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Also known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng, ashwagandha is considered a Rasayana herb—an ancient Ayurvedic term that roughly translates to rejuvenation, youth, and longevity.
The benefits of using ashwagandha are wide-reaching—historically, it has been used for over 6,000 years for everything from stress relief to sexual vitality to strengthening muscles.
In recent years, people have also looked to ashwagandha for weight loss—but can it really work?
In this article, learn more about the top six ways that ashwagandha may benefit weight loss, from restoring sleep and reducing blood sugar to acting as an antioxidant and amping up muscle mass.
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a flowering plant in the nightshade family that is native to India but also grows in the Middle East and Africa.
The Sanskrit word ashwagandha roughly translates to “the smell and strength of a horse”—and anyone who has gotten a potent whiff of ashwagandha capsules or powders can attest to that.
In addition to providing strength and stamina, ashwagandha paradoxically also calms and relaxes—in fact, the “somnifera” in its species name is Latin for “sleep-inducing.”
This ability to provide energy and support sleep simultaneously is a key characteristic of its adaptogenic properties.
As an adaptogen—plants, herbs, or roots that help the body resist stressors and maintain overall balance—ashwagandha can help the central nervous system adapt to your body’s specific needs at that time, whether under or overstressed.
6 Evidence-Backed Ways Ashwagandha May Benefit Weight Loss
Some research has shown that supplementing with ashwagandha is linked to weight loss.
But how exactly does this work?
Let’s take a look at the six ways that ashwagandha may help you lose weight or maintain a healthy body weight.
1. Reduces Stress and Cortisol Levels
Due to its adaptogenic properties, one of ashwagandha’s most well-known qualities is its ability to modulate the stress response.
Chronic stress—characterized by high cortisol—is known to cause or contribute to several health conditions, including being overweight or obese.
In addition to causing uncomfortable feelings of stress or anxiety, high cortisol levels have also been shown to trigger the redistribution of fat tissue into the abdominal region and increase appetite for high-energy foods rich in carbohydrates or fat.
Ashwagandha has been shown to lower cortisol levels, which may lead to weight loss by reducing body fat and cravings.
In a 2019 study published in Medicine, stressed but otherwise healthy adults who took 240mg of ashwagandha for 60 days had more significant reductions in blood cortisol and self-reported anxiety levels than those who took a placebo.
Plus, research from 2017 looked at the effects of supplemental ashwagandha on chronic stress and body weight.
The researchers found that 600mg of daily ashwagandha supplementation significantly reduced perceived stress, serum cortisol, food cravings, and body weight while increasing happiness levels after eight weeks compared to a placebo.
The ashwagandha-supplemented group experienced an average weight loss of 5.1 pounds over the 8-week study, while the placebo group was about half that, at 2.5 pounds on average.
2. May Increase Muscle Mass
Ashwagandha may help to support a healthier body composition by increasing muscle mass.
A redistribution of body weight—favoring muscle over fat—can increase energy expenditure and help with fat loss over time.
Two studies from 2015 and 2018 have looked at the effects of ashwagandha on muscle mass.
The researchers found that young adult males who supplemented with 500-600mg of ashwagandha for 8 to 12 weeks during a strength training program had significantly greater increases in upper and lower body muscle mass and strength, with reduced muscle damage post-exercise.
Plus, the men in the 2015 study lost 2% more body fat than the placebo group. More muscle mass supports your metabolism by increasing energy expenditure, meaning that the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest.
3. Acts As an Antioxidant
Oxidative stress occurs from an accumulation of harmful compounds called free radicals or reactive oxygen species, which damage cells and DNA.
Not only is oxidative stress linked to accelerated aging and chronic disease development, but it also is thought to contribute to obesity by altering food intake and triggering the deposition of white adipose tissue (an unhealthy type of fat).
Ashwagandha acts as an antioxidant, helping to fight oxidative stress and free radical buildup. In animal studies, ashwagandha has been found to restore beneficial antioxidants like glutathione and superoxide dismutase, which could indirectly benefit body weight.
4. Improves Sleep Quality
Sleep is essential for health—including maintaining a healthy weight.
