Photo by Kyle Nieber
What Is Hypothyroidism?
Fatigue. Weight gain. Feeling cold and achy. For years, my mom blamed these symptoms on “just getting older”. Her doctor, on the other hand, had a more objective medical diagnosis: she was suffering from hypothyroidism, a condition that occurs when the thyroid gland produces inadequate amounts of hormones known as T3 and T4. The body is completely dependent upon these thyroid hormones for regulation of metabolism. Hence, my mom’s symptoms of low energy and weight gain. While I was certainly concerned when she told me the news, I can’t say I was surprised. In fact, as many as 10% of women over 30 have some form of thyroid hormone deficiency. What did surprise me was the doctor’s immediate prescription of pharmaceutical drugs. It’s commonly accepted that stress, diet, and inflammation are all common contributors to the development of hypothyroidism. But, there was no investigation into the root cause of my mother’s condition, nor any attempt at correcting it by natural means. Just a simple referral for synthetic hormones and, “Have a nice day.” When it comes to healthcare this has become the American way.
Natural Treatments For Hypothyroidism
Deciding this was unacceptable, I began to investigate alternative treatments. A deep dive into the literature revealed a wealth of research pertaining to natural ways to treat hypothyroidism. One in particular kept popping up over and over again: Ashwagandha. Of course, there were the obvious interventions focused on nutrition, sleep, and exercise, but the research on Ashwagandha suggests that it offers something more. Native to Southern Asia, the root has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Recently, scientists have begun studying its rejuvenating properties and the results are promising. Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogenic herb, meaning that it helps the body balance hormones in response to biological and psychological stress. In India, it was traditionally used for a variety of ailments including anxiety, fatigue, stress, and to bolster the immune system. More than 200 research studies have proven Ashwagandha to have a range of additional benefits from stabilizing blood sugar to improving memory, concentration, and reaction time. So how does ashwagandha help with hypothyroidism?
How Is Ashwagandha Used To Treat Hypothyroidism?
The vast majority of hypothyroidism is due to an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, leading to chronic inflammation. According to medical expert Dr. Datis Kharrazian, to cure thyroid dysfunction you must get to the source of this imbalance. Synthetic thyroid medications like those prescribed to my mom may help to suppress symptoms, but they don’t address the root cause and are accompanied by a list of side effects. This is where Ashwagandha has been shown to play a key role as a natural alternative.
In a 2017 study on Ashwagandha, the root extract was taken for eight weeks and significantly improved thyroid hormone levels when compared to the placebo. In fact, researchers noted that participants’ overall thyroid function improved to an “effectively normalized” level. But how? Adaptogens have been scientifically proven to assist in balancing hormones in the body. Whether you have an underactive or overactive thyroid, Ashwagandha naturally supports hormonal regulation. It works by directing thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to the brain and triggering the thyroid gland to increase production of T4 and T3, thereby upregulating metabolism. Once metabolism is back on track, symptoms dissipate and overall health improves.
Additionally, by reducing cortisol levels, Ashwagandha works to mitigate stress—one of the root causes of Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism. Of course, it is still important to figure out what is causing that stress in the first place. For my mom, it was lifestyle factors. Over the next three months, we focused on improving her quality and quantity of sleep, eliminating sugar from her diet, and adding in 45-minute walks in the neighborhood park a few times a week. To help further promote relaxation, we experimented with other natural remedies like combining chamomile tea a kava tincture before bed. These lifestyle modifications in conjunction with daily supplementation of Ashwagandha root have helped my mom lead a healthier, happier life without ever using prescription synthroid medication. Are there times when prescription medication is necessary? Absolutely. But it’s far too often we accept Band-Aid solutions instead of putting in the work and solving our problems at their origin.