Updated: Aug 13, 2021
Adaptogenic mushrooms have become a bit of a point of fascination for me recently. There are some fascinating TED talks on the topic, not to mention the captivating documentary ‘Fantastic Fungi’ that is hugely popular on Netflix at the moment. I often wonder how little we still know about the world we inhabit, so I’ve decided to look deeper into this topic with my colleague Canadian Registered Dietitian, and fellow Kale lover, Andy De Santis.
I’ve noticed a real increase in the number of my fertility clients that are curious about the benefits of these magical fungi with regards to fertility, particularly male fertility. So let’s take a look at the research.
Ashwagandha, Male Testosterone & Fertility
Traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine describes Ashwagandha (or if you know it by its botanical name Withania somnifera), as an aphrodisiac that is used to treat infertility and male sexual dysfunction.
One study (which was a two-arm, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study with 1 : 1 random allocation) looked at 46 male patients with semen factor infertility.
The study found that:
1. Treatment with Ashwagandha root led to an increase in sperm concentration after 90 days (semen volume and sperm motility)
2. Serum testosterone levels also improved following treatment
While the results look positive, it is important to note that:
- The sample size was small and conducted with participants that were all experiencing fertility issues (no healthy males included for comparison)
- The study excluded men with a sperm count <0.5 million/mL or over 20 million/mL
A separate study looked at the role of Ashwagandha on hormonal and vitality in 43 ageing, overweight male participants and found:
1. Significant changes in testosterone
2. No statistically significant changes in cortisol or estradiol
3. No statistically significant differences in the improvement of fatigue, vigor or sexual and psychological well-being
4. Ashwagandha supplementation was well tolerated and there were no adverse reported events, nor did participants experience any withdrawals once the study ceased
Some issues raised with this study include:
- It’s small sample size
- Participants were recruited via social media which may have led to bias
- Participants may have undertaken other dietary or lifestyle changes during the trial which may have influenced the results
- The participants involved a high number of shift and mine workers (not representing a wide variety of men)
In addition to these two studies, there have also been a number of systematic reviews that have looked at the evidence gathered from a large number of studies undertaken in this area.
A systematic review of 42 separate studies (8 of which were human trials) found that:
1. Ashwagandha enhanced spermatogenesis (the origin and development of the sperm cells within the male reproductive organs) and sperm related markers in males
2. Further research is needed to look into some available evidence that suggested that Ashwagandha may have spermicidal features (kills sperm or stops it from moving)
3. Further research should focus on the exact preparation method in regards to Ashwagandha and the dosage used so that more detailed research can be conducted
An evidence-based systematic review and meta-analysis looked at four clinical trials and found that Ashwagandha:
1. Led to a statistical increase in sperm concentration, semen volume, and sperm motility in oligospermic (semen with a low concentration of sperm) males after 90 days of treatment
2. Led to a statistical increase in serum testosterone and luteinizing hormone levels
3. Led to a pregnancy outcome success rate of 14% in men that were classified as normozoospermic (the presence of normal sperm in semen upon semen analysis)
4. Led to improved serum hormone profiles, oxidative biomarkers and antioxidant vitamins in seminal plasma
5. Did not lead to adverse effects during the studies
However due to the small number of studies that were able to be used in this review, the current evidence is too limited to confidently say that Ashwagandha has a positive impact on male infertility, despite the promising results in the studies so far.
In summary, the research undertaken so far does provide enough positive evidence to warrant further study in this area of fertility. It would be great to see more high quality (randomized controlled trials) studies with larger participant numbers from a wider cross section of the population, to further strengthen the current work done so far in this area.
I think the ongoing research of Adaptogenic mushrooms is really exciting, and something to keep a close eye on. In particular, Ashwagandha is also being studied for its potential benefits on:
- Exercise Performance
- Anxiety, Stress & Mental Health
Head over to Andy’s blog to read more about this research!
Andy is a registered dietitian (RD) in Toronto that is as charismatic as they come, who also happens to be a 3x published author with an unmatched passion for helping clients reach their health goals. Andy completed his requirements for accreditation as a registered dietitian at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health, where he also graduated with a Master’s degree in public health nutrition (MPH).
As with any supplement you are considering taking, always consult your doctor prior to starting a new regime to check if it is right for you and your individual circumstances.