Ahh, ashwagandha. You may already be plenty familiar with this popular herb, which is revered for its ability to steady us through times of stress. Recently, though, it’s been taking on another claim to fame as a libido booster. Intriguing, right?
Research suggests that ashwagandha may support sex drive through the same mechanism by which it can help you find balance amidst stress: by promoting healthy hormones. Makes sense, right? It’s not always easy to get in the mood at the drop of a hat when stress (and resulting hormonal imbalance) is constantly hammering on your door.
Here’s everything you should know about the herb’s potential libido benefits.
What is ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha, also known as winter cherry, comes from an evergreen shrub native to India, the Middle East, and some parts of Africa, and falls into a category of plants known as adaptogens. In general, “adaptogens are components in certain plants and mushrooms that help the body cope with physical, emotional, and biological stress,” explains functional dietitian and nutritionist Nour Zibdeh, M.S., R.D. “They help your body adapt so you can return to a state of balance or homeostasis.”
How ashwagandha accomplishes this: “It helps normalize cortisol levels, which go up in times of acute stress to help us escape or fight the danger,” Zibdeh explains. When we’re chronically stressed, these cortisol levels remain elevated, affecting immune health, metabolism, and other hormones. Ashwagandha essentially works to help your body shift out of this stressed “fight-or-flight” mode, so you can feel more balanced and keep your health balanced, too.
Because of the stress-relief support ashwagandha can offer, people tend to report deeper sleep and more energy when utilizing it, says naturopathic endocrinologist Aumatma Simmons, N.D., who specializes in fertility. There have also been some reports (both anecdotal and scientific) linking it to healthy sex drive, sperm count, and even fertility.
Ashwagandha and your libido
Wondering how that cortisol relief works in favor of your sex drive? “The opposite of fight-or-flight is the rest-and-digest mode. This is when the body feels safe to digest food, get nourished, and repair cells and tissues,” Zibdeh explains. “This is also when the body feels safe to reproduce.” Basically, by keeping stress—and your cortisol levels—in a healthy balance, you’re more primed (a.k.a in the mood) to have sex.
Another aspect that comes into play here, at least for women, is progesterone. When there’s a high demand to make cortisol because of high stress levels, the body uses up its store of progesterone, resulting in an imbalance in progesterone-to-estrogen levels, Zibdeh says. So, by promoting balanced cortisol, ashwagandha also helps the body maintain a balance in those important reproductive hormones, as well.
And this study, meanwhile, claims that the potential libido-boosting properties of ashwagandha for all people are also tied to its ability to promote healthy testosterone levels. While testosterone influences sex drive, sperm count and motility, and erectile function in men, it can also affect women by increasing arousal and lubrication before sex.
Ashwagandha and fertility
But wait, there’s more! One 2018 systematic review suggests that ashwagandha might have a positive impact on overall fertility, too. In addition to supporting balanced testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, this review suggests it also supports balanced levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), the two hormones responsible for maturing and releasing eggs from the ovaries.
Read More: 6 Nutrients That Support Women’s Fertility
This research also demonstrated that ashwagandha decreased oxidative stress (damage caused by free radicals), too, which can promote overall cell health and fertility in men, but could also have a similarly positive impact on women, Simmons adds.
Who should take ashwagandha?
Because of the way ashwagandha supports hormonal balance, it offers potential bedroom benefits for all people. However, you should be mindful about taking ashwagandha if you have certain medical or hormonal health conditions or are pregnant or breastfeeding. “Traditionally in Ayurveda, this herb is considered safe, even in pregnancy and breastfeeding; however, I don’t believe there is sufficient research, so definitely talk to a doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding,” Simmons says.
It also may not be safe for people who have certain autoimmune thyroid conditions, including Hashimoto’s, she adds. Since ashwagandha could boost immune system activity, it could make certain autoimmune conditions worse and potentially interact with certain thyroid medications.
In general, it’s worth talking to your doctor before taking ashwagandha, especially if you take medications, Simmons suggests.
Tips for taking ashwagandha for libido
The most traditional Ayurvedic way to take ashwagandha is as a nighttime tonic since the medicinal properties are heat-activated, Simmons recommends. Try putting one teaspoon of an ashwagandha powder into warm water or nut milk, adding your favorite sweetener (like honey), and stirring it all up before sipping. You could also put raw dried ashwagandha root into soups and broths, she adds.
Of course, ashwagandha is also available in a wide variety of supplements these days. You can keep it simple with plnt brand Ashwagandha capsules, enjoy some herbal sweetness with Goli Nutrition Ashwagandha Gummies, or focus on libido support with Olly Lovin’ Libido capsules (which also contain helpful damiana and Maca).
Ultimately, just keep in mind that ashwagandha isn’t meant to be a cure-all for life stressors that might affect your mood, mental health, and sex drive. “It’s important to locate the source of the stress and address it,” Zibdeh says. “Sometimes this may mean reducing commitments, making healthier food choices, improving sleep habits, incorporating gentle exercise or breathing techniques, and addressing underlying physical and biological stress, like gut issues,” Zibdeh says.
So there you have it. While ashwagandha isn’t a magic bullet, it can be pretty darn powerful for various aspects of your health, including your sexual well-being.