The thyroid gland is located just below the larynx in the neck. It secretes hormones that are involved in various processes including energy expenditure and growth of body tissues. The main two hormones made by the thyroid gland are called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), with T4 being produced in much greater quantities than T3.
If the thyroid gland is underactive, the metabolism will slow down, leading to a variety of symptoms. Some of these are listed below. It is estimated that approximately 5% of people will experience thyroid dysfunction in their lifetime. However, rates of suboptimal thyroid production are believed to be far greater. This is where thyroid hormone levels are considered normal but people continue to present with symptoms of low thyroid function (see symptoms below). This may be due to ‘low normal’ levels of thyroid hormone or problems with cells responding appropriately to thyroid hormone stimulation.
Symptoms of Low/ Suboptimal Thyroid Function:
Generally low thyroid function is treated with medication consisting of thyroxine. However, some herbs, vitamins and minerals also have a positive influence.
Ashwagandha (also known as Indian Ginseng or Withania somnifera) is an exotic Indian herb that has stress-relieving and immune-modulating effects. Researchers have also investigated its effects on the thyroid gland.
In one study on mice, Ashwagandha administered for 20 days increased thyroid hormone activity (both T4 and T3) and reduced free radical activity in the liver (1).
The effects of Ashwagandha on thyroid hormone production was also recently investigated in adults diagnosed with bipolar disorder (2). 8-weeks of supplementation with Ashwagandha increased levels of thyroxine (T4) in the blood. This was not observed in people given the placebo. In fact, most people on the placebo experienced a reduction in thyroid hormone levels over the 8 weeks.
While further research is required, it seems that Ashwaghanda is a potential natural option to improve thyroid hormone levels. In addition to this herb, nutrients such as iodine, selenium, tyrosine and B-vitamins are important for healthy thyroid production.