Ashwagandha vs. Ginseng

by Benjamin Bunting BA(Hons) PGCert

ben bunting BA(Hons) PgCert Sport & Exercise Nutriton  Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition. L2 Strength & Conditioning Coach.

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Herbal medicine has fascinated the world of science and nutrition in many ways.

Herbal extracts and botanicals from various parts of the world can provide many proven benefits for human health, including enhancing physical strength, improving metabolism, reducing anxiety, and promoting sexual health.

In this article we shall cover the following points:

  • Phytotherapy
  • Ashwagandha
  • Ginseng
  • What is best for you

Phytotherapy 

Ashwagandha vs. Ginseng

A significant area for the use of herbs is improving physical health in men, especially their sexual health.

And, herbal remedies/botanical extracts are used throughout the clincial sphere, however, in some cases they can be sold within a proprietary blend of multiple substances making it diffcult to track the effectiveness or prevent unwanted reactions. [1]

You might already know the name of the two most notable herbs for men’s health – Ashwagandha and Ginseng.

The use of these two herbs dates back to around a couple of thousand years, with the former originating from India and the latter used in Chinese/Korean herbal medicine.

These herbs provide long-term benefits for male physical and sexual performance; however, according to modern literature, ashwagandha is associated with lesser risks.

Therefore, using ashwagandha could be a better option overall. If you are a male trying to enhance your endurance and sexual health and are confused about which herb to go with, this is the right place to figure it out.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha’s use in Indian ayurvedic medicine dates back to around 3000 years.

Since then, people have been using it to treat various health conditions, primarily decreased sexual performance. [2]

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as the ‘Indian Ginseng,’ is predominantly grown in India.

It is classified as an aphrodisiac herb, i.e., an herb used to enhance sexual desire, pleasure, and performance.

Although notable drug regulatory bodies like FDA haven’t authorized its use, research has shown promising results with non-existent side effects.

Ashwagandha and sexual performance

Ashwagandha promoting male reproductive health isn’t just a myth. Many studies have entitled ashwagandha as the male-reproductive-system-friendly herb. [3]

One study including 75 men eluded that five grams of ashwagandha daily increased sperm count, motility, and overall sexual performance.

These effects were related to better testosterone levels and other reproductive hormones.

Furthermore, the improved sexual hormones and reproduction were accredited to reduced oxidate stress and increased antioxidant levels in the body. 

Considering some factors affecting male sexual health, stress is one of the top culprits. Intuitively, ashwagandha’s documented stress-relieving properties greatly help the male reproductive capacity.

Another study, including 60 men, concluded that treatment with ashwagandha reduced stress in the subjects, improved antioxidant levels, and enhanced the overall semen quality. [4]

Moreover, 14% of the subjects’ partners became pregnant. Ashwagandha indeed has the potential to improve your sexual strength.

Physical or Muscular strength

Certain clinical studies assessing the usefulness of ashwagandha have provided significant results.

In one 8-week study, the daily use of 500 mg ashwagandha increased the muscle mass while the subjects given placebo had no improvements.

The study concluded that the use of ashwagandha could provide significant improvements in muscle weakness, enhance speed and lower-limb muscular strength, as well as neuromuscular coordination. [5]

Various other studies have shown similar results and aim to assess these beneficial effects of ashwagandha on a more significant population.

Ashwagandha and Testosterone levels

Some of the effects described above might be due to the increased levels of testosterone (T) in the body. [6]

Testosterone promotes sperm production, muscle growth, and healthy libido (sexual drive) in men. [7] 

Having decreased T levels will put you in an inactive state with reduced strength and sexual drive. A clinical study of around 50 men showed a 15% increase in testosterone levels with ashwagandha intake. 

Safety and side effects

Ashwagandha has little-to-no side effects and is safe for most people. Most people in various clinical studies experienced no adverse effects with its use. [8]

However, pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult their physicians before using ashwagandha.

Moreover, people with hyperthyroidism should always take advice from their healthcare provider before starting ashwagandha intake.  

