The lesser known benefits of ashwagandha

Ashwagandha: the king of Ayurvedic herbs.

Ashwagandha is a traditional medicine of India. It’s touted as an adaptogen (a substance that helps your body cope with stress), it improves physical performance, and there are some studies suggesting it may be a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

These are the flashy, more well known, benefits of ashwagandha.

With this article I wanted to touch on some of the lesser known benefits of ashwagandha supplementation that haven’t got as much attention. These are its role in cholesterol management, luteinizing hormone, and DHEA. If you don’t know what any of those are now, don’t worry, it’ll all become clear.

I’ll go through each of those in turn and highlight some of the scientific studies supporting these claims.

Ashwagandha lowers cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of lipid. It is made by all animal cells and it plays important roles in human physiology; it maintains cell membrane structure and it serves as a precursor for steroid hormones, bile acid, and vitamin D.

Just like anything in life though, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. High levels of cholesterol can cause the development of fatty deposits in your blood vessels, which increases your risk of heart disease.

Two studies suggest ashwagandha supplementation can reduce cholesterol.

Study #1

Six people with mild high cholesterol supplemented with ashwagandha for 30 days. They experienced a significant decrease in serum cholesterol.

** there was no placebo group used in this study **

Study #2

Eighteen men and women took increasing amounts of ashwagandha for 30 days. Total cholesterol was found to be reduced after the 30 day trial.

** there was no placebo group used in this study **

Conclusion – cholesterol

Ashwagandha supplementation may be beneficial in lowering cholesterol in relatively healthy people with normal or slightly high cholesterol levels.

Ashwagandha increases luteinizing hormone

Luteinizing hormone (LH) is a hormone, obviously. It is produced by the pituitary gland (the hormone regulating center of the body).

In women, LH triggers ovulation and development of the corpus luteum.

In men, LH stimulates the production of testosterone in the testis.

Two studies suggest supplementing with ashwagandha can increase LH production and contribute to a better semen profile.

Study #1

Seventy-five infertile men were given 5 grams a day of ashwagandha for 3 months.

Once the 3 months was up, the researchers measured the biochemical characteristics, antioxidant vitamins, and levels of certain hormones in the semen of the men.

The men supplementing with ashwagandha had an improved biochemical profile in their semen, and increased levels of LH.

** this study did not have a real placebo group. 75 healthy men were used as controls, but did not receive any type of supplement **

** this study only included men, so we have no idea how to extrapolate these findings to women **

** we have no idea how ashwagandha would affect the semen of fertile men **

Study #2

60 men who were infertile because they smoked, were psychologically stressed, or were infertile for unknown reasons were treated with 5 grams of ashwagandha per day for 3 months (same as the previous study).

This study also showed increased semen quality with supplementation and increased LH levels more comparable to controls.

This study adds a little bit more to what we know about the affect stress has on fertility. The increase in LH in the men who were supplemented happened right alongside a reduction in stress.

Based on what we know about the effect of cortisol (the stress hormone) on LH, it is quite possible that ashwagandha could be increasing LH levels at least partially through decreasing stress and cortisol.

** this study did not have a placebo group and the control group was not treated with ashwagandha **

** we still don’t know what effect ashwagandha supplementation would have on women **

Conclusion – Luteinizing hormone

Ashwagandha supplementation can help increase LH in men who are having trouble with fertility.

Ashwagandha increases dehydroepiandrosterone

Dehydroepiandrosterone, called DHEA, because the full name is almost impossible to say. DHEA is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, the gonads, and the brain.

It functions as a road stop on the synthesis pathway to androgens and estrogen sex steroids.

And it functions as a signaling molecule on its own.

Supplementing with ashwagandha increases DHEA, according to one study.

Study #1

130 men and women took part in a double-blind (neither the people in the study or the experimenters knew who was receiving the particular treatment), placebo-controlled study. The participants getting the ashwagandha supplement took 125, 250, or 500 mg per day for 60 days.

Among the many other things the researchers were measuring, they observed an increase in DHEA in the experimental group over the placebo.

Since DHEA plays a role in the synthesis of sex steroids, its increase with ashwagandha could at least partially explain some of the benefits on fertility men experience when they take it.

DHEA also has direct effects in the brain and spinal cord. For instance, it can modulate the NMDA receptor and the GABAA receptor. Influencing either of these receptors can have a significant influence on neurotransmission and brain activity in general.

Conclusion – DHEA

Ashwagandha supplementation can help increase DHEA levels in healthy men and women.

Conclusion

Ashwagandha is the king of herbs for a good reason. The studies I highlighted here today show its ability to lower cholesterol, increase luteinizing hormone, and increase DHEA. And these fall into the category of lesser researched aspects of the herb.

The benefits of ashwagandha in this article alone are enough to warrant its use. Don’t forget about its proven ability as an adaptogen, as a performance enhancer, and as a neuroprotective agent.

If you’re looking to start using it, I recommend taking 300-500mg of root extract per day. You can break that up into multiple smaller doses across the day, or if you want to take it all at once, take it with breakfast.

Sources and further reading

Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root.

Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers.

Withania Somnifera Improves Semen Quality By Regulating Reproductive Hormone Levels And Oxidative Stress In Seminal Plasma Of Infertile Males

Withania somnifera Improves Semen Quality in Stress-Related Male Fertility.

A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study

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