There’s so much content online on ashwagandha and its reported health benefits that it can be overwhelming trying to figure out the truth from the hype. Especially when it comes to things like weight management.
In this article, we look at the real truth about ashwagandha and weight gain, plus what the science says about how to safely and effectively manage weight. Let’s get started!
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is an ayurvedic herb, but it’s not just any old herb. It's primarily popular for being an adaptogen, a substance that helps reduce the negative effects of stress on the body. But it also takes pride in its place in Indian indigenous medicinal systems as a 'royal herb' of sorts for its reportedly powerful antioxidant benefits on the human body.
Fun fact: The word ashwagandha means “smell of horse" but there’s a lot more to it than its distinctly quadrupedal aroma. It also refers to how the herb adds to strength and virility, specifically in men. Scientific research has backed this up to some extent in early findings, but we’ll cover more of its proven benefits later in this article.
Ashwagandha is also variously known as Indian Ginseng, Withania Somnifera, and Winter Cherry.
Ashwagandha and Weight: Is There a Connection?
Based on current studies and research, ashwagandha doesn’t have a direct impact on weight. What it does is act on other factors that may influence the amount of weight you have on your body.
For example, research suggests that ashwagandha can help reduce weight in people experiencing chronic stress. People with chronic stress may eat more because of the increased production of cortisol which increases appetite. They may also develop a tendency to exercise less.
Ashwagandha helps reduce cortisol levels, thus regulating the appetite, improving well-being, and improving eating habits. This, in conjunction with exercise, can lead to a reduction in weight.
Does Ashwagandha Make You Gain Weight?
There is no existing scientific study or research to back up the claim that supplementing with ashwagandha helps in weight gain. However, there is evidence to suggest that ashwagandha can help increase muscle mass and muscle strength in men, which can mimic the effects of weight gain.
What About Ayurvedic Products Like Ashwagandha Lehyam That Reportedly Help You Gain Weight?
Several ayurvedic products are available in the market that claims specific health benefits. But just like there isn't a single science-backed and safe "miracle pill" to make you gain or lose weight (yet!), it isn't recommended to consume random products off the shelf in the hope that they will get you the same result.
But that doesn't mean Ayurveda can be dismissed, either!
Ayurveda and Individualised Treatment
Ayurveda is an Indian system of holistic medicine that emphasises returning the body to balance as a means to restore wellness. Unlike western medicine, Ayurveda develops treatment protocols catering to each individual's unique constitution. Treatments comprise plant-based medicines, detoxification therapies, and external applications of medicinal oils, powders, and packs.
While ashwagandha is a key herb in Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Ayurvedic practitioners will evaluate your constitution and current state of health before arriving at the correct combination of treatment protocols for you. These will include the specific herbal-based powders, ointments, decoctions, pills you may be asked to take, lifestyle modifications, and dietary changes.
While Ayurveda is seen as safe and without side effects, Ayurvedic doctors undergo years of college-level training to achieve the expertise to assess diseases accurately and provide a prognosis. They must be licensed by a central body to practice in India.
Researchers in the west have confirmed several health benefits of ashwagandha. But more in-depth studies are required to explore how ashwagandha can benefit the human body from a scientific perspective.
So, What Does Ashwagandha Help With?
While the jury doesn't have enough information to arrive at a verdict within the scientific community, here's what we do know about this impressive herb.
Here are 10 research-backed ways ashwagandha can benefit you:
- Helps with stress, anxiety, and depression management — Ashwagandha is known to contribute to the reduction of cortisol levels in the human body. Cortisol is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands that increases in response to stress. According to research, ashwagandha is beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety levels by reducing cortisol in the body. While there are some promising early findings for the management of depression, further research is still needed in this area.
- Helps reduce blood sugar levels — Research suggests that ashwagandha may help in managing the symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes because of its ability to increase insulin secretion. Insulin helps break down the foods you eat for energy the body can use. People with diabetes don't produce enough insulin to keep their blood sugar levels under control.
- Helps increase levels of testosterone — Early research confirms that ashwagandha is beneficial in improving the levels of testosterone in men. It also benefits male fertility by increasing sperm concentration, semen volume, and sperm motility in men with low sperm counts. This backs up Ayurveda's claims of increased virility through the usage of ashwagandha.
- Helps reduce inflammation — Ashwagandha has neuroprotective effects and contains specific compounds that can help reduce inflammation in the body.
- Helps reduce cholesterol and triglycerides — Ashwagandha benefits in reducing the bad cholesterol (also called LDL cholesterol) and triglycerides, a type of fat in your body. The less bad fat, the better!
- Helps boost energy — Ashwagandha shows benefits in increasing the levels of hemoglobin in the body, which in turn increases the amount of oxygen transported in the body. As a result, we feel more energetic when taking the herb.
- Helps increase stamina — There is evidence to suggest that ashwagandha may increase cardiorespiratory performance, which is related to the amount of stamina an individual has. When you have more stamina, you can do more and for longer periods.
