- Ashwagandha is an adaptogen also known as Indian ginseng
- Studies show that Ashwagandha may support weight management in adults
- Taking around 600mg of Ashwagandha daily appears optimal
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a type of evergreen plant with pretty red berries. It grows happily in India, the Middle East, and some parts of Africa. It falls under the category of adaptogens.
In case you aren’t familiar with adaptogens – the name refers to a group of herbs, and other plants which help to return the body to a state of balance following periods of stress. Adaptogens tend to impact hormones, inflammation, and immune function.
Ashwagandha has been used since around 6000 BC – mainly within ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine. Nowadays Ashwagandha is usually taken to reduce anxiety in men and women, either on its own or as part of a stress supportive blend.
What Is The Role Of Ashwagandha In Weight Loss?
Ashwagandha can influence several systems in the body. This means it can cause weight loss through a number of different mechanisms. Some of these are listed below.
Ashwagandha Can Lower Cortisol Levels
Chronic stress is a major contributor to weight gain as it can increase your desire to consume highly palatable foods.
Stress also interferes with the quality of your sleep – which again can increase your calorie intake and drive inflammatory processes in the body.
Increased inflammation can also encourage weight gain, unfortunately.
So, managing stress is an effective strategy for weight management. And a reasonable amount of evidence suggests that Ashwagandha can play a role in stress reduction.
One of the main human studies on ashwagandha and weight loss involves several chronically stressed adults taking ashwagandha supplements for two months.
The outcomes show that not only does this ayurvedic herb reduce baseline cortisol, but also positively influences BMI levels and overall weight scores.
It’s therefore likely that one of the main ways ashwagandha can cause weight loss is due to its ability to modulate stress.
Ashwagandha Can Increase Muscle Mass
Increasing muscle mass has two key effects on weight management. Firstly, it can increase your basal metabolic rate – which determines the number of calories you use up at rest.
People with higher muscle mass tend to also have faster metabolic rates – and therefore burn more calories when resting.
Secondly, increased muscle mass can reduce your body fat percentage, leading to a healthier overall body composition.
So, if ashwagandha does have a role in increasing body mass, it may be useful when it comes to weight loss.
A few studies looking at ashwagandha’s ability to stimulate muscle mass appear quite positive.
In one study, around 60 men took a 600mg supplement of ashwagandha split twice daily. After 8 weeks of supplement intake, they experienced significant increases in muscle mass and reasonable reductions in body mass.
It’s important to add that in addition to taking these supplements, the men in the trial also undertook regular resistance exercise sessions.
This highlights that it’s often the combination of appropriate exercise regimes, diet, and supplements that leads to the best health and weight loss outcomes.
Another study looking at ashwagandha and muscle mass development concluded there was a notable increase in muscle mass and strength following a period of supplementation. This was combined with a reduction in body fat levels.
Both of the above studies were conducted on men, who have a different hormonal profile to women.
Therefore, it would be useful to carry out studies on women – as their testosterone levels are different, and their ability to gain muscle mass differs too.
But, for now, there is a promising indication that ashwagandha may increase muscle mass levels and reduce body fat.
If you are interested in finding out what the benefits of ashwagandha for men are, you can read more here.
Ashwagandha May Increase Testosterone Levels
Testosterone is an important precursor to muscle hypertrophy (growth). So, for men who are struggling with their testosterone levels, maintaining a healthy body shape may be harder.
Over the last several years testosterone levels have been declining in men – possibly due to stress and other hormone-disrupting agents in our environment.
So, finding natural ways to support healthy testosterone levels may be one part of the weight loss puzzle for many men.
Ashwagandha appears to raise levels of testosterone when taken regularly. This can support men to gain muscle mass and simultaneously reduce body fat.
And, as an added side effect, men looking for a fertility boost as well as a healthy body shape may benefit from ashwagandha’s fertility-boosting abilities. This is linked to its testosterone-raising powers.
Ashwagandha Is Anti-Inflammatory
You may have heard that chronic inflammation is the root cause of most conditions and ailments affecting humans in the 21st century. Well, it also plays a role in weight gain too.
This is because when you suffer from a low level, but ongoing inflammation, you can end up with insulin resistance.
Inflammatory chemicals circulating the body, can over time, affect the ability of insulin to do its job. This can lead to higher than desirable levels of blood glucose, as well as increased fat within the liver.
Insulin resistance is not only a key factor in the development of diabetes – but it also promotes weight storage.
Helpfully, ashwagandha is packed full of several different types of antioxidants. These include withaferin, catalase, and superoxide dismutase. These antioxidants perform the role of oxidative stress prevention.
So, if you can reduce your inflammation through good sleep, exercise, a nutrient-dense diet, and antioxidant-rich supplements such as ashwagandha, you may be able to reduce your risk of insulin resistance, and therefore weight gain.
Can Ashwagandha Make You Gain Weight?
You might be concerned that there’s a risk of ashwagandha actually increasing your chance of weight gain. Luckily, there is no solid evidence base to indicate this is the case.
The evidence currently supports the notion that ashwagandha reduces stress and inflammation whilst boosting your muscle mass. This has, in several studies, led to a desirable decrease in body fat.
However, taking ashwagandha doesn’t mean you can increase your caloric intake and avoid weight gain. So, you’ll still need to ensure you aren’t taking in more calories than you need on a daily basis.
And ashwagandha is unlikely to cause significant weight loss unless you combine it with a healthy, portion-controlled diet, and regular resistance exercise.
Does Ashwagandha Cause Side Effects?
Most studies looking into the safety of Ashwagandha focus on short term use. This means using it for no more than three months in a row.
At the moment there’s not enough long-term evidence to guarantee its safety when taken over a longer period of time.
However, side effects tend to occur only when taken in very high amounts. If you take more than the recommended safe dose of ashwagandha then you might experience a range of possible side effects.
These include an upset stomach, diarrhoea, and vomiting. There are also rare incidences where liver damage might occur if you take excessive amounts of Ashwagandha.
Most studies into side effects focus on healthy adults. If you have particular health conditions, including pre-existing issues with your liver, then it’s best to seek the advice of a doctor before you supplement with ashwagandha.
Similarly, ashwagandha may not be appropriate if you have an autoimmune disorder, are undergoing surgery, or are taking medications that affect your nervous system such as benzodiazepines.
If you are pregnant, then you should avoid ashwagandha as there is some evidence to show it may increase your risk of miscarriages. Similarly, if you are breastfeeding it’s best not to take ashwagandha as there’s not currently enough information about its safety in this scenario.
Ashwagandha And Weight Loss Verdict
Ashwagandha is most popular for its ability to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Which can be very beneficial in today’s stressful society. If you plan to take it mainly for its stress-reducing benefits, you might want to pair it with Rhodiola Rhosea – which is another proven stress reducer.
But there is also a growing evidence base to indicate it can also help you to maintain a healthy body weight.
Ashwagandha likely causes weight loss through a combination of increased muscle mass, reduced stress, and lower levels of inflammation. More evidence is needed to demonstrate some of these effects in women.
The good news is that you may see signs of ashwagandha benefits in as little as 1-2 weeks.
Taking up to 600mg of ashwagandha per day, as part of holistic supplement regime, or as a standalone addition to a healthy, active life, may make it easier for you to achieve your weight loss goals.
Julia is a health content editor and nutritionist from Norwich, UK. She has worked as a health coach in private practice and for the national health service. She undertook an MSc in nutritional medicine to deepen her knowledge. She enjoys producing evidence-based content which inspires people to become healthier and happier.