Have you checked in on your hormones lately? If not, you probably should.
Hormones are crucial for several bodily functions as they relay messages from cells to organs. When our hormones are balanced, we can experience balanced moods, a stable weight, regular menstruation and easeful menopause. When our hormones are imbalanced, we can experience several symptoms and specific conditions. Hormonal imbalances can cause anything from bloating, mood changes, hair loss, and fatigue to PCOS (1), amenorrhoea (2), and sub-fertility.
Why do some women encounter hormonal imbalances?
A poor diet, exposure to environmental oestrogens and chronic stress can all contribute to hormonal imbalances. Luckily, there's something we can do about it!
For balanced hormones, eat a well-balanced and fibre-rich diet, incorporate stress-busting activities into your routine and participate in moderate exercise. I also recommend seeking a naturopath’s guidance to provide an individualised supplement and herb regime.
Below are six herbs I use in clinic to balance female hormones:
- Vitex: Also known as Chaste Tree, is mainly used to treat menstrual disorders, including PMS, acne, spotting and amenorrhoea. Vitex regulates the menstrual cycle and promotes healthy ovulation by increasing luteinising hormone to promote ovulation and supporting progesterone production in the luteal phase. Vitex also decreases elevated prolactin levels, which helps balance oestrogen and progesterone. You should always start taking vitex from day one of your period or it can make that first cycle a little irregular. If you don’t have regular periods, take vitex for 25 consecutive days, take five days off, and then start again.
- Withania: If you’re someone who feels continuously stressed or just always on-the-go, Withania may be the herb for you. Withania, also called Ashwagandha, has been used for centuries as an adaptogenic herb that helps the body adapt to stress. If you’re wondering why this is beneficial for reproductive wellbeing, high cortisol levels reduce progesterone production, which can cause irregular cycles and PMS symptoms. Withania helps decrease cortisol, which, in turns, helps maintain adequate progesterone for healthy reproduction. Withania also improves brain performance, enhances memory, and induces feelings of calm. It is one of my very favourite herbs!
- Maca: Known as Peruvian ginseng, is nutrient-rich and contains plant sterols that are biochemically related to oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. If you feel like you’re juggling too many balls in the air, Maca acts as an adaptogen to enhance stress adaption and support adrenal health. Maca has also been used for centuries to boost libido and virility. One 2015 study found that Maca improved the sexual function of women with antidepressant-induced low libidos.1
- Peony: Peony helps positively influence low progesterone, reduces elevated testosterone and modulates oestrogen, which is essential in PCOS management. Peony has an antispasmodic effect and so can also be used to treat painful periods.
- Licorice: Licorice is often used in conjunction with Peony to manage PCOS, as they both reduce testosterone levels and improve ovulation. Licorice is also an adrenal tonic, helping regulate stress hormones.
- Sage: If you’re suffering from menopause-induced night sweats and hot flashes (3), sage may be the anecdote you’re looking for. A 2011 study demonstrated that sage improved hot flashes and associated symptoms in menopausal women.2
The Bottom Line
Consuming beneficial herbs with a healthy diet and lifestyle can support regular menstruation, fertility and menopause.
Please remember this guidance is general. I recommend speaking to a qualified healthcare practitioner before adding new herbs into your routine.
1Dording, C. M., Schettler, P. J., Dalton, E. D., Parkin, S. R., Walker, R. S., Fehling, K. B., Fava, M., & Mischoulon, D. (2015). A double-blind placebo-controlled trial of maca root as treatment for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM, 2015, 949036. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/949036
2Bommer, S., Klein, P., & Suter, A. (2011). First time proof of sage's tolerability and efficacy in menopausal women with hot flushes. Advances in therapy, 28(6), 490–500. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12325-011-0027-z