By Steve Goodman
Ancient healing traditions such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine see our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being as being based on the proper balance of vital energies.
As one might imagine, both of these similar traditions, fluctuations in weight are believed to occur when the mind, emotions, diet, digestion, metabolism and appetite are out of balance. This imbalance can lead to undesirable weight gain or weight loss. As the theory goes, only when the vital energies – in TCM, Qi, or in Ayurveda, “doshas” – are properly balanced, will your weight naturally come into balance as well.
Western science has studied the benefits of medicinal herbs in general and specific to weight control. According to the renowned Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, “Clinical trials show benefit of various herbal formulations in treating acne, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, hepatitis, and obesity.”
Recently a study was conducted to specifically test the validity of Ayurvedic weight loss herbal supplements. The trial was conducted at the Interdisciplinary School of Ayurvedic Medicine, in India. The Western style, double-blind randomized study was designed to investigate the effects of four different ayurvedic herbal supplements purported to aid in weight loss.
Seventy obese patients, those who considered themselves to be 20% or more over ideal body weight, were placed into one of four groups. Groups 1, 2 and 3 were given the various herbal treatments over a three-month period – the 4th group a placebo over the same course of time.
When compared with the placebo group, significant weight loss was observed in the three groups receiving the herbal weight loss supplement. Body measurements such as skin fold thickness and waistlines were also significantly decreased in the herbal supplement groups. Decreases in serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels were also observed.
Stress Over Eating
Many leading scientists and nutritionists agree that the rampant, almost epidemic increase in obesity in America is largely related to stress overeating. When we are stressed our bodies produce an overabundance of certain hormones – most notably Cortisol. “Cortisol and insulin boost our preference for comfort foods, high-fat, high sugar, or high salt foods,” says Elissa Epel, Ph.D., lead researcher with The University of San Francisco Obesity Assessment Study. Increased levels of Cortisol not only increase appetite, but also increase our desire for the “wrong foods.” Fat cells also release Cortisol. So stress over eating becomes a vicious cycle, with increased Cortisol levels causing us to overeat, and the subsequent increase in fat cells producing more Cortisol.
This is the kind of pattern of imbalance that the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, and Ayurveda have been designed to break. Ayurvedic practices such as yoga, transcendental meditation, and herbal supplementation have been shown time and time again to be very effective in reducing stress, as have been acupuncture, Qi-gong and Tai Ji. It follows therefore, that these kinds of Complementary and Alternative practices can be very effective in breaking the cycle of stress over-eating.
One of the most powerful herbal supplements in the pharmacopoeia of Ayurveda is Ashwagandha, (Withania somnifera.) In the West it is sometimes called Winter Cherry. It has long been known for its ability to relieve both physical and psychological stress. Dr. Michael Tierra L.Ac. OMD, AHG founder of the American Herbalists Guild, has said, Withania somnifera has the ability to nurture the nervous system, counteract anxiety and stress, and to promote a calm state of mind. Ayurvedic physicians classify ashwagandha as a “rasayna”, or what Western herbalists refer to as an adaptogen, an herbal medicine with multiple, nonspecific actions that counteract the effects of stress and generally promote wellness.
Ashwagandha has been found by herbalists and Western clinical trials to exhibit many of the same properties of Ginseng, a staple of TCM. In fact the two herbs share so many of the same medicinal properties that Winter Cherry has been referred to as “Indian Ginseng.”
Ashwagandha and its “cousin” Asian Ginseng are not “herbal weight loss” products per se, neither are they appetite suppressants, but as a proven stress reducers. When herbal supplements such as these are combined with other CAM principles designed to return balance – they can be very effective in helping you achieve your weight loss goals.
Always keep in mind that the Ayurvedic and TCM philosophies to achieving your ideal weight are as much about getting to know your body and becoming in tune with its natural rhythms, as they are about the foods you eat and supplements you take.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. About Herbs. Ayurveda http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69131.cfm
Tierra, Michael. Ashwagandha: Wonder Herb of India East West School of Planetary Herbology http://www.planetherbs.com/specific-herbs/ashwagandha-wonder-herb-of-india.html
Paranjpe P; Patki P; Patwardhan B Ayurvedic treatment of obesity: a randomised double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Ethnopharmacol Apr 1990, 29 (1) p1-11
Klein, R. Allostasis Theory and Adaptogenic Plant Remedies. Masters Thesis Paper, May 2004, Montana State University, Dept Plant Sciences & Plant Pathology
Brown RP, Gerbarg PL. Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression. Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, August 2005.
Granath J, Ingvarsson S, von Thiele U, Lundberg U. Stress management: a randomized study of cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. 2006.
National Center for Complimentary y and Alternative Medicine. Ayurvedic Medicine. Ayurvedic Medicine: Treatment. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/ayurveda/