Q: I have an underactive thyroid and feel constantly fatigued. Are there any herbs that can help me improve my energy levels and thyroid function?
A: Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function, is exceedingly common, and seems to preferentially affect women. Low thyroid function causes fatigue, feeling cold, unexplained weight gain, hair loss, dry skin, slow bowel function, and heavy periods in women.
It is commonly treated with synthetic thyroid hormone replacement, usually as Synthroid, or levothyroxine. Sometimes this doesn’t completely correct symptoms, or thyroid function, as reflected in blood tests. In addition, hypothyroidism is often accompanied by adrenal fatigue. This can also result in overlapping symptoms such as fatigue and weight gain.
Recent research on the herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, or Indian ginseng) shows its effectiveness for improving both thyroid and adrenal function, as well as other hormone-related conditions.
In fact, it seems that ashwagandha, which contains withanolides (a category of hormone-modulating constituents called steroidal lactones) may be a powerful overall endocrine or hormone regulator.
A randomized controlled trial recently published has shown that supplementing with 600 mg of ashwagandha for eight weeks among patients with hypothyroidism resulted in significant improvements in thyroid hormones including TSH, T3, and T4, compared with placebo. Authors reported that ashwagandha “normalized” thyroid hormones.
In traditional herbal medicine, ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen that strengthens the adrenal glands and helps the body respond to stress. Unlike other adaptogens, however, ashwagandha is calming rather than stimulating, and can help with anxiety and sleep. Research also shows that ashwagandha has beneficial effects on female sexual function and male fertility parameters.
Please consult a licensed naturopathic doctor to find out if ashwagandha is appropriate for you.