What’s Ashwagandha and Why the HECK Does Your Thyroid Love It?
Almost 5% of the population over the age of 12 has hypothyroidism. For these patients, their future looks like a lifetime of thyroid replacement medication. But science is showing the popular stress-busting ashwagandha herb may be changing the game.
Thyroid health is vital for ultimate wellbeing. The hormones your thyroid glands create (T3 and T4) affect the metabolism processes of your entire body.
So, when your thyroid is off, so is your nervous system, your cardiovascular system, your GI tract, your reproductive hormones, your adrenal health, your sleep cycle…everything.
In the particular case of hypothyroidism, you do not have enough thyroid hormone, so everything begins slowing down. You can:
- Get really sleepy
- Experience unexplained weight gain
- Become constipated
- Lose menstrual regularity
- Feel very sensitive to cold temperatures
- Feel depressed
- Experience joint and muscle pain/tenderness
- Experience dry skin and hair
- Start hearing hoarseness in your voice
Typically, hypothyroidism is treated by taking levothyroxine, a synthetic hormone replacement. Sometimes people are given animal thyroid hormones instead, called desiccated thyroid hormone.
In both cases, a foreign T3 and T4 give your body the hormones it needs. It replaces what isn’t naturally there.
But some studies are showing the all-natural ashwagandha may be a tool in raising your own thyroid hormones and, therefore, lowering your negative side effects.
What Is Ashwagandha, and Why Do You Care?
If you’ve taken a trip to a health food store recently, chances are you’ve seen the word “ashwagandha” all over the place. It’s hot right now…and scientific study is backing up the fever.
Ashwagandha is a plant (withania somnifera). The root, berry, and leaves can all be used medicinally. In today’s world, we often use ashwagandha root extract.
You may have heard it referred to as Indian Ginseng or Ayurvedic Ginseng…those names have to do with the herb’s origins.
Ashwagandha’s health benefits has been used for thousands of years, particularly in Ayurveda medicine.
This more holistic view of treating the body has its roots in ancient India thousands of years ago. While it is definitely still practiced in India, it is now also practiced around the world as a type of alternative medicine.
Turns out, our culture’s recent shift into considering the mind and spirit when treating the body isn’t new at all. Ayurvedic practitioners have been practicing this way for millennia.
One of those holistic treatment options has been the traditional medicine…ashwagandha.
How Ashwagandha Adapts Chemically to Help You Feel Better
Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen – a series of herbs that does what the name suggests: helps people “adapt” to the stress in their lives.
It helps to normalize the body systems when you are under chronic stress. Unsurprisingly, then, the most common use for Ashwagandha is stress and anxiety.
Studies have shown it not only lowers an individual’s assessment of their own stress levels, but it can actually reduce serum cortisol. Plus, it’s considered generally safe and effective.
But the benefits of ashwagandha don’t stop there. It has power over the nervous system, immune system, and more. It can potentially help those with:
- Bipolar disorder
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Joint paint
- Liver problems
- Low endurance
- Male infertility
- Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Parkinson’s disease
Ayurvedic medicine has been using ashwagandha for hypothyroidism for many years. More recently, western scientists have also been studying its use in treating low thyroid hormone.
The Top 2 Ashwagandha Thyroid Benefits
Let’s see how ashwagandha can potentially benefit thyroid health in two main ways.
1. Hypothyroidism and Ashwagandha
What modern studies are showing us is that ashwagandha may step in and raise your own thyroid hormone levels without the use of synthetics.
For some people, their hormones are completely normalized after daily use.
One randomized placebo study looked at 50 patients with low thyroid hormones. Half were placed in an Ashwagandha treatment group, the other half in a placebo group.
The treatment group was given 600 mg of ashwagandha daily for eight weeks. The researchers concluded:
Ashwagandha treatment effectively normalized the serum thyroid indices during the 8-week treatment period in a significant manner.
1 of the 25 ashwagandha subjects did report “few mild and temporary adverse effects.”
Another randomized placebo study was looking at ashwagandha for those with bipolar disorder. They found during the process that these patients’ thyroid hormones had elevated.
Three of those patients already had diagnosed hypothyroidism. At the end of the study, one of the hypothyroid patients had their thyroid hormones completely normalized. The others had theirs improved. These researchers agreed:
Thyroid enhancing properties of ASW may also represent a clinical opportunity for the treatment of subclinical hypothyroidism.
