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Last updated: Sep 02, 2021
6 min read

How does ashwagandha help with weight loss?

felix gussonemolly knudsen

Medically Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD

Written by Molly Knudsen, MS, RDN

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

There are countless supplements on the market boasting their weight loss potential. Ashwagandha is not one of those supplements. Ashwagandha is an herb that has a rich history in India’s Ayurvedic medicine practices as a destressing tonic. 

Although more research needs to be done, modern science is starting to find potential health benefits of ashwagandha. For example, there’s research showing it can impact measures of stress and emotion, including anxiousness and sleep quality—which can influence weight status (Choudhary, 2017). So, ashwagandha may support weight loss by helping to manage stress.

Let’s dig a little deeper.   

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Ashwagandha, cortisol, and weight gain 

In order to understand how ashwagandha may help with weight loss, you first need to understand what ashwagandha is and how it could affect the stress hormone cortisol. 

Ashwagandha, scientifically known as Withania somnifera, is an adaptogen for stress and is one of the most studied adaptogens. Adaptogens are herbs that help improve the body’s ability to adapt to and cope with stress (Chandrasekhar, 2012). One way to measure the body’s stress level is through the hormone cortisol. 

Cortisol is a stress hormone, commonly known as the “fight or flight” hormone. It runs high in times of emotional and physical stress—like when you’re going through a breakup or when you’re being chased. When cortisol increases in those short-term, infrequent scenarios, it’s beneficial in keeping you alert and raising your glucose, or blood sugar levels, in the moment to give you a needed energy boost (Lee, 2015). 

But when cortisol is elevated all of the time, it can (McEwen, 2008):

  • Shift the body’s metabolism to store more fat
  • Decrease energy levels
  • Interfere with sleep
  • Weaken the immune system
  • Increase risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes 

Studies have shown that ashwagandha supplements help lower cortisol levels and reduce levels of perceived stress. In a study of 61 adults, researchers found that the group who received 300 mg of ashwagandha supplements twice daily experienced, on average, a 44% reduction in perceived stress scores after two and a half months. Ashwagandha supplementation also reduced blood cortisol levels by around 27%, whereas only an 8% reduction of scores was seen in the placebo group (Chandrasekhar, 2012). 

So, ashwagandha seems to improve stress levels in some people, but does that translate to helping with weight loss? 

Can ashwagandha help you lose weight?

Ashwagandha and weight loss is a new area of research. And one main study to date has specifically looked at this connection. 

The study investigated the impact of ashwagandha supplementation for eight weeks in stressed people with overweight or obesity that had body mass indexes (BMI) of 25-39.9 kg/m².  Participants were either placed in the ashwagandha group and took two, 300 mg doses of ashwagandha daily, or the control group, and took two placebo pills a day (Choudhary, 2017). 

At the end of the study the ashwagandha group experienced:

  • 32.7% reduction in perceived stress
  • 22.2% reduction in blood cortisol levels
  • Less uncontrolled and emotional eating

While there was a weight reduction of around 3% during the eight weeks for the ashwagandha group, the control group also experienced an average weight reduction of about 1.5%—not a huge difference (Choudhary, 2017).  Although supplementation didn’t result in big changes in body weight over two months, participants did manage to lose some weight in a short period of time without any other dietary changes. 

More studies are needed to better draw the connection. For example, does ashwagandha work better as a solution to manage stress and prevent weight gain or does it work better as a weight management strategy? Ashwagandha for weight loss specifically would likely have the most impact when paired with a calorie deficit diet

How to take ashwagandha for weight loss

Ashwagandha is considered to be generally safe (Verma, 2021). It can be found as capsules, powdered supplements, or tea

It has been studied in doses ranging from 250 to 600 mg a day to combat stress, anxiety, and to promote sleep and weight loss (Choudhary, 2017; Chandrasekhar, 2012). However, more powerful effects of ashwagandha have been seen at 600 mg per day (Salve, 2019). These doses are typically split and consumed at different times—with one dose after a morning meal and one in the afternoon or evening.  

