Does Ashwagandha Boost Testosterone?
Let’s Find Out!
You wont find ashwagandha in many testosterone boosters today, that’s for sure.
You have your run-of-the-mill ingredients that the basic manufacturers turn to whenever they’re making a new stack – longjack root, tribulus terrestris, D-Aspartic Acid – and then you have ingredients that only crop up form time to time in the more professional-level supplements.
Ashwagandha is certainly of the latter variety. As it stands, this humble herb is found in just a handful of premium, high-spec testosterone boosters. The manufacturers behind these products claim that it is one of the best natural testosterone promoting substances on the planet.
If that’s true, it will also make ashwagandha one of the most under-utilized supplements in existence.
However, we need to employ a hefty dose of skepticism here. Just as we always do.
The fact that ashwagandha is increasingly being used by the leading supplement brands in their testosterone boosters does not mean that it actually works as advertised. Just think about some of the other substances that have routinely featured in premium, professional-grade testosterone boosters over the years. Most of them don’t do a thing for testosterone levels!
So, where does ashwagandha stand?
What is it supposed to do?
How does ashwagandha work?
Does it actually do any of the things the manufacturers say it can?
Who should use ashwagandha – is it more suited to some people than others? Or should everyone be using this stuff?
Find out answers to these questions and more by reading our complete guide below. We’ll take you through some of the key studies linking ashwagandha to testosterone. We’ll highlight their conclusions, and point out any serious flaws in their design. We’ll also discuss the safety of using ashwagandha; the side effects, long-term risks, and dosing requirements.
If you have any questions – or you want to share your experiences with ashwagandha – please share them in the comments section at the end.
How Does Ashwagandha Influence Testosterone?
Unlike many other substances used in modern testosterone boosters, ashwagandha does not work by directly stimulating production of the primary male sex hormone.
Nor does it work by inhibiting aromatase activity.
Ashwagandha works by suppressing cortisol levels in the blood.
Cortisol is the body’s ‘stress hormone’.
Contrary to what many people believe, cortisol is actually an extremely important hormone for the healthy functioning of the human body – its effects are not entirely negative. It is necessary for the regulation of blood pressure, the regulation of metabolism, reducing inflammation, and triggering memory formation (this last function is not entirely clear but the link seems to be quite robust).
However, we probably don’t need to tell you that cortisol can also have seriously negative effects if levels get too high, or if they remain relatively high for prolonged periods.
Cortisol is released whenever your body is in a state of stress.
It is very much the body’s ‘fight or flight’ hormone.
Its immediate effects include releasing glucose into the blood, increasing the brain’s consumption of glucose, and generally making sure that the body has materials available for energy and for tissue repair.
While this is happening, cortisol also gets to work diverting resources away from bodily functions deemed non-essential in a dangerous situation. This includes – first and foremost – new tissue growth. It ensures that you can clot a wound, but it heavily suppresses the construction of new muscle tissue or brain cells.
- Suppresses the immune system’s response to germs
- Suppresses the reproductive system’s functioning
- Suppresses the digestive system
Obviously, if you’re being chased by a mountain lion, you don’t need to worry too much about absorbing protein and fat from your last meal. Nor do you need to worry too much about catching a cold.
So cortisol responds to environmental stressors by shutting these processes down and diverting all resources to escaping the lion (more blood sugar and more rapid blood clotting being top of the list).
And, obviously, one thing that also suffers is the production and release of androgenic hormones!
It shouldn’t come as a surprise then to learn that low testosterone levels very often correlate with high cortisol levels, and vice versa.
Now, it isn’t exactly clear whether the relationship is strictly causal. That is, we aren’t certain that cortisol directly causes testosterone levels to decline. It is also unclear whether simply having higher testosterone levels causes cortisol levels to fall; it could be that high testosterone levels are only possible in a low cortisol environment and not that one forces the other down.
In this paper, for example, researchers discuss the observed relationship and its possible causes:
“It is possible that cortisol directly inhibits the behavioral effects of testosterone consistent with the antagonistic relationship between cortisol and testosterone at the biological level. This direct inhibitory effect would be a mechanism by which the HPA axis can suppress dominance related systems, thereby prioritizing stress management over status enhancement. Alternatively, high endogenous cortisol maybe a marker of other dispositional factors, such as elevated stress reactivity, that are associated with changes in biology, psychology, and/or behavior that limit or override testosterone’s behavioral effects.” (Published 2015 in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology).