- Helps improve the functioning of the immune system — Ashwagandha may help boost your immune system, which is the system in your body that fights and controls infections. In a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study, it was observed that leaf and root ashwagandha extracts standardized with withanolide glycosides possessed potent immune-stimulatory properties.
- Helps improve sleep — Because of its adaptogenic properties, ashwagandha essentially calms your body down. It has also been observed to have a small but significant impact on improving the quality of sleep.
- Good for memory — Ashwagandha has shown benefits in boosting brain health and cognitive function, including in older adults, chiefly in the areas of memory, processing, and reaction time.
If you're curious what brands to choose, check out our review of the best ashwagandha supplements to help you get started!
Ashwagandha Side Effects
Generally, ashwagandha is safe and well-tolerated if taken for short periods of time, such as three months, and in the recommended doses (between 300 to 1500mg per day). In terms of the side effects of ashwagandha, take note of the following:
Because ashwagandha helps reduce cortisol, you may find it makes you more drowsy if you're taking it in combination with other medications that could cause the same result.
It's best to avoid ashwagandha if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, already on blood pressure medication, or undergoing surgery with at least a two-week window.
Remember to consult your GP if you already have any health conditions, are taking medications, and want to try ashwagandha.
For a full list of side effects and our recommendations, refer to our comprehensive resource: "Does Ashwagandha Have Side Effects?"
The Real Science Behind Body Weight Management in Adults
The fundamental truth to weight gain is that your weight can increase if you eat more calories than you're burning through exercise or other activities. How well you burn calories depends on a couple of different factors like your body size, composition, gender, age, genes, how your hormones are working, what you're eating (your diet), how well you're sleeping, and the amount of physical activity you engage in.
Some people are just more genetically predisposed to being underweight. But being lower than your ideal weight range can put you at risk for more serious health conditions. Sometimes, a person may have a health condition or mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder that makes them not want to eat as much.
How to Gain Weight In A Healthy Way Minus the Fads and Gimmicks
If you're underweight, have no health conditions, and want to help your body achieve healthy weight gain, aim to eat a wide variety of nutritious and healthy foods. You can also try eating smaller meals more often during the day.
Eat more of:
- Full cream milk, but you can add skimmed milk powder to drinks, soups, stews, and curries.
- Grated cheese sprinkled on top of your salads or added to your sandwiches and soups.
- Protein powder mixed in with your drinks and smoothies.
- Healthy fats like olive oil and avocado.
Avoid or eliminate as much as possible unhealthy foods such as sugar, sugary drinks and colas, fried foods and takeaways, cakes and pastries, and refined carbohydrates.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Can ashwagandha cause weight gain?
There is no research to back up this claim at this time. However, a scientific study reported that participants who were given ashwagandha root extract showed a significant increase in muscle mass and muscle strength. An increase in muscle mass can mimic the appearance of an increase in body mass. Scroll up to read more about the science between weight gain or loss and how to effectively gain weight.
2. Which ashwagandha is best for weight gain?
Given the lack of scientific data that backs up ashwagandha's benefits for weight gain, there is no specific ashwagandha sub-type that can be recommended either. Research is still ongoing on this one.
3. Which ayurvedic medicine should we take for weight gain?
Ayurveda is a holistic Indian system for managing disease and maintaining good health. The treatments are recommended based on a detailed review of the constitution of the patient, medical history, and current health conditions. Given the treatments are individualistic, it is not recommended to use off-the-shelf Ayurvedic products. If they do not match your constitution, they can do more harm than good.
4. Does ashwagandha increase weight in females?
There is no scientific evidence confirming ashwagandha supplements on their own can cause weight gain in males or females.
5. Can we use ashwagandha with milk or ghee for weight gain?
If you'd like to take ashwagandha or any plant-based and natural medicinal systems like Ayurveda, we recommend you reach out to licensed practitioners who can recommend the appropriate remedies for you. Ayurveda takes a holistic approach, so instead of just popping a pill or powders or mixtures with ghee, warm water, or milk, you may be asked to make lifestyle changes, take up therapies like external applications of oils/powders, and adopt improved dietary habits. The chief goal is to bring your body back to its natural state of wellness and optimal health.
6. Can I take ashwagandha for weight loss?
While there is no direct evidence to suggest that ashwagandha can cause weight loss, scientific studies indicate that taking ashwagandha root extract may be helpful for individuals who are looking to manage their body weight, especially those experiencing chronic stress. This is because ashwagandha can lower cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone that can contribute to weight gain. Moreover, ashwagandha is rich in antioxidants that help control body weight. Studies have shown that ashwagandha can also lower blood sugar and triglycerides, further supporting its potential for weight loss.
The bottom line is that Ashwagandha can help with weight gain, but the best way to ensure that it works for you is to create healthy habits and use this herb as a supplement. Incorporating healthy lifestyle changes like mindful eating, regular exercise and adequate rest can go a long way in helping manage your weight. So instead of relying on quick fixes, take the time to make smart decisions each and every day towards your goal. You'll find that you have more energy, better motivation and a brighter outlook as you continue on your journey.