Friday, 22 April 2016

Ashwagandha and Your Relationships

Just recently, an article in BioMed Research International revealed the results of a study finding improvements in sexual function among women taking a concentrated extract of ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera (Life Extension, March 2016).

In this study, 50 women diagnosed with female sexual dysfunction received either 300mg of ashwagandha root extract or placebo twice daily for eight weeks. After these eight weeks, the women receiving ashwagandha experienced improved sexual function scores, which included scores for desire, satisfaction and pain. Improvements in sexual function do not just indicate physical health benefits, but may also improve mental and emotional health because of the positive effect on intimate relationships.

Weedy Withania. Source: Thamizhpparithi Maari
Ashwagandha is a very popular herbal medicine among naturopaths, and it is often the first to run out in the student clinic. This is despite the initial reluctance to teach student naturopaths about this and other Indian herbs as described by one of my teachers, because it wasn't a part of traditional Western herbal medicine. Which was silly, because cultures can and should be shared, and now there is no reluctance surrounding education about other cultures' traditional medicine as long as the herbal medicines used are available to us. Usually, we would prescribe ashwagandha as a tonic for those with debilitated immunity or very poor energy levels, particularly when there is also anaemia as it is an ingredient in FeMax, a popular iron tonic.

The authors of this study wrote that ashwagandha may reduce the effects of chronic stress, which includes immune suppression and lack of energy, by lowering levels of cortisol. This is the main stress hormone, and while it's great short term, or when its levels are in the healthy range and fitting the normal circadian rhythms, chronically elevated cortisol can reduce immunity, cause burnout and interfere with protein synthesis. Herein lies another potential strain on relationships: not feeling like yourself because of chronically elevated cortisol. Additionally, ashwagandha may also "offset androgen deficiency syndrome", which can affect sexual desire (androgen = male hormones). In men, this herb has been found to increase testosterone, which is needed for sexual desire in both men and women, among other aspects of health. Therefore, it could be another important herbal medicine to look at when treating menopausal weight gain and menopausal symptoms that involve declining protein synthesis, as I have described in another post. As we usually prescribe individualised herbal formulae of herbal medicines, a combination of ashwagandha and tribulus may be just the thing for many patients looking for antiaging and longevity solutions.

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