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Herbs for National Women's Month

Herbs for National Women's Month

Learning to become healthy, balanced in mind and body, is an opportunity for growth for each and every one of us. Though it is true that we all will endure an array of natural hormone changes as a part of our life experience, men and women experience them quite differently. In honor of National Women’s Month this March, we chose to focus this blog on the hormonal changes from a woman’s perspective.

Hormones play a vital role in the development of a woman, physically and emotionally, at every stage of life.  Hormones act as important chemical messengers that are produced by glands and travel in our bloodstream to tissues and organs. They coordinate our growth, metabolism, fertility, and can alter our behavior. Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone are three common hormones, which are responsible for many different actions throughout the body.

Hormone fluctuations can cause some women intense discomfort and pain.  Many of the standard hormonal replacement therapies use synthetic hormones such as estradiol and progestin which merely resemble estrogen and progesterone. Though these synthetic hormones may be enough for some women to create a more balanced hormonal ratio, many find that taking the synthetic hormones cause them greater imbalance. For this reason, more and more women are ditching conventional hormone replacements and medications in search of more natural remedies such as medicinal herbs for balancing hormones.

Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance

    • Weight gain, especially in the midsection such as hips, lower abdomen, and thighs
    • Irregular menstrual cycles
    • Mood swings or unmanageable anxiety
    • Endometriosis and painful periods
    • Insomnia or oversleeping
    • Low sex drive
    • Overeating or increased appetite

Sometimes it’s easy to tell when our hormones are way out of whack because we experience pretty obvious symptoms. Other times symptoms may be subtle and therefore go unnoticed until other prominent health issues arise.

Herbs for Hormone Health in Women

ASHWAGANDHA

Traditionally cultivated throughout southern Asia and especially India, Ashwagandha can reduce cortisol levels, regulate the endocrine system, increase sexual arousal, and reduce menopause symptoms. Having been considered as one of the best herbs for managing thyroid health, Ashwagandha is worthy of further research. Ashwagandha stimulates the endocrine glands (glands that secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream) and helps regulate the secretion of hormones. A study conducted with 51 menopausal women conveyed that when ashwagandha was given to them, a significant reduction in symptoms such as hot flashes, mood fluctuations and anxiety was seen (1).

Stress, hormonal imbalance, nutrient deficiencies and illnesses can sometimes cause infertility in females. Clinical studies show that ashwagandha improves the functioning of the thyroid gland that is responsible for regulating reproductive hormones.[2] By promoting relaxation and decreasing stress, ashwagandha can balance the hormones, improving fertility.[3] Studies also suggest that individuals taking ashwagandha generally experience heightened sexual desire as early as three days within onset of taking the herb.[4]  

 

BLACK COHOSH

In the tissues and organs of Black cohosh, or Actaea racemosa, there is evidence of phytoestrogens (plant-derived estrogens)[5]. Black cohosh is an anti-inflammatory as well which helps to reduce menstrual and muscle pain. This potent balancing herb is also one of the most studied for reducing menopause symptoms including hot flashes [5].

CHASTEBERRY (Vitex)

The herb Vitex is also known as Chaste Tree or Chasteberry as it comes from a small shrub that grows in the Mediterranean. The fruits of this shrub have been used for some 2000 years as a natural treatment for female fertility and hormonal health. As a result of the many studies that have proven its effectiveness, Vitex has become one of the most popular herbal remedies for hormonal imbalance. If you’re seeking natural treatment for PMS, infertility, PCOS, or Endometriosis – it’s likely that you’ve come across Vitex.

Vitex supports your pituitary gland to produce progesterone and luteinizing hormone – both of which are necessary for your body to ovulate, for regular menstrual cycles, and for you to avoid symptoms of hormonal imbalance like PMS[6]. When a woman is progesterone deficient (or estrogen dominant, to put it another way) and has what is known as a luteal phase defect. Vitex can support a woman’s endocrine system to create more progesterone, ovulate regularly, and develop a healthy cycle. This will help balance out the estrogen dominance that is at the root of many women’s cycle issues[6].

CLARY SAGE

Usually available in oil form. Clary sage helps regulate estrogen levels leading to lighter periods, less painful menstrual cramps, and reduced mood fluctuations. If you’re looking for easier menstrual cycles without taking any synthetic pill, perhaps you could give clary sage a try.

