People suffering from thyroid disorders face dozens of symptoms, and in some cases, life threatening conditions. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 5% of Americans have hypothyroidism, and 1% have hyperthyroidism.
A number of clinical trials, on humans and laboratory animals, have been conducted to ascertain whether Ashwagandha root may be an effective treatment for thyroid disorders. The evidence is strong that Ashwagandha can treat hypothyroidism, but it works by stimulating thyroid hormone production. For this reason, it is not at all recommended for hyperthyroidism, and can even lead to risks associated with that disorder.
Diabetes Related Hypothyroidism
Many patients with diabetes are on medications to help with insulin and other hormonal responses. Some of studies have indicated that sub-clinical hypothyroidism (where no serious symptoms are reported) can be treated by Ashwagandha root. But in what they claim to be the first study showing proof, scientists in 2009 studied two separate patient groups on diabetes medication to see if these claims had merit.
In the study, patients taking both metformin and dexamethasone, and had suffered from low thyroid output as a result, were given 1.4 grams of Ashwagandha root, orally. No matter which diabetes medication they were on, patients had elevated triiodothyronine and thyroxine levels. It should be noted that this last hormone, thyroxine, is the one associated with the dangerous condition of overactive thyroid, which I’ll cover later in this article.
According to the Journal of Thyroid Research, hypothyroidism is the most common factor that all people with bipolar mood disorders have in common. It stands to reason, then, that in 2014 scientists looked into the thyroid levels of bipolar patients while taking Ashwagandha.
In their study, they found some subjects with bipolar disorder had hypothyroidism, some did not. This muddied the results, and in fact not every patient saw normalized thyroid levels, neither in the control nor in the treatment group.
The scientists themselves mention in their discussion of the study that more research is needed, especially to find a participant pool who has hypothyroidism and bipolar disorder. Until studies with these strict parameters are designed and conducted, the evidence can’t be considered conclusive.
A third study, conducted by the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, shows perhaps the most conclusive and hopeful results. In this study, a large sample of participants (50) were given a modest amount of Ashwagandha root (600 mg).
The study ran for only 8 weeks, and all of the participants had elevated TSH, showing that their bodies were trying to produce more thyroid hormone. In the study, Ashwagandha significantly improved normal thyroid hormone levels, and had side effects lower than the placebo (sugar pill) group (4% versus 12%).
Cautionary Case Studies
I did find two case studies detailing the cases of women who were taking Ashwagandha root and ended up with severe hyperthyroidism, of a type called Thyrotoxicosis. This condition can be life threatening due to other complications.
In one case, a 32 year old woman, the patient was taking Ashwagandha periodically for fatigue. But when she increased her dose, she had symptoms requiring her to seek hospital attention.
The second case involved a 73 year old woman, who was actually taking Ashwagandha for two years to treat her hypothyroidism. However, she ended up with hyperthyroidism, and suffered from a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia.
Both women had symptoms resolved after Ashwagandha left their systems.
A patient and their doctor can be the only people to determine proper care and treatment for any condition. And it should be noted that the FDA has not authorized any Ashwagandha treatment for hypothyroidism. The data, though, seem conclusive enough to recommend a conversation with a physician if such an herbal remedy is desired.
The side effects, it should be noted, resulted in over-activity of the thyroid. While serious, this may in itself indicate that Ashwagandha can indeed increase thyroid hormone levels.