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Does Ashwagandha Improve Thyroid Health?

Health + Wellness
Does Ashwagandha Improve Thyroid Health?
Eugeniusz Dudzinski / iStock / Getty Images

By Katey Davidson, MScFN, RD

Ashwagandha is a powerful herb also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry (1Trusted Source).


Extracts of its root are most commonly used and sold in tablet, liquid, or powder form.

Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen, meaning it's believed to help your body manage stress. It's also used to combat aging, strengthen and build muscle, aid neurological disorders, and relieve rheumatoid arthritis (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source).

Used for centuries in traditional medicine, it has gained recent popularity as an alternative treatment for thyroid issues.

This article explains whether you should take ashwagandha to support thyroid health.

Types of Thyroid Disorders

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of your neck. It plays a key role in metabolism, bone health, and growth and development (8, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).

The three main hormones important for thyroid health are (11Trusted Source):

  • thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
  • triiodothyronine (T3)
  • thyroxine (T4)

TSH is controlled by the pituitary gland, a small peanut-sized gland located near the base of your brain. When T3 and T4 levels are too low, TSH is released to produce more of these hormones. An imbalance between them may indicate thyroid issues (11Trusted Source).

There are two main types of thyroid disorders — hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone. It's usually associated with particular medications, iodine deficiency, or Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disorder in which your body attacks healthy thyroid tissue (11Trusted Source).

Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, fatigue, constipation, goiters, and dry skin (11Trusted Source).

In contrast, hyperthyroidism is characterized by the overproduction of thyroid hormone. People with this condition usually experience shortness of breath, an irregular heartbeat, fatigue, hair loss, and unintentional weight loss (12Trusted Source).

In Western countries, 1–2% and 0.2–1.3% of the population have hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, respectively (13Trusted Source).

Both conditions are typically treated with synthetic medication. However, some may seek natural alternatives, such as ashwagandha.

Summary

Hypothyroidism is a thyroid disorder characterized by low levels of thyroid hormone, whereas hyperthyroidism is linked to high levels. Some people use ashwagandha to treat these conditions instead of synthetic medication.

Can Ashwagandha Improve Thyroid Health?

While ashwagandha has many potential health benefits, you may wonder if it's worth taking for thyroid health.

Does ashwagandha help with hypothyroidism?

In general, insufficient research exists on ashwagandha supplements and thyroid health.

However, recent studies indicate promising results regarding hypothyroidism.

An 8-week study in 50 people with hypothyroidism found that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha root extract daily led to significant improvements in thyroid levels, compared to taking a placebo (6Trusted Source).

Those in the ashwagandha group showed significant increases in triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) levels of 41.5% and 19.6%, respectively. Furthermore, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels decreased by 17.5% (6Trusted Source).

Ashwagandha's cortisol-lowering effects may be responsible.

Chronic stress increases cortisol levels, leading to lower levels of T3 and T4. Ashwagandha appears to stimulate your endocrine system, boosting thyroid hormone levels by reducing cortisol (6Trusted Source).

In another eight-week study, adults with bipolar disorder were given ashwagandha. While three participants experienced increases in T4 levels, this study was limited (14Trusted Source).

More studies are needed to better understand the long-term effects of ashwagandha on hypothyroidism.

Does ashwagandha help with hyperthyroidism?

No human studies have examined ashwagandha supplements and hyperthyroidism.

That said, ashwagandha may exacerbate hyperthyroidism symptoms by boosting T3 and T4 levels, potentially leading to a serious form of hyperthyroidism called thyrotoxicosis (15Trusted Source, 16).

Thyrotoxicosis occurs when your body has extremely high levels of circulating thyroid hormones but low levels of TSH (15Trusted Source, 16).

Untreated, this condition can lead to heart failure, weight loss, extreme thirst, and skin issues(15Trusted Source, 16).

Therefore, it is important to speak with your healthcare practitioner before taking ashwagandha, especially if you have hyperthyroidism.

Summary

By boosting T3 and T4 thyroid hormone levels, ashwagandha may play a role in managing hypothyroidism but worsen symptoms of hyperthyroidism.

Safety and Side Effects

For most healthy people, ashwagandha is considered safe (7Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).

However, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it, in addition to people with hyperthyroidism (21Trusted Source).

Furthermore, this herb may interact with sedatives, as well as medications for the following conditions (17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source):

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • psychoactive disorders
  • hypothyroidism
  • immunosuppression

What's more, ashwagandha may stimulate your immune system, potentially exacerbating autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and lupus (1Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).

Therefore, it's best to consult your healthcare practitioner before using ashwagandha.

Summary

While largely considered safe, ashwagandha should not be taken by those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or hyperthyroid. As this herb can also interfere with several medications, it's recommended to consult your healthcare provider before taking it.

How to Use Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is usually taken in supplement form. Most supplements come in 300-mg tablets ingested twice per day after eating.

It also comes as a powder and is usually added to water, milk, juices, or smoothies. Some people mix it into dishes or sprinkle it on top of yogurt.

In addition, you can make ashwagandha tea.

As all current research uses the tablet form, it's not yet known if powders and teas have the same effects.

Because there's no human data on ashwagandha toxicity, it's generally considered safe for use. Follow the manufacturer's recommended dose unless otherwise instructed by your healthcare practitioner (7Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).

Summary

Ashwagandha is usually taken as a supplement in 300-mg doses twice per day. It is also available as a powder or tea.

The Bottom Line

Ashwagandha has been used for centuries in alternative medicine.

Preliminary research shows that it may improve thyroid levels in those with hypothyroidism. However, it may worsen the symptoms of hyperthyroidism.

Therefore, you should consult your healthcare provider before taking ashwagandha for a thyroid condition.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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