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Can Ashwagandha Ease Adrenal Hyperplasia?

Ashwagandha For Adrenal Hyperplasia

As an adaptogen, ashwagandha treats nonclassical adrenal hyperplasia (NCAH) symptoms by stimulating the adrenal glands to produce hormones the body lacks in this condition. It raises insulin sensitivity, regulates cortisol levels, and monitors female reproductive hormone production by acting on the thyroid gland, thus treating the diabetes and infertility caused by NCAH. Reportedly, its antioxidants also check hair loss.

Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, is rich with herbs and plants that have been employed for centuries to treat a wide variety of medical conditions. Ashwagandha or Indian ginseng is one of these centuries-old remedies that is popular worldwide as a stress buster and for its ability to rejuvenate—much like Chinese ginseng. But can it actually help treat the impairment of adrenal glands that regulate your response to stress? And more importantly, can it help alleviate symptoms like the hormonal imbalances or hair loss typical of nonclassical adrenal hyperplasia?

What Is Adrenal Hyperplasia?

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) refers to a group of inherited disorders of the diminutive-looking adrenal gland. Their deceptively small size belies the major role these glands play in your body. A malfunction of the adrenal glands, which are responsible for making vital hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone, can make your system go haywire in a flash.

For someone with CAH, the adrenal glands are unable to produce these hormones because of the lack of certain crucial enzymes, resulting in a wide range of distressing symptoms. While the portion of the adrenal gland responsible for cortisol and aldosterone production doesn’t do enough, another portion responsible for androgen production does too much. The resulting hormone imbalance might cause body hair to appear before its time in boys and girls; it could prevent boys from developing typically masculine physical features; and it could also prevent the normal development of breasts or the onset of periods in girls.1

For about 75 percent of people with CAH, the insufficiency of aldosterone and cortisol is more severe, leaving them open to the risk of adrenal crises. If the condition goes undetected, it could cause shock and dehydration and can even be fatal. A female infant with the condition may be confused for a baby boy because of high levels of androgens that cause genital and urinary structures to appear more masculine. The clitoris, on the other hand, will be enlarged. A boy with the condition may not show signs of abnormal genitalia at birth, but he may attain puberty much earlier than normal, resulting in short height as growth halts early.2

The Other Adrenal Hyperplasia: NCAH

Unlike classical CAH, nonclassical CAH or NCAH, though also a genetic condition, appears in later childhood or even young adulthood. Symptoms do not appear for everyone with the condition, so initial identification rests on knowing there is a family member with the problem. Even for those with symptoms, since there is only a partial enzyme deficiency, the cortisol production tends to be better. Consequently, adrenal androgens are also lower, while aldosterone levels are normal.3 Symptoms common to boys and girls include bad acne, mood swings, oily skin, excessive body hair, and premature appearance of pubic hair. A section of these girls (about 10 to 15 percent) may have fertility issues, while others may experience irregular menstrual periods and thinning hair on the head. Some males with NCAH may also struggle with infertility because of low sperm count. For those with NCAH, alternative therapy and treatments like ashwagandha may ease symptoms and restore normalcy.4

Ashwagandha For Adrenal Hyperplasia

Regulation Of Cortisol Levels

Withania somnifera or ashwagandha is a known antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune system-modulating remedy.5 Acting on the body’s endocrine system, including the adrenal glands, the adaptogenic herb stimulates the production of deficient hormones, correcting the manifest symptoms.6

Even more crucial when it comes to problems with the adrenal glands, ashwagandha’s cortisol-regulating mechanism is the perfect foil to adrenal hyperplasia.7

Ashwagandha For Insulin Control

NCAH commonly results in insulin resistance or type-2 diabetes. Scientists have hypothesized that insulin resistance often lies behind the complaints associated with NCAH. This variant of adrenal hyperplasia produces a deficiency of a different set of enzymes when compared to CAH. Here, the body cells cannot utilize the circulating insulin, causing them to develop “resistance” to insulin, leading to diabetes.8 Studies have shown that ashwagandha increases “sensitivity” to the hormone insulin in rats. These rats fed on ashwagandha could better utilize the insulin that was being produced by the body, helping improve glucose metabolism and control diabetes resulting from adrenal hyperplasia better.9

Ashwagandha For Hair Fall

Alopecia or hair fall is a common symptom of NCAH. Instances of ashwagandha helping patients with NCAH-related hair fall have been cited, including one at the New York School of Medicine. A course of 400 mg ashwagandha tablets taken twice daily for a six-month period proved to be beneficial in the case of a patient who had until then experienced severe hair loss. Hormone levels also improved overall. Ashwagandha’s antioxidant and tonic powers were credited with the results.10

Ashwagandha For Female Fertility

For those dealing with fertility problems as a result of their NCAH, ashwagandha can help regulate hormone levels and response to stress.11 Through its action on the thyroid, it can also regulate reproductive hormone production.12

References   [ + ]

1, 2, 3. Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. National Adrenal Diseases Foundation.
4. What is Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH)?. Cares Foundation.
5. Mishra LC1, Singh BB, Dagenais S.Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review.Altern Med Rev. 2000 Aug;5(4):334-46.
6. Umadevi, M. “Traditional and medicinal uses of Withania somnifera.” The Pharma Innovation 1, no. 9 (2012).
7. Kalani, Amir, Gul Bahtiyar, and Alan Sacerdote. “Ashwagandha root in the treatment of non-classical adrenal hyperplasia.” BMJ case reports 2012 (2012): bcr2012006989.
8. Speiser, PHYLLIS W., J. O. R. G. E. Serrat, MARIA I. New, and JOSEPH M. Gertner. “Insulin insensitivity in adrenal hyperplasia due to nonclassical steroid 21-hydroxylase deficiency.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 75, no. 6 (1992): 1421-1424.
9. Anwer, Tarique, Manju Sharma, Krishna Kolappa Pillai, and Muzaffar Iqbal. “Effect of Withania somnifera on Insulin Sensitivity in Non‐Insulin‐Dependent Diabetes Mellitus Rats.” Basic & clinical pharmacology & toxicology 102, no. 6 (2008): 498-503.
10. Sacerdote, Alan, and Gül Bahtiyar. “Treatment of Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia by Reducing Insulin Resistance and Cysticercosis Induced Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.” (2015).
11. Buhrman, Sarasvati. “Ayurvedic approaches to women’s health.” Protocol J Botanic Med 1, no. 4 (1996): 2–7.
12. Panda, S., and A. Kar. “Withania somnifera and Bauhiniapurpurea in the regulation of circulating thyroid hormone concentrations in female mice.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 67, no. 2 (1999): 233–239.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.