From menopause, infertility, PCOS to irregular or painful periods there are many ways that female hormones can become imbalanced. There are several herbs that balance hormones naturally to improve your overall health and decrease painful or unpleasant symptoms of hormone imbalance.
If you're a woman, you're likely familiar with what hormones can do, even if you have never considered how they work . Hormones regulate our monthly cycles and we can often feel the normal effects of rising and falling estrogen and progesterone by changes in our mood, sleep, skin, and periods.
What Are Hormones & What Do They Do?
Hormones are responsible for much more than just your menstrual cycle. Hormones help to regulate your mood, growth, sexual function, metabolism, skin health and more.
As chemical messengers, hormones are the signals that are sent from specific endocrine glands to other parts of our bodies to tell them what to do, when to do it and for how long (1).
When there is a disruption in the way certain hormones are produced or excreted you experience the effects of hormonal imbalance. Hormone imbalances can cause painful periods, diabetes, digestive problems, weight gain or loss and everything in between.
When you consider how much of your life is effected by your hormone function, you can see just how important it is to keep your hormones functioning properly.
The food you eat, products and chemicals you use in your home, exercise patterns, sleep routines, and stress levels can all impact hormone health and are a good place to start if you are experiencing any signs of an imbalance.
If you are experiencing symptoms that may be signs of hormonal imbalance, it's always a good idea to check in with your medical doctor for an evaluation and diagnosis. Before beginning any herbal regimen be sure to get the OK from your doctor. Even though herbs are natural, they are still powerful and can come with negative side effects if taken improperly or interact with current medication.
Why You Should Use Herbs to Balance Hormones
The active compounds found in plants can have very specific and powerful effects on your body. In fact, up to 40 percent of the medications dispensed today have been derived from plants that people have used for centuries (2).
One of the advantages of using the herb itself instead of a medication that uses only the active part of that plant is the synergistic effect each part of the plant plays instead of just taking one compound out of the plant and expecting it to work the same.
Using herbs to help balance hormones and decrease symptoms can be incredibly effective and often come with less (to no) negative sides effects.
Safety for using herbs for hormonal balance
When it comes to self diagnosing and self medicating you need to use extreme caution. If you suspect a hormone imbalance, be sure to check with your doctor so that an appropriate diagnosis can be made.
Always get the OK from your doctor before taking an herbal supplement, especially if you take other medications, have any medical conditions, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
What Herbs Balance Hormones?
Maca (Lepidium meyenii)
Maca root has been used for centuries as a food source and for its medicinal properties. In some parts of the world people eat up to ½ pound of Maca daily as a main staple in their diet. Maca is generally considered a very safe herb for most people to use (but always check to be sure if it is OK for you!).
Maca root doesn't contain any estrogens itself, but instead contains plant sterols that help stimulate the endocrine system (your bodies chemical messenger system) to maintain hormonal balance (3).
These plant sterols improve the function of the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, which then improves the function of all other endocrine glands responsible for hormone production.
Several studies have been done on the effectiveness of maca on the common symptoms of perimenopausal women.
Two g/day of Pre-gelatinized Organic Maca reduced body weight, blood pressure, and increased HDL (the good cholesterol), and iron along as well as a decrease in symptoms including hot flashes, nigh sweats, interrupted sleep, nervousness, depression, and heart palpitations (3).
Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
Black cohosh has been found to relieve symptoms of menopause, PCOS, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
If you struggle with irregular or lack of periods, infertility due to PCOS, PMS and associated anxiety, depression and mood concerns, black cohosh might be good natural option to manage your symptoms.
A review of 33 pre-clinical and clinical studies was done in 2014 and researchers found strong evidence that black cohosh is effective in the management of oligo/amenorrhea (irregular or lack of period) and infertility associated with PCOS (6) .
Black cohosh may improve PMS related mood-swings, irritability and depression as it interacts with serotonin uptake in the brain. It may also relieve pain associated with perimenopause or PMS due to the general analgesic effect it may have (7).
When it comes to the safety of black cohosh, there are a few people who should avoid this product or only take under direction of their medical doctor including pregnant and breastfeeding women, those on hormone replacement therapy and those with liver problems.
Common doses indicated in studies include 20-40mg per day. Note that it can also be taken as a tea by decocting the root (.5-1 tsp) or as a tincture.
Raspberry Leaf (Rubus spp.)
Raspberry leaves have traditionally been used to help women throughout their menstrual cycle and during late pregnancy and labor.
If you struggle with heavy and painful periods, raspberry leaf tea might be worth a try. The astringent properties of raspberry leaf can help to decrease heavy bleeding while the fragrine, an alkaloid found in the leaves, acts directly on the smooth muscle of the uterus to lessen cramping (8).
