Knowing how hormones affect our bodies and how to identify and treat hormonal imbalance are the first steps. Our endocrine system creates hormones, which are chemical messengers including cortisol, estrogen, and melatonin. The adrenal, pituitary, and thyroid glands, among other glands distributed throughout the body, receive hormones from the endocrine system after they have been produced and before they are sent directly into our bloodstream. The endocrine system functions similarly to how the post office sorts everyone's mail before delivering it to the appropriate mailbox.
Regrettably, there are times when our endocrine systems malfunction. Endocrine problems are predicted to afflict at least 5% of individuals in the United States, according on a thorough analysis of demographic research (Golden et al., 2009). Let's examine the potential causes of this.
Signs of Hormonal Imbalance
There are various signs to look for that could indicate an imbalance when determining whether one has a hormone imbalance. They consist of:
1) A sudden or unexplained weight increase or decrease
2) Modifications to sleep habits
3) Hair loss or uncontrollable hair growth
4) Night sweats or hot flushes
5) Heavy, irregular, or painful periods; vaginal dryness; and bleeding that doesn't coincide with menstruation.
In order to rule out any endocrine dysfunction, it's crucial to compare these symptoms to those that are naturally occurring hormonal changes brought on by life cycles, such as puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, perimenopause, menopause, and andropause. The first step in figuring out what might be found outside the normal range is understanding what is normal.
Possible Causes of Hormonal Imbalance
Diabetes, hyper- or hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endocrine disorders, Cushing's syndrome, and Addison's disease are the most prevalent conditions that commonly cause hormonal imbalances.
Lifestyle practices may be linked to an imbalance's development. Hormonal imbalances can also be influenced by dietary decisions, nutritional intake, long-term or severe stress, and weight gain. Burning the candle at both ends, eating a diet high in processed foods, abusing stimulants excessively, having chronic constipation, or getting little sleep can all lead to hormonal imbalance (Bakunina, 2019).
Hormonal imbalance may also be exacerbated by some drugs, including birth control, anabolic steroids, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Last but not least, hormone disturbances have also been linked to exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and environmental pollutants (Diamanti-Kandarakis et al., 2009).
Stress, which appears to be pervasive these days, can disturb the normal hormone balance in our bodies, leading to problems like weight, insomnia, low energy, or a diminished sex drive. Stress hormones can cause a hormonal imbalance if they are often released or stay in the bloodstream for an extended period of time.
Several studies have acknowledged the importance of stress and its effect on endocrine diseases. Prolonged stress can alter hormone levels and contribute to obesity, thyroid problems, and Graves' disease (Ranabir & Reetu, 2011).
Hormones that influence and are affected by our stress levels include cortisol, estrogen, and melatonin, to name a few notable examples. Stress specifically affects cortisol levels, whereas estrogen and melatonin have an impact on our reproductive systems and sleep patterns, respectively.
Herbal, Lifestyle, and Nutritional Approaches to Hormonal Imbalance
While leading a fast-paced lifestyle, having higher expectations, and juggling work and family obligations can all be draining on the body, there are actions we can take. Hormonal balance can be enhanced by using herbs in addition to food and lifestyle changes.
The foundation for enduring health can be laid by concentrating on nutrient-dense foods, making lifestyle adjustments, and including herbs. Meditation, exercise, and other stress-reduction techniques have been demonstrated to help restore normal cortisol levels (Spritzler, 2017). A good night's sleep supports the regulation of hormones like cortisol and insulin (Spritzler, 2017). Hormonal equilibrium is greatly influenced by eating enough protein and healthy fats, while limiting intake of refined sugar and carbohydrates (Spritzler, 2017).
Getting medical counsel is a crucial initial step in the screening procedure if you are exhibiting any of the warning signals listed above. Working with a clinical herbalist to sort out symptoms and consider treatment options can be beneficial when dealing with hormone imbalances, which can be difficult.
There are several herbs that can be useful in treating hormonal imbalances, but it's vital to research any possible herb/drug combinations before using them. It is recommended to start with half the prescribed dose or wait a few days to see how sensitive you are before increasing to the full amount when taking a herb for the first time.