Ginseng

Ginseng is regarded as one of the king-of-herbs by many. It comes from traditional Chinese medicine and has been used primarily for enhancing energy levels, muscular strength, sexual performance, and much more.

Multiple pieces of research have shown the beneficial effects of ginseng in countering fatigue, lethargy, and decreased sexual performance.

A systematic review of the literature indicates that ginseng has moderate effectiveness for treating these conditions.

The actions of ginseng appear to be similar to those of ashwagandha, i.e., reduced oxidative stress, decreased LDL (bad cholesterol), and increased antioxidants providing a healthy overall body. [9]

Safety and side effects

Despite its extensive use, ginseng is associated with some side effects. The typical side-effect of ginseng is agitation (due to increased energy levels). [10]

Other side effects include hypertension, allergies, increased heart rate, etc. Most of the side effects are related to excessive use of ginseng, which is relatively common amongst many people. [11]

This abuse could partially be attributed to considering ginseng an entirely safe drug for enhancing energy.

Lastly, specific populations should use it with caution in certain population groups similar to ashwagandha.

What is best for you?

Choosing between these two herbs could be a bit hard as they have similar benefits and effects on the male body.

Considering today’s stressful lifestyle, a herb that increases your energy levels while providing you with calmness would be a great option. Ashwagandha does this job very nicely, as shown by research.

Moreover, in a direct pharmacological comparison, ashwagandha was shown to have a better-growing effect on muscle mass than ginseng.

On the contrary, the use of ginseng might be beneficial for reducing fatigue and lethargy.

Still, it appears to have a lower safety index (more side effects) than ashwagandha. Using ginseng is associated with agitation or anxiety, and it is potentially not the best for improving relaxed energy levels.

military muscle testosterone booster

References:

  1. Falzon, C.C. and Balabanova, A. (2017). Phytotherapy. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice, [online] 44(2), pp.217–227. Available at: https://www.primarycare.theclinics.com/article/S0095-4543(17)30027-1/abstract.
  2. Dongre, S., Langade, D. and Bhattacharyya, S. (2015). Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Improving Sexual Function in Women: A Pilot Study. BioMed Research International, 2015, pp.1–9. Available at: ‌https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4609357/
  3. Ahmad, M.K., Mahdi, A.A., Shukla, K.K., Islam, N., Rajender, S., Madhukar, D., Shankhwar, S.N. and Ahmad, S. (2010). Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males. Fertility and sterility, [online] 94(3), pp.989–96. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19501822.‌
  4. Ahmad MK, Mahdi AA, Shukla KK, et al. Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males. Fertil Steril. 2010;94(3):989-996. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2009.04.046
  5. Sandhu JS, Shah B, Shenoy S, Chauhan S, Lavekar GS, Padhi MM. Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) and Terminalia arjuna (Arjuna) on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy young adults. Int J Ayurveda Res. 2010;1(3):144-149. doi:10.4103/0974-7788.72485
  6. Wankhede S, Langade D, Joshi K, Sinha SR, Bhattacharyya S. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12:43. Published 2015 Nov 25. doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9
  7. Ambiye VR, Langade D, Dongre S, Aptikar P, Kulkarni M, Dongre A. Clinical Evaluation of the Spermatogenic Activity of the Root Extract of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Oligospermic Males: A Pilot Study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:571420. doi:10.1155/2013/571420
  8. Raut AA, Rege NN, Tadvi FM, et al. Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2012;3(3):111-114. doi:10.4103/0975-9476.100168
  9. Grandhi, A., Mujumdar, A.M. and Patwardhan, B. (1994). A comparative pharmacological investigation of Ashwagandha and Ginseng. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, [online] 44(3), pp.131–135. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0378874194011192?via%3Dihub [Accessed 14 Mar. 2022].‌
  10. Siegel RK. Ginseng abuse syndrome. Problems with the panacea. JAMA. 1979;241(15):1614-1615. Available at: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/364391
  11. Paik DJ, Lee CH. Review of cases of patient risk associated with ginseng abuse and misuse. J Ginseng Res. 2015;39(2):89-93. doi:10.1016/j.jgr.2014.11.005