Chronic stress is unfortunately a common problem in modern life. It's a worldwide health concern which has been associated with numerous serious illnesses, including depression, cardiac disease, diabetes, hypertension, sleep disturbances, cognitive dysfunction, headaches, and fatigue.
The impact of stress also highly correlates with behaviours which can have an impact on body weight - such as reduced physical activity and changes in eating behaviour.
The causes of stress vary from person to person, as do management methods.
Unsurprisingly, 'better stress management and mental wellbeing' is one of the most common 'priorities' amongst people who take our nutrition quiz - to help advise which Nourishments to include in their personalised stacks.
When 'better stress management and mental wellbeing' is a priority we often recommend a 100mg dose of Ashwaganda as a single layer in their personalised stack. Ashwagandha has long been used, studied, and proven as a natural anti-stress and anti-anxiety remedy.
The root of the Ashwagandha plant (also known as Withania somnifera), has a long history of use to counteract the negative effects of stress. Modern research has begun to identify a number of active components in Ashwagandha that may have useful therapeutic applications too.
An interesting study into Ashwagandha, and stress-related weight management
Today, we'd like to share with you an interesting study which was carried out in 2016 with the aim of 'analysing the impact of the extract [Ashwagandha] on food cravings and body weight management’.
Throughout an 8 week study, a group of adults suffering from chronic stress took a daily dose of 2x 300mg of Ashwagandha extract, whilst another group took a placebo capsule - whilst measuring their ability to manage stress and any changes in eating behaviours. The hypothesis of the study predicted the results would yield:
- Antiolytic effects (anxiety-reducing)
- Antistress effects
- An improvement to psychological & physical wellbeing
- A reduction in hunger
- A reduction in stress-related eating behaviours
- A reduction in weight gain
- food cravings
- reactive eating behaviour
- serum cortisol levels (a hormone which reacts to stress)
- and body weight
How did the study work?
The study was carried out with 52 adults suffering from symptoms of chronic stress, aged between 18 and 60 years old. The majority were troubled with difficulties in concentration, insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness.
The adults (subjects) were randomly assigned a study group: study group A took a 2x 300mg dose of ashwagandha, and study group B took a placebo.
Both the Aswagandha extract and the placebo were prepared as hard gelatin capsules which were identical in appearance, and the study was a double-blind test, meaning neither the subjects nor the doctors were aware of the study groups.
Throughout the 8 weeks study, the subjects would be measured on:
- Perceived stress scale questionnaire (PSS) – an instrument used to measure psychological stress, physical and mental depressive symptoms, social anxiety and correlations with life-events.
- Food cravings questionnaire-trait (FCQT) – a self-reported questionnaire which measures food cravings on a scale from 1 to 6.
- Each subject’s serum cortisol levels initial and final body weight, and body mass index – as serum cortisol levels are an indicator of stress and have been shown to affect appetite.
- Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (OHQ) – an effective tool to measure happiness, well-being, and optimism.
- The Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire (TFEQ) – a questionnaire is used to determine eating behaviour with a 3-factor scale of “cognitive restraint,” “uncontrolled eating,” and “emotional eating.”
The results were as follows:
Oxford Happiness Questionnaire
At the end of the 8-week study, the mean score for the study group taking Ashwagandha extract improved significantly compared to the placebo group – with an overall improvement of 19.18%.
Impacts on “thoughts about food”
Scores for “uncontrolled eating” and “emotional eating” were reduced significantly (P < .05) after 8 weeks of Ashwagandha treatment. Which supports the conclusion that because of the anti-stress properties of Ashwagandha, subjects reduced the use of food as a stress management mechanism.
Changes in serum cortisol levels
At the beginning of the study, all subjects had similar serum cortisol levels.
At the end of the 8 week study, mean serum cortisol levels of the study group taking Aswagandha extract were significantly lower compared to the placebo group (after 4 and 8 weeks of treatment, a reduction from baseline of 16.05% and 22.2%, respectively).
Changes in body weight
The body weight for both the group taking Ashwagandha and those taking the placebo reduced during the 8-week period of the study.
After 4 and 8 weeks of treatment, a mean reduction from baseline of 2.08% (P = .0429) and 2.93% (P = .0096), respectively, was observed in the group taking Aswagandha, which was statistically significant compared with the placebo group (fourth week, 1.03%; eighth week, 1.4%).
The reduction of body weight and body mass index observed supports the hypothesis that Ashwagandha root extract aids anti-stress activity, resulting in reduced food cravings and better eating behaviours (as reflected in improved FCQ and TFEQ scores).
Eating behaviour & food cravings
During the study, there were marked reductions in “uncontrolled eating” and “emotional eating” amongst the group taking Ashwagandha extract.
At the end of the 8-week study, the subjects taking Ashwagandha extract saw a significant reduction in food cravings - at the "planning", "positive reinforcement" and "lack of control", "emotion" stages, when compared to the placebo group.
The results of this study suggest that:
- Ashwagandha root extract reduces psychological and physiological markers of stress, improves mental well-being, reduces serum cortisol level, food cravings and improves eating behaviours.
- Ashwagandha root extract can be used for bodyweight management in adults under chronic stress.
- As a result, a statistically significant reduction in body weight and body mass index were observed in patients treated with Ashwagandha root extract compared to placebo.
Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, Joshi K. Body weight management in adults under chronic stress through treatment with Ashwagandha root extract: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2016 Apr 6. pii: 2156587216641830.