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) root
Actaea racemosa, a plant native to eastern North America, is known for supporting a variety of gynecological imbalances and problems. It is specifically used by the German Commission E for menopausal symptoms, dysmenorrhea, and premenstrual symptoms (Geller & Studee, 2005). It is frequently used in the US to treat menopausal symptoms such hot flashes, night sweats, dry vagina, heart palpitations, sleep difficulties, and irritability (Office of Dietary Supplements – Black Cohosh, 2020). Black cohosh appears to work synergistically with chasteberry and dong quai to treat menopausal symptoms (Tierra, 1998). Pregnant women shouldn't consume black cohosh unless their healthcare providers are watching them (Gardner & McGuffin, 2013). It is crucial to look for a grown source of black cohosh because it is on the United Plant Savers at-risk list.
Dosage: Tea (0.5-1 tsp dried root decocted in 1 cup (8 fl oz) water for 10-15 minutes, 3x/day); Tincture (2-4 ml, (1:5, 60%), 3x/day (Hoffmann, 2003).
Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) berry
The berry of the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) has long been a preferred plant for promoting hormone balance and production. Chaste berries are classified by Dioscorides, a Greek doctor, pharmacologist, botanist, and author of De Materia Medica, an encyclopedia on herbal medicine, as a warming astringent used to treat menstrual flow (Bango, 2019). The Medical Formulary of Al-Samarqandi, a modern translation of Arabic literature from around 1200 AD, demonstrates that Vitex agnus-castus was used by Persians and that a variety of uses persisted through the "Golden Age" of Arabic sciences. Vitex agnus-castus was known for its usage in Persian medicine (Hobbs, 1996). It is utilized today to restore normal levels of reproductive hormones (Hoffmann, 2003). Chaste berry is used by many herbalists to treat premenstrual symptoms like acne, discomfort, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, reducing fibroids, creating regular menstrual cycles, and treating hot flashes. Chaste tree berries were discovered to be risk-free, well-tolerated, and successful in treating mild to severe premenstrual syndrome in a double-blind placebo-controlled research (He et al., 2009).
There are a few warnings to be aware of, and they apply even to completely healthy people. If you're pregnant, you should stop using chaste tree berries. Although it is frequently used to boost fertility, it should be stopped as soon as one learns or suspects that they may be pregnant—ideally, six weeks into the pregnancy. Chaste tree berries may also conflict with hormonal contraceptives. Ovulation can happen when chaste tree berry is paired with popular oral contraceptives, according to ultrasound research (Trickey, 2003).
dosage: 2.5 ml (1:5, 60%), three times daily; one teaspoon steeped in one cup (8 fl oz) of water for fifteen minutes, three times daily. 2003 (Hoffmann).
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) root
Chinese medicine (CM) has utilized the root of dong quai (Angelica sinensis) to energize and feed the blood, pointing to its usage in anemia, palpitations, arthritis, and rheumatism (Tierra, 2003). Dong quai helps relieve chronic constipation by moistening the intestines (Tierra, 2003). It is generally used as a tonic plant in Western herbalism to balance gynecological disorders (Tierra, 2003).
According to herbalist Rosemary Gladstar (1993), it can be used over the long term to strengthen and nourish the reproductive organs during the menopause transition. Dong quai, according to renowned herbalists Thomas Easley and Steven Horne, has historically been used to relieve pain and pelvic congestion frequently associated with menses as well as to replenish the blood lost during monthly menstruation (Easley & Horne, 2016).
Dosage: Tea (4.5-9 g dried root decocted in 2 cups water for 20 minutes, take 2-4 fl oz three times day); Tincture (2-4 ml (1:5, 70%), three times daily (Easley & Horne, 2016).
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) flower and leaf
As an alterative, red clover (Trifolium pratense) has the power to enhance or "alter" how well our bodies work. In some biological systems, such as the lungs, liver, colon, kidneys, and skin, alternatives improve nutrient absorption and waste disposal (Tierra, 2003). Formononetin, a phytoestrogen with negligible estrogenic action found in red clover, is believed to lessen hot flashes and improve bone health (Tierra, 2003). Red clover has a high concentration of phytosterols, also known as the hormone's building blocks, which block estrogen receptor sites and may prevent imbalances caused by estrogen. Red clover isoflavone supplementation was successful in lowering vasomotor frequency and intensity in postmenopausal women in a randomized, placebo-controlled experiment (Lipovac et al., 2012).
