With Clinical Data for Mood, Stress, and Sexual Health, the Many Reasons to Consider Ashwaganda and Saffron for “Recovery 2021”
In 2020, stress pretty much hit us all like a freight train—not just once or twice, but repeatedly. Many of these new stressors are carrying with us into 2021 and may exist indefinitely. Thus, the need for tools that support our mental health and stress tolerance continue to be key.
Data supports the use of the botanicals ashwagandha and saffron not only for helping us navigate stress and mood issues, but also for sexual function. Saffron even has multiple clinical studies showing its efficacy as an adjunctive therapy for the treatment of antidepressant-related sexual dysfunction. In this article, we take a brief look at the highlights of the research on these botanicals with regard to stress and mood, as well as sexual health and fertility.
Ashwagandha: A Multifaceted Tool for Stress Management, Mood, and Sexual Health
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is well known as a botanical that improves many aspects of the body’s response to stress. In randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials (RDBPCTs), it has been shown to reduce perceived stress and stress assessment scores, decrease anxiety and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, improve happiness, and curb food cravings, even reducing body weight.,,,
Daily supplementation of ashwagandha in these studies ranged from 125 to 1000 mg, with improvements in stress and mental well-being being seen even at the lowest dose. In one RDBPCT, ashwagandha was shown to improve subclinical hypothyroidism, which can be a factor in sexual dysfunction, infertility, and depression.
Where sexual health is concerned, ashwagandha also has positive data for both male and female sexual function in different capacities.
In animals, ashwagandha has been shown to significantly increase testosterone and progesterone levels compared to control. In aging, overweight men, supplementation of ashwagandha for eight weeks significantly increased both dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and testosterone compared to placebo. These and other actions also translate to clinical improvements in male fertility, where ashwagandha (at a dose of 225 mg three times daily) was shown to significantly increase testosterone levels, semen volume, and sperm count and motility in men with oligospermia.
In individuals with type 2 diabetes, ashwagandha has been shown to improve endothelial function, increasing levels of nitric oxide. Although ashwagandha has not been studied specifically as a tool for vasogenic erectile dysfunction, these findings point toward possible benefits.
In women, ashwagandha has impressive findings as an intervention for sexual dysfunction related to stress. In a group of women ages 21-to-50 who had complaints of sexual dysfunction related to common day-to-day stressors including child-rearing and partner expectations, supplementation of ashwagandha at a dose of 300 mg twice daily for eight weeks significantly improved multiple scores of female sexual function including those related to lubrication, arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction. An increase in number of successful sexual encounters and a decrease in Female Sexual Distress Scale scores also were seen.
Saffron: Mental Health, Antidepressant-Related Sexual Dysfunction, and More
Saffron (Crocus sativus), a valuable herb commonly used in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and South Asian cooking, also has substantial evidence backing its medicinal use for mood disorders and sexual health.
In numerous RDBPCTs, treatment with saffron has been shown to significantly improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.,, Studies suggest that the active constituents found in saffron interact with the GABAergic system and modulate levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.,, A 2013 meta-analysis of the randomized, controlled trials assessing the efficacy of saffron as a treatment of depression found a large effect size with supplementation of saffron compared to placebo. Additionally, when compared to various pharmaceutical antidepressants, the effect size was null, indicating the treatments were similarly effective.
Where sexual health is concerned, saffron also boasts multiple preclinical and clinical studies. Animal studies suggest that the constituent crocin mediates its aphrodisiac effects, while the whole herb or its extract have also been shown to improve endothelial function and activate nitric oxide synthase,, which may be another means by which it improves sexual response in both males and females.
Studies suggest saffron may be of benefit for erectile function and overall sexual performance in men taking antidepressants, further detailed below. Daily supplementation of saffron has also been demonstrated to improve erectile function in men in general, albeit at a fairly high dose of 200 mg a day, which is in contrast to the dose of 30 mg a day that other studies typically use.
In women ages 18 to 39 with complaints of general sexual dysfunction, supplementation with 15 mg of a saffron extract twice daily led to a significant increase in excitement and desire by four weeks, with all aspects of sexual dysfunction except lubrication and dyspareunia significantly improved versus placebo by eight weeks.
Some of the more interesting findings with saffron are in the setting of antidepressant-related sexual dysfunction. Here, saffron has quality RDBPCTs in both males and females for whom sexual dysfunction transpired after commencing antidepressant therapies. In women, supplementation with 15 mg of an extract of saffron twice daily for four weeks significantly improved total sexual function index scores compared to placebo, specifically improving scores related to arousal, lubrication, and pain. Desire, satisfaction, and orgasm were not significantly improved. In men for whom the same treatment regime was applied, total sexual function scores were improved compared to placebo, with the primary benefits attributed to significantly improved erectile function. Similar to the women, there were no significant changes in desire, satisfaction, and orgasm scores.
