Have you been struggling with unwanted weight gain through the years? If you have, know that you are not alone. Obesity and being generally overweight remain global health concerns. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults are overweight, with over 650 million classified as obese <1
>. The health complications of being overweight such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke are already widely known <2
>. But what causes weight gain? Genetics, sugar, stress, hormonal imbalance, food addictions and the widespread availability of cheap and convenient high-sugar, high-fat, high-sodium food products are among the chief causes of unwanted or unhealthy weight gain. Years into the obesity epidemic, people continue to be bombarded with options purportedly leading to weight loss including diet pills, diuretics, fad diets, and so-called scientifically-backed products aimed at the most desperate for weight loss. Some of these solutions promise quick and easy results in days or weeks. While some weight loss products on the market do work, the problem with some of these options lies in the fact that they only work for the short term, are medically-unsound, or they can be detrimental to your health. Recent studies into natural herbal weight loss options, however, reveal that the herb called “ashwagandha” is a healthy and safe alternative.
What Is Ashwagandha? 3 Reasons to Try Ashwagandha for Weight Loss
Is Ashwagandha Safe? The Bottom Line
- It reduces cravings in overweight and stressed adults
- It helps increase muscle mass and strength
- It helps improve energy levels
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera (also called “winter cherry” and “Indian ginseng” by Western herbalists) is an herb that is native to India, Nepal, Northern Africa, and the Middle East, although it is now being cultivated in countries with milder climates, such as the United States. Ashwagandha has been traditionally used in Ayurveda to restore strength and balance and to provide stress relief. The herb is administered to children as a health tonic and is also taken by middle-aged adults and the elderly for numerous health benefits, including longevity <7
>. Ashwagandha is considered to be an “adaptogen” – part of the list of herbs which “aid our bodies in reacting to or recovering from both short- and long-term physical or mental stress” <8
3 Reasons to Try Ashwagandha for Weight Loss
If you are planning to embark on a personal weight loss journey, including ashwagandha in your program may help. Coupled with a holistic approach and balanced lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise and eating healthy foods, ashwagandha can help you achieve your weight loss and overall health goals for the long term. To learn more about how ashwagandha can help with your weight loss goals, take a look at the following three scientifically-backed benefits:
1. It reduces cravings in overweight and stressed adults
Food cravings and stress are a bad combination for people struggling with weight issues. A food craving and stress episode can involve something as simple as reaching for a slice of cake, a tub of ice cream, or a burger after a particularly stressful meeting at work or an embarrassing episode in school. The cycle of stress eating permeates so many aspects of life that even the most determined individuals struggle, and end up fighting a seemingly losing battle against the bulge. This is where ashwagandha can help as it is already scientifically proven to aid in stress management. One study was conducted on 52 chronically-stressed adults comprising of 38 men and 14 women aged 18 to 60 years. The subjects of the study were already being treated for stress and weight problems, and they were chosen from different outpatient clinics <9
>. Three hundred milligrams of a standardised ashwagandha root extract in capsule form was given to the study group, twice daily with water for eight weeks. Meanwhile, identical placebo capsules containing inert filler were given to the control group within the same period. The placebo capsules were kept with a cloth-covered envelope that contained ashwagandha root extract for a few days. This way, the smell of ashwagandha penetrated the placebo capsules so that the placebo capsules smelled just like the ashwagandha capsules <9
>. The study group’s treatment with ashwagandha root extract resulted in a marked reduction of mean scores on the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) compared with baseline values at both four and eight weeks. Moreover, the treatment group also showed significantly more improvement compared to the placebo group. The other measures of ashwagandha root extract efficacy (including measures of wellbeing and happiness, food cravings, reactive eating, serum cortisol levels, and body weight) used in the study reflected similar results in both groups (i.e., significantly more improvement in the study group) <9
>. This study revealed that the effect of ashwagandha on the body weight and body mass index (BMI) of the participants was statistically significant compared to the placebo group. The beneficial effects of the herb on the reduction of the psychological and physiological markers of stress, serum cortisol level, and food cravings were observed, as well as improvements in mental well-being and eating behaviours <9
>. The positive results are attributed to the adaptogenic quality of ashwagandha in that it directly helps the body to manage stress. This means people taking ashwagandha for weight loss effectively do so because cortisol levels are kept in check, thereby eliminating the occurrence of “stress eating.” With ashwagandha in your weight loss arsenal, you can easily manage daily stress and confidently say no to unhealthy food cravings.