While more studies need to be done before this ayurvedic herb turns into a go-to treatment method, studies like this are all pointing in a positive direction for balancing thyroid levels.
2. Thyroid Symptom Management and Ashwagandha
Another way ashwagandha may be helpful to those with hypothyroidism is through symptom management.
Though depression is often cited as a common symptom of hypothyroidism, many patients still experience anxiety (whether that’s related to the disorder itself or the negative symptoms is still being discussed).
Ashwagandha can certainly help with that anxiety.
It may also be beneficial for symptoms commonly associated with thyroid disorder like:
- Difficulty concentrating/remembering
- Low endurance
In Ayurvedic medicine, adaptogen treatment of hypothyroid went beyond treating the symptoms after the thyroid disorder arrived, but also before. There was this idea that stress may even lead to thyroid disorders.
While modern western medicine does not point directly to this conclusion, it is interesting that those with hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism do indeed have far higher numbers of anxiety and depression.
In one study, 63% of 100 patients with hypothyroidism said they had anxiety; in the general United States, just over 18% of people say the same.
Should I Start Taking Ashwagandha For My Thyroid?
The studies look promising. The news is good. And for the most part, Ashwagandha is considered a well-tolerated herb.
But what about the safety of ashwagandha root extract?
Nobody should immediately jump into ashwagandha for thyroid conditions without talking to their doctor first, even though ashwagandha is considered safe for many people. Here’s why:
- If you have hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone), ashwagandha could make your condition worse
- If you are currently being treated for hypothyroidism, ashwagandha can mess up your treatment plan
- If you think you have hypothyroidism, but haven’t been diagnosed, ashwagandha may interfere with an appropriate diagnosis/treatment plan
Also, due to the fact that it can actually change things chemically within the body, here is a list of others who must get medical advice before taking Ashwagandha:
- Pregnancy: May cause miscarriage
- Diabetes: May interfere with treatment
- Blood Pressure Problems: May lower blood pressure
- Ulcers: May irritate GI tract
- Auto-immune diseases: May increase symptoms
- Surgery: May interfere with anesthesia
- Mediations: May interfere with immunosuppressants or sedatives
Your best bet is to make an appointment with your doctor. Talk about your desire to try something natural and make a safe plan that’s healthy for your thyroid.
What’ll Ya Have? 5 Ways to Take Ashwagandha
If your healthcare professional has given you the go-ahead to try ashwagandha for your hypothyroidism…here are the 5 most common ways to take the herb.
One of the easiest and most measured ways to take an ashwagandha dose for thyroid is in pill form. You can find it as a stand-alone ingredient, and you can also find it in many herbal blends for stress, sleep, or even thyroid.
Another popular usage is powdered ashwagandha. It’s easy to pop into many dishes:
- Energy bites
- Chia seed pudding
- Baked goods
Like a pill, this method allows you to measure the proper dosage. However, relying on it for recipes would not be a consistent dosage (what if you only eat half the oatmeal or you opt out of a smoothie one morning).
If you were using it for thyroid, you would need to take it consistently, mostly likely in water or juice.
Tinctures are another way to enjoy a more measured ashwagandha dosage. However, you will have to factor in a more concentrated flavor than with a powder. You can add it to water, but you might prefer it in a small glass of juice.
You can find ashwagandha tea bags at your local health food store (by itself or in a blend). You can also find dried ashwagandha roots, which you can steep in boiling water.
(Be warned: The No. 1 description of ashwagandha tea is that it tastes like dirt.)
This isn’t the best method for a measured ashwagandha dose for thyroid, nor does it utilize the full plant. A healthcare provider would probably not encourage this method
A new trendy item is grounded coffee infused with some powdered ashwagandha (and possibly a few other herbs). Like tea, this is not a perfectly measured use of ashwagandha. It’s better for those looking for stress relief, not patients with low thyroid hormones.
Reaping the Ashwagandha Benefits for Thyroid
Things like severity, age, other health conditions, and response to conventional treatment can all factor into whether ashwagandha is right for you.
If your doctor feels like ashwagandha is not the proper thyroid function treatment method, don’t be discouraged. Each case of hypothyroidism is different and a successful treatment plan can be arranged.
However, if your doctor encourages ashwagandha use for your particular case of hypothyroidism, this herb may be a great tool for managing this disorder in a natural way.
As more studies come out over the years, we may even begin seeing this herb become a more popular treatment for hypothyroidism.