Suffering with heavy periods or an erratic cycle?
Are you plagued with PMS or hormonal acne?
Experiencing agonising period pain every month?
Why not try herbal medicine.
Balancing Hormones Naturally
Although hormonal imbalance and all the challenges that can go along with it are rampant, most people are not aware of the power and safety of herbal medicine in this regard. But traditional cultures have been utilising botanical medicine for this purpose for centuries.
Women and men can both suffer from hormone imbalance (yes Men too!). In this day and age with stress and environmental toxins widespread, hormone imbalances are even more common. Herbal therapies support your the to come back to its own right balance, rather than manipulating or adding hormones to the picture. I hear you - Thank goodness for that!
As with any health challenge, it is important to pay attention to the individual patterns. Because although your hot flashes, mood swings, bigger or tender boobs (or any other symptom) may be similar to someone else's, your total picture may not be the same. It’s vital to treat conditions and patterns individually, rather than assuming that what works for one person will do the same for another. Herbal therapies are very safe, and you will know it's the wrong thing for you if your symptoms do not abate, or become worse. If you are confused or nervous (it’s very hard to assess oneself), there are plenty of resources to help you out, including, of course, seeking the help of a practitioner (that's me).
In addition, many of these herbal helpers I'm going to share with you in this post work best in formula with other herbs. They work synergistically well and often balance each other. Hormone balancing formulas are one of my most popular types of herbal blends (but don't tell the anxiety or anti-viral herbs this).
There are a number of root causes of hormonal imbalance. Symptoms for both men and women can vary but include PMS (emotional stress), irregular and/or painful menses, infertility, low libido, peri/postmenopausal challenges, fatigue, acne. In this article, I will address some of the more often seen challenges, and a few ideas that I hope will be helpful. My goal is to encourage you to look into natural means for acquiring balance. Its amazingly simple, really.
Sex hormones, like all hormones in the body, are regulated through the endocrine system (adrenals, thyroid, testes/ovaries, pituitary, pancreas). Stress plays a big part in causing an imbalance in this sensitive balancing act. Fortunately, there are many wonderful botanicals (known as adaptogens) that are well known for supporting and nourishing these glands in their important work.
Another important part of this picture is liver health. The liver is vital in its role in regulating and normalising hormone production. Therefore the liver must be addressed when looking at hormonal challenges.
Let's look at some herbs that can help in these categories:
Vitex: this botanical is a premier herb used in hormone balancing formulas. It is the most important plant for normalising the menstrual cycle.
Wild Yam: Great for endocrine and liver health, this herb is a great hormone precursor (particularly for progesterone). It also is helpful in formulas for male hormone balancing.
Dong Quai: This herb exerts a regulating influence on hormone production through its work with the liver and endocrine system. It also strengthens the blood (contraindicated in heavy bleeding).
White Peony: is a wonderful herb for hormonal and menstrual complaints. It has shown to increase low progesterone, reduce high testosterone and regulate other hormones including oestrogen and prolactin.
Black Cohosh: I mostly bring this up, because of its relative popularity. Actually, it is not always indicated, and can sometimes exacerbate symptoms. Its best used when hot flashes are stemming from 'true' heat, and not 'deficient' heat (which is often the case in menopause). Contraindicated with headaches and depression. For some women, it's a 'miracle' for hot flashes. Not for extended use.
Estrovera is another option for those who do not experience much success with Black Cohosh. It delivers a patented plant-derived ingredient from Rhubarb which has been clinically demonstrated to reduce hot flashes by 83% in 12 weeks (1). The relief is broad, encompassing menopausal symptoms like insomnia, mood, anxiety, and irritability (1, 2, 3). 5-htp is another option for mood and anxiety support due to hormonal changes in peri or post menopause (4).
Another preferred herb for overall menopausal hot flash issues would be Anemarrhena (Zhi Mu). It is used in Chinese medicine and can be extremely helpful. Again, all of these plants are best used in formulation.
Dandelion: Although not known particularly for 'women's issues', dandelion is specific for the liver, and it benefits the reproductive system (male and female) by helping to regulate hormone production.
Saw Palmetto: For men, this herb assists in raising sperm count, motility, and libido. In this same category, I cannot forget to mention Ho Shou Wo (aka Fo-Ti).
Licorice: An adaptogenic herb, licorice nurtures the adrenals (and hence the entire endocrine system). It also is a great balancer in formulas. A little goes a long way.
Maca: Is showing great clinical results as an endocrine modulator for both men and women; helping with libido, hormone modulating, and more.
Rhodiola: An adaptogen that shows promising results for infertility due to minor imbalances/stress for women. For men, it may improve erectile dysfunction.
Ashwagandha: Known for centuries as an adaptogenic herb for libido, for both men and women. Also for low sperm count and sexual debility for men.
Schisandra: Tones sexual organs of both men and women, as an adaptogen.
Yarrow: is very effective at stopping excessive blood flow and tightening/strengthening tissues in the uterus – both of which help to regulate heavy menstrual flow.
Shepherd’s Purse: is a uterine antihaemorrhagic herb meaning it can help to regulate or stop excessive menstrual bleeding. Shepherd’s Purse contains specific compounds that stimulate circulation, balance hormones and exert an anti-inflammatory effect which can reduce the pain associated with a woman’s menses.
There are SO MANY more, but I think you get the good picture.
A couple of nutritional suggestions that can be helpful to reproductive health are:
Green, leafy veggies: yes, here it is again. But they are incredibly effective in assisting the liver in doing it's job of healthy metabolism and detoxification of hormones. Examples include dandelion, kale, and spinach.
DIM (3,3′-Diindolylmethane) is a compound derived from veggies like broccoli and brussels sprouts that helps balance estrogen levels in the body.
Borage Oil and Evening Primrose Oil: good oils are anti-inflammatory and therefore helpful in this area, but borage is specific for those cranky, angry, pre-menstrual flare-ups. Similarly, Evening Primrose oil offers the same fatty acids as borage, albeit in smaller concentrations. I see many patients have huge success with our highly purified Evening Primrose Oil capsules.
Probiotics: a healthy gut flora is key to healthy hormone balancing.
So there you go - hope you enjoyed these good nuggets of knowledge. And my only wish is that may you find the balance you seek!
<3 Suzzi Hartery
BHSc Naturopath (Distinction) - The Feel Good Society Founder & Head Practitioner
Naturopathic consultations for hormone balancing are available at The Feel Good Society. The consultation may also include custom herbal extract formulations when appropriate. BOOK HERE
Sources 1. Kaszkin-Bettag M, et al. Altern Ther Health Med. 2009;15(1): 24-34. 2. Heger M, et al., Menopause. 2006; 13(5): 744-759. 3. Hasper I, Ventskovkiy BM, et al., Menopause. 2009;16:117-131. 4. Freedman RR. Treatment of menopausal hot flashes with 5-hydroxytryptophan. Maturitas. 2010;65(4):383-385.