Ashwagandha is one of the oldest and most well-studied plant compounds available over the counter but can it really help you lose weight?
It’s most well known for its ability to work as an adaptogen which means it targets stress.
But if you’re familiar with the true underlying causes of weight gain, then this mechanism of action should definitely spark some interest.
Because as you will soon find out, stress and its corresponding negative consequences are at the heart of obesity and weight loss resistance for MANY people.
Now, before we jump in, you need to know that ashwagandha isn’t really a weight loss supplement in the traditional sense.
What I mean is this:
Other supplements, like ashwagandha and berberine, provide so many additional benefits that it’s hard to classify them into one single category.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t help or won’t work if weight loss is your primary goal!
Ashwagandha can absolutely help you lose weight, but if you just take it without doing anything else, what I’m about to share really isn’t going to work.
That’s because ashwagandha helps to augment other things that you’re already doing (or should be doing) to make those treatments even more effective.
This will make a lot more sense in just a minute but you need to understand that diet, exercise, and fasting should form the foundation of your weight loss regimen.
Supplements are then used in addition to this foundation.
I don’t care how powerful any given supplement is, if you aren’t doing these things you are limiting its effectiveness.
And this also applies to prescription weight loss medications as well!
Without further ado, let’s talk about how ashwagandha can help you lose weight and whether or not it’s a good idea to use it in your specific situation.
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5 Ways Ashwagandha Can Help You Lose Weight Quickly
#1. By Improving Thyroid Function.
If you weren’t already aware of the importance of your thyroid, let me briefly fill you in.
Your thyroid produces, at least in my opinion, the most important hormones in your body.
That’s because these hormones regulate just about every other hormone in your body and because they regulate the majority of your metabolism.
Up to about 70% (depending on which study you look at (1)) of the calories that you burn is related to the function of your thyroid.
It’s really easy to see that if your thyroid is not functioning at 100%, it will be VERY easy for you to gain weight and VERY difficult for you to lose weight.
You might be thinking, well that’s not a problem because I know that my thyroid is working fine!
But you’re most likely wrong.
That’s because, even though your thyroid is very important for your overall health, it’s also looking for any excuse to not work properly.
In fact, just being overweight by itself is enough to slow down your thyroid, creating a vicious cycle of weight gain and thyroid dysfunction, more weight and more thyroid dysfunction, and so on.
Even if you don’t have a full-blown thyroid condition that requires medication, you may still suffer from slight thyroid dysfunction that may not require medication but is still significant enough to cause problems with your metabolism.
And if you do have a thyroid problem (like up to 10% of the population (2)) then you can bet money on the fact that your metabolism is sluggish.
And this is where ashwagandha steps in to save the day.
It’s been shown in several studies to have a positive impact on thyroid hormone levels (3) for both hypothyroid patients (those that require medication) and for subclinical hypothyroidism (those who don’t).
So if you feel like your thyroid is sluggish and at least somewhat responsible for your inability to lose weight, ashwagandha may be a potential solution.
And, let me tell you based on my experience, neglecting your thyroid is one of the PRIMARY reasons that people don’t lose weight.
But that’s not all because it also helps:
#2. By Improving Muscle Mass and Athletic Performance.
Remember when I said that ashwagandha would need to be used with other therapies?
This is what I was talking about.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to weight loss.
Despite all of the marketing efforts of people on the internet, you can’t just take a pill and effortlessly lose weight.
At some point, if you want to reach your ideal body weight, exercise will have to fit into the equation.
You can definitely lose some weight without exercising, just by improving your diet and other hormones, but you’re missing out on so many additional benefits if you neglect exercise.
From where I’m standing, exercise is non-negotiable.
But I do have some good news for you:
If you are someone that finds it difficult to exercise, then taking ashwagandha may be at least part of the solution to your problem.
And that’s because it has the ability to make your exercise efforts more impactful by improving recovery time, improving muscle strength, and improving a measure called VO2 max (4).
Vo2 max is a measure of how well your body transports and uses oxygen during exercise.
And if you’re someone who is interested in improving your overall health, then VO2 max should be top of mind.
That’s because VO2 max tracks with your risk of mortality from all causes (5).
This means that if you want to reduce your risk of dying from ANY cause, increasing your VO2 max is one way easy way to do it.
And even if you don’t care about this metric, it’s still impacted by ashwagandha supplementation so you can just take your supplement and enjoy the benefits without even thinking about it.
You can’t remove the need for exercise, but using the right supplement may help your exercise be more impactful which means better weight loss long-term.
Other supplements can do this as well, by the way, like berberine which is one of my favorite weight loss supplements because it’s a weak activator of AMPK.
You can learn more about using berberine for weight loss here and why I take it every day.
But this article isn’t about berberine so back to how ashwagandha can help you lose weight…
#3. By Balancing Cortisol Levels.
This is probably the benefit that ashwagandha is MOST well known for:
The fact that it can help your body adapt to stress and decrease the negative impact that stress has on your entire body.