Dosage: Tea, 1-3 tsp in 1 cup (8 fl oz) water, steeped 10-15 minutes (the longer you soak, the more minerals are extracted), 3x/day; Tincture, 2-4 ml, (1:5, 40%); (Hoffmann, 2003).
Goji (Lycium chinense) berries
Despite being predominantly consumed as food in the West, goji (Lycium chinense) berries are also utilized in Chinese medicine to strengthen the blood. Premature graying of hair, nocturnal sweats, decreased visual acuity, dryness, and chronic lung conditions are all symptoms of blood insufficiency. Many polysaccharides, flavonoids, amino acids, minerals, and vitamins are included in the berries. Herbs that nourish the blood, like goji, offer easily digested nutrients that encourage the growth of new blood cells. Goji has also traditionally been used in CM to treat menopausal difficulties, dry cough, vertigo, dry eyes, and dizziness (Tierra, 2003).
Drink 2-4 fl oz of tea, decocted in 2 cups (16 fl oz) of water for 20 minutes, three times a day (Tierra, 2003).
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) root
Rasayana is the term used to describe the well-known Ayurveda herb shatavari (Asparagus racemosus). Rasayana plants help people live longer and be healthier. It is customary to cook shatavari root in milk to improve its digestibility and tonic properties. It has significant phytoestrogenic activity and consequently affects the reproductive system in a variety of ways (Alok et al., 2013).
Sebastian Pole, an ayurvedic herbalist, notes its benefits for fertility, fetal development, menopausal symptoms, threatening abortion or multiple miscarriages, inadequate lactation, low sperm count, and low libido. Traditional uses include calming the nerves and assisting with menstrual cycle regulation. Several animal investigations have demonstrated that the major steroid in shatavari, shatavarin, modulates hormonal levels and flow with a particular affinity for breast, gonadal, and genitourinary tissue (Thomsen, n.d.; Pandey et al., 2005). There are no human investigations on shatavarin; instead, clinical trials on the component prolactin as a galactagogue have been the main emphasis.
dosage: 3-15 ml (1:3, 25%), 2-3 times a day of tincture; 3-30 g of root or powder decocted in milk or ghee, as a beverage (Pole, 2013).
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root
Although it is usually thought of in Ayurveda as a herb for enhancing male vitality, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is also recognized as a stress-relieving adaptogen. Among the many ways that adaptogens work in our bodies is by supporting the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA). When stress lasts for a long time, the HPA reacts by releasing more cortisol and other stress hormones, which eventually prevents our adrenal glands from responding (McBurney, n.d.).
Ashwagandha has been found to normalize the sympathetic nervous system, restore healthy adrenal function, and lower cortisol levels in people who are under chronic stress (Pole, 2013).
Ashwagandha has been found to normalize the sympathetic nervous system, restore healthy adrenal function, and lower cortisol levels in people who are under chronic stress (Pole, 2013). A randomized control research comparing ashwagandha-based psychotherapy with naturopathic care found variations in the outcomes for mental health, focus, weariness, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life, with the naturopathic care group showing more clinical benefit (Cooley et al., 2009). Participants in the study were screened and split into two groups. A conventional multivitamin, deep breathing exercises, nutritional advice, and ashwagandha (300 mg standardized to 1.5% withanolides, produced from root) were given to the naturopathic group. Weekly psychotherapy sessions, relaxation exercises, dietary counseling, and a placebo were given to the psychotherapy patients. The differences and results of the intervention are not well defined, but they do indicate the necessity of additional human-based clinical trials.
With other nervines, ashwagandha is frequently used to treat insomnia and sleep problems.
dosage: 3-9 g per day decocted in 1 cup (8 fl oz) milk for 15 minutes; tincture, 6-15 ml, (1:3, 45%) per day (Tierra, 2003).
Nettle (Urtica dioica) seed
Urtica dioica nettle seed helps the thyroid function in hypothyroidism and supports the adrenal glands. The seeds contain fatty acids and vitamin E in addition to being high in minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, and silica. This nutrient-dense diet and its capacity to support adrenal function are beneficial for reviving energy and assisting with times of extreme stress.
Premenstrual symptoms can be reduced and reproductive hormone balance can be achieved using nettle seed. Acetylcholine and serotonin are neurotransmitters that are activated by the "feel good" properties of nettle seed. While acetylcholine activates the autonomic nervous system to elevate mood, attention span, and sensory awareness, serotonin governs emotions, appetite, and sleep (Wilde, n.d.)
Dosage: 1-2 tablespoons of seeds per day (Kress, 2004). (See recipe for nettle seed and kale crackers below!)
Hormonal Support Tea
This deeply tonifying and tasty tea can be used on a regular basis to address underlying symptoms of hormonal imbalance. Yield: 2 servings. Ingredients 1 teaspoon shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) root 1/2 teaspoon white peony (Paeonia lactiflora) root 1/2 teaspoon ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root 1 tablespoon goji (Lycium barbarum) berries 1 teaspoon tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) leaf 2 teaspoons red clover (Trifolium pratense) flower and/or leaf Directions
Combine shatavari, white peony, ashwagandha, and goji berries in a saucepan.
Add 2 cups of water, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook on low for 15 minutes.
Remove from heat, add tulsi and red clover flowers, cover, infuse for 5-10 minutes.
Strain, sweeten to taste (if desired) and divide tea into two servings.
Drink one cup in the morning and one in the evening.
Stress Release Tea
Damiana is a valued relaxant, so this tea is particularly useful for anyone experiencing hormonal imbalance due to stress. Damiana is also a digestive stimulant and mood enhancer. This tea combines nervines, adaptogens, and blood-nourishing herbs to aid in relaxation. Ingredients 1 part damiana (Turnera diffusa) leaf and stem 1 part alfalfa (Medicago sativa) aerial parts 1 part red clover (Trifolium pratense) flower and/or leaf 1 part nettle (Urtica dioica) seed 1/2 part skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) aerial parts 1/2 part rose (Rosa spp.) hips Directions
Combine all of the herbs into a glass jar
Shake until well combined.
To brew, steep 2 teaspoons of tea blend in 1 cup (8 fl oz) hot water, covered, for 20 minutes. Strain and enjoy!
Nettle Seed and Kale Crackers
Food and nutrition is the foundation of good health. This recipe is packed with nutritional goodness combining seeds and herbs into a cracker that can be used as a base for nut butters, hummus, or spreadable cheese. Ingredients 2 cups kale leaves, de-stemmed ½ cup nettle (Urtica dioica) seed ½ cup pumpkin seeds, sprouted* ½ cup sunflower seeds, sprouted* 2 tablespoons chia seeds (ground) ¾ cup rose (Rosa spp.) hips infusion (2 tablespoons of rose hips infused in hot water for 30 minutes and then strained) 2 tablespoons coconut sugar 1 teaspoon sea salt 2 tablespoons brewer’s yeast Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Add the rose hips infusion and kale to a blender and blend until almost smooth.
Transfer the kale and rose mixture from the blender to a large bowl. Mix in all remaining ingredients, stirring well.
Let mixture sit for 30-60 minutes to let flavors meld.
The mixture should be firm enough to roll with a rolling pin, if not then add a few more pinches of ground chia seeds and let sit for 15 minutes.
Put mixture on the parchment-lined baking sheet, covering with another large piece of parchment paper.
Use a rolling pin to roll out the mixture until it’s 1/8-1/16 of an inch thick. Remove top parchment paper.
Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut into 2-by-2-inch squares.
Put into the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes.
Take out and turn the squares over. Bake for an additional 10 minutes or until the edges start to brown and they firm up.
Remove from heat, cool completely.
Store in an airtight container.
Using a holistic approach to lifestyle, diet, and herb use is necessary to manage hormone imbalances. Cortisol and insulin levels can be stabilized by using stress-reduction strategies like meditation, exercise, and adequate sleep. Hormone balancing is mostly dependent on getting enough protein and healthy fats while limiting refined sugar and carbohydrate intake. Last but not least, rely on our plant allies to provide extra assistance as we navigate and improve our long-term health outcomes.