But what is clear is that a strong correlation exists between cortisol levels and testosterone levels.
A the researchers themselves state in that same paper; “regardless of the specific mechanism, low endogenous cortisol has emerged as a reliable marker of increased sensitivity to testosterone’s behavioral effects”.
These findings have been backed up in several other studies where researchers have noted cortisol as having a limiting effect on testosterone and its behavioral markers (ref).
The relationship between testosterone and cortisol – however it works – seems to be robust, reliable across populations, and bi-directional. So we can safely assume that a reduction in cortisol at the very least significantly increases the chances of a man having higher testosterone levels.
So in lowering cortisol, ashwagandha will effectively maximize testosterone levels in the blood. This will be particularly true of men who have chronically high stress levels – bodybuilders, athletes, competitive fighters, as well as anybody with a busy, stressful full-time job.
Cortisol levels also rise naturally over time as we age. Ashwagandha would therefore represent a great supplement for anybody looking to optimize testosterone levels as they age.
The question we need to answer then is: does it actually work?!
Does ashwagandha effectively lower cortisol levels?
Have we any evidence that this does in fact lead to a reliable increase in free serum testosterone?
Let’s look at some human studies to find out!
Does It Work? – The Evidence
There is a significant amount of evidence supporting the claim that ashwagandha decreases cortisol levels, and thereby increases testosterone levels. We do have data actually showing a rise in testosterone following from ashwagandha supplementation.
We’re now going to take a look at the most convincing, robust studies available.
For starters, read this paper. It details a study in which researchers gave 57 male subjects aged 18-50 years old either 300mg of ashwagandha or a placebo every day for 8 weeks. Both groups underwent a resistance training protocol for the duration of the 8 week study; at the beginning and end of the 8 weeks, the researchers measured testosterone levels.
Here is what they found – results are quoted in full with figures shown:
“Compared to the placebo subjects, the group treated with ashwagandha had significantly greater increases in muscle strength on the bench-press exercise (Placebo: 26.4 kg, 95 % CI, 19.5, 33.3 vs. Ashwagandha: 46.0 kg, 95 % CI 36.6, 55.5; p = 0.001) and the leg-extension exercise (Placebo: 9.8 kg, 95 % CI, 7.2,12.3 vs. Ashwagandha: 14.5 kg, 95 % CI, 10.8,18.2; p = 0.04), and significantly greater muscle size increase at the arms (Placebo: 5.3 cm2, 95 % CI, 3.3,7.2 vs. Ashwagandha: 8.6 cm2, 95 % CI, 6.9,10.8; p = 0.01) and chest (Placebo: 1.4 cm, 95 % CI, 0.8, 2.0 vs. Ashwagandha: 3.3 cm, 95 % CI, 2.6, 4.1; p < 0.001). Compared to the placebo subjects, the subjects receiving ashwagandha also had significantly greater reduction of exercise-induced muscle damage as indicated by the stabilization of serum creatine kinase (Placebo: 1307.5 U/L, 95 % CI, 1202.8, 1412.1, vs. Ashwagandha: 1462.6 U/L, 95 % CI, 1366.2, 1559.1; p = 0.03), significantly greater increase in testosterone level (Placebo: 18.0 ng/dL, 95 % CI, -15.8, 51.8 vs. Ashwagandha: 96.2 ng/dL, 95 % CI, 54.7, 137.5; p = 0.004), and a significantly greater decrease in body fat percentage (Placebo: 1.5 %, 95 % CI, 0.4 %, 2.6 % vs. Ashwagandha: 3.5 %, 95 % CI, 2.0 %, 4.9 %; p = 0.03).” (Published 2015 in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition).
Those are some very difficult results to argue with. An increase of 96.2ng/dl is considerable; it is certainly enough to have a massive effect on your physique and performance in the gym. Compared to the 18ng/dl reported in the placebo group, it is even more impressive.
This paper makes it pretty clear that ashwagandha has powerful testosterone boosting properties. Importantly for us, however, is the fact that it is not the only study showing this same effect from ashwagandha supplementation.
Another important study to read when looking at ashwagandha as a testosterone booster is this one. Here, researchers were primarily looking to see how ashwagandha might help infertile men, or men with low sperm motility. Participants were given over 600mg of full spectrum ashwagandha extract every day for 90 days.
