Aside from weight loss, symptoms of hormonal imbalances are the primary reason women have turned to me for help for over three decades.
I’ve built my reputation on taking the time and care to look for the root causes of these symptoms, including mood issues, hot flashes, skin and hair changes, and yes, weight gain. I have long known that covering up symptoms causes more frustration long term. Women don’t want a temporary fix!
Early in my career, I learned firsthand how important hormonal balance is to living a happy, healthy life. I suffered from the same uncomfortable symptoms that so many women reported, and I wasn’t content to simply live with them. I knew there had to be a better way to handle the natural monthly fluctuations, and I refused to believe that prescription medications were my only alternative.
Through extensive education, research, and experience with countless patients, I discovered that hormonal imbalances are responsible for so many different conditions that women have been told are just “part of being a woman.” To that, I say “NO WAY!”
Herbal medicine has been used in many cultures since ancient times. While, of course, you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the media (no, cayenne pepper won’t solve every issue), research does support the idea that herbs can be a powerful levelling force in your body.
Let’s take a look at some common hormonal problems, and how herbal treatments can be an essential part of a healthy lifestyle designed to keep your hormones well balanced so you can thrive, not simply survive!
Why is hormonal balance so important?
Your hormones carry critical messages throughout your body. They help cells communicate and are the impetus for many vital biological actions. Hormones are the foundation of your endocrine system, which plays a vital role in regulating growth, reproduction, metabolism, mood and temperature.That’s a lot of important functions, isn’t it?
That’s why balance is key. If you have too much or too little of a specific hormone, the messages they carry can become garbled, and some of those critical functions shut down. That can result in inflammation, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, and so many other harmful conditions.
Hormones do have natural fluctuations at specific points throughout life, including puberty, pregnancy, during the menstrual cycle, and in menopause. While hormonal fluctuations are the subject of many a joke when it comes to women (though it’s no laughing matter), men are also subject to these natural fluctuations both during puberty and as they age.
Herbal support for overall hormonal balance
Although common conventional medicine responses to complaints of hormonal symptoms include antidepressants, hormone replacement therapy, or “powering through”, I just don’t think those are the best approaches.
Those symptoms are a sign that something isn’t right. Covering them up with pharmaceuticals or pretending they aren’t a problem may get you through a month or two, but they aren’t long term solutions.
If you don’t address the underlying hormonal imbalances, you will hit a point where you simply can’t ignore them any longer. Unfortunately, far too many women wait to reach the point where they can barely get out of bed, or their relationships are destroyed due to volatile moods, before taking control.
There are many powerful plants that can help. Phytotherapy (the medicinal use of plants) is a time tested approach that is finally gaining some traction in the US. So much of the world relies on plants for both food and medicine – including cultures that are far healthier than we are here!.
Plants, both as whole foods or extracts and supplements, have so much healing power. In fact, the study of plants for medicinal purposes was where pharmaceuticals began! But pharmaceutical companies change the chemical structure of the compounds – often so they can get a patent and make big bucks!
Phytotherapy, on the other hand, uses plants in their natural form. It’s gentler on your body and more accessible to more people. Using herbal treatments can also serve to prevent health problems – and that’s what I like most about it!
The cells in your body can communicate with plant molecules to ensure that you get what you need — and ONLY what you need.
This is called the adaptogenic effect – responding and using plant molecules in different ways depending on what you already have going on in your body. This smooth communication between plant and human cells is truly amazing.
It is important, of course, to talk with a qualified health care professional about which herbs might work best in your own unique circumstances – especially if you are on any prescription medications.
Herbs that Promote Hormonal Balance
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) is native to Eastern North America. It’s from the same family as the buttercup, and is sometimes called bugbane or rattleweed. Black cohosh has been used for generations by women worldwide to help with hormonal balance.
While the mechanisms aren’t clear, one thought is that black cohosh binds to opioid receptors in the brain to affect tissues in the body. It may also act similar to estrogen when taken in large doses. Some research has found that black cohosh relieves symptoms of menopause more effectively than placebo or no treatment does, though more research is necessary.
It’s important to note, as well, that there can be adverse effects so talking with a professional before taking black cohosh is important.
Chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus), also called chasteberry is often used in conjunction with black cohosh or other herbs to treat menopausal symptoms. The berries have diterpenoid compounds which can have potential effects on the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Research has also shown that chasteberry may lower levels of the hormone prolactin. High levels of prolactin have been associated with PMS. Other studies have shown that the properties of chasteberry could mimic the action of progesterone, helping relieve menopausal symptoms and treat infertility problems.
Kalonji, also known as nigella sativa or fennel flower, produces tiny black seeds rich in antioxidants. These seeds contain a phytonutrient called thymoquinone. Animal studies have shown that nigella seed extracts helped regulate testosterone, insulin, luteinizing hormone and thyroid hormone levels.
Other research has shown that nigella sativa extract acts similar to the natural estrogen produced by your body.
Ashwagandha, also known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng is a member of the nightshade family that is quite popular in Ayurvedic medicine and has been used for thousands of years as an effective treatment for hormonal imbalances.
There’s a long history of research that shows a positive benefit on thyroid functioning, and a study in 2018 showed it may even be beneficial in those with subclinical hypothyroidism. Ashwaganda can also help lower cortisol levels, boost brain function, and stave off anxiety and depression.
Research is looking at how insulin levels and reproductive hormones are impacted by this powerful herb as well.
Maca (lepidium meyenii), sometimes called Peruvian ginseng. Though research is in the early stages, this herb has been getting a lot of attention lately. It’s long been used for medicinal purposes in its native Peru. Research indicates that maca root is effective in boosting libido, which can often result from imbalanced hormones.
Other studies have shown that maca is effective in decreasing menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and disrupted sleep, improve mood, and boost energy.
Soy (Glycine max), Red Clover (Trifolum pratense), and Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) are members of the legume family and contain phytoestrogens that can help the body maintain appropriate levels of estrogen. Soy, in particular, has a wide body of research to support its usefulness in insulin regulation, weight loss, nail, skin, hair and bone health.
Nettle is a particularly effective herb for balancing thyroid hormones – whether the thyroid is over or underactive. Because nettle can help reverse iodine deficiency, it’s particularly useful for those with underactive thyroid.
Nettle contains other important vitamins and minerals as well, including Vitamins A and B6, calcium, iron and magnesium. Nettle is also a source of selenium, a trace mineral vital to proper thyroid functioning.
Additional support to balance hormones
Herbs are one great way to promote overall balance, but they won’t do the trick on their own. An overall healthy lifestyle that includes the following is the best way to keep hormones – and your health – stable.
- Eat well. At the risk of sounding like a skipping record, I’ll say again that food is the best medicine we have. A wide variety of fruits and vegetables yields the plant nutrients your body craves. A healthy balance of lean protein, healthy fats, carbohyrdrates and fiber is essential. Limiting sugar, processed foods, and anything your body is particularly sensitive to (for many women, gluten is a problem) can also make a big difference.
- Stay well hydrated and drink green tea. Hydration is key to keeping your body healthy. One great choice is green tea, which may help keep insulin levels balanced.
- Keep Moving. Regular exercise of any kind can improve hormonal balance, decrease stress, help control appetite, and keep blood sugar levels regulated. It doesn’t have to be vigorous. In fact, if you are suffering from adrenal imbalances, gentle exercise is best.
- Reduce stress. Speaking of adrenals, stress has a huge impact on the hormone cortisol (which in turn impacts overall hormonal balance). Find ways to calm your body – and your brain. Yoga, music, walking in nature, meditation,dancing (my all time favorite) and laughter are all great options. The most important thing in reducing stress is to be sure you choose something you actually enjoy.
- Prioritize sleep. Lack of sleep has an enormous impact on hormonal balance. Find a relaxing bedtime routine that works for you, and follow it consistently.
- Pay attention to environmental toxins. So many things in the air, water and earth around us can disrupt your endocrine system, causing hormonal imbalances. While you can’t avoid everything, you do have a lot more control than you may believe. Read labels on beauty products and cleaning supplies, avoid tobacco smoke, buy organic food when possible, and avoid the use of plastics.
Balance is within your reach
Hormonal balance is absolutely possible. All you need is the right information and a commitment to putting that information into practice. Hormones fluctuate constantly, but long-term imbalances can lead to big health problems.
Adding herbal remedies to a healthy lifestyle can address these hormonal changes before they become severe. And, like me, when you control your hormones instead of letting them control you, you can truly live your best life!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD