being,"* clinical researcher Adrian L. Lopresti, Ph.D., tells mbg. Lopresti was curious if its age-old benefits would hold up in a rigorous research trial, so he conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study2 on the herb in 2019.
Sixty adults were asked to take either 240 milligrams of Shoden® ashwagandha root and leaf extract or a placebo once a day for 60 days, then have their stress, mood, and hormone levels measured. Those who took the ashwagandha supplement had significantly lower stress levels by the end of the trial, as shown by stress tests and levels of the hormone cortisol.*
Ashwagandha seems to interact with the brain's hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal, or HPA, axis, which helps regulate our stress response: "Ashwagandha helps to regulate various brain pathways to decrease cortisol levels overall so that we can stay calm and relaxed,"* integrative physician Cindy Tsai, M.D., previously told mbg.
"It sort of takes the edge off stressful events, helping us to cope better and giving the body resilience to respond to stress in a balanced and healthy way,"* adds Martins. While not a benefit specifically for men, this is no doubt something we could all use more of these days.
It may support thyroid health and enhance testosterone levels.
Beyond supporting healthy cortisol levels in the face of a stressor, ashwagandha also seems to affect another important hormone: testosterone. In Lopresti's research, the adaptogen was associated with slightly increased testosterone levels in male participants (but not females).*
"Finding natural ways to maintain testosterone concentrations in men as they age may be important because higher testosterone concentrations in older males are associated with better overall health," Lopresti notes, making this a valuable finding. Beyond affecting sex drive and libido, the hormone also plays a role in fat distribution, bone strength, and muscle mass.
It may promote muscle strength and recovery.
Speaking of, another potential benefit of the herb that men might be interested in lies in its impact on muscle mass, Martins explains.
In an eight-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study4, 57 young men who were new to resistance workouts consumed 300 milligrams of ashwagandha root extract or a placebo twice daily and set out on a new strength-training regimen. By the end of the two months, those who supplemented with the ashwagandha showed increased muscle size and serum testosterone levels and less of a negative exercise-induced impact on their muscles.*
"This study reports that ashwagandha supplementation is associated with significant increases in muscle mass and strength and suggests that ashwagandha supplementation may be useful in conjunction with a resistance training program,"* the study's authors conclude.
It may promote reproductive health.
Finally, Robinett notes there is some evidence to show that ashwagandha stimulates male sexual function and fertility by improving sperm health.*
One 2018 triple-blind, randomized trial found that the herb increased sperm count and improved motility (speed) and morphology (shape) of sperm; another found that 90 days of supplementing with the adaptogen increased the sperm count of men with low sperm counts by 167%.* Ashwagandha seems to improve sperm quality in part because of the way it reduces oxidative stress in the body.*
"Positive findings on fertility have also been found, but many of the studies conducted in this area are not high-quality, so more research is required to support its fertility claims," says Lopresti.
Does ashwagandha work? And who shouldn't take it?
The research on ashwagandha—particularly on its stress-relieving effects—is strong: "There are several clinical trials showing its health benefits," notes Martins, who recommends the herb to many of her clients for easing stress and promoting resilience during the menopause transition in particular.*
However, Martins and Robinett both agree that ashwagandha works gradually. "Know that it's a long-term herb, and plan to commit to it daily for at least multiple months," Robinett suggests to anyone interested in taking it.
Those who have nightshade sensitivities a specific type of elevated iron levels (i.e., caused by hemochromatosis) should not take the adaptogen, Robinett cautions. Martins adds that there are some studies showing that ashwagandha may increase thyroid function, so those with an overactive thyroid will want to proceed with caution. Due to the lack of research in key life stages, pregnant women should also avoid the herb, according to Robinett..
"It is always recommended talking to a qualified health practitioner before starting ashwagandha, for safety reasons but also to make sure you are able to experience its optimal health benefits," Martins notes. "Every person is different, so depending on your constitution, a health practitioner can guide you on the right dosage and regimen."
Forms of ashwagandha.
Extracts from the ashwagandha plant can be incorporated into a number of products, but these are the most common ones you'll find:
- Capsules: Ashwagandha is present in certain capsule supplements for relieving stress. Taking ashwagandha in capsule form tends to be the best way to ensure you are receiving a consistent, targeted dose. Reputable supplements featuring the herb will quantify the glycowithanolide content (i.e., the amount of the major bioactive phytonutrient in ashwagandha) on their Supplement Facts label.
- Tea and tincture: Ashwagandha also comes in tea form (loose leaf and bags) and can be found in tinctures, though its earthy, bitter taste is not for everyone.
- Powdered herb: You can also purchase ashwagandha as a whole herb root powder and add it to water or nut milk for a functional tonic. Though again, beware of the taste!
No matter what form of ashwagandha you are trying, make sure it is from a reputable supplier who uses robust manufacturing and testing methods. Most ashwagandha is cultivated in India, where air and soil pollution is a concern, so you'll want to make sure it's been tested for contaminants like heavy metals. Here are some other features to look for in a safe and effective product.
The strongest research we have on ashwagandha is on its potential to ease stress and support a more positive mood, though some other promising benefits exist too.* While more research needs to be done, the adaptogen shows potential for supporting reproductive and thyroid health in men, making it an ingredient to keep an eye on in the male fertility realm.*
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.