Updated: Sep 13, 2020
Weight gain, mood swings, irritability, premenstrual symptoms, sore boobs, short menstrual cycles, long menstrual cycles, heavy menstrual bleeding, spotting, acne, low libido, fatigue, and even brain fog can be indicators of poor hormonal health in women.
Menopausal women may be unfortunate enough to experience hot flashes, night sweats, poor memory, thinning hair, dry skin and poor sleep with the natural decline of reproductive hormones.
These symptoms are so common, that they're almost viewed as normal. But it doesn't need to be that way.
A number of nutrients are required to regulate and balance hormones in women. Unfortunately it can be difficult to obtain adequate levels of these nutrients from diet alone.
There are also herbs that have been used for centuries to help balance hormones naturally and effectively.
Use of synthetic hormones, may increase your risk of certain cancers, so I feel addressing hormone imbalances naturally should always be the first approach.
Here are my top 10 nutrients, supplements, and essential oils that can aid hormonal health. Beginning with a few vital minerals we are commonly deficient in.
It is estimated by the World Health Organisation that about 30% of the world's population are zinc deficient! Zinc is anti-inflammatory, improves immunity, facilitates digestion, aids detoxification, regulates our stress response, and is needed for growth and repair. It is also essential for the production, transport and action of ALL hormones, including thyroid hormone. Plus it promotes healthy ovulation and progesterone levels. It has anti-androgen effects, without pushing testosterone levels below normal, which means it can be helpful for those with facial hair or female pattern hair loss.
Zinc is huge player in hormonal health. Zinc picolinate or citrate is my preferred form.
For more information on zinc deficiency, head on over to "Three key nutrients you're probably lacking & the devastating impact it can have on your health".
Magnesium is another key mineral many of us are lacking. This calming nutrient is dumped by the body when under stress, enabling the body to be fired up to respond to the stressful situation. In cave man days, when the stressful situation was a rare encounter with a lion, this was a vital tactic. However in the modern world, we are constantly bombarded with stressful situations and environmental toxins that deplete our magnesium levels.
Magnesium regulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and stress response, it soothes the nervous system and aids sleep. Growing evidence suggests that magnesium deficiency may play an important role in PMS.
Its anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant properties make it beneficial for heavy periods and uterine cramping. It also acts as a diuretic to help with swollen breasts and abdomen. Magnesium plays a role in how oestrogen hormones are used or metabolized by the body. Poor detoxification in the liver due to low magnesium can result in high oestrogen levels, relative to progesterone.
Low magnesium levels are associated with insulin resistance, which is a factor in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Like zinc, blood tests for magnesium levels are largely inaccurate. Check out the "Three Key nutrients" article to discover the best way to investigate a deficiency and how to supplement. Daily supplementation of 300mg chelated magnesium like magnesium glycinate or citramate is recommended for most. Fortunately it is safe for long term use.
3. B Complex with active B vitamins
B vitamins are involved in energy production, detoxification, healthy blood cell and nerve function, and hundreds of enzyme reactions within the body.
Of particular note are the hormone and neurotransmitter regulators, vitamin B6 and B12. They have been found to be useful for PMS, heavy periods and (peri)menopausal symptoms. Along with methyl folate (vitamin B9) they help keep homocysteine levels in check, thereby having anti-inflammatory effects.
When supplementing, to make sure you get the most benefit, B vitamins need to be in their 'active' forms. This means that the body doesn’t need to chemically change these forms before it’s ready to use them.
So for vