Ayurvedic classical texts, clinical experiences and scientific evidence suggest the adaptogenic herb ashwagandha helps PCOS.
PCOS stands for Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. It is a common endocrine disorder in women in the reproductive age group. It is found in around 70% of women who have ovulation difficulties.
PCOS affects a woman’s menstrual cycle, fertility, and appearance.
In this condition, due to hormonal imbalances, cysts are formed on the ovaries that prevent the ovaries from performing normally. One hormone change triggers another, which changes another and a vicious cycle is formed which leads to sub-fertility.
A founding member and former Secretary of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine, Mary is a Certified Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist and Pancha Karma Specialist. In 2008, she received the Charaka Award for Excellence in Ayurvedic Teaching. If you’d like to learn more about Ayurveda and women’s health, check out this course here.
High levels of androgens and insulin play a major role in causing PCOS. These compromised adrenal functions create a negative impact on one’s blood pressure, energy level, resistance to infection and stress levels.
Insulin resistance is a common finding in PCOS that is independent of obesity. However, it is substantially worsened by obesity.1
Due to stress and the overeating of foods high in fat, sugar, and carbohydrates creating an accumulation of fat in the belly, a development of obesity-linked PCOS occurs over time. Insulin resistance can lead to Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.
In Ayurveda, this condition is not explained as a single disease entity; but it can be considered under the heading of utero-vaginal disorders (Yoni Vyapat).
When the deranged Vata vitiates, the muscles (mamsa), blood (shonita) and fat (meda) mix with Kapha and thus a circular, raised, knotted inflammatory swelling called ‘granthi’ is formed.
This type of glandular swelling has been compared with the modern term ‘cyst’. A cyst is an abnormal closed epithelium-lined cavity in the body, containing liquid or semisolid material.
In PCOS, the development of follicles is arrested at any level and they remain as it is. The cysts are follicles at varying stages of maturation and atresia.
So, these cysts are not destined to become ovum. Thus, this pathology is referred to as the formation of cyst-causing anovulation (granthibhuta artava dusti) as in PCOS, the follicles become cysts instead of developing into a mature ovum.
Mary graduated from the first graduating class of the California College of Ayurveda in 1997 and now is a senior teacher there. Mary Thompson, is a Certified Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist (C.A.S.) and Pancha Karma Specialist (P.K.S). In 2008, she received the Charaka Award for Excellence in Ayurvedic Teaching. If you’d like to learn more about Ayurveda and women’s health, check out this course here.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng, is indicated to reduce Kapha and Vata (Vata-kapha-hara).2
It thereby normalizes imbalanced Vata and Kapha which are responsible for PCOS. It also has a therapeutic effect in problems pertaining to the reproductive system and inflammatory swelling (granthi).3
Ashwagandha is indicated as one of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic formulations recommended for pregnancy in infertile women.4
It is also one of the components of bala oil, an Ayurvedic herbal oil formula known to destroy all types of diseases due to imbalanced Vata (Vata roga).5 Abnormal Vata plays a major role in all the uterovaginal disorders (yonivyapad) including PCOS.6
Ashwagandha has adaptogenic properties (anti-stress agents) which help to balance hormone levels and thyroid function, support adrenal function7, normalizes cortisol levels and maintains insulin levels in the body.
Ashwagandha acts like a GABAergic drug binding to GABA receptors, and produces calming, anti‐anxiety, highly‐stabilizing effects.8
Moreover, ashwagandha root also contains tryptophan which is the building block of serotonin, the mood-lifting hormone.9 It also corrects irregular menstrual cycles and reduces menstrual pain.10
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Ashwagandha root extract reduces levels of serum cortisol which is elevated in stressful conditions.11
Due to its adaptogen property, it corrects the imbalance between the immune and neuroendocrine system to normalize the bodily functions under stressful conditions by targeting hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal gland axis.12
Withania somnifera root extract and leaf contains flavonoids which possess hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic activities.13
Ashwagandha significantly increases the volume and sodium content in the urine and decreases cholesterol, triglycerides and low-density lipoproteins in blood serum.14
A study found that the phenolic compounds and flavonoids present in Ashwagandha have antioxidant activity which plays a vital role in reducing serum glucose levels in alloxan-induced diabetic rats.15
A study on ashwagandha showed that it contains alkaloids, as well as steroidal and saponin chemicals which are essential for activity in the hormonal pathways in the system. These chemical constituents increase the production of T4 hormones.
