Hormone Balance: 10 Natural Nutrients and Herbs That Work
Maintaining female hormonal health is a continual challenge for the modern woman. It is particularly difficult to keep a hormone balance in today’s fast-paced world. There is an abundance of highly processed foods, chemical-laden products and easily obtained over-the-counter medications. These wreak havoc on the body. Even before a girl reaches puberty. Supporting endocrine function by eating primarily whole foods, healthy fats and good-quality proteins is necessary. Healthy fats include avocados, nuts and seeds. Oils such as virgin coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil are also healthy fats.
Nutrients and Herbs for Hormone Balance
A whole foods diet provides much needed nutrients to the body. It enables the body to maintain good hormone balance. Avoid a diet high in processed and refined foods. Also, steer clear of highly phytoestrogenic foods like soy. These foods set the body up for hormonal imbalance. This can lead to estrogen-related health issues such as breast cancer. Uterine fibroids, difficult monthly cycles, and difficult or extremely uncomfortable menopause are also not uncommon.
That said, there are some foods and herbs that are phytoestrogenic. These include legumes and red raspberry leaves. They play a more supportive role in the body. Therefore, they should be incorporated into the diet. With most phytoestrogenic foods that benefit the endocrine system, it is because they perform a nourishing, supportive role. They do not displace estrogen, leading to estrogen build up.
In addition to following a primarily whole foods diet, these 10 key supplements and herbs are worth keeping in your home. They support optimal hormone balance:
1. Black cohosh
Black cohosh is known as Actaea racemosa. It is an ambidextrous herb. It has the ability to support female hormonal changes. Even on opposite ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, black cohosh has been extensively studied for its ability to help calm menopausal symptoms. Such symptoms include hot flashes, insomnia and mood swings. This same herb is also beneficial in women of reproductive age suffering from premenstrual syndrome. It is also effective in women experiencing dysmenorrhea, or difficult menstruation. Black cohosh has this unique ability because of its estrogen modulating properties. It does not have overt estrogenic effects on the body. Rather, it selects which estrogens in the brain and bones to mimic. It leaves the estrogen in the uterus alone. This being the case, studies are showing it does not lead to estrogen-related cancers.
2. Fish oil
Fish oil is high in omega-3s. Presumably, good quality fish oil will contain adequate amounts of the essential fatty acids. These acids are EPA and DHA. Omega-3s are essential for female fertility. They help carry babies to term. Furthermore, taking a fish oil supplement in the first trimester of pregnancy has been shown to increase the baby’s mental acuity. It can also boost visual and motor development. The anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s may also help reduce inflammation caused by endometriosis. It also can remedy menstrual pain and menopausal symptoms. Fish oil may help reduce the unpleasant symptoms associated with both.
3. Dong quai
Dong quai is called Angelica sinensis. It is known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a “blood builder.” It serves as a tonic for women in a deficient state. Women who lose large amounts of blood during their cycle or are going through menopause may find dong quai of benefit for them. Dong quai is a moistening, nourishing herb that may help alleviate menopausal symptoms or those during your cycle. Such symptoms include drier mucus membranes, dry skin or constipation. It has also been shown to help with female reproductive disorders. These include irregular menstruation, amenorrhea (lack of menstrual cycle) and dysmenorrhea.
4. Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil is known as Oenothera biennis. It is a supplement containing about 25% essential fatty acids. These include linoleic acid and gamma linolenic acid. Evening primrose oil has been shown to ease symptoms of PMS. Symptoms include abdominal cramping, breast pain, lower back pain and mood swings. Some women who are peri or post-menopausal have also experienced relief from evening primrose oil. Women experiencing PMS symptoms appear to be high in omega-6. They are low in other essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid. This being so, fish oil is another supplement that woman of all ages can benefit from.
Maca is called Lepidium meyenii. It is beginning to become well known in the western hemisphere. Maca is a root tuber. It is high in protein. It is also high in complex carbohydrates and iron. It is nourishing and building to the body. In so doing, maca may help enhance fertility and improve libido. Women enduring PMS symptoms may find relief with regular intake of maca. The same can be said for women who are going through menopause. Due to maca’s adaptogenic action on the body, it helps you better deal with stress. It can also balance your body’s overall health. Both effects then lead to a regulation in hormone balance.
