Thwarting Low Thyroid
By Anthony Almada, M.S.

The annals of Ayurvedic medicine have given us ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng. While numerous studies have explored this herb's ability to improve stress tolerance, enhance immune modulation and possibly even benefit inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, recent research has examined its effect on those suffering from low thyroid hormone levels. This condition, called hypothyroidism, is often marked by cold hands and feet, poor tolerance to cold, sluggish bowel function and even subnormal body temperature.

One animal study with male mice showed orally delivered extracts of ashwagandha to increase both thyroxine, the more abundant thyroid hormone (and a widely used prescription drug), and T3, its more potent counterpart; a similar study in female mice showed an increase in thyroxine only. This is especially relevant news, since very few natural products have been shown to increase thyroid hormones in the blood.

While these studies suggest those with low to normal thyroid hormone concentrations may benefit from ashwagandha supplementation, validation in clinical human studies is needed. Although such studies are lacking, the long history of ashwagandha's traditional use in Ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogen and tonic strongly supports its safety.

Nutrition and exercise biochemist Anthony Almada, M.S., has collaborated on more than 45 university-based studies and is founder and chief scientific officer of IMAGINutrition.