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Ashwagandha is a plant used in complementary medicine to treat several conditions including anxiety and erectile dysfunction (ED). Although there have been no studies that prove it’s effective for treating ED, it’s thought to be effective for a variety of other conditions. It’s used in Ayurvedic, Indian, and Unani medicine to treat a variety of symptoms.
Ashwagandha comes from the plant Withania somnifera, a herb which has a pungent horsey smell. In Ayurveda, the word Ashwagandha actually means ‘smell of horse’. The name’s also thought to refer to the reputation of the herb for restoring virility in men.
Ashwagandha is also commonly known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng. It’s not to be confused with another similar plant also sometimes known as winter cherry, called Withania coagulans or Rishyagandha.
Ashwagandha is what’s called an adaptogen, a natural substance that is thought to increase the body's ability to resist the effects of stress and promote balance and normal function. It’s taken by some people as a supplement to prevent anxiety and insomnia.
Ashwagandha can also be used to treat several other symptoms and health conditions, including:
The herb is sometimes taken by men who are experiencing fertility problems, and women sometimes try it to increase their libido (sexual desire.)
The main benefits of taking Ashwagandha seem to be helping people to cope with stress and anxiety. The supplement has been shown to significantly reduce concentrations of cortisol, a hormone produced by the body in response to stress, and also to reduce the damaging effects of stress on the immune system.
For men, there have been studies that show using Ashwagandha can help male fertility by making sperm more mobile and increasing sperm count. Most of the improvements have been seen in men who already think of themselves as being stressed. Although the herb does seem to have a positive effect on semen quality, there are more studies needed to confirm this.
Although it’s sometimes recommended as a supplement to take if you’re experiencing ED, the evidence of its effectiveness is hard to find. In one study, men with ED thought to be caused by a psychological rather than a physical condition were given a 2,000mg supplement of Ashwagandha three times a day. It had no more effect on their ED than a placebo pill with no active ingredients.
In the UK, you can get Ashwagandha in a capsule form from health food stores and some pharmacies. You may also be able to get Ashwaganda in a powder form that can be mixed with water, or as an extract. It’s sometimes included in general supplements as part of a specific formula.
There haven’t been enough studies into the effects of Ashwagandha to know about all of the potential side effects. Pregnant women are not advised to take Ashwagandha as there’s a chance that it might cause miscarriage. If you’re already taking sedatives, it’s also not recommended due to potential interactions with your prescribed medication.
There have been reports from the Multiple Sclerosis Society that Ashwagandha could activate the immune system, and that it’s possible this could be a risk for people with multiple sclerosis.
There is some evidence to suggest that Ashwagandha might be helpful for people who suffer from the symptoms of chronic stress, and at a low dose for people with anxiety. It might also benefit you if you suffer from social anxiety. A study found that in people who were stressed but otherwise healthy, cortisol levels dropped by up to 27.9 per cent after taking 300mg Ashwagandha root, twice a day for 60 days.
Another study looked at the impact of Ashwagandha on 'psychogenic erectile dysfunction' (lack of erections caused by anxiety or a fear of failure). Participants took a supplement of 2g of Ashwagandha root extract with meals for 60 days. The study showed the supplements were no more effective than a drug-free placebo. The placebo and the Ashwagandha both improved the symptoms of the condition, but there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest that the effect was anything more than psychological.
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