Recently ashwagandha as an adaptogen has been gaining ground in the Western world as well as an herbal remedy for stress, and hormone imbalance including PCOS.
So what are the benefits of ashwagandha for PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder affecting millions of women worldwide. PCOS can bring a range of uncomfortable symptoms and long-term health risks.
Fortunately, there are natural remedies that can help manage this condition, and one of the standout stars in the world of herbal medicine is Ashwagandha.
In this informative post, we’ll explore the potential benefits of Ashwagandha for PCOS, how it works, and how to incorporate it into your PCOS management plan.
Symptoms of PCOS
Before delving into the specifics of Ashwagandha, let’s briefly review what PCOS is and how it affects women’s health.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a complex hormonal disorder related to a hormonal imbalance and affects many women of reproductive age. Specifically, there is an elevated level of androgens or male hormones and suppression of female hormones.
And as the name suggests there is the presence of multiple cysts in the ovaries.
Cortisol levels are also high causing insulin insensitivity and elevated blood sugars.
PCOS is characterized by:
- Irregular periods
- High androgen levels (male hormones)-high testosterone levels.
- Multiple small cysts on the ovaries
- Weight gain
- Hirsutism (excess hair growth)
- Anxiety and depression
- Insulin resistance and increased diabetes risk
- Sleep problems
- Ovarian cysts
According to the CDC other health problems associated with PCOS especially if one is overweight include:
- Diabetes- More than half of women with PCOS develop diabetes by age 40 according to the CDC.
- Gestational diabetes
- Heart disease
- High LDL cholesterol
- Sleep apnea
These hormonal imbalances can lead to many health conditions including fertility issues, insulin resistance, and increased risks of heart disease and diabetes. And that is why managing PCOS appropriately is essential for a woman’s health.
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian Winter Cherry and Indian Ginseng in a traditional Ayurvedic medicine and is known for its adaptogenic properties. It has been used for centuries to help the body adapt to stress and balance hormones.
Health benefits of ashwagandha
Stress Reduction: Ashwagandha is renowned for its ability to reduce stress and anxiety by regulating cortisol levels, the body’s primary stress hormone.
A 2019 study on the benefits of ashwagandha for stress found that ashwagandha’s stress-relieving effects may occur via its moderating effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, the body’s flight or flight pathway.
Improved Sleep: It can help improve the quality of sleep, making it valuable for those experiencing insomnia or sleep disturbances.
May reduce anxiety according to studies. Another 2019 study in Cureus found that ashwagandha root extract was effective in reducing anxiety a a significant reduction in cortisol was observed.
May improve blood sugar levels. A review of studies indicates ashwagandha may help manage blood sugar levels.
The study found treatment with ashwagandha reduced both blood sugar levels and A1C, insulin levels, lipids, and oxidative stress markers all associated with high blood sugars.
According to studies, Ashwagandha comprises over 35 constituents of which the most bioactive compound is withaferin A, a highly oxygenated lactone shown to have both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits.
According to the same study, the anti-inflammatory benefits of ashwagandha have been seen in diseases such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and pulmonary fibrosis (source).
The benefits of ashwagandha for PCOS
One of the biggest benefits of ashwagandha in managing PCOS is its effect on hormonal balance through regulating the HPA.
The HPA produces several hormones such as cortisol, which regulates the stress response, insulin response, and the release and activity of other hormones.
Dysregulation of the HPA which happens in chronic stress can also affect thyroid hormone production and activity research in Frontiers Neuroscience found.
As an adaptogen, ashwagandha regulates the stress response and symptoms associated with PCOS including insulin sensitivity, and blood sugar levels, high cortisol and stress, elevated androgens, decreased libido, fatigue, sleeplessness, and mood swings.
Health benefits of ashwagandha for PCOS
1. Hormone balance
Ashwagandha may help regulate hormone levels, specifically by reducing levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and balancing sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone. This balance can alleviate PCOS symptoms.
2. Improving Insulin Sensitivity
PCOS is often associated with insulin resistance, and high insulin levels which can lead to weight gain and metabolic issues.
Ashwagandha may improve insulin sensitivity, helping manage blood sugar levels. By improving insulin sensitivity, ashwagandha helps improve other chronic conditions associated with PCOS.
3. Stress Reduction
Chronic stress can exacerbate PCOS symptoms. Ashwagandha’s adaptogenic properties can help lower cortisol levels, which in turn may alleviate PCOS-related stress.
4. Weight Management:
PCOS often leads to increased body weight likely due to insulin resistance and high cortisol levels.
Some studies suggest that Ashwagandha may support weight loss and help maintain a healthy weight, a crucial aspect of PCOS management.
By lowering cortisol and improving insulin and blood sugar metabolism, ashwagandha helps with weight loss
5. Antiinflammatory benefits for PCOS.
PCOS like many chronic conditions is an inflammatory disease. Compounds in ashwagandha have antiinflammatory effects that protect DNA and inhibit proinflammatory markers, according to research.
6. Improves anxiety and depression associated with PCOS.
According to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology Studies, ashwagandha acts on certain GABA receptors which lowers anxiety levels as well as improves sleep quality.
7. Improve fertility.
PCOS is characterized by hormonal imbalances and increased male hormones. This causes irregular menstrual cycles and infertility.
It appears according to research that insulin resistance affects ovulation.
And without ovulation, pregnancy cannot occur. So by improving insulin sensitivity ashwagandha improves ovulation and fertility.
