Whether you’re dealing with a sluggish metabolism due to aging, lockdowns that prevent you from going to the gym, or whacky hormones that are causing you to pack on the pounds, weight gain happens to the best of us.
And while the weight seems to pile on pretty easily, we can’t say the same about taking it off. Diet plays a significant role in losing weight and keeping it off, but other lifestyle habits like exercise, sleep, and stress management, are also vital. They say, “you can’t outwork a bad diet,” but you also can’t outwork bad lifestyle habits.
So, if you’re one of the lucky ones who’s dealing with a few unwelcome pounds that you’re happy to shed, we have something you may be interested in.
Ashwagandha is a traditional Ayurvedic herb that’s been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments, but could this adaptogenic herb be your magic potion for weight loss?
We’re digging into the research and giving you everything you need to know about ashwagandha and weight loss.
What Is Ashwagandha?
Commonly referred to as “Indian winter cherry” or “Indian ginseng”, Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is one of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s been used for centuries as a Rasayana (tonic) and is prized for its wide-ranging health benefits.
Rasayana is described as any herb that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and increases happiness 1. While there are many Ayurvedic Rasayana herbs, Ashwagandha consistently steals the spotlight as a potent anti-stress agent.
It’s said to enhance the function of the brain and nervous system and improve memory; it may improve function of the reproductive system to promote a healthy sexual and reproductive balance; and it can support the body’s stress response and enhance its resilience to stress 1.
On top of that, it’s also known to enhance the body’s immune system to protect against disease and act as a potent antioxidant that protects against free-radical induced cell damage.
The use of Ashwagandha can be traced back as far as 6000 BC in India, where it was given the name Ashwagandha due to its similarity to the smell of a horse; it’s said that consuming the herb can give you the power of a horse. The leaves are bitter; the flowers are astringent, depurative, diuretic, and aphrodisiac; and the seeds are anthelmintic and astringent.
While there seems to be no end to the benefits of this ancient herb, what’s its role in weight loss and promoting overall health and longevity?
4 Benefits Of Ashwagandha For Weight Loss
1. Adaptogenic Activity
Stress is a normal part of life that we all encounter in some form. The stress response is activated as a protective mechanism against harm, and under normal circumstances, the response subsides when the threat dissipates.
However, when that stress response stays activated, it can cause major damage and lead to long-term health issues like cardiovascular disorders, hypertension, depression, impaired memory and cognition, digestive problems, fatigue syndrome, and autoimmune disorders 2.
Ancient Ayurvedic herbs called adaptogens are gold for helping to improve the body’s response to stress and adapt by normalizing physiological processes in times of heightened stress.
Adaptogens like ashwagandha exert their stress-protective effects by regulating homeostasis via several mechanisms of action linked to the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis 2.
They also regulate key mediators of the stress response, including heat shock proteins (Hsp70), stress-activated c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK-1), cortisol, and nitric oxide (NO)
A 2019 study looked at ashwagandha’s adaptogenic and anxiolytic effects in 60 healthy adults 2. Results showed that 250 mg/day ashwagandha supplementation reduced perceived stress levels, serum cortisol levels, and improved sleep quality.
This may be especially helpful for people undergoing intense periods of stress. Whether it be from work or exercise, heightened stress can lead to progress plateaus, hormonal imbalances, muscle loss, decreased energy, a weakened immune system, and slow metabolism that can interfere with weight loss.
2. Reduces Cortisol
Chronic stress is a significant health concern worldwide and has been linked to all sorts of adverse health outcomes and diseases, including obesity, depression, diabetes, hypertension, and even cancer 3.
That’s because stress causes systemic elevations in stress hormones like cortisol, and chronically elevated levels of the catecholamines can lead to increased visceral adiposity and other metabolic dysfunctions 4.
On top of that, chronic stress is also known to alter eating behaviors, which can result in increased food intake and decreased physical activity, both factors that can lead to weight gain.
This is especially true for ‘craving’ type foods like sweets, fried foods, soft drinks, and alcohol. Increased consumption of high-calorie foods usually means a higher body mass index. This may be due to activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which has been found to increase cravings for sweet foods in people prone to binge-eating junk food 5.
Stress-induced increases in serum cortisol can lead to increase visceral fat deposition, as well as increases in circulating glucocorticoid concentrations. This eventually promotes cravings for carbohydrates and fat and decreases energy expenditure by suppressing corticotropin-releasing hormone and stimulating neuropeptide hypothalamic secretion 4.
Reducing stress can also help restore normal levels of leptin, a hormone that regulates energy balance by suppressing food intake 6. And studies show that supplementation with ashwagandha can help reduce stress-related weight gain.
