Does Ashwagandha Make You Gain Weight?

Written by Krista Bugden
Medically Reviewed by Felicia Newell, M.S., RDN

November 17, 2023

Ashwagandha had long been hailed as a go-to adaptogen to combat both physical and mental stress. But surprisingly, this herb can also play an important role in a healthy and sustainable weight loss regimen.

Read on to discover how ashwagandha aids in weight loss and how you can incorporate it into your routine.

What Is Ashwagandha?

If you’re interested in health and wellness, you’ve likely heard of ashwagandha. It’s often referred to as an “adaptogen,” a type of herb, root, or plant that helps the body combat stress. But the benefits of ashwagandha go far beyond just destressing and relaxation.

Primarily grown in the Middle East and Africa, ashwagandha is a small shrub with bell-shaped flowers and orange berries resembling tomatoes. Its flowers and roots are used to create tinctures and extracts for supplementation.

A close up photo of the Ashwagandha plane with red berries

For over 3000 years, ashwagandha, also called Withania somnifera or Indian Ginseng, has held a prominent spot in Ayurveda, India’s traditional system of medicine. This natural remedy has been relied on for the following benefits (1):

  • Enhanced cognitive function
  • Improved immunity
  • Reduced joint pain
  • Better sleep
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved fertility, and more.

Yet, there’s one lesser-known benefit of ashwagandha: It may also help with weight loss.

How Can Ashwagandha Be Used for Weight Loss?

As with any weight loss journey, there will never be one miracle pill or quick fix. Sustainable and healthy weight loss usually requires a holistic approach, including diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes. However, ashwagandha may assist your weight loss efforts in a few different ways—here are four in particular.

1. May Reduce Stress-Related Eating

Reducing stress is the most-studied (and popular) benefit of ashwagandha. According to research, supplementing with this adaptogen can increase one’s resilience toward stress by reducing the stress hormone cortisol. In turn, researchers further found it enhanced study participant’s self-assessed quality of life (2).

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Research further suggests that ashwagandha decreases stress through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and GABAergic and serotonergic pathways (3). Put simply, GABA, a neurotransmitter, helps quell anxiety and relax the body (4). Meanwhile, serotonin, the “happy hormone,” can elevate our well-being and happiness.

How does this all tie back to weight loss?

Yelena Wheeler, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for the National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC), states, “Ashwagandha has mainly been used to assist the body with resisting mental and physical stress. Therefore, stress-related weight gain is something that ashwagandha can possibly assist with.”

Further scientific studies confirm this—indicating that stress management programs significantly reduce BMI (Body Mass Index) (5). It’s theorized that this is due to increased appetite under stress and an inability to stick to healthy weight loss or maintenance habits when stressed.

You can make better dietary choices when you’re calmer and more relaxed. In turn, this may help you achieve your weight loss goals with greater ease.

2. May Improve Sleep & Metabolism

Since ashwagandha helps lower stress levels, it has shown promise in improving sleep quality and aiding individuals dealing with insomnia (6). This effect aligns with our understanding of cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone, which tends to induce alertness and wakefulness in the body. 

Cortisol levels typically peak in the early morning, contributing to the wake-up response. Consequently, reducing cortisol levels can positively impact sleep patterns, facilitating a more effortless and quicker transition into sleep. By mitigating cortisol's alerting effects, ashwagandha may promote more restful and better-quality sleep.

On top of this, poor sleep is associated with metabolic changes that lead to weight gain, such as increased levels of leptin and ghrelin (the hunger hormones), increased salt retention, decreased insulin sensitivity, and increased inflammation (7). It also impacts cognitive performance, which may lead to less mindful decisions regarding food (8).

3. Boosts Energy & Exercise Performance

Ashwagandha's ability to enhance energy extends beyond stress reduction and improved sleep. Studies also indicate its positive impact on cardiorespiratory endurance and VO2 max (how much oxygen the body uses during physical activity) (9). 

These improvements in energy and stamina could potentially elevate workout performance and increase physical activity levels. This may lead to better workout sessions and increased physical activity, which can support weight management efforts and a higher calorie expenditure.

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4. May Improve Muscle Strength

Building muscle can aid any weight loss journey. This is because muscle burns more calories than fat at rest, which can elevate your resting metabolic rate and the calories you burn. And surprisingly, ashwagandha might help you gain muscle strength (10).

One study even found significant improvements in squat and bench press weights when incorporating ashwagandha (11).

Can Ashwagandha Cause Weight Gain?

Since ashwagandha may improve muscle strength, there’s a possibility that weight gain could occur in the form of muscle mass. That said, there is no research indicating that ashwagandha causes fat gain. Quite the opposite has been observed. Ashwagandha has repeatedly been shown to improve body weight management, especially for individuals dealing with chronic stress (12).

How Much Ashwagandha Should I Take for Weight Loss?

Most sources indicate that 250 to 600 milligrams of ashwagandha per day lead to the above benefits for weight loss. Yet, studies on it incorporate doses ranging from 120 to 5000 milligrams per day. 

Ashwagandha can be found as a capsule, powder, or tea, making it easy to add to your existing routine. Our Native Balance capsules have 100 mg of ashwagandha per serving.

Are There Any Side Effects to Taking Ashwagandha?

Side effects associated with ashwagandha are rare. It’s a supplement that is considered safe for most people. However, larger dosages may lead to gastrointestinal distress.

Wheeler expands, “Ashwagandha seems to be safe for use for up to 3 months; longer usage side effects are not known. Large doses of ashwagandha may cause gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach discomfort. In some cases, damage to the liver is possible.”

NativeNote: If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive, ashwagandha should be avoided.

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Krista Bugden
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Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden is a freelance writer with a BS in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She spent 5 years working as a kinesiologist, giving her the first-hand experience she needed to write well-researched, scientific, and informative blogs.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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