Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common condition. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that ED affects 30 million men in the United States.

While there are medications approved for ED, many people may choose to use natural methods and herbal supplements. One such supplement that you may have heard of is ashwagandha, an herb that’s used in Ayurvedic medicine.

Although ashwagandha may have several potential health benefits, including for male sexual health, the current scientific evidence doesn’t support its use for ED.

Keep reading to learn more about ashwagandha and ED, as well as the herb’s potential benefits and side effects.

Ashwagandha is used in Ayurvedic medicine as a Rasayana, or a type of therapeutic preparation that’s used to boost general health, increase energy levels, and promote longevity.

Ashwagandha is considered an aphrodisiac, or herb used to improve sexual desire, pleasure, or performance. While scientific research doesn’t support the herb’s use for ED, it may be effective for low libido.

Ashwagandha has also been used in traditional medicine for:

Scientific studies have been performed on the potential health benefits of ashwagandha. But a lot of this research has been done in a test tube (in vitro) or on animals.

Although additional research is needed, current findings suggest that ashwagandha may do the following:

Overall, a very limited amount of research has been carried out on the efficacy of using ashwagandha for ED. Let’s examine what it says so far.

A study from 2002 looked at the effect that an ashwagandha extract had on male rats over a week. The researchers found that the rats actually experienced increased ED as well as lower sex drive and performance.

A study from 2011 investigated the use of ashwagandha for a specific type of ED called psychogenic ED, which is primarily associated with sexual anxiety and worries about sexual performance.

In the study, 86 men with psychogenic ED received either ashwagandha or a placebo for 60 days. Overall, ashwagandha didn’t provide any more relief for ED than the placebo. A 2014 follow-up analysis by the same research group confirmed these findings.

Ashwagandha for the male reproductive system

Even though research doesn’t show that ashwagandha is effective for ED, it may have other benefits for the male reproductive system. Research from 2018 found that it may:

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summary

While research is limited, ashwagandha doesn’t appear to be effective for ED. In fact, animal studies have suggested that it may potentially promote ED and lower sex drive.

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medical practice that combines dietary and lifestyle practices with natural therapies. It aims to promote health and longevity by achieving balance in the environment and the mind, body, and spirit.

Vajikarana and ED

There are eight different domains in Ayurveda. Each domain focuses on a different area of health. Conditions like ED are addressed under the domain of Vajikarana, which centers on sexual health and reproduction.

Vajikarana uses a variety of formulations that aim to enhance sexual function. These formulations can have a variety of different natural ingredients and are believed to work by acting on the brain’s hypothalamus and limbic system.

Some Vajikarana formulations can include ashwagandha. Additional examples of plants that may be used in Vajikarana are:

  • Saccharum officinarum, a kind of sugarcane
  • Piper longum, a variety of pepper
  • Mucuna pruriens, a tropical bean
  • Asparagus racemosus, a variety of asparagus
  • Pueraria tuberosa, a type of kudzu

Other supplements for ED

There are other herbal supplements that may be beneficial for ED. These include Panax ginseng and Pausinystalia yohimbe. More research is needed to show evidence of their effectiveness, side effects, and safety.

Ashwagandha is a type of herb that grows naturally in India and Southeast Asia. It’s often used in Ayurvedic medicine.

You may also see ashwagandha called Indian ginseng or winter cherry. Its scientific name is Withania somnifera.

Typically, the root of the plant is used in Ayurvedic medicine. However, the leaves and flowers can be used as well.

Extracts of ashwagandha can have as many as 35 different chemical components. So far, a specific active ingredient hasn’t been determined.

Overall, ashwagandha is considered to be safe. Some of the commonly reported side effects of ashwagandha include:

Some less common side effects are:

Talk to your doctor before using ashwagandha if you have:

  • Diabetes. Ashwagandha can lower blood sugar levels.
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Ashwagandha can raise levels of thyroid hormone.

Avoid taking ashwagandha if you:

  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding. Ashwagandha in high doses may be harmful to a developing fetus. There are currently no studies available on the safety of ashwagandha while breastfeeding.
  • Are taking sedatives. Since ashwagandha itself is sometimes used as a sedative, avoid using it if you’re taking medications like benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or anticonvulsants.
  • Have hormone-sensitive prostate cancer. Ashwagandha may increase levels of the hormone testosterone in the body.

Tips for supplement safety

Follow the tips below to use ashwagandha or other supplements safely.

  • Talk to your doctor. It’s a good rule of thumb to talk to your doctor before starting to use any supplement. They can give you more information on how to use it effectively, as well as any associated side effects or risks.
  • Follow the label instructions. Follow the instructions on the product label carefully. Don’t take more than the recommended daily dosage.
  • Keep a log. Note how much of a supplement you take, how often, and any effects that you notice.
  • Discontinue if necessary. If a supplement causes negative side effects or doesn’t appear to be working, stop using it.
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Traditionally, ashwagandha is prepared as a powder. You’d then use this powder to make a tonic that you’d drink.

Today, you’re also likely to see ashwagandha sold as a pill or tablet that you take orally. Some may choose to take ashwagandha one to three times per day, but specific dosing instructions will vary depending on the product.

You can find ashwagandha online or by visiting a store that specializes in health foods or vitamins.

Unlike drugs, supplements don’t require Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Because of this, they may not undergo rigorous testing to determine their safety and effectiveness.

Follow the tips below while shopping for ashwagandha or any other dietary supplement:

  • Verify the name. Make sure the name on the product label matches what you’re looking for. In addition to ashwagandha, the label could say Withania somnifera or Indian ginseng.
  • Check the ingredients. The label should list all of the ingredients in a supplement. If you’re unsure about what an ingredient is, ask a doctor or pharmacist. You can also look up ingredients using the Dietary Supplement Label Database maintained by the National Institutes of Health.
  • Beware of claims. Be wary of any product claims that seem too good to be true or say they can treat a specific medical condition.
  • Do your own research. Obtain your own information using reputable sources. One place to start is PubMed, a great resource for scientific studies. You may also find the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to be a helpful source of information.
  • Look for seals and certificates. While supplements aren’t regulated for standards by an independent body, some companies can verify their products’ content by having them tested in an independent lab. Look for a seal from a third-party organization like NSF International and USP.

Ashwagandha is an herb that’s used as part of Ayurvedic medicine. Research has indicated that it may have several health benefits, such as lowering anxiety, promoting better sleep, and decreasing inflammation.

While ashwagandha is considered an aphrodisiac, scientific research doesn’t currently support its use for ED.

Ashwagandha is generally safe and has few serious side effects. If you’re considering ashwagandha as a supplement, discuss its potential benefits and risks with your doctor before using it.