Improvements in semen parameters have also been observed with regular saffron supplementation, making it worthy of consideration for infertility issues as well. In addition to crocin’s aphrodisiac effects, saffron also contains numerous fat-soluble carotenoid compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions., When given to men with idiopathic infertility at a dose of 50 mg three times a week for three months, significant improvements in sperm motility and percentage of sperm with normal morphology was seen.
The findings of these studies as well as others give many reasons to consider ashwagandha and saffron for the management of stress and mental health, as well as sexual function in both men and women. Although with these botanicals, desire and libido were not particularly improved, numerous other botanicals exist with centuries of use for their aphrodisiac properties.
 Chandrasekhar K, et al. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62.
 Pratte MA, et al. An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Dec;20(12):901-8.
 Jahanbakhsh SP, et al. Evaluation of the efficacy of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) root extract in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Complement Ther Med.2016 Aug;27:25-9.
 Choudhary D, et al. Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med.2017 Jan;22(1):96-106.
 Sharma AK, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2018 Mar;24(3):243-8.
 Belal NM, et al. Effect of dietary intake ashwagandha roots powder on the levels of sex hormones in the diabetic and non-diabetic male rats. World J Dairy Food Sci. 2012;7(2):160-6.
 Lopresti AL, et al. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study Examining the Hormonal and Vitality Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Aging, Overweight Males. Am J Mens Health. 2019 Mar-Apr;13(2):1557988319835985.
 Ambiye VR, et al. 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.
 Usharani P, et al. A comparative study to evaluate the effect of highly standardised aqueous extracts of Phyllanthus emblica, Withania somnifera and their combination on endothelial dysfunction and biomarkers in patients with type II diabetes mellitus. Int J Pharm Sci Res. 2014;5(7):2687-97.
 Dongre S, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Improving Sexual Function in Women: A Pilot Study. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:284154.
 Moshiri E, et al. Crocus sativus L. (petal) in the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 2006 Nov;13(9-10):607-11.
 Lopresti AL, et al. affron®, a standardised extract from saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for the treatment of youth anxiety and depressive symptoms: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Affect Disord. 2018 May;232:349-57.
 Mazidi M, et al. A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in the treatment of anxiety and depression. J Complement Integr Med. 2016 Jun 1;13(2):195-9.
 Marañón JA, et al. Selective Method of Detection and Quantification of Safranal–The Natural Benzodiazepine-Like Gaba-A Receptor Agonist. Planta Medica. 2013 Jul;79(10):PO15.
 Hosseinzadeh H, et al. Antidepressant effects of Crocus sativus stigma extracts and its constituents, crocin and safranal, in mice. J Med Plants. 2004;3:48-58.
 Ettehadi H, et al. Aqueous extract of saffron (Crocus sativus) increases brain dopamine and glutamate concentrations in rats. J Behav Brain Sci. 2013 Jul 1;3(3):315-9.
 Hausenblas HA, et al. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Integr Med. 2013 Nov;11(6):377-83.
 Hosseinzadeh H, et al. The effect of saffron, Crocus sativus stigma, extract and its constituents, safranal and crocin on sexual behaviors in normal male rats. Phytomedicine. 2008 Jun;15(6-7):491-5.
 Razavi BM, et al. Saffron Induced Relaxation in Isolated Rat Aorta via Endothelium Dependent and Independent Mechanisms. Iran J Pharm Res. 2018 Summer;17(3):1018-25.
 Khori V, et al. Frequency-dependent electrophysiological remodeling of the AV node by hydroalcohol extract of Crocus sativus L. (saffron) during experimental atrial fibrillation: the role of endogenous nitric oxide. Phytother Res. 2012 Jun;26(6):826-32.
 Maleki-Saghooni N, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials on saffron (Crocus sativus) effectiveness and safety on erectile dysfunction and semen parameters. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2018 May-Jun;8(3):198-209.
 Shamsa A, et al. Evaluation of Crocus sativus L. (saffron) on male erectile dysfunction: a pilot study. Phytomedicine. 2009 Aug;16(8):690-3.
 Rahmati M, et al. The effect of saffron on sexual dysfunction in women of reproductive age. Nursing Practice Today. 2017 Aug 13;4(3):154-63.
 Kashani L, et al. Saffron for treatment of fluoxetine-induced sexual dysfunction in women: randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2013 Jan;28(1):54-60.
 Modabbernia A, et al. Effect of saffron on fluoxetine-induced sexual impairment in men: randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012 Oct;223(4):381-8.
 Rahaiee S, et al. Evaluation of antioxidant activities of bioactive compounds and various extracts obtained from saffron (Crocus sativus L.): a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2015 Apr;52(4):1881-8.
 Poma A, et al. Anti-inflammatory properties of drugs from saffron crocus. Antiinflamm Antiallergy Agents Med Chem. 2012;11(1):37-51.
 Heidary M, et al. Effect of saffron on semen parameters of infertile men. Urol J. 2008 Fall;5(4):255-9.