Rosmarinic acid and thyroid autoimmunity
Rosmarinic acid is a molecule, first extracted from rosemary herb (since the similarity of the name) which is caffeic acid derivative, present in a number of herbs of mint (family Lamiaceae) such as Mentha spp (garden mint, spearmint), Origanum vulgare (oregano), Melissa officinalis (lemon balm), Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary), Prunella vulgaris, Coleus spp, Ocimum spp (basil, holy basil), Origanum majorana (marjoram), thyme, Salvia officinalis (sage) and even small amounts in Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender). It is also present in some members of Boraginaceae family, including Lithospermum. Rosemarinic acid acts as a protective molecule in these plants. In a comparative study Mentha spicata (garden mint), Salvia officinalis and Melissa officinalis were shown to contain highest amounts of rosmarinic acid. The content of rosmarinic acid in rosemary was much lower but may vary in plants in different countries (12).
I will talk about studies regarding rosmarinic acid for thyroid autoimmunity and the herbs which contain it. Some herbs containing rosmarinic acid are beneficial for Graves’ disease (GD) and others for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (HT) and hypothyroidism as they contain other different active components which may affect thyroid hormone levels and how they work in body cells.
The majority of studies on rosmarinic acid are in vitro (in the lab). There are some positive human studies on herbs containing rosmarinic acid for Graves’ disease (see my previous blogs). Melissa officinalis and Lycopus virginicus bugleweed (Lamiaceae) have been used in treatment of mild hyperthyroidism and GD. Generally herbs of the mint family (but not all) are thyro-suppressive possibly due to phenolic and cinnamic acid-flavonoid-type plant components. Bugleweed extract was found to reduce peripheral T4 to T3 conversion and thus it may lower the levels of T3 thyroid hormone levels in rat liver (23).
There is no specific scientific human research (that I could find) in regards to rosmarinic acid molecule and HT. However, there are laboratory studies indicating that it can indeed be a beneficial anti-inflammatory agent for thyroid autoimmunity (both GD and HT) as I will discuss in this blog.
The herbs containing rosmarinic acid, such as rosemary and sage may be beneficial for HT and hypothyroidism. They contain rosmarinic acid but also high amounts of carnosic acid, among other components, which improve thyroid hormone sensitivity within body cells. They have many minerals and vitamins. It has been shown in laboratory studies that carnosic acid in rosemary improves thyroid hormone action on DNA level by improving the signalling of thyroid receptor. Carnosic acid helps to promote the function of Retinoid-X- receptors and improve thyroid receptor coupling and expression of target genes thus increasing sensitivity to thyroid hormones. Another component of rosemary herb, carnosol, supports thyroid hormone metabolism and production of active thyroid hormone T3. Rosemary also improves learning and memory. Sage is believed to “heal” a memory.
Generally, many thyroid support supplements contain rosemary herb extracts and powders as it has been observed by naturopaths and herbalists that they improve thyroid function.
Let’s then discuss rosmarinic acid. It is a natural molecule which may be helpful in pharmaceutical therapy for some autoimmune disorders (rheumatoid arthritis, SLE, MS) and thyroid autoimmunity.
Here is why:
It is a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory agent, antimicrobial, anti-carcinogenic agent with tissue healing and protective abilities. It may help with allergies.
Rosmarinic acid is anti-inflammatory and helps with balancing of the immune system. There are a number of laboratory studies indicating that rosmarinic acid may disrupt the cascade of thyroid damage in thyroid autoimmunity by interfering with complement molecules of the immune system.
When too much free radicals are produced in the thyroid (for example when selenium levels are too low), they affect the TPO enzyme which is the enzyme involved in thyroid hormone synthesis. TPO enzyme was found to bind specific molecules of immune system called complement C4 (11). This then may start inflammatory responses cascade, formation of complement C5 and other complement components resulting in thyroid tissue destruction. A study (11) reported over-expression of C4 and all the subsequent components in the complement cascade by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (HT) tissue thyrocytes.