I don’t know anybody right now who can’t benefit from stress-reduction techniques or from increasing their stress resiliency.
We have to come to terms that we live in a world fraught with everyday stress.
And this stress can and absolutely does negatively impact our bodies.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that stress is a primary and underlying driver of the majority of diseases that we see right now.
It may not be solely responsible for things like diabetes, weight gain, and thyroid problems, but it absolutely makes those problems worse and more difficult to manage.
You have to understand that not all stress is bad and cortisol, which is your stress hormone, isn’t bad either.
But both can become a problem when they reach a certain threshold.
This is highlighted by a concept called allostatic load which refers to the total burden of stress that your body is under at any given time.
This is also why some people can handle major life stressors like a divorce or the death of a loved one, better than others.
And why some people, maybe even you reading this right now, have a hard time dealing with stressors that appear tiny or insignificant.
It’s not about any single stressor so much as it is the cumulative burden of stress that your body is under.
From a weight perspective, we know that there isn’t anything worse than stress if you’re trying to lose weight.
Stress will not only CAUSE weight gain, but it will also BLUNT the effectiveness of your weight loss treatments.
And this is where ashwagandha can be helpful because of its actions as an adaptogen (6).
Adaptogens help your body adapt to stress and may even exert influence on your cortisol level.
By normalizing your cortisol, you can experience better blood sugar regulation, more energy, and more vitality overall.
You won’t be able to eliminate stress from your life entirely, but you can take supplements that help your body adapt to that stress more readily.
And this will make your weight loss efforts more effective.
#4. By Increasing Your ENERGY Levels.
Your energy levels refer to your subjective sense of how you are feeling.
If you’ve ever woken up with a great night’s rest ready to attack your day, then you know what I’m talking about.
You probably also know that everything just seems harder when your energy levels are low.
And believe it or not, we don’t know exactly what manages this subjective sense of energy.
It’s probably due to a combination of hormones like cortisol, mitochondrial energy production in your cells, and your neurological or mental capacity.
Regardless of what causes fatigue, we know that ashwagandha can help improve it.
There is no shortage of studies highlighting its impact on this subjective measure of how someone is feeling.
People who take ashwagandha report more vigor, less fatigue, better sexual function, and better psychological well-being (7).
From your perspective, the better you feel overall, the more likely you are to make good choices with your diet and to have the energy to exercise regularly.
So this subjective sense of how you are feeling is important for your weight.
Just imagine trying to exercise after sleeping 4 or 5 hours one night.
Now imagine doing the same after sleeping 8 or 9 hours.
Which state would you prefer? Probably the latter!
This brings us to…
#5. Ashwagandha Can Improve Your Sleep:
And sleep is a big deal when it comes to your weight.
Studies have shown that people who sleep 7 hours per night are more likely to become obese and have a higher BMI at baseline (8) compared to people who sleep more.
What makes this even worse is the fact that being overweight causes sleeping problems as well!
So the relationship is bi-directional.
A lack of sleep leads to weight gain which leads to less sleep and so on.
This negative effect on your weight from a lack of sleep is mediated through hormones like leptin and ghrelin which impact your appetite.
The less you sleep, the more dysregulated these hormones become, and the easier it is to gain weight.
We also know that a lack of sleep kills your willpower.
So forget about saying no to unhealthy foods if you aren’t sleeping as much because the cards are stacked against you.
But this is where ashwagandha, again, can step in as it has been shown to help improve sleep.
This may be a little confusing because some people use ashwagandha for energy in the morning but different extracts of ashwagandha can be calming when taken at night.
Higher percentages of withanolides (the active ingredient in ashwagandha), tend to have this more calming effect which can help you get more sleep and break the sleep-weight gain cycle.
Withanolie extracts of around 3% tend to be more energizing whereas withanolide extracts beyond 10% tend to be more calming.
This isn’t universal, but it’s a good general guideline.
Should You Use Ashwagandha For Weight Loss?
After all is said and done, should you take ashwagandha for weight loss?
It’s not for everyone but I would say there’s a very strong argument that most people would benefit from it, especially if you think sleep, stress, or your thyroid are contributing to your weight.
Based on my experience about 80-90% of people who take it do really well on it but that still leaves about 10-20% who don’t.
The good news is that even if ashwagandha doesn’t work for you, there are still plenty of other adaptogens that you can use to get similar benefits.
You can check out a list of adrenal support supplements (and adaptogens) here.
The odds that ashwagandha will help you are definitely in your favor, though, just given the percentages above so it’s probably worth a shot for most people.
Just realize that it may take some trial and error to find your dose and the best time of day to take it for your body.
Just as a quick example:
My wife takes ashwagandha every day but she takes it at night.
I tend to do better on Rhodiola, which I take just about every morning.
Now I want to hear from you:
Were you aware of the additional benefits of this botanical beyond stress and cortisol?
Have you taken ashwagandha before? Did it work for you?
Do you think it helped you lose weight? Why or why not?
Leave your questions or comments below!