Sluggishness, joint pain, low libido and memory loss are just some of the more alarming symptoms of hypothyroidism. This, now highly prevalent autoimmune condition where the body’s defenses turn on the thyroid with destructive antibodies, causes a slow decline in metabolism, energy and eventually spirit.
Conventional medicine’s approach to this disorder is to stimulate the thyroid gland via synthetic replacement of thyroxine (T4), the pivotal thyroid-producing hormone that is converted to totriiodothyronine (T3). T3 is one of the body’s most critical hormones, since it governs cellular metabolism of almost all bodily tissues. The most commonly prescribed hypothyroid replacement drug is the synthetic hormone L-thyroxine (Levothyroxine). The thyroid recognizes levothyroxine as “natural” T4 and after careful trial and error under a physician’s care, the correct dosage can be achieved to restore and maintain proper bodily metabolism. The only caveat is that the medicine is required for the rest of one’s life and the disease is at best managed, but never cured.
So, what if one prefers not to take prescription medicine for a lifetime or is weary of potential long-term side effects? Interestingly, the Ayurvedic (Indian Medicine) herb ashwagandha offers some promise as a natural alternative.
From the Sanskrit, ashwagandha means “horse’s scent.” However, in this case, it might be more accurately referred to as “horse’s power.” The herb is considered an adaptogen, possessing the unique ability to regulate the endocrine system and create a stable metabolic balance. Root extracts from these plants indigenously growing in India, Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean are believed to elevate glucose-6-phosphatase activity in the liver and benefit thyroid function. The liver is know known to modulate thyroid hormone activation and deactivation via a system of iodothyronine seleno‐deiodinase enzymes. Increasing insight into the live-thyroid relationship demonstrates that adaptogens such as ashwagandha may regulate bile flow and glucose production, possibly reducing weight gain symptoms often seen with hypothyroid patients.
Because ashwagandha can aid normalization of various pathogenic states without overstimulating or under-stimulating hormones, Ayurvedic practitioners use it to treat both hyper and hypothryoidism. It can reduce kidney and adrenal stress, which can be of great value in balancing thyroid function. Beyond thyroid regulation, ashwagandha has been shown to calm the nervous system, strengthen the immune system and have potential cardio-protective qualities. It is also an excellent source of iron and can increase red blood cell production. Overall, ashwagandha is thought to be safe, although large doses can cause abdominal discomfort and diarrhea. It is not recommended that pregnant women take ashwagandha because of its spasmolytic activity on the uterus.
Ashwagandha can be taken as a powered herbal supplement or as a tablet. This natural alternative to prescription medicine can be quite useful with the right guidance. Be sure to seek the care of an Ayurvedic practitioner and physician before taking ashwagandha. Your doctor can also measure levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to monitor the effects of ashwagandha on your thyroid and endocrine system.