2. It helps increase muscle mass and strength
Muscle mass is an essential concern in weight loss because muscle significantly boosts metabolism. This is why your health advisor will likely advise you to hit the gym when you start your weight loss program. The muscle-building benefits of ashwagandha are already widely known and have been subject to scientific scrutiny. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reports that “… ashwagandha supplementation is associated with significant increases in muscle mass and strength and suggests that ashwagandha supplementation may be useful in conjunction with a resistance training program” <10
>. The eight-week study involved 57 young male subjects aged 18 to 50 years, with only a little experience in resistance training. They were divided into a treatment group comprising 29 subjects and a placebo group comprising 28 subjects. Those in the treatment group were given 300 milligrams of ashwagandha root extract twice daily during the study period. Meanwhile, the control group had starch placebos. Both groups underwent resistance training for eight weeks, and measurements were done at the end of week eight for comparison with the baseline measurements taken earlier <10
>. Overall, the group taking ashwagandha experienced a significant increase in muscle mass and strength, in the legs, arms, and chest. Furthermore, the ashwagandha group experienced a significant reduction in body fat percentage and exercise-induced muscle damage <10
>. The implication of this study means you not only gain muscle mass with ashwagandha; you also become stronger, lose more fat, and recover from the strain of physical exertion much faster.
3. It helps improve energy levels
People who are overweight frequently complain about low energy levels, which can further complicate their weight loss goals. In fact, even athletes and sports enthusiasts admit to struggling daily with getting up after sleep and engaging in their exercise regimen or training program. Additionally, stress, fatigue, and insufficient sleep can also make you lethargic at times. If you are experiencing similar challenges, there’s no need to worry because the adaptogenic qualities of ashwagandha can help your body fight off fatigue. One eight-week study conducted in 2010 involved the use of ashwagandha root extract, arjun tree bark extract, a combination of both, and a placebo by 40 individuals to determine the effects of the herbs on physical performance and endurance. Thirty participants comprised the experimental group. Ten were given standardised ashwagandha root extracts; 10 were given arjun tree bark extract, and the rest had a combination of both herbs. All 30 were given capsules in 500-milligram dosages once a day. Ten participants comprised the placebo group and were given capsules with flour. During eight weeks, they were made to perform the same exercises. At the end of the study, it was concluded that ashwagandha helps with addressing generalised weakness, as well as improves speed and lower limb muscular strength and neuro-muscular coordination <11
>. It was also observed that, compared to the placebo group, those who took ashwagandha extract showed an increase in velocity, power, and VO2 max while arjun tree bark extract intake led to an increase in VO2 max and lower resting systolic blood pressure. Furthermore, when both herbs were given in combination, the improvement was observed in all the measures used except for balance and diastolic blood pressure <11
Is Ashwagandha Safe?
Ashwagandha supplements taken orally are generally considered safe and well-tolerated, with very few side effects <9
The Bottom Line
The challenges of losing weight require your commitment and determination as a person. You also need to factor in genetics, your health condition, lifestyle, and several other personal variables. But in your quest to lose weight and maintain a healthy physique, it is important to be discerning when choosing the appropriate weight loss aids. However, there’s definitely science behind considering ashwagandha as a safe supplement for weight loss, especially for chronically-stressed overweight individuals. Its beneficial effects on reducing food cravings, managing stress, increasing muscle mass and strength, and improving energy levels have already been established. And while ashwagandha is certainly no magic pill, it holds a lot of promise well beyond its proven weight loss benefits. If you plan on integrating ashwagandha into your weight loss plan, be sure to consult your physician, especially if you have a preexisting medical condition.