Give men a daily dose of 5 g Withania somnifera – commonly known as Ashwagandha – and monitor their hormone levels. Their testosterone production will rise by forty percent within three months, researchers at the Indian Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University discovered when they did trials on 75 men who were having problems conceiving children.
Fifteen percent of couples face fertility problems and half of these are caused by men with a low sperm count. In countries like India this is a even bigger problem than in richer western countries, because many people do not have the money for expensive IVF treatment. This was the reasoning behind the researchers’ decision to give 75 infertile men a herb that Indian healers have been using for centuries. Ashwagandha. The men were given five grams of the dried roots of Withania somnifera, ground and mixed with milk.
In classical Indian medicine, Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is considered a tonic for the elderly and a libido enhancing substance. In tests done on rats, the herb speeds up testes development and increases sperm production. In some animal studies, there was a decline in testosterone production in the animals that had been given Ashwagandha. [J Ethnopharmacol. 2001 Apr;75(1):1-4.] That’s not such good news. But in an animal study done in the early 1990s, Ashwagandha was shown to have an anabolic effect. [J Ethnopharmacol. 1994 Dec;44(3):131-5.] That’s better news.
The table below comes from the recent Indian study which will soon be published in Fertility & Sterility, and is probably of interest to you.
In the infertile men with normal sperm, the herb increased testosterone production by fifteen percent. In the men with a low sperm count we’re talking about an increase of forty percent, and in men with slow moving sperm an increase of 21 percent.
Unhindered by expert knowledge and speculating freely, we suspect that Ashwagandha is interesting for chemical athletes who’ve just finished a course of steroids, and natural athletes whose hormone production has declined as a result of extreme dieting.
The researchers also examined the effect of Ashwagandha on prolactin production. The herb led to a slight decline in the production of this hormone. When it came to sperm, Ashwagandha led to an increase in quantity and a slightly smaller increase in mobility, although the effects were not statistically significant for all groups.
The researchers found more antioxidant vitamins in the men after they had undergone treatment. It would seem that Ashwagandha neutralises free radicals, they speculate. They suspect that this is the mechanism through which Ashwagandha increases fertility and testosterone levels.
“Although direct hormonal supplements have been tried in male infertility treatment, the outcome was very poor and with the cost of certain side effects”, the researchers write in their conclusion. “Therefore, Withania somnifera offers a better and safe method of restoring sex hormones in male infertility treatment.”
Fertil Steril. 2010 Aug;94(3):989-96.