Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that can benefit the entire body, from your brain to your immune system. It can especially help support thyroid function, which is the key to a healthy metabolism. A lot of this comes from ashwagandha’s strong influence over the HPA axis. But before we go into how ashwagandha benefits your thyroid, let’s talk about why the thyroid is so important in the first place.
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a gland located at the base of your neck. It’s approximately 2 inches in length, and it’s known for its butterfly shape. The thyroid releases key hormones that regulate metabolism and virtually every other major bodily function. That includes anything from heart rate to muscle strength to even body temperature — a healthy thyroid is vital to a healthy life!
The thyroid is a component of the endocrine system, which is the body system that is in charge of producing and releasing hormones that will eventually get to the body’s cells. In order to have a healthy thyroid, you need appropriate levels of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), T3 (triiodothyronine), and T4 (thyroxine). The thyroid can also have issues when you’re under chronic stress and unable to manage it properly.
This is where ashwagandha comes in. Ashwagandha can help your body manage stress, which in itself can help avoid overstimulation of the thyroid. However, the main way that ashwagandha can really benefit thyroid function is through its impact on the HPA axis.
The HPA Axis, Stress, and the Thyroid
The HPA axis, which is short for Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis, is the tight connection between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands. Each of these three organs has the ability to impact the function of the other, and they all contribute to the feedback loop that regulates how the body responds to things like stress.
In reality, the HPA axis could actually be described as the HPATG axis, because the axis has powerful control over not only the HPA, but also the thyroid and gonads, too!
When faced with stress, the HPA axis tends to increase the function of all of the associated organs (including the thyroid and gonads). In the short term, this is great! For example, you can have better energy, improved focus, and increased fertility. However, chronic stress causes chronic activation of the HPA axis, and this increased stimulation can cause a variety of imbalances that may lead to health problems. This includes subclinical hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue, testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone imbalances and much more.1 Chronic stress causes “burnout” of these organs and glands, thus resulting in hypofunction (low function) and leading to fatigue, immune suppression, and fertility challenges.
How Does Ashwagandha Ultimately Support the Thyroid?
Ashwagandha has an attenuating effect on the HPA axis, meaning that it helps to moderate how the HPA axis responds to chronic stress. In essence, ashwagandha helps the HPA axis become less active in the face of chronic stress, thus helping hormone levels associated with the thyroid, adrenals, pituitary, and gonads to trend towards normal levels. After all, the common root cause of high levels of thyroid stimulating hormone is elevated levels of cortisol — in other words, too much stress (2).
One 8-week study found that people with hypothyroidism who took 600 mg of ashwagandha root extract saw significant improvements in their thyroid levels (3). Specifically, the participants saw increases in their T3 and T4 levels, and a decrease in their TSH levels, which helped them get closer to achieving a better balance of their hormones.
In the face of chronic stress, the thyroid is stimulated too much and can lead to functional problems. The amazing power of ashwagandha to moderate the responses of the HPA axis may be an important piece of the puzzle to supporting healthy thyroid function.
How Can I Start Taking Ashwagandha?
Adding ashwagandha into your diet is simple: try a daily full-spectrum supplement that uses the herb’s root, like Premium Ashwagandha. Taking this capsule just one to two times a day can lead to better stress response and improved thyroid health. As always, before starting any supplement, it’s important to speak with your doctor, especially if you have specific thyroid conditions. Otherwise, ashwagandha is a natural relaxing adaptogenic herb that can benefit your overall health, including your thyroid function!
What is the HPA Axis?
The HPA axis consists of the hypothalamus (H), pituitary (P), and adrenals (A). When we are confronted with a stressor, the hypothalamus notices and sends signals to the pituitary gland which, in turn, sends signals to other parts of our bodies including our adrenal glands, thyroid, ovaries and testes. This signal, in response to stress, stimulates all these glands that are responsible for producing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that help us fight stress.
How is the HPA Axis related to the thyroid?
The HPA axis actually has a lot of control over the thyroid, in fact, the pituitary gland (P) communicates directly with the thyroid. When you are faced with stress, the axis usually increases the function of the organs it has control over. This is good in the short-term because it can enhance your focus and energy when needed. Unfortunately, chronic stress leads to chronic HPA axis activation, and your thyroid may overexert, which may cause hypothyroidism and other health problems.
How does ashwagandha help the thyroid?
Ashwagandha helps moderate how the HPA axis handles and responds to stress. This is great for chronic stress because chronic stress can contribute to a variety of health problems. Ashwagandha can support stress management and ultimately help you avoid any overstimulation of the HPA axis, and therefore can prevent the overstimulation of the thyroid.
How can I take ashwagandha?
You can take ashwagandha through simple supplementation. Taking a full-spectrum supplement using ashwagandha root, such as Premium Ashwagandha, is a great way to improve your body’s stress response and support your thyroid. Take two capsules once or twice a day, and you too can reap the body and mind benefits of ashwagandha.
Want to Read More?
- Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019;98(37):e17186. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000017186