- What Is the Thyroid?
- Common Thyroid Problems
- What Is Ashwaganda?
- Who Should Not Take Ashwaganda
- Help With Thyroid Problems
- Other Uses
What is your thyroid?
Ashwagandha is an herb commonly recommended by some herbalists to treat thyroid issues.
Unfortunately, there’s little scientific data to support the use of ashwagandha for thyroid issues. There’s early evidence that ashwagandha can help with subclinical hypothyroidism, which is a symptomless condition. On the other hand, it may instead make hyperthyroidism worse.
Always talk to your doctor before starting any herbal supplements. They can interfere with medications you’re taking and negatively impact any medical conditions.
Your thyroid gland is located at the front of your neck, under your voicebox. It vaguely resembles a butterfly that sits on the front of and wraps around your esophagus. It plays a role in your metabolism, growth, and development.
The thyroid influences many of your bodily functions by releasing a steady stream of thyroid hormones into your blood. The three main thyroid hormones are:
- Triiodothyronine (T3)
- Tetraiodothyronine (T4)
What are common thyroid problems?
Your thyroid can develop a variety of problems throughout your lifetime. Two of the most common thyroid problems are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is due to an underactive thyroid that produces too few hormones. It affects about five out of every 100 women in the U.S. Symptoms can be very mild. It’s typically treated by replacing your missing hormones.
Common symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Trouble with the cold
- Joint pain
- Thinning hair
- Dry skin
Subclinical hypothyroidism is a related condition that affects between 3% and 8% of the population. With this condition, your thyroid is still underactive and produces too few hormones but not enough to cause symptoms.
Hyperthyroidism is the opposite problem where your thyroid is overactive and produces too many hormones. The most common version of hyperthyroidism is caused by an autoimmune condition called Graves disease. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Rapid heart rate and palpitations
- Sensitivity to heat
- Shakiness and tremors
If your hyperthyroidism is overstimulated, you might develop a condition called thyrotoxicosis. This condition is caused by large amounts of thyroid hormone in your body. Your thyroid glands may need to be removed to treat this condition effectively.
What is ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is a plant. Specifically, it’s a shrub. It’s found in some regions of India as well as other Southeast Asian countries.
The scientific name is Withania somnifera. Common names include winter cherry and Indian ginseng. The word ashwagandha means “smell of horse”.
It’s used in Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine). The most common uses are for stress relief and as an anti-inflammatory. Most often, the root and berry are used in the form of a pill, powder, or extract.
Ashwagandha is a naturally occurring adaptogen. Adaptogens are a class of drugs that help human bodies adapt to stress. Many scientific studies are currently aimed at understanding ashwagandha’s effects on healthy individuals and people with a wide range of medical conditions.
Is ashwagandha safe?
Most results are still in their preliminary stages, but ashwagandha seems safe for human consumption when taken for short periods.
One study looked at 80 healthy people over eight weeks while they were given either 300 milligrams of ashwagandha or a placebo control. Researchers found no significant changes in participants’ vital signs, liver function, or thyroid hormone levels in either group.
Another study looked at 64 people who had chronic stress. They were given 300 milligrams of ashwagandha root extract twice a day for 60 days, or they were given a placebo. The group given ashwagandha had significantly lower self-reported stress levels after this treatment period.
All studies reported minimal side effects. No side effects were permanent, and none required immediate medical attention. Some of the mild side effects can include:
- Stomach irritation
- These were always temporary and went away when the participants stopped taking ashwagandha.
Many more studies are needed to understand the effect of ashwagandha in larger populations and for more extended periods. Early data does seem to indicate that it’s safe to consume in reasonable amounts for at least 60 days.
Who shouldn’t take ashwagandha?
Some people should avoid taking ashwagandha. Minimally, these people need to consult their doctor before incorporating ashwagandha into their routine.
You fall into this category if you:
- Are currently taking digoxin: this could be prescribed for heart failure and heart rhythm issues.
- Are pregnant: high amounts could cause you to lose the baby.
- Have hormone-sensitive prostate cancer: ashwagandha may increase your testosterone, interfering with your treatments.
- Take medications that make you drowsy: taking this could increase the drowsiness from your medications, which can be problematic for day-to-day life.
Can ashwagandha help with thyroid problems?
Although ashwagandha has traditionally been recommended for thyroid issues, there’s very little scientific data to support this.
Some hospitals say to specifically avoid ashwagandha if you have hyperthyroidism. There’s debate about whether or not it further stimulates the condition, leading to problems like thyrotoxicosis.
There’s one positive study that specifically looked at people with subclinical hypothyroidism. It was a double-blind study. This means that neither the researchers nor the participants knew who was getting ashwagandha or the placebo until the end of the experiment.
Fifty participants with elevated serum thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) were given 600 milligrams of ashwagandha a day for eight weeks. These high levels of TSH indicated that their thyroids were underactive. They also monitored participants’ levels of T3 and T4 throughout the study.
Overall, the conclusion was that the ashwagandha supplements could return most participants’ thyroid readouts to normal levels. The results were statistically significant, but no other studies have confirmed these results so far.
Much more research is needed to understand how ashwagandha interacts with your thyroid fully.
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What else could ashwagandha help manage?
To date, ashwagandha has been studied in the hopes that it can benefit a wide variety of illnesses. Traditionally, it’s been used to improve people’s general health and help them cope with stress and anxiety. Combined with its defined anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, it could help with conditions made worse by stress and inflammation.
Conditions that ashwagandha is used for include:
- Some forms of arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Gastrointestinal diseases
- Skin conditions
Remember that just because you have a condition that’s sometimes treated with ashwagandha doesn’t mean that it’s safe for you.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Complementary Therapies in Medicine: “Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Study in Healthy Volunteers."
Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine: “A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults."
InformedHealth.org: “How does the thyroid gland work?"
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: “Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial."
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Ashwagandha."
Mount Sinai: “Hyperthyroidism."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)."
Winchester Hospital: "Ashwagandha."
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