For use in calming menstrual cramps, we recommend massaging a blend of Clary Sage essential oil and a carrier oil such as olive or fractionated coconut oil, around your lower abdomen in a clockwise motion. You could also try mixing a couple drops each of Clary Sage and Chamomile essential oil into your Yoni Steam or Epsom Salt bath for a calming and stress-relieving natural therapy. You can also use Clary Sage oil aromatically to relax and improve sleep quality, another essential factor to balancing hormones naturally. 

Hot Flash Relief Blend
3 ounces Distilled Water
Add the ingredients to a 4-ounce glass spray bottle.
    Carry this blend in your purse to help relieve occasional hot flashes. Shake it well and then spritz over your chest, throat, and face (close your eyes first) whenever you feel the heat rising.

    DONG QUAI

    Dong quai, or Angelica sinensis, is well known for its qualities as a feminine system regulator. This herb contains many natural plant estrogens and therefore may balance estrogen levels in the body. It contains many vitamins and minerals including folic acid and B 12 which help to support healthy blood flow. This ancient Chinese herb may help to reduce stress, while improving bone density[7].  In addition to treating some of the most obvious symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, Dong quai may also be useful in preventing bone loss as a result of menopause[7]. Though Osteoporosis is a condition can affect anyone, older women are the most susceptible because menopause causes a decline in levels of estrogen, which is important for regulating both bone formation and the breakdown of bone cells[7].

    GINSENG

    Women have used ginseng for centuries to regulate menstrual cycles and calm PMS symptoms. Ginseng substitutes human hormones with phytoestrogens. These increase estrogen levels in the body[8]. Ginseng may also help to reduce chronic stress and anxiety by lowering cortisol levels.

    Asian ginseng or Panax ginseng seems to primarily act on hypothalamus, ovaries and testes, through sex hormones, by increasing the secretion of gonadotropins.  Both American and panax ginseng are able to increase natural production of growth hormone and testosterone, therefore improving general well-being and slowing down the aging process. Besides affecting sex hormone producing glands, panax ginseng also acts on the adrenal glands, immune system, brain as well as the liver and pancreas, by stabilizing blood sugar levels[9]. Some studies also point on its ability to prevent heart attack and reduce high cholesterol.

    MACA ROOT

    Maca root has been used for centuries throughout the Andes for infertility and symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, sleep disruptions, and night sweats. Its long-term use makes Maca root one of the best herbs for balancing hormones and increasing energy. Maca stimulates endocrine system helping to maintain hormonal balance in a way that is not yet well understood [10]. According to researchers, these sterols are used by the body with the help of the pituitary to improve adrenal function, ovarian and testicular function, as well as the functioning of the thyroid, the pancreas and the pineal gland[11]. The multi-functional effect of Maca on endocrine relationships has also been reported in the literature, with its positive influence on stimulation of endocrine glands in regulation of hormonal balances in the body, particularly in women entering a perimenopausal state of life[10].

    Amongst wide spectrum of traditional uses, Maca is most frequently applied for energy, hormone balancing, healthy thyroid functioning, sexual functioning, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause, as well as to help maintain healthy bones, as a tonic for elderly and assisting in convalescence[14]. Maca has also been mentioned as helping women to alleviate variety of unwanted psychological experiences and stress-related symptoms - amongst them most predominant being emotional symptoms such as depression and frustration[12].

    RED CLOVER

    A surprisingly well-rounded supplement, researchers have found that on average adult women using red clover extract experience significant improvements in the health of their scalps, hair and skin within 90 days of use, including lowering signs of aging, collagen loss and hair thinning. This is an herb which contains a number of phytoestrogens. A phytoestrogen is an estrogen-like compound found in a plant which behaves in a similar way upon the body. If you are still experiencing menses and your body still is producing a lot of estrogen on its own, doctors are not entirely positive what the effect of phytoestrogens is on your body. Intuitively, you would expect it to add to the total amount of estrogen in your body, but it seems that isoflavones, found in Red Clover, bind to estrogen receptors, blocking off your body’s own estrogen[15]. As phytoestrogens are weaker than your body’s own estrogen, this may actually protect the body against the damaging effects of too much estrogen.

    If you are in menopause, your body is no longer producing a lot of estrogen on its own. This means that this “blocking effect” is irrelevant. Instead, the phytoestrogens will replace the estrogen that your body is no longer manufacturing[15]. This should augment the overall amount of estrogen in your body, reducing the symptoms of menopause.  A study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology International found that on top of its skin-boosting effects, compared to a placebo red clover was shown to significantly improve other common symptoms of estrogen loss during menopause, including low libido, mood, sleep and tiredness. [14] This is why red clover is often used as a natural treatment for menopause.

