The most prevalent female sexual dysfunction disorder involves a lack of sexual interest and willingness to be sexual, according to mayoclinic.org. As the cause of female sexual dysfunction is multifactorial, stress topped the list of reasons affecting sexual desire, arousal or satisfaction.
The link between chronic stressors and sexual function has been examined in survey studies, which found that for women, higher levels of chronic stressors were related to higher levels of sexual problems and lower levels of sexual satisfaction (Hamilton, 2013). Chronic stress leads to higher levels of cortisol production, which can interfere with hormonal secretion (Olster, 1987). Reduction in gonadotropin release, suppresses the production of sex hormones, resulting in lower libido and sexual arousal (Gore, 2006).
Traditional treatment for female sexual dysfunction includes counseling, pain management, arousal techniques, and 2 FDA approved medications, Flibanserin and bremelanotide, according to Cleveland Clinic.com.
Current treatment inadequacies are causing women to seek alternatives, which is creating an increased demand for female sexual enhancement supplements. According to Future Market Insights, the global sexual enhancement supplements market is predicted to reach US$ 257.7 million in 2023 and expected to be worth US$ 741.6 million by 2033. The growth of this market is likely to record a 7.4% compound annual growth rate (CAGR). Companies are focusing on developing functional foods and sustainable products addressing female sexual health issues by improving mental and emotional well-being, vitality, general well-being, and reducing the effects of stress on the body.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), is rooted in one of the oldest and still practiced traditions of healing, Ayurveda. Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic Ayurvedic herb, often used to combat and reduce stress and enhance general wellbeing. The name “Ashwagandha” means “smell of horse” and refers to the herb’s distinct smell and the belief that taking the herb gives you the strength, stamina, vitality, and virility of a horse. Could Ashwagandha help sexual function for women?
There are many Ashwagandha extracts on the market, with the most high profile being the branded ingredients, KSM-66, Sensoril, and Shoden. These extracts provide targeted active constituents to achieve a specific effect. They can be found as standalone products or complementary ingredients in more than 700 major supplement, sports nutrition, and food and beverage products worldwide.
KSM-66 Ashwagandha is a specialized root extract that closely resembles the natural ratios of bioactive constituents of the Ashwagandha root, according to the brand. Clinical studies of KSM-66 have shown it promotes cognitive function, contributes to stress management, sleep, endurance, and recovery (Langade, 2019). KSM-66 Ashwagandha has demonstrated statistically significant improvement in female sexual function (Ajgaonkar, 2022).
Sensoril Ashwagandha is a high-purity extract, derived from equal parts roots and leaves. “This provides a fuller spectrum of health promoting metabolites than either plant part alone,” said Dr Anthony Thomas, Product Manager for cognitive health at Kerry. With over 16 clinical trials, Sensoril has demonstrated safety and efficacy in delivering cognitive health benefits, reducing menopausal symptoms and lowering cortisol levels.
Dr Thomas added that, “the reduction in cortisol levels and improved resilience to stress may help support sexual function in both women and men.” This recognizable link is why multiple supplement brands have formulated Sensoril into their products intended to support women’s sexual health and libido, he said.
Shoden is a high potency Ashwagandha extract with an industry leading 35% withanolide glycosides. “The withanolides are the unique active constituents in the Ashwagandha plant and the glycosides are very bioavailable,” explained Michael Lelah, PhD, Chief Science Officer, NutriScience Innovations. Shoden has demonstrated efficacy in reducing stress, improving sleep through reducing non-restorative sleep, and increasing testosterone in males (Lopresti, 2019). “Although Shoden has not been tested specifically for female sexual dysfunction, its stress relieving and sleep promoting properties would be a great complementary ingredient in a female sexual health formulation,” explained Lelah.
Female sexual dysfunction is multifaceted and complex. The cause and effect of chronic stress and female sexual dysfunction has been demonstrated. As current options for female sexual dysfunction are lacking, the identified benefits of Ashwagandha may be the solution to help women.