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Herbal Spotlight: How Eleuthero Can Help People With Thyroid and Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions

Published September 4 2012

Eleuthero, also known as Siberian Ginseng, is an adaptogenic herb I commonly recommend for people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions.  As a result, many people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, as well as those people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease, can benefit from taking this herb.

This herb has numerous functions, but I usually recommend it to those patients who deal with a great amount of stress on a daily basis.  This is the main function of the herb, as it helps to reduce the effects of stress.  This of course doesn’t mean that Eleuthero is a substitute for having good stress handling skills.  This is still essential, although it does take some time for someone to become good at handling stress.  And so during this “transitional time” Eleuthero can help the person better handle the stress, although eventually the goal will be for the person to stop taking this herb and be able to manage the stress on their own.

So for example, if someone has a very stressful job, financial worries, or anything else which is causing the stress, then obviously just giving Eleuthero is not going to eliminate these stressors.  In many cases the person who is following a natural treatment protocol won’t be able to eliminate the major stressors in their life.  So they might need to engage in stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and/or biofeedback to help manage the stress.  But during the recovery phase it might also benefit them to take an herb like Eleuthero.

Of course people who deal with a lot of stress on a daily basis frequently have adrenal problems.  So it’s not uncommon for someone who is taking Eleuthero to have an imbalance in their cortisol levels.  Sometimes they might take this in addition to other herbs.  For example, someone with low cortisol levels might need to take a combination of Licorice and Eleuthero.  Licorice is the more specific herb for depressed cortisol levels, but the combination of Licorice and Eleuthero can benefit a person’s adrenal health greatly.  Rehmannia is another herb that can be beneficial for some people with compromised adrenals.  Other times the person won’t need to take other herbs to support the adrenals, but can just take Eleuthero by itself, and then modify the lifestyle factors which are impacting their health.

Other Therapeutic Uses For Eleuthero

Eleuthero has also been used by athletes to help improve performance and to minimize the effect of stress.  It also has been used during certain treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, as this herb can sometimes help counter the side effects associated with these treatments.  Eleuthero is immune modulating, and so it can benefit those people with autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

Of course just as is the case with any herb, the effectiveness of Eleuthero depends on the dosage, along with the quality of the herb.  The dosage will of course vary depending on the person who is taking the herb.  As for the quality, I’m not going to name specific brands, as each healthcare professional has our own favorite, and there are numerous quality supplement companies out there.  Even though I would advise anyone to consult with a competent natural healthcare professional before taking any herb, if you do decide to take Eleuthero on your own I would make sure to take the root.  Remember that when it comes to herbs, the part of the plant used is very important.  Some companies will sell a different part of the plant for a cheaper price, but it won’t be nearly effective.  Then the person will take the herb and claim it didn’t help them, not realizing that a different part of a plant usually won’t have the same effect.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that where the herb was originally collected from could make a big difference.  For example, according to Kerry Bone in his book Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, “a chromatographic study of Eleutherococcus roots indicated that Russian and Korean Eleutherococcus are chemically different to Chinese Eleutherococcus and contain higher levels of eleutheroside E.  Hence, Eleutherococcus sourced from China may not have the same therapeutic activity as the widely studied Russian variety”.

Are There Any Contraindications To Using Eleuthero?

Most people are able to take this herb without any problems.  Just as is the case with any other herb, occasionally someone will take Eleuthero and will claim that it didn’t “agree” with them.  In other words, they felt worse after taking this herb.  But this is rare, as most people who take it don’t have any problems or side effects.  One important thing to note is that this herb shouldn’t be taken during the acute phase of infections.   Some sources claim it should also be avoided in those people with high blood pressure, although this herb has also been used as a treatment for hypertension.  I haven’t experienced any problems giving it to my patients with high blood pressure.  But once again, different people will respond differently, and so if someone with high blood pressure takes Eleuthero and doesn’t respond well, then it’s probably best to play it safe and stop taking this herb.

I have come across one source which claims that Eleuthero stimulates the thyroid gland, but there is no concrete evidence I know of that proves this.  Besides taking it without a problem when I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, over the years I have had many of my patients with hyperthyroid conditions take Eleuthero without any issues.  This doesn’t mean that everyone with hyperthyroid conditions won’t have any problems taking this herb, but this has not been an issue in my practice.

As for potential drug interactions, there has been one incident when a 74-year-old man had elevated serum digoxin levels and was found taking Eleuthero.  As a result, some sources will claim that Eleuthero might interact with digoxin.  In the situation involving the 74-year-old man, supposedly the herb that was included in the product wasn’t authenticated, which is yet another reason why you need to be very careful about the brand you purchase.  Most people just randomly purchase herbs online or at their local health food store.  And while most of the time people don’t experience adverse reactions due to a poor quality brand, there are times when this does occur.  And once again, even if one doesn’t experience any adverse reactions, a poor quality herb obviously won’t be as effective as a high quality herb.  Other sources claim that Eleuthero can interact with blood thinners such as warfarin, along with corticosteroids and medication for diabetes.

Some people become concerned when they realize that Eleuthero is a type of “Ginseng”.  Some people who have taken Korean Ginseng and didn’t do well are hesitant to take Siberian Ginseng.  However, Eleuthero is not as powerful as Korean Ginseng, and so while some people aren’t able to take either herb, many people who are unable to tolerate Korean Ginseng do fine when taking Eleuthero.

As for its use during pregnancy and lactation, it does seem to be safe for pregnant women, as well as those who are breastfeeding.  However, I usually refrain from giving Eleuthero to pregnant or lactating women unless if I feel it is absolutely necessary.  Everything comes down to risks vs. benefits, and while it does seem as if there is minimal risk when taking Eleuthero when pregnant or breastfeeding, I’m more cautious when recommending any herb to someone who is pregnant or lactating.

In summary, because many people deal with chronic stress on a daily basis, Eleuthero is an herb that can benefit a great number of people.  Once again, I highly recommend speaking with a natural healthcare professional before taking this or any other herb on your own.  But either way, just remember that Eleuthero is something that should only be taking on a temporary basis to help manage the stress.  Ultimately the goal should be for the person to restore the health of their adrenals (if compromised) and improve their stress handling skills so they won’t need to rely on Eleuthero, or any other herb for that matter.