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Should You Try Ashwagandha For PCOS?

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Is Ashwagandha Beneficial For PCOS?

PCOS both leads to and is caused by stress. Ashwagandha lowers cortisol levels, restoring other hormones to normalcy and checking cell damage caused by free radicals. By making the body use up insulin, it lowers fat and testosterone levels. High testosterone levels and low progesterone levels disrupt menstrual cycles. Taken with other herbs, it induces ovulation, regularizes periods, and relieves period pain. It works best with a healthy diet and exercise.

Given that worldwide, about 5 to 10% women of 18–44 are affected by polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), there are high chances someone you know has it. This condition, also known as polycystic ovarian disorder (PCOD), can even affect girls who haven’t reached puberty yet.1

It has become a common hormonal imbalance that affects a woman’s menstrual cycle, ability to have children, and even appearance. The Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, estimates that 1 in 10 women of childbearing age suffers from this condition.

Every 1 in 10 women in the childbearing age, that is in their 20s and 30s, has PCOS.

Causes are multiple and vary from woman to woman but the end result is an abnormally high level of male hormones (androgens), specifically testosterone, causing havoc in the endocrine system. Some women have high levels of prolactin, which is the milk-producing hormone. They also have low levels of progesterone, the hormone responsible for menses and maintaining pregnancy, among other functions. PCOS patients may even have insulin resistance.

The combination of excess androgens and low levels of progesterone affects the development and release of eggs during ovulation. This is why PCOS patients have irregular or painful periods and have difficult pregnancies.

Signs And Symptoms Of PCOS

  • Irregular period cycles
  • Heavy periods
  • Cysts on the ovaries (which would be visible in an ultrasound scan)
  • Hirsutism or excess body and facial hair
  • Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair on the crown
  • Excess body weight
  • Abdominal fat
  • Infertility
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia

Unfortunately, PCOS does not have a straightforward cure and has to be managed. Conventional medication and its side effects are prompting women to turn to alternative remedies such as Ayurveda. One viable solution is to use ashwagandha for PCOS. Ashwagandha is a super herb that’s almost Ayurveda’s poster child for a variety of conditions ranging from diabetes to depression.

Ashwagandha Manages Risk Factors Of PCOS

Improves Insulin Resistance

The havoc due to the surge and fall of hormones is integral to PCOS, and insulin is a major player in this disequilibrium. Many studies emphasize a relationship between insulin resistance and PCOS.

PCOS patients have excess insulin which increases the production of testosterone, disturbing the period cycle and causing acne and hairiness. Ashwagandha helps the body use up insulin efficiently.

When your body has excess insulin, the ovaries produce more of the male hormone testosterone, leading to menstrual cycle disturbances. Extra testosterone circulating in the female body can cause acne and hirsutism. High insulin levels also cause the body to store more fat, especially around the abdomen. This is a common sign in PCOS.2

Controlling insulin levels can, to a large extent, reverse some of the symptoms of PCOS. Ashwagandha has been found to increase insulin sensitivity and improve blood glucose control in animal studies.3 In human patients also, ashwagandha has been found to be as effective as prescription drugs in lowering blood glucose.4

Lowers Stress

Studies show that ashwagandha can help lower cortisol levels by even 28%

It is thought that PCOS is more common now because a stressful lifestyle contributes to and magnifies its symptoms. The body produces the hormone cortisol in response to stress. When the cortisol levels become abnormally high, other hormones drop below the healthy level and the number of cell-damaging free radicals increases. Studies show that ashwagandha can help lower cortisol levels by even 28%.5 6

Ashwagandha Improves PCOS Symptoms

PCOS is a complex disorder and the effects are varied. Let’s look at some of the conditions associated with PCOS and whether ashwagandha can help address them.

Treats Depression And Anxiety

PCOS can also cause anxiety and depression in women either due to hormonal disturbances or due to the embarrassing physical changes like excess body hair or weight gain that can occur with this condition.

Ashwagandha can reduce stress and boost mood-lifting hormones.

Ashwagandha activates GABA receptors in the brain. GABA (gamma amionobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter in the central nervous systems that blocks signals. This super herb therefore helps inhibit the signals caused by stress and relieves anxiety.7 Moreover, ashwagandha roots also contain tryptophan, which is the building block of serotonin, the mood-lifting hormone.8

Ashwagandha can be as effective in treating depression and anxiety as standard prescription drugs like lorazepam and imipramine.