As well as sperm motility and seminal volume, the researchers also measured the levels of various sex hormones in the participants’ blood.
Here are their findings, in full:
“[A] significantly greater improvement and regulation were observed in serum hormone levels with the Ashwagandha root extract treatment as compared to the placebo treatment. Serum testosterone increased significantly by 17% (from 4.45 ± 1.41 ng/mL to 5.22 ± 1.39 ng/mL; P < 0.01) and LH by 34% (from 3.97 ± 1.21 mIU/mL to 5.31 ± 1.33 mIU/mL; P < 0.02), following treatment with Ashwagandha root extract, as compared to the baseline (Day 0) values of these parameters”. (Published 2013 in Evidence Based Complimentary & Alternative Medicine).
We think it is worth including the graph which was printed alongside the original article, as it demonstrates the scale of the effect on testosterone witnessed in the ashwagandha treatment group:
That is not an insignificant difference by any means.
The ashwagandha-treated group experienced a significantly greater rise in free serum testosterone levels than the control group – a 17% rise to be exact. That is the kind of number so often quoted by supplement manufacturers (but which they never deliver on).
Ashwagandha The ‘Feel Good Factor’?
One final thing that’s worth delving into is ashwagandha’s efficacy as a ‘feel good’ supplement. Or to put that into more scientific terms, it is worth looking into ashwagandha’s anxiolytic, mood enhancing properties.
The study cited immediately above focused on ashwagandha efficacy as a testosterone booster – which the researchers found to be significant.
This study is widely cited; it comes up in almost every good article on ashwagandha as a sports supplement (and always when discussing ashwagandha as a testosterone booster).
But one thing that people often overlook about that study is the fact that it found ashwagandha to have a serious ‘feel good factor’.
By that, we mean that the participants using ashwagandha overwhelmingly reported feeling the substance working – that is, they subjectively felt like the treatment was going very well despite not knowing whether or not they were really taking it. In contrast, the placebo group tended to judge the therapy as merely OK, and many more of them judged it to be disappointing:
This is hard evidence telling us that people enjoy taking ashwagandha. It makes them feel good. This is extremely important, especially in a testosterone booster.
After all, if you’re an older guy who is struggling with feelings of low energy, apathy, and a loss of sex drive, you are probably looking for something that not only makes you better, but which makes you feel much better too!
Ashwagandha seems to fit that bill perfectly.
Ashwagandha Side Effects – Is It Safe?
Ashwagandha is considered an extremely safe supplement, even when used on a regular basis and for prolonged periods.
The studies looking at ashwagandha have tended to last for 28-90 days. They very rarely report serious side effects, or even mild adverse effects, during the course of the trials. To our knowledge, there is nothing about this herbal root extract which would even theoretically cause serious problems for people who are not allergic, are not taking any medications, and who are otherwise fit and healthy.
Ashwagandha is also a widely used supplement. Lots of people all over the world use it on a regular basis. To our knowledge, people do not regularly experience any adverse effects while using ashwagandha properly – that is, according to the manufacturers instructions.
So on the whole, we think people using this herbal extract in a responsible manner, according to the manufacturers instructions, are unlikely to experience any side effects whatsoever. Nor do we think it’s likely to cause any problems over the long-term.
That is, of course, assuming that there are no circumstances which make ashwagandha use unsuitable, which might include:
- If you are taking medication that might interact with ashwagandha
- If you are taking powerful anxiolytics
- If you have pre-existing medical conditions which make ashwagandha dangerous
- If you are taking other supplements that interact negatively with ashwagandha
- If you are already taking ashwagandha from another supplement
The last risk factor is very important to consider if you already take supplement stacks for any reason. Ashwagandha seems to be very safe at a certain dosage, but doses above 700mg per day have not been thoroughly studied – or studied at all to our knowledge.
You therefore need to be very careful that you are not accidentally double or triple dosing your ashwagandha. As we said at the start of this article, it is becoming increasingly popular, and it is used in many more supplements than just testosterone boosters!
You MUST remember the following facts while reading the information on our site:
- We are not medical doctors
- This is not medical advice
It is absolutely vital that you do your own research diligently, consider your unique medical circumstances, and seek the advice of a qualified medical doctor before taking any new supplements. We think it is extremely important that you talk to your regular family physician before taking any supplements at all.