Ashwagandha is an ancient herb used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine for stress reduction, boosting energy, and improving sleep. In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of taking ashwagandha for PCOS.
PCOS and Ashwagandha
Polycystic ovary syndrome
(PCOS) is the most common metabolic and hormonal disorder in women of childbearing age. Some estimates suggest that PCOS affects 10 to 20 percent of women in this age range. There are different types of PCOS
with varying symptoms like irregular or absent periods, acne, unwanted hair growth or loss, and difficulty losing weight.
While we have previously covered our favorite supplements for PCOS
, we may recommend our favorite adaptogen, ashwagandha, to certain individuals with PCOS as well. The ashwagandha plant is a shrub found in India and the Middle East. Other names for this herb include withania somnifera and Indian ginseng. As an adaptogen, ashwagandha helps the body respond to stress and supports normal hormone production.
Ashwagandha for PCOS
When evaluating the appropriateness of a supplement for PCOS, we prioritize the ones that effectively target the various root causes of this condition. Let’s review a few benefits of using ashwagandha for PCOS.
Balances cortisol levels
Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Many individuals with PCOS present with higher than normal cortisol levels, which can contribute to various PCOS symptoms. For example, cortisol raises your blood sugar and decreases your body’s ability to respond to insulin (this is called insulin resistance
). Unfortunately, insulin resistance can cause difficulty losing weight, sugar cravings, irregular periods, and more.
As an adaptogen, ashwagandha is primarily known for its ability to balance cortisol levels and reduce overall perceived stress (1). If you have adrenal PCOS, ashwagandha may be particularly beneficial for you.
Women with PCOS are three times more likely to suffer from anxiety than the general population (2
). PCOS may cause anxiety
due to the hormonal imbalances seen in this condition.
A large review of studies found that ashwagandha significantly reduces anxiety scores, in some cases by over 50 percent (3
). In fact, ashwagandha may even have comparable benefits to the common anxiety drug called lorazepam (Ativan), but without the unwanted side effects (4
). This herb is thought to reduce anxiety due to its cortisol lowering effects and ability to mimic a calming neurotransmitter in our brain called GABA (5
Sleep dysfunction can have devastating effects on PCOS and worsens many of the root causes of this condition, like insulin resistance. Sleeping less than six hours a night may also increase levels of CRP, a marker for inflammation. A recent review study found that individuals taking ashwagandha extract reported improved sleep and increased mental alertness in the morning (6
). This effect was strongest when taking at least 600 milligrams (mg) of extract per day for at least eight weeks.
Supports thyroid health
Women with PCOS are three times more likely to suffer from Hashimoto’s thyroid disease
than women without PCOS (7
). Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease and the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States.
Ashwagandha supports optimal thyroid function and may be an effective tool for individuals with hypothyroidism.
For example, one randomized controlled trial found that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha root extract effectively normalized levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), T3, and T4 (8).
May lower blood sugar levels
Up to 70 percent of women with PCOS have some degree of insulin resistance. This occurs when your cells become resistant to insulin, a hormone responsible for normalizing blood sugar levels after a meal. Unfortunately, insulin resistance can lead to many common PCOS symptoms like difficulty losing weight, weight gain, and irregular periods.
One review study found that treatment with ashwagandha significantly reduced blood sugar, hemoglobin a1c, and insulin levels (9).
Dosing of Ashwagandha
The root and leaves of the ashwagandha plant are the most commonly used parts in herbal remedies. Most research studies indicate an effective dose is around 600 mg daily. However, doses up to 1,250 mg per day were found to be safe and well tolerated (10
). Keep in mind, ashwagandha is not recommended for women who are pregnant.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that may have benefits for PCOS like lowering cortisol levels, reducing anxiety, improving sleep, and more. At Root, we work on identifying and treating the root causes of your PCOS with personalized testing, food and lifestyle changes, and appropriate supplementation. Learn more about our functional medicine membership program.