While there is no evidence that drinking raspberry leaf tea will induce labor, several studies have found that it has the potential to lessen labor length and decrease the need for forceps or vacuum usage when taken in full-term pregnancy (8).
Raspberry leaf is generally consumed as a tea (infusion). Enjoy 1-3 cups per day before and during your period and receive direction from your doctor of midwife on when and how to consume if you are pregnant. Typical doses noted in studies is 1-3 cups daily in the third trimester of pregnancy.
Chasteberry (Vitex) (Vitex agnus-castus)
Vitex, or Chasteberry, is a well studied herbal product that has been found to be beneficial in easing PMS symptoms, menopause symptoms and possibly increasing fertility.
Vitex may decrease PMS symptoms such as depression, mood-swings, cravings, and sore breasts. This is thought to occur by decreasing prolactin levels so that estrogen and progesterone can increase and your female hormones can regain balance.
Using Vitex to treat menopausal symptoms may be beneficial, although research is limited and more is needed. There is suggestion that Vitex may help decrease hot flashes, reduce cramps, fibroids, breast lumps and other symptoms.
If you struggle from sleep disruptions from either PMS or menopause, Vitex may help with this as well. There is evidence that consuming Vitex can increase melatonin secretion, leading to a better night's sleep (9).
Many of the research trials found effectiveness after daily use for at least 3 months. Accepted doses include 2.5 mL (1:5 60%) tincture 3x per day or as a tea up to 3x per day (1 teaspoon of chasteberries infused in 1 cup of boiling water for 15 minutes) (10).
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)
Milk thistle's key constituent, silymarin, is well known for it's protective effect on the liver. Within its role of helping the liver work better to do it's job, which is to detoxify the body, Milk thistle is thought to have a potential estrogen lowering effect by helping the liver metabolize excess estrogen in the body.
Theoretically this may help alleviate breast or ovarian fibroids, bloating, irregular or heavy periods, decreased sex drive, mood swings, and more (11). More research is needed to prove the effectiveness of milk thistle in lowering overall estrogen.
Milk thistle has been found to have a protective effect on bone health as studies have shown a decreased risk of osteoporosis in post-menopausal women by preventing bone loss and regulating bone formation (12).
Milk thistle is generally accepted as safe with only mild GI reactions as a rare side effect, but caution should be taken if you're currently on any medications as it could interfere with the metabolism of specific drugs.
Adult dosage for liver protection is 420 mg/day of extract (standardized to 70-80% silymarin) three times a day for 6-8 weeks. Maintenance dose is suggested at 280 mg/day (13).
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
Fenugreek is used as a food and for its medicinal properties. The distinct flavor makes it a common addition to artificial maple syrup and an addition to many common culinary spices.
Medically, fenugreek has been found to help balance hormones in post menopausal women, increase breastmilk production in nursing moms, and improve symptoms of dysmenorrhea.
With estrogenic properties, fenugreek has been found to be useful in increasing plasma estradiol in post-menopausal women to decrease symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats(14).
A 2016 study found that taking 600 mg of Fenugreek extract per day for 12 weeks resulted in a decrease in hot flashes and night sweats in menopausal healthy, aging women (15).
As a well known galactagogue (a food promoting the production of milk), Fenugreek is a common supplement used to increase breast milk in nursing moms. See this recommended dosing chart for use as a breast milk stimulating herb.
Dysmenorrhea can cause significant decrease in quality of life during the menstrual cycle. Symptoms of fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, lack of energy, syncope and most notably pain have been found to be improved by including fenugreek in days 1-3 of the menstrual cycle (16).
To improve symptoms of dysmenorrhea 1800-2700 mg of fenugreek seed powder three times daily for the first 3 days of menstruation, followed by 900 mg three times daily for the remainder of two menstrual cycles, has been found to be effective (17).
Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)
Clary sage is different from many other herbs since its benefits mostly come from the essential oils, not the whole herb itself.
In post-menopausal women dealing with decreased mood, clary sage oil may help to decrease cortisol levels with an anti-depressant like effect (18). You can decrease your cortisol (stress hormone) levels just by breathing in some clary sage!
Using diluted clary sage as an aromatherapy component to abdominal massage may also help to decrease pain associated with dysmenorrhea or painful periods (19). Try blending 6 drops of oil in an ounce of a carrier oil for an abdominal massage.
How should you use herbs to balance hormones?
Look under each herb for suggested doses and uses. There is a ton of valuable information on dosing and precautions for herbs and supplements in the US National Library of Medicine's database as well.
Supplements often include the key constituents in the herb at specific doses. You can also use these herbs as teas or tinctures. Be sure to ask your physician, and/or a clinical herbalist if you are unsure on dosing or safety of a specific herb.