Fights Cell Damage

Research has found that PCOS may be related to oxidative stress. Stress and other environmental toxins generates free radicals. Being highly reactive, these free radicals start damaging your body cells by oxidizing them. Your body has a store of natural antioxidants to fight free radicals, but when there are many more free radicals than your body can fight, it is under oxidative stress. Research suggests that antioxidants may stall the development of PCOS.9

Not only does ashwagandha fight free radicals, it enables your immune system to fight them too. 

Given our fast-paced lifestyles, it is impossible to escape the environmental factors of oxidative stress like pollution, man-made chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, and tobacco smoke. However, ashwagandha can protect the body against oxidative stress with its antioxidant properties. It can also stimulate your immune system to work better and fight damage-causing elements.10

Treats Infertility And Irregular Menstrual Cycles

PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in women as it suppresses ovulation. A clinical study found that a polyherbal preparation which included 25 mg ashwagandha could successfully induce ovulation. It could also correct irregular menstrual cycles and reduce menstrual pain.11 Do note that ashwagandha can do this in combination with other herbs and not alone.

Reduces Weight Gain

Stress can make you bulk up. And as you already know, ashwagandha can reduce stress. It can also boost your metabolism and increase insulin sensitivity. This in turn will help you utilize glucose to produce energy and not store it away as fat. It also increases immune function and keeps the process of weight loss unhindered. Here’s a detailed account on how ashwagandha helps you lose weight.

Relieves Fatigue And Insomnia

In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is used as an essential tonic to improve overall health, strength, and vigor and to counter lethargy and fatigue. It is also the recommended herb for inducing restorative sleep. On one hand, it reduces stress. On the other, it makes your body more active and restores its natural mechanisms to induce sleep.

Living With PCOS

Don’t self-medicate. Consult an Ayurvedic practitioner.

Ashwagandha can undoubtedly help with many aspects of PCOS, but it has to work in tandem with other lifestyle changes like eating healthy, reducing stress inducers in your life, and giving your body the exercise it requires. Cutting down on processed foods and having more whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats can also help to lower blood glucose and normalize hormone levels in your body. Remember, PCOS can be managed and in this ashwagandha can prove a great ally.

Do note that the perfect dosage is critical because ashwagandha has been seen to increase testosterone levels in men. Overconsumption may have side effects, including abortion. This is why you must seek the help of an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner.

References   [ + ]

1. How many people are affected or at risk for PCOS?. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
2. Homburg, Roy. “Should patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome be treated with metformin? A note of cautious optimism.” Human Reproduction 17, no. 4 (2002): 853-856.
3. 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.
4. Andallu, B., and B. Radhika. “Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root.” Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 38, no. 6 (2000): 607-609.
5. Houston, Mark. “A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study.”
6. K. Chandrasekhar, Jyoti Kapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty, “A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults”, Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine 34 (2012): 266-262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022
7. Candelario, Manuel, Erika Cuellar, Jorge Mauricio Reyes-Ruiz, Narek Darabedian, Zhou Feimeng, Ricardo Miledi, Amelia Russo-Neustadt, and Agenor Limon. “Direct evidence for GABAergic activity of Withania somnifera on mammalian ionotropic GABA A and GABAρ receptors.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 171 (2015): 264-272.
8. Chauhan, Komal, and Gauri Patil. “Impact of Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) on Mental Health Profile of Elderly Women.” European Scientific Journal 9, no. 27 (2013).
9. Zhang, D., W. Y. Luo, H. Liao, C. F. Wang, and Y. Sun. “[The effects of oxidative stress to PCOS].” Sichuan da xue xue bao. Yi xue ban= Journal of Sichuan University. Medical science edition 39, no. 3 (2008): 421-423.
10. RajaSankar, Srinivasagam, Thamilarasan Manivasagam, and Sankar Surendran. “Ashwagandha leaf extract: a potential agent in treating oxidative damage and physiological abnormalities seen in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease.” Neuroscience Letters 454, no. 1 (2009): 11-15.
11. Parveen, Sanjeeda, and Shabnam Ansari. “Testo Induced Ovulation Successfully in Women of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.” Indo American Journal of Pharmaceutical Research 5, no. 6 (2015): 2430-2434.