Thus, ashwagandha improves thyroid activity and enhances the antiperoxidation activity in the tissue.16,17,18
In a study on ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) it was found extremely useful in creating the synergistic hormonal balance between the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and the Luteinizing Hormone (LH).19
Ashwagandha reduces weight in obesity-linked PCOS.
According to Brenda Watson and Leonard Smith, authors of ‘The Fiber35 Diet: Nature’s Weight Loss Secret’, Ashwagandha helps in reducing stress related weight gain by regulating the cortisol levels. Cortisol stimulates glucose production and triggers a hunger response in the brain.20
Also, according to a Life Extension Magazine article entitled “Stress Reduction, Neural Protection and a Lot More from an Ancient Herb” by Dale Kiefer, ashwagandha naturally lowers cortisol levels up to 26% and supports the adrenal glands.
Ashwagandha increases hemoglobin (red blood cell count) and hair melanin. It stabilizes blood sugar and lowers cholesterol.
It supports the female reproductive system, increases ovarian weight and promotes folliculogenesis (maturation of the ovarian follicle).
Ashwagandha is also a potent inhibitor of angiogenesis.21Along with a healthy diet and exercise, ashwagandha helps PCOS undoubtedly.
Consult your healthcare provider before having ashwagandha for PCOS or any other uses.
1,20,21 M.Umadevi, Traditional, And Medicinal Uses of Withania Somnifera THE PHARMA INNOVATION Vol. 1 No. 9 2012 www.thepharmajournal.com Page | 102.
2,3 Dr. J.L.N.Sastry, DravyagunaVijnana, Study of essential Medicinal Plants in Ayurveda Vol 2, ChaukhambhaOrientalia,Varanasi.
4 Sushruta Samhita Uttarsthana chapter 62 verse 27
5 Ashtang Hriday Sharirsthana chapter 2 verse 50
6 Charak Chiktsasthana chapter 30 verse 115.
7 Nadkarni AK. Indian Materia Medica Bombay: Popular Prakashan 1976, 1292-1294.
8 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. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26068424
9 Chauhan, Komal, and Gauri Patil. “Impact of Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) on Mental Health Profile of Elderly Women.” European Scientific Journal 9, no. 27 (2013).
10 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.
11 Auddy B, Hazra J, Mitra A, Abedon B, Ghosal S. A standardized Withania somnifera extract significantly reduces stress-related parameters in chronically stressed humans: A double-blind, randomized study.
12 Verma SK, Kumar A. Theraputic uses of Withania Somnifera (Ashwagandha) with a note on withanoloids and its pharmacological actions. Asian J Pharma Clin Res. 2011;4(1):1–4.
13 Rajangam Udayakumar Hypoglycaemic and Hypolipidaemic Effects of Withania somnifera Root and Leaf Extracts on Alloxan-Induced Diabetic Rats 09 May; 10(5): 2367–2382. PMC2695282Published online 2009 May 20. doi: 10.3390/ijms10052367 PMCID.
14 Bhattacharya, S.K. and A.V. Muruganandam, 2003. Adaptogenic activity of Withania somnifera: An experimental study using a rat model of chronic stress. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav., 75: 547-555.
15 Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2010 Jun;65(2):91-8. doi: 10.1007/s11130-009-0146-8.Antioxidant effect of dietary supplement Withania somnifera L. reduces blood glucose levels in diabetic rats. Udayakumar R(PUB MED).
16 Brown R and Francis G.L ; Autoimmune Thyroid Disorders; Journal of Thyroid Research; year 2011; page 1-2.
17 Garg S.C ; Essential oils as therapeutics ; Natural product Radiance; year 2005; volume 4(1); page no. 18-26.
18 Singh. G, Sharma P.K , Dudhe R and Singh S ; Biological activities of Withania somnifera ; Annals of Biological Research; year- 2010, volume 1 (3); page no.56-63.
19 Sher KS, Mayberry JF. Female fertility, obstetric and gynecological history in coeliac disease. A case-control study. Digestion. 1994;55(4): Pages: 243-246.
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