    RED RASPBERRY LEAF

    Red raspberry leaf is full of nutrients which are beneficial for balancing hormones for fertility in both men and women, while also improving overall health and well-being. This amazing herb contains calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, potassium and vitamins B and C, as well as a full spectrum of other medicinal compounds.  With its good source of nutrients, it can help to improve the immune system as well as help to strengthen the uterus muscles and the uterine wall[16].

    A WORD OF CAUTION

    Many of the best herbs for hormonal balance in women have not been tested for use during pregnancy or in combination with other medications. As always, check with a trusted medical professional before starting an herb as a regular supplement to rule out any potential complications and interactions with other conditions.

     

     

     

    Literary Sources

    1. Modi MB, Donga SB, Dei L. Clinical evaluation of Ashokarishta, Ashwagandha Churna and Praval Pishti in the management of menopausal syndrome. Ayu. 2012 Oct;33(4):511-6. PubMed PMID: 23723668 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665193/
    2. Panda S, Kar A. Changes in thyroid hormone concentrations after administration of ashwagandha root extract to adult male mice. J Pharm Pharmacol. 1998 Sep;50(9):1065-8. PubMed PMID: 9811169.
    3. Wasser SK, Sewall G, Soules MR. Psychosocial stress as a cause of infertility. Fertil Steril. 1993 Mar;59(3):685-9. PubMed PMID: 8458480.
    4. R Archana, A Namasivayam. Antistressor effect of Withania somnifera. J of Ethnopharmacology. 1998 Jan;64(1):91-93
    5. Leach MJ, Moore V. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga spp.) for menopausal symptoms. 2012 Sep 12;(9) PubMed PMID: 22972105. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/BlackCohosh-HealthProfessional/
    6. Milewicz A., Gejdel E., Sworen H., Sienkiewicz K., Jedrzejak J., Teucher T., Schmitz H. Vitex agnus castus extract in the treatment of luteal phase defects due to latent hyperprolactinemia. 1993 Jul;43(7):752-6. PubMed PMID: 8369008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8369008
    7. Yang Q, Populo SM, Zhang J, Yang G, Kodama H. Effect of Angelica sinensis on the proliferation of human bone cells. Clin Chim Acta. 2002 Oct;324(1-2):89-97. PubMed PMID: 12204429 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12204429
    8. Kim MS, Lim HJ, Yang HJ, Lee MS, Shin BC, Ernst E. Ginseng for managing menopause symptoms: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. J Ginseng Res. 2013;37(1):30-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3659624/#B012
    9. Reay JL, Kennedy DO, Scholey AB. Effects of Panax ginseng, consumed with and without glucose, on blood glucose levels and cognitive performance during sustained 'mentally demanding' tasks. J Psychopharmacol. 2006 Nov;20(6):771-81 PubMed PMID: 16401645 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16401645
    10. Meissner HO, Mrozikiewicz P, Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska T, et al. Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (I) Biochemical and Pharmacodynamic Study on Maca using Clinical Laboratory Model on Ovariectomized Rats. Int J Biomed Sci. 2006;2(3):260-72. PubMed PMID: 23674989 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614604/
    11. Muller V. South American Herb Maca as Alternative to Hormone Replacement Therapy. Whole World Botanicals Report. 2002:11.
    12. Meissner HO, Mrozikiewicz P, Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska T, et al. Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (I) Biochemical and Pharmacodynamic Study on Maca using Clinical Laboratory Model on Ovariectomized Rats. Int J Biomed Sci. 2006;2(3):260-72. PubMed PMID: 23674989 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614604/
    13. Walker M. Effect of Peruvian Maca on Hormonal Functions. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients. 1998;11:18–22.
    14. Lipovac, Markus et al. “Effect of Red Clover Isoflavones over Skin, Appendages, and Mucosal Status in Postmenopausal Women” Obstetrics and gynecology international vol. 2011 (2011): 949302.
    15. Liu, J., Burdette, J. E., Xu, H., Gu, G., Van Breemen, R. B., Bhat, K. P., Booth, N., Constantinou, A. I., Pezzuto, J. M., Fong, H. H., Farnsworth, N. R. & Bolton, J. L. (2001) Evaluation of estrogenic activity of plant extracts for the potential treatment of menopausal symptoms. J. Agric. Food Chem. 49:2472–2479.
    16. Hoffman, D. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Inner Traditions/Bear, 2003 (available for reference at the Dragon Herbarium)