A meta-analysis combining data from 18 studies and over 600,000 adults found that people who regularly get less than five hours of sleep are 55% more likely to be obese—and that each additional hour of sleep that one regularly gets can reduce BMI by 0.35 points (kg/m2).
So it’s safe to say that getting enough sleep is beneficial for weight loss—and ashwagandha may be able to help support your snoozin’.
In one 10-week study, adults who took 600mg of ashwagandha per day had significant reductions in sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) with increases in sleep quality and efficiency—the percentage of time spent asleep while in bed.
The ashwagandha-supplemented adults also increased their total sleep time by 50 minutes per night, compared to 29 minutes in the placebo group.
5. Improves Glucose Metabolism
Lower blood glucose levels lead to your body producing less insulin, which can contribute to weight loss and decreased fat mass.
Insulin is an essential hormone for managing blood sugar, but its chronically high levels can increase fat storage and weight gain.
When insulin levels are consistently elevated, the body’s ability to burn fat for energy is impaired—therefore, managing blood sugar levels can reduce insulin production to support a healthy body weight.
In a meta-analysis of 24 studies, ashwagandha significantly reduced blood glucose, insulin, and hemoglobin A1C levels—a three-month average of blood sugar levels. In another older study, adults with type 2 diabetes who supplemented with ashwagandha had significant reductions in blood glucose levels after 30 days—in fact, the decline was similar to that of a prescription blood- sugar-lowering drug.
6. Increases Testosterone in Men
Lastly, ashwagandha may help with weight loss in men by supporting healthy testosterone levels.
Low testosterone in men contributes to weight gain and obesity—and vice versa, as obesity is also a major contributor to declining testosterone.
In a study of overweight men aged 40 to 70, supplementing with 600mg of ashwagandha for 16 weeks increased testosterone levels by 13.7%.
Unfortunately, this study didn’t look at body weight changes in the participants, but it’s possible that ashwagandha may have supported weight loss due to the testosterone boost.
How to Supplement With Ashwagandha: Dosage, Safety, and Side Effects
Ashwagandha has generally been recognized as a safe supplement, with few reports of adverse effects.
However, excessive doses of ashwagandha might cause digestive problems like upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting.
Most studies involve taking ashwagandha in doses ranging from 250-800mg daily for 30 days to 16 weeks.
According to the research, the most benefits are seen in doses of 400-600mg per day, which can be split into two doses of 200-300mg each.
Due to its sleep-inducing qualities, it’s possible to experience mild drowsiness when taking it—but if taken at night, that could be the desired effect.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women will want to consult their doctor before taking ashwagandha.
People with a nightshade allergy should avoid ashwagandha, and people taking thyroid, diabetes, or blood pressure medications should ask their doctor, as it may interact with these drugs.
Ashwagandha can be taken in capsule, powder, or liquid extract form.
Recommended Ashwagandha Supplement for Weight Loss
Ashwagandha may help you lose belly fat, as it reduces stress and cortisol, fights oxidative stress, improves sleep quality and blood glucose metabolism, and increases muscle mass and testosterone in males.
How Much Weight Can You Lose With Ashwagandha?
There are few studies on weight loss and ashwagandha.
Some available research suggests that supplementing with ashwagandha for eight weeks leads to an average weight loss of 5.1 pounds.
When Should I Take Ashwagandha For Weight Loss?
The best time to take ashwagandha depends on your goals.
For example, if you want to improve your sleep quality, try taking it before bed.
If you are aiming for calm energy, stress reduction, or blood sugar control for the day, try taking the supplement in the morning.
Ashwagandha can be taken with or without meals.
However, ashwagandha works best when taken over time—taking it just a few times will not be enough to induce beneficial health outcomes.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic Ayurvedic herb with many research-backed benefits that suggest it may benefit weight loss.
Ashwagandha supplements of 400-600mg per day for eight weeks or more may support weight loss through several mechanisms.
These include reducing stress and cortisol, fighting oxidative stress, improving sleep quality and blood glucose metabolism, and increasing muscle mass and testosterone in males.
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