And it doesn’t stop there. Cortisol is also a major stealer of testosterone, so if you’re struggling with low testosterone and your stress is through the roof, ashwagandha could help regulate cortisol levels and get testosterone production back on track.
3. Acts As An Antioxidant
The body is equipped with an antioxidant defense system that protects it from free-radical induced cell damage. However, in times of excessive stress (physical, mental, emotional), these defense systems can become weak, which increases the body’s susceptibility to damage.
When the production of free radicals exceeds the capabilities of the endogenous defense system, it results in a state of oxidative stress.
While there are many natural sources of antioxidants in the diet, the leaves of ashwagandha have been shown to possess potent antioxidant properties due to high concentrations of ascorbic acid and anthocyanin 7.
Anthocyanins are flavonoids known to scavenge free radicals, inhibit hydrolytic and oxidative enzymes, and exert anti-inflammatory actions. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is also a powerful antioxidant with free-radical scavenging activity and also helps to regenerate other antioxidants.
But why are antioxidants important? Excessive free radical damage and oxidative stress underlie many chronic diseases, including aging, neurodegenerative conditions, diabetes, CVD risk factors, and even cancer 8.
4. Regulates Blood Sugar
Blood sugar dysregulation can be a major impediment to weight loss efforts. When your blood sugar is chronically spiking and dropping, it not only interferes with the hormones that regulate your appetite, but it triggers major fat storage.
However, ashwagandha may offer some antihyperlipidemic and hypoglycemic properties that can help people dealing with wonky blood sugar manage it.
Studies are rather limited, but here’s what we have:
- A 2015 test-tube study found that ashwagandha can enhance insulin secretion and improve insulin sensitivity in muscle cells 9
- A 2020 review showed that ashwagandha administration could help lower blood sugar and diabetic patients 10
- A 2008 study suggests that supplementing with ashwagandha can improve fasting blood glucose in adults experiencing stress-related health conditions 11
Can Ashwagandha Help With Weight Loss?
Can adding ashwagandha to your supplement stack help you lose weight? Directly, probably not. But because ashwagandha has powerful effects on reducing cortisol and supporting the body’s response to stress, it can offer some significant indirect benefits.
Cortisol is one of the biggest factors that can curb any efforts to lose weight. It is, by nature, a catabolic hormone that triggers fat storage and weight gain.
So, when cortisol levels are through the roof, not only are you going to store fat more easily, but you’re not going to be sleeping well, your testosterone levels are going to plummet, you’re going to have difficulty maintaining muscle, and your appetite and cravings are going to be all over the place.
Simply put, here’s what ashwagandha has to offer:
- Increases testosterone
- Reduces cortisol
- Boosts immunity
- Reduces inflammation and oxidative stress
- Improves sleep quality
- Relieves stress
- Increases energy
- Promotes weight loss
- Supports muscle growth
So, is ashwagandha as effective for weight loss as something like a fat burner? No. But the health benefits it does offer give you a massive bang for your buck and it’s something that definitely needs to be in your supplement stack.
- N Singh, M Bhalla, P de Jager, M An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda.Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011;8(5 Suppl):208-213.
- J Salve, S Pate, K Debnath, D Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study. Cureus. 2019;11(12):e6466.
- Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, Joshi K. 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;22(1):96-106. doi:10.1177/2156587216641830
- I Kyrou, C Chronic stress, visceral obesity and gonadal dysfunction.Hormones (Athens). 2008;7(4):287-293.
- NJ Nevanperä, L Hopsu, E Kuosma, O Ukkola, J Uitti, JH Laitinen. Occupational burnout, eating behavior, and weight among working women.Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:934–943.
- EA Lawson, KK Miller, JI Blum, et al. Leptin levels are associated with decreased depressive symptoms in women across the weight spectrum, independent of body fat.Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2012;76:520–525.
- N Alam, M Hossain, MA Mottalib, SA Sulaiman, SH Gan, MI Khalil. Methanolic extracts of Withania somnifera leaves, fruits and roots possess antioxidant properties and antibacterial activities.BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012;12:175.
- I Liguori, G Russo, F Curcio, et al. Oxidative stress, aging, and diseases. Clin Interv Aging. 2018;13:757-772.
- J Gorelick, R Rosenberg, A Smotrich, L Hanuš, N Bernstein. Hypoglycemic activity of withanolides and elicitated Withania somnifera. 2015;116:283-289.
- S Saleem, G Muhammad, MA Hussain, M Altaf, SNA Bukhari. Withania somnifera L.: Insights into the phytochemical profile, therapeutic potential, clinical trials, and future prospective. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2020;23(12):1501-1526.
- B Abedon, B Auddy, J Hazra, A Mitra, S A standardized Withania somnifera extract significantly reduces stress-related parameters in chronically stressed humans: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. JANA. 2008; 11(1):50-56.