6. Stinging nettle
Stinging nettle is the name for Urtica dioica. It is a gentle herb for everyone. I consider it a female hormonal support herb because of its high nutritional value. Nettles are rich in many vitamins. They are loaded with minerals and antioxidants. They are full of vitamins C, B, K. The minerals include as calcium, choline, magnesium and silica. Both women of reproductive age and those who are peri and post-menopausal find that they can better deal with stress by keeping their nutritional store stable. As well as have better immune health and hormone balance. Nettles do just that as a female. For pregnant women and those who are lactating, nettles serve as a tonic. They also help provide energy after childbirth. Plus, they may help stimulate milk production.
7. Red raspberry leaf
Red raspberry leaf is the name for Rubus ideaus. It is another herb beneficial for women in their reproductive years for hormone balance. Like nettles, it is rich in nutrients. These include vitamins A, B, C, E. Plus, minerals such as calcium, iron and phosphorus. For women experiencing PMS symptoms such as menstrual cramps and back pain, red raspberry leaf has been shown to alleviate such symptoms. Often within a short period of time. Red raspberry leaf is highly recommended by herbalists and midwives for women during pregnancy. Not only does red raspberry leaf provide the nutrients in high demand during pregnancy, it can strengthen and tone the uterus. This may reduce miscarriages. It may also ease childbirth and make it than it otherwise would be.
Many women going through menopause suffer with hot flashes. This makes it difficult to get through some days and nights. Sage, Salvia officinalis, is a drying herb. It has been shown to reduce night sweats. It also lessens hot flashes when the dried leaves are consumed in tea form. Sage essential oil can be placed on pressure points such as the inner wrist. But sage tea is what has been studied to be the most beneficial.
As mentioned earlier, reproductive health begins prior to reaching puberty. Some girls have difficulty keeping weight on for various reasons. This can lead to hormonal imbalance. An Ayurvedic herb that has a slightly sweet taste and is wonderfully nourishing is shatavari. It is also called Asparagus racemosus. This herb is traditionally given to children who have difficulty putting on weight. Women who are undernourished and also have difficulty putting on or holding onto their weight do well by taking shatavari. Many women looking to bear children with this issue find that taking shatavari for a period of time helps provide enough nourishment so they can conceive.
10. Chaste tree berry
Lastly, there is chaste tree berry. It is also known as Vitex agnus-castus. Chaste tree is an interesting herb compared to the others mentioned. It is not necessarily a herb that works best when taken on a daily basis. Some women find that it works best when taken during the progesteronal phase of their monthly cycle. This phase is typically the two weeks before menstruation. Or during the luteal phase. Dosage and whether or not this herb will work for your unique physiology is also a factor. Women who suffer from estrogen dominance or PMS may find chaste tree berry useful. Those who undergo any menstrual issues due to too much estrogen and pre-menstrual breast tenderness may also find it effective. Additionally, women dealing with infertility, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts and endometriosis may benefit from this herb. All of these health issues are a result of too much estrogen in the body. They also result from a lack of progesterone.
All the herbs and supplements mentioned above are best taken under the supervision of a knowledgeable herbalist. Or holistic health practitioner. Not all herbs or supplements work for everyone for hormone balance. A combination of herbs or supplements may work better than just one. A knowledgeable practitioner will be able to better assess what is going on with you. He or she can match the best herbs and supplements to your body constitution.
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Seidlova-Wuttke D, Hesse O, Jarry H, Christoffel V, Spengler B, Becker T, Wuttke W. Evidence for selective estrogen receptor modulator activity in a black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) extract: comparison with estradiol-17beta. Eur J Endocrinol. 2003 Oct;149(4):351-62
Vitex. Retrieved from http://www.eclecticphysician.com/herbs/vitex.shtml on 10/4/10
Lissa’s passion for educating people about the healing powers of herbs led her to obtain a Masters of Science in Herbal Medicine from the Tai Sophia School of the Healing Arts. She has also studied nutrition and women’s health extensively, and has trained as a doula.