Because ashwagandha may promote weight loss or weight maintenance for chronically stressed people, if you’re not chronically stressed, this supplement may not address your needs. Talk to a healthcare provider if you feel like you’re experiencing stress-related weight gain or loss.  

Considerations and side effects of ashwagandha

Ashwagandha may cause some discomfort if taken on an empty stomach, so it’s often recommended to take it with food or after a meal (Chandrasekhar, 2012).

And, as always, talk with a healthcare provider before adding a new supplement to your diet, especially to see if there are any potential interactions with prescription medications. This can reduce your risk of side effects or safety issues. 

Other potential benefits of ashwagandha supplements

Much more research is needed before ashwagandha can be considered a mainstream remedy, but there’s some research suggesting that Ashwagandha’s health benefits could extend beyond stress and weight loss:

  • Boost testosterone levels: Studies have shown that supplementing with ashwagandha could increase testosterone levels, but oftentimes, researchers don’t know if increases in testosterone levels happen because of the supplement, or just by accident (Lopresti, 2019; Ambiye, 2013). 
  • Muscle strength: Ashwagandha supplementation along with resistance training can help muscle mass, growth, and strength, and prevent muscle breakdown from high cortisol levels (Raut, 2012; Wankhede, 2015).
  • Enhance sleep: Ashwagandha supplementation may improve measures of sleep, either by impacting sleep directly or by reducing stress and, therefore, improving sleep (Langade, 2019). 
  • Reduce inflammation: Ashwagandha is rich in antioxidants, combating oxidative stress that leads to inflammation (Chandrasekhar, 2012). 

To take or not to take ashwagandha for weight loss

Ashwagandha supplements may be part of a weight maintenance or weight loss plan for stressed individuals. This Ayurvedic herb’s most notable and studied benefit is reducing stress through lowering cortisol levels and feelings of perceived stress. It may also help regulate emotional eating patterns. But to fully target weight loss, ashwagandha should be used in conjunction with proven strategies such as diet and exercise if weight loss is your goal.

As always, if you have any questions about how a supplement may affect your body, it’s wise to speak with your healthcare provider.

References

  1. Ambiye, V. R., Langade, D., Dongre, S., Aptikar, P., Kulkarni, M., & Dongre, A. (2013). Clinical evaluation of the spermatogenic activity of the root extract of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in oligospermic males: a pilot study. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. doi: 10.1155/2013/571420. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24371462/
  2. Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 34(3), 255–262. doi: 10.4103/0253-7176.106022. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23439798/
  3. Langade, D., Kanchi, S., Salve, J., Debnath, K., & Ambegaokar, D. (2019). Efficacy and safety of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root extract in insomnia and anxiety: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Cureus, 11(9), e5797. doi: 10.7759/cureus.5797. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31728244/
  4. Lopresti, A. L., Smith, S. J., Malvi, H., & Kodgule, R. (2019). An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine, 98(37). doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000017186. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31517876/
  5. McEwen B. S. (2008). Central effects of stress hormones in health and disease: Understanding the protective and damaging effects of stress and stress mediators. European Journal of Pharmacology, 583(2-3), 174–185. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2007.11.071. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18282566/
  6. Raut, A. A., Rege, N. N., Tadvi, F. M., Solanki, P. V., Kene, K. R., Shirolkar, S. G., et al. (2012). Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 3(3), 111–114. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.100168. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23125505/
  7. Salve, J., Pate, S., Debnath, K., & Langade, D. (2019). Adaptogenic and anxiolytic effects of ashwagandha root extract in healthy adults: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study. Cureus, 11(12), e6466. doi: 10.7759/cureus.6466. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32021735/
  8. Verma, N., Gupta, S. K., Tiwari, S., & Mishra, A. K. (2021). Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, study in Healthy Volunteers. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 57, 102642. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2020.102642. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33338583/
  9. Wankhede, S., Langade, D., Joshi, K., Sinha, S. R., & Bhattacharyya, S. (2015). Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12, 43. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26609282/