Rosmarinic acid has been found (10) to inhibit a molecule called Complement 5 convertase which generates complement component C5. This molecule is a dominant inflammatory mediator in the development of many inflammatory and some organ specific autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, SLE and thyroid autoimmune disease. It is involved in generation of other complement molecules and eventual tissue damage. Study on complement expression in GD disease and HT showed that C5 and C6 complements were over expressed in thyroid tissue from people with Graves’ disease compared to normal tissue. People with HT over expressed all complement components. In a study (10) Rosmarinic acid inhibited C5 convertase and covalent attachment of C3b to cells which indicated that it may stop the formation of complement cascade molecules in the thyroid that damage thyroid in autoimmunity.
Rosmarinic acid also has other actions (1). It promotes death of aberrant T lymphocytes and balances the immune system by inhibiting a nuclear factor in these cells. It thus reduces autoimmune antibodies. Studies of herbs (3,4) containing rosmarinic such as Melissa officinalis showed that it inhibits the binding of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and TSH specific antibodies to TSH receptors in Graves’ disease (3,4) thus blocking thyroid overstimulation and lowering the formation of excessive thyroid hormones Lithospermum officiale and Melissa inhibit Graves’ IgG (antibody) and the long-acting thyroid stimulator (LATS) response. In studies, the relative potency of the inhibition was greatest for Melissa which seem to help with the actions of anti-thyroid medications.
The Journal of Restorative Medicine (1) states: Rosmarinic acid also reduces gamma interferon driven T cell responses and reduces interleukin production following T cell stimulation. Furthermore, rosmarinic acid affects signal transduction inside T cells by affecting specific tyrosine kinase enzymes inside the cell. By direct effects on T cells as well as other anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, rosmarinic acid may be a safe and valuable tool for reducing autoimmune inflammation. It may also be safe and advantageous to use in tandem with pharmaceutical treatment of autoimmune diseases.”
Rosmarinic acid also modulates neuro- endocrine function. It has calming properties. Rosmarinic acid is helpful against hair loss (massaging scalp with rosemary oil or rinsing with rosemary tea) may be beneficial.
There are rosmarinic acid containing supplements on the market (extracted from rosemary). I have not seen human studies in regards to rosmarinic acid and thyroid autoimmunity although laboratory studies, as described above, look very promising for rosmarinic acid. I believe it is too early at the present time to take rosmarinic extract supplements for thyroid autoimmunity. It would be great to see more studies and human trials. Rosmarinic acid from rosemary is considered safe but you need to consult your doctor before considering using rosmarinic acid extracts or if you suffer any side effects while taking them.
Rosmarinic acid or rosemary extract powders extracts should not be used by children, pregnant, breastfeeding women and people taking specific med (heart or diabetic medications importantly), with specific medical conditions or if allergic to herbs from Lamiaceae family.
It is important to consult your doctor regarding any herbs containing rosmarinic acid.
Herbal teas can provide rosmarinic acid which it is water soluble. Since I have had my thyroid removed, I no longer have GD but there are still some autoimmunity markers in my body (ANA antibodies- the antinuclear antibodies) which are common in people who have had autoimmune issues. I try to reduce my ANA antibodies in a number of ways but one of them is by the use of rosemary and sage cooking herbs. I drink sage tea very often. I use rosemary and sage in cooking as much as possible. I like sage tea and it seems to make me feel better. Rosemary tea is more of an acquired taste for me but I have it occasionally. I find that adding some lemon slices and bit of honey to my rosemary leaf or sage in hot water infusion helps. I use fresh herbs or dried herbs. I grow rosemary in a pot and I have had the same plant for years now. I have roughly calculated that 2tbl of dried rosemary leaves would roughly contain standard daily dose of rosmarinic acid but do not quote me on that calculation…
This blog is for educational purposes only.
- Stansbury, Jill; Saunders, Paul; Winston, David; Zampieron, Eugene R. Rosmarinic acid as a novel agent in the treatment of autoimmune disease. Journal of Restorative Medicine. 2012(1):115, pp. 112-116(5).
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