The world we live in is fast-paced and demanding, at times requiring more of us than the body can handle. There are different kinds of stressors in life; from poor diet and lifestyle habits, to mental and emotional turmoil. Each of these stressors have the potential to impact the health of your body, inflicting cell damage and disrupting your natural hormonal balance when allowed to get out of hand.
People who live in a constant state of stress may find their body isn’t functioning as it once did. In fact, stress can lead to infertility in some cases. This is where the Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) shines. It can support the body in recovering from stress by not only improving the body’s stress response, but also by increasing antioxidant levels, boosting the immune system and supporting endocrine system function, for proper hormonal communication.
How Ashwagandha Helps Improve Fertility
The root is the part of the Ashwagandha plant which proves to be most valuable in eliciting these stress relieving properties. Ashwagandha root has an adaptogenic quality. Adaptogens increase resistance to mind-body stress, enhancing overall vitality and health. Plants recognized as adaptogens help to normalize the body’s functions even during diseased states, are non-toxic, nutritive, and have been deemed safe for long term use. So, it covers many key areas that play a role in reproductive health. Most adaptogens are stimulating, but this herb is unique in that it is calming and restorative. This makes it effective for a wide range of stress and immune-related fertility issues.
Improve Your Body’s Response to Stress
It is simply amazing what the root of a plant can do. Ashwagandha has a special ability to have a calming effect on the nervous system. Nervine is the classification for herbs that have this type of action. The nervine action of this plant is helpful for depression, anxiety, fatigue, cloudy thinking, stress-induced insomnia, and nervous exhaustion; all of which are common in those individuals diagnosed with infertility. According to Ayurvedic herbalist K.P. Khalsa, Ashwagandha works better than the medication Valium for treating anxiety.
Increase Antioxidant Levels
This herb has been shown to reduce oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant levels in the body. Antioxidants are a family of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and other nutrients that help to protect the body from the damage caused by free radicals. One study showed that Ashwagandha has the ability to increase levels of lipid peroxide, superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione, vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E. Each of these antioxidants rely on one another to protect cellular health for life longevity. You can find the results of this study at the end of this article.
Antioxidant levels play a critical role in the health of not only all of the cells that make up the body, but those of sperm and egg health as well. Increasing antioxidant levels has been shown to improve sperm and egg health.
Normalize the Immune System
Ashwagandha helps to normalize immune system responses. It is useful for those with overactive (hyper) and underactive (hypo) immune functioning.
It is often used to help people recover from any debilitating state. From chronic illness to mental and emotional breakdown, it increases strength and stamina over time.
Because it has a normalizing effect on the immune system, it may also be useful for those with autoimmune issues. Autoimmune diseases are a widely undiagnosed cause of infertility.
Endocrine System Support
This herb enhances endocrine function, focusing on re-regulating the thyroid, testes, and adrenal glands.
Ashwagandha has been used extensively for adrenal fatigue and is almost always part of adrenal nutrition and herbal formulas.
It has been shown to stimulate the thyroid, which may be useful for those with hypothyroidism. Both animal and human studies have found similar promising results in this context. Some doctors will suggest Ashwagandha alongside thyroid medication for hypothyroidism, so check with your doctor if you are interested in this herb as a complementary therapy. Because it is stimulating to the thyroid, those with hyperthyroidism should avoid this herb.
Ashwagandha is rich in the mineral iron. Iron deficient anemia can greatly impact a woman’s ability to conceive or carry to term. Being iron-rich also makes it wonderfully supportive for women with weakness during menstruation due to heavy menstrual bleeding.
This herb is excellent for dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) when combined with Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa).
Weak Uterus and Recurrent Miscarriage
Indigenous African peoples use it to tone the uterus for those who have recurrent miscarriages.
The reports are in; many people find that Ashwagandha makes them feel a little frisky. So if you are experiencing a lack of interest in bed and you have been suffering from the trying to conceive blues, you may want to give this herb a try.
Suggested Daily Use
Plant part used: Dried root
Tincture: 30-40 drops, 3 times a day
Capsules: One 400-500mg capsule, 2 times per day
Ayurvedic Herbalist Perspective on Use
According to herbalist K.P. Khalsa, higher doses produce better results. This is particularly true for Americans, who typically have poor diet and lifestyle habits, along with elevated levels of stress. He suggests starting at 15g per day for the first couple of weeks, and then reducing that to 1-2g per day long-term, noting that use long-term produces the best results. Khalsa finds that Ashwagandha blends very well with Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), for an overall balancing effect on the body. He also feels this herb shouldn’t be taken as a tincture, because its effectiveness as an alcohol extract hasn’t been widely researched as of yet. The powdered dried root has been used for thousands of years successfully through the traditional practice of Ayurvedic medicine.
Caution: Some reports say that excessive use in pregnancy may cause miscarriage. That makes this an herb best used for pregnancy preparation, but one you should consider discontinuing once a pregnancy is achieved. Avoid this plant if you are allergic to plants in the nightshade family or have hyperthyroidism. Ashwagandha has also been shown to increase the effect of barbiturates.
Study: Withania somnifera Shown to Improve Semen Quality in Stress-Related Male Infertility
Both psychological stress and oxidative stress has been shown to increase a man’s risk for infertility. A study of 60 infertile men with normal sperm production was conducted to see if Ashwagandha could indeed be useful in treating stress-related male infertility. The test group was divided into three groups of 20 men each, one group of men that were heavy smokers (smoking is a leading cause of oxidative stress), one that was under psychological stress, and one group that were infertile for unknown reasons. 60 fertile men, with normal sperm production, were also recruited as controls.
They were given 5g of powdered Withania somnifera root per day for 3 months. Various biochemical and stress parameters were tested prior to and after treatment. The results showed a significant decrease in stress, improved levels of antioxidants and overall semen quality. For 14% of the treatment patients, pregnancy was achieved.
One of the most important findings in this study was that the men with psychological stress showed the greatest improvement with treatment of Withania somnifera, exhibiting the best results in terms of hormone levels.
Though scientists aren’t sure the exact mechanism of action of this herb, it was shown that Ashwagandha has the ability to help balance hormone levels and reduce oxidative stress, while also possibly improving the body’s natural detoxification process.
- Winston, David. Maimes, Steven. (2007) Adaptogens Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press
- Beyond Ashwaghanda. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.internationalintegrative.com/videos/beyond-ashwaghanda-webcast-kp-khalsa
- Mahdi, A. A., Shukla, K. K., Ahmad, M. K., Rajender, S., Shankhwar, S. N., Singh, V., & Dalela, D. (2011). Withania somnifera Improves Semen Quality in Stress-Related Male Fertility. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2011, 1-9. doi:10.1093/ecam/nep138 Retrieved from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2011/576962/
- Romm, Aviva.(2010) Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. Churchill Livingstone Press