I’ve watched my thyroid health collapse during particularly stressful times in my life. With stress and the resulting adrenal fatigue key factors in my health condition, the adaptogen herb Ashwagandha is a critical part of my thyroid treatment. This herb provides many potential benefits you should know about.
As with all thyroid treatments, there isn’t one thing that works for everyone. I wish it was that simple. The truth is we’re all individual in terms of how we react to different substances. What works for me may not for another. At Hypothyroid Mom I share the various things to explore in the hopes that you find what works for you too.
Written by Yusuf M. Saleeby, MD
An adaptogen herb in the nightshade family of plants Withania somnifera (AKA, Ashwagandha, Indian Ginseng, and winter cherry to name a few) has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years. The plant, roots, seeds, leaves and fruit, which is classified a berry, contain alkaloids, flavonoids and steroidal lactones. Most notably a substance called withaferin A which was first isolated along with sitoindosides 9 & 10 more recently discovered, all agents whose attributes to wellness and as an adaptogen are given. Ashwagandha finds its way into several stand-alone supplements for stress reduction and sleep, as well as one part of several other herbals or adaptogen herbs in proprietary blends for adrenal gland support and optimal Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) function.
Adaptogens get their name as particular herbals (some 25 of all medicinal herbs) for their properties of adapting organisms to stress. They must maintain three general properties to obtain this distinction. Those being that they are not toxic substances, they must work on multiple physiological avenues and systems in an organism and lastly they must exact a balancing property. The balance or homeostasis by example would be a particular adaptogen herb at a certain dose would both lower blood glucose in a person with elevated serum glucose (a diabetic) and also raise the serum glucose levels in another individual with very low sugar levels (a hypoglycemic). The combination of all three principals must be met and are very unusual in the world of medicinal. I know of no pharmaceutical that actually possesses even two of these three properties.
An interesting aside is the culinary application of this plant’s fruit as a substitute for rennet, an animal gut derived complex of enzymes used in making of cheese. W. somnifera is a vegetarian alternative to the animal derived rennet.
Medicinally this herbal has been used for cognitive enhancement and neuro protective properties for the treatment of anxiety and ADHD and cerebellar ataxia conditions. Researchers have studied its effects on diabetes and elevated cholesterol. There have been studies on reduction of tumor size and regression of cancer. It has use in male infertility, increasing sperm count and has been studied with positive effects on erectile function in men.
Ashwagandha has found its way into formulations to treat arthritis conditions as it imparts anti-inflammatory as well as analgesic properties. Dr. Kulkarni found Ashwagandha helpful with both control of pain and inflammation in osteoarthritis participants. Pain scores and disability scores in this study dropped significantly.In 2012 Dr. Chopra demonstrated not only benefit of this herbal in combination with other Ayrevedic herbs “Shunthi-Guduchi” for relief of pain using a functional activity questionnaire pain score but also demonstrated a reduction in urinary cartilage collagen break-down products. There were no significant adverse side effects noted. It was also noted that a drop in serum hyaluronic acid, interleukin 1β, IL-6 and TNF-α (inflammatory markers) were appreciated.
Several studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals purport effectiveness in reducing tumors showing its anti-neoplastic properties. Others report a reduction in inflammation, stress (adaptogenic properties) and ulcers. A 2003 animal study established the fact that W. somnifera like the other adaptogen herbal Panax ginseng ameliorated the chronic stress induced animals by correcting hyperglycemia, glucose intolerance, reducing cortisol levels and gastric ulcerations. It also demonstrated an improvement in cognitive deficits, mental depression and immune-suppression. Studies have been repeated successfully in the human models.
Clinicians prescribe this herbal to aid their patients suffering from fibromyalgia conditions as well as to bolstering their immune system. It has characteristics that increase the function of the thyroid gland and production of thyroxine and triiodothyronine, the two principle thyroid hormones.
It has even been researched as a remedy for reducing the dependence and halting the tolerance to pain medication. It has found its way in complementary treatments for the addiction to opiate medications.
Dosing depends on the individual and what in particular is being treated, but a typical starting dose of 500 mg of standardized pharmaceutical grade once to twice daily is the norm. No more than 1000 mg twice daily is suggested. Length of use is safe for months at a time.
There are a few cautions to be considered with any herbal or therapy. Ashwagandha may cause lowering of blood glucose levels so care with folks on sugar lowering medications should be exercised. It may cause either an elevation or a lowering of blood pressure. Drops in blood pressure in those taking medication for hypertension can be of particular concern, so appropriate monitoring should be implemented. Those with stomach ulcers should use caution as it can cause gastrointestinal irritation. Prior to surgery that requires anesthesia this herb should be stopped two-weeks in advance as it may cause central nervous system depression with anesthetics. Ashwagandha is not recommended for use in pregnancy. Use cautiously if you are sensitive to nightshades. Those on thyroid hormone replacement therapy should also exercise caution, as this herb may cause an increase in hormone levels and thyroid function.
There are also some interactions with prescription medications. Chief is the sedative effect when taken with benzodiazepines such as diazepam or lorazepam. Also additive effects of somnolence are noted with phenobarbital and zolpidem. If one is on an immunosuppressant drug, than there are certainly suppressive effects associated with this herb that counteract these drugs’ properties as it promotes immune function.
Ashwagandha is a superb choice of adaptogen herb for the treatment of stress and stress induced illnesses. Ashwagandha is generally regarded as safe and effective for a wide number of medical conditions, but it is still highly suggested to have it managed by a qualified practitioner.
About Yusuf M. Saleeby, MD
Yusuf M. Saleeby, MD is an integrative practitioner who utilizes herbals from several traditional medical cultures to aid in promoting wellness and reducing the dependence on prescription medications. Dr. Saleeby is director of Priority Health of South Carolina. The central office is located in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, however they serve a much wider geographic area with providers that make house/business calls in the Charleston, Mt. Pleasant and Greenville area of South Carolina. They also offer services in the Raleigh-Durham, Cary, Apex region of North Carolina.
Through an online dispensary HealthWave Dr. Saleeby provides supplement suggestions and online purchase of high quality dietary supplements and herbals. For more information visit www.GetMyThyroidFixed.com
Dr. Saleeby and thirteen other healthcare providers co-authored a new book on thyroid disease with thyroid advocate Janie Bowthorpe entitled Stop the Thyroid Madness II: How Thyroid Experts Are Challenging Ineffective Treatments and Improving the Lives of Patients just released the fall of 2014.
http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/5/4/334.pdf (Accessed 9/28/2014)
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