Furthermore, high stress also affects fertility and since ashwagandha helps lower stress, it helps to improve fertility.
It is well documented in research that ashwagandha helps improve libido which of course is necessary for conception in most cases.
Using Ashwagandha for PCOS
Consultation with a Healthcare Professional is recommended before using any supplements.
Before incorporating Ashwagandha supplements into your PCOS management plan, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a naturopath or herbalist to determine the appropriate dosage and ensure it won’t interfere with any other medications or conditions.
Forms of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is available in various forms, including capsules, powders, and tinctures or ashwagandha root tea.
Discuss with your healthcare provider which form is best for your needs.
The recommended dosage can vary depending on personal needs but 250-500mg per day for at least a month is recommended per research
The appropriate dosage of Ashwagandha can vary from person to person.
Your healthcare provider will help determine the right dosage based on your specific PCOS symptoms and overall health.
Potential side effects of ashwagandha
Ashwagandha supplementation is safe in most cases but it is important to follow the guidance of your healthcare provider.
However, high doses beyond the recommended dose can cause stomach upsets such as diarrhea.
Liver problems have been reported but are usually associated with impurities from unregulated supplements.
Consult your provider if you are taking other medications or if you have other medical conditions, are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Consistency Is Key
To experience the potential benefits of Ashwagandha, it’s crucial to take it consistently as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
It may take a few weeks or even months to notice significant improvements.
Lifestyle changes to help cope with PCOS
You always want to make sure to follow the treatment plan your doctor has given you first and foremost.
Your medical care plan and a few lifestyle changes can help you manage PCOS and control symptoms.
Managing PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) often involves making positive lifestyle changes to help alleviate symptoms and reduce long-term health risks.
Here are some lifestyle changes that can be beneficial for women with PCOS:
Balanced Diet: Opt for a balanced diet rich in whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats.
Avoid or limit processed foods, sugary snacks, excessive carbohydrates, and transfats as these make insulin sensitivity worse.
Additionally, transfats are associated with inflammation which makes PCOS symptoms worse.
Low-Glycemic Foods: Emphasize low-glycemic index (GI) foods, as they can help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance.
Examples include most vegetables, sweet potatoes, and whole grains, such as quinoa are okay. Dair is okay too in moderation as the fat content can contribute to insulin resistance.
Portion Control: Be mindful of portion sizes to prevent overeating and manage weight.
Aerobic Exercise: Engage in regular aerobic activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling to improve insulin sensitivity and assist with weight management.
Strength Training: Incorporate strength training exercises to build muscle mass, which can help with metabolic health and weight control.
Yoga or Pilates: These practices can reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
Healthy Weight Goals: If overweight or obese, strive to achieve a healthy weight through a combination of diet and exercise.
Even modest weight loss can have a significant impact on PCOS symptoms.
Slow, Sustainable Changes: Avoid crash diets and extreme weight loss methods. Focus on gradual, sustainable changes that promote long-term success.
Stress Reduction Techniques: Incorporate stress-reduction practices such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, or
hobbies you enjoy to lower cortisol levels. Good sleep is part of stress reduction strategies, so ensure you are sleeping enough and well.
Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to support stress management and overall health. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Follow the steps outlined in this post on how to sleep better every night.
Regular Medical Check-Ups
Regular Check-Ups: Visit your healthcare provider regularly to monitor your PCOS and its impact on your overall health. Discuss any concerns or symptoms.
Medication and Supplements
Certain supplements can help improve hormone balance including PCOS. Here is a post on natural supplements for hormone balance.
Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations regarding medications and supplements that may be prescribed to manage specific PCOS symptoms.
Birth Control Pills
Some individuals with PCOS may benefit from birth control pills to regulate menstrual cycles and control androgen levels.
Again I cannot stress enough that you consult your healthcare provider for guidance.
If you plan to conceive, consult a reproductive specialist to discuss fertility treatment options and strategies to optimize your chances of getting pregnant.
Build a support network of friends and family who understand your condition and can offer emotional support when needed.
These days you may even find groups on Facebook that can offer support. Always be careful before taking any advice online, however.
Stay informed about PCOS by reading reputable sources and seeking advice from healthcare professionals.
Knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions about your health. Knowledge is power.
Read blogs from integrative medicine professionals. Learn more about other herbal supplements such as maca that can help with hormone balance including PCOS. Learn dietary approaches from registered dieticians.
Be consistent with your lifestyle changes. PCOS management often requires ongoing efforts, so staying committed to healthy habits is crucial
Ashwagandha is a promising natural remedy for managing PCOS symptoms and promoting overall well-being.
When used under the guidance of a healthcare professional, it can help restore hormonal balance, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce stress levels, offering hope to those living with PCOS.
Remember that while Ashwagandha can be a valuable addition to your PCOS management plan, it should not replace other treatments prescribed by your healthcare provider.
Also, remember that PCOS varies from person to person, so what works for one individual may not work for another.
Consult with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to create a personalized PCOS management plan tailored to your specific needs and goals.
With the right lifestyle changes including supplements like Ashwagandha, and guidance from a healthcare provider, many individuals with
PCOS can effectively manage their condition and improve their overall well-being.
Embrace a holistic approach to PCOS management by incorporating a balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress management techniques
alongside the power of Ashwagandha.
Read next: The best herbs for hormonal balance