Herbs and plants have been used by many ancient cultures as natural remedies. Over the centuries this practice has developed into what we now call homeopathy. One homeopathic therapy that shows promise in the improvement of hypothyroidism is a plant called ashwagandha.
An Introduction to the Thyroid and Hypothyroidism
The thyroid is a small gland located in the neck that acts as the body’s gas pedal. When working properly, the thyroid facilitates healthy bodily function and maintains overall wellness – learn more about the thyroid here. If thyroid activity decreases, the entire body starts to slow down. Reduced thyroid function such as this is known as hypothyroidism.
Unsurprisingly, hypothyroidism can have varied and far-reaching effects on the body. Some of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Cramping of large muscle groups
- Dryness of the skin particularly in the knees and feet
- Fatigue that is not alleviated through rest
- Greater sensitivity to cold
- Hair loss
- Loss of libido
- Missed menstrual cycles
- Mood irregularities and depression
- Sporadic muscle or joint pain
- Unexpected weight gain and difficulty losing weight
Without improving thyroid function, the troubling symptoms of hypothyroidism are almost assured to remain and potentially worsen.
If properly identified and treated, thyroid disease can be resolved. Unfortunately, current treatment standards may not be ideal for every patient – learn more about why T4-only treatment doesn’t work for many thyroid patients. In most cases, patient-specific thyroid hormone therapies are required to effectively restore thyroid function. To fulfill this requirement, some knowledgeable thyroid doctors have started to incorporate alternative medicines into their treatment plans. One such treatment being ashwagandha. Depending on the patient, natural supplements like ashwagandha may prove to be particularly effective at alleviating hypothyroidism.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a root that has many beneficial attributes. Perhaps the greatest being that it belongs to a group of plants called adaptogens. Adaptogens are well known for their ability to help balance various chemicals and systems throughout the body. Some areas most improved through the use of adaptogens are immune function, metabolism, and stress level. Research suggests that ashwagandha specifically may limit the effects of aging, support muscle mass, treat neurological disorders, and alleviate chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Perhaps the most impressive quality of adaptogens like ashwagandha is that they balance conditions that involve over or under activity. For example, adaptogens can increase immune function when it is low or reduce it if it is high. Adaptogens have a similar, but even more pronounced effect on hormone values. As such, adaptogens, chief among them being ashwagandha, are particularly effective at resolving conditions involving hormone imbalances such as hypothyroidism.
The Thyroid-Specific Benefits of Taking Ashwagandha
There is still a great deal of research to be done on the effects of ashwagandha on the thyroid. However, recent studies suggest that there may be several hypothyroid benefits to be gained from taking ashwagandha.
One of the greatest contributors to hypothyroidism is hormonal imbalances. Cortisol is the main hormone responsible for the body’s stress response. If we maintain a high degree of stress in our lives, cortisol levels increase too match it. Unfortunately, elevated cortisol encourages a decrease in thyroid hormones. This can promote the development or worsening of hypothyroidism. Taking ashwagandha helps normalize values of various hormones including cortisol, which helps alleviate chronic stress and alleviate thyroidal dysfunction. Furthermore, ashwagandha may stimulate the endocrine system thereby boosting thyroid hormone values and thyroid activity.
Another study suggests that ashwagandha may benefit thyroid patients by naturally boosting thyroid hormone levels. In an eight-week trial composed of 50 participants with hypothyroidism, it was found that supplementing with 600 mg of ashwagandha root extract every day significantly improved thyroid values. Patients in the study saw an increase of nearly 42 percent in T3 levels and just under 20 percent in T4. Patients also exhibited a 17.5 percent decrease in TSH. These impressive hormone balancing results suggest that ashwagandha may be hugely beneficial for a wide range of hypothyroid patients.
How to Take Ashwagandha
The broad influence of ashwagandha is also reflected in the many different ways to supplement with it.
The most common method of taking ashwagandha is in 300-mg tablets. In this form, ashwagandha is generally taken twice daily after eating.
Ashwagandha can also be purchased in powders that are easily added to water, milk, juices, or smoothies. Some find this method to be easier if they have difficulty with tablets.
As a root similar to ginger, ashwagandha is easily brewed into tea. For some, this adds an even greater calming effect and naturally fits into evening relaxation routines.
Cautions and Concerns with Taking Ashwagandha
Current studies suggest that ashwagandha is safe for most individuals. However, there are certain cases where ashwagandha may cause undesired side effects or complications. If you have any of the following conditions be sure to speak with a doctor before taking ashwagandha:
- Autoimmune disease
- High blood pressure
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
- Psychoactive disorders
Even though ashwagandha may provide notable thyroid support, if you plan to take ashwagandha to improve hypothyroidism be sure to speak with your doctor prior to medicating. Additionally, those with hyperthyroidism should be particularly cautious as ashwagandha may hasten thyroid function to a dangerous degree.
Better Thyroid Health Through Safe Supplementation
Hypothyroidism is a serious problem affecting much of the population. Yet, there may be an answer. Current research suggests that the adaptogenic root ashwagandha can provide impressive system balancing benefits that notably improve thyroid activity in people with hypothyroidism. If you are interested in naturally supporting thyroid function and alleviating stress, speak with your doctor about supplementing with ashwagandha.
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2. Raut, Ashwinikumar A et al. “Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers.” Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine vol. 3,3 (2012): 111-4.
3. Lakshmi-Chandra Mishra, MD (Ayur), PhD, Betsy B. Singh, PhD, Simon Dagenais, BA. “Scientific Basis for the Therapeutic Use of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha): A Review.” http://archive.foundationalmedicinereview.com/publications/5/4/334.pdf.
4. Ashok Kumar Sharma, Indraneel Basu, Siddarth Singh. “Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary MedicineVol. 24, No. 3.
5. Gannon, Jessica M et al. “Subtle changes in thyroid indices during a placebo-controlled study of an extract of Withania somnifera in persons with bipolar disorder.” Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine vol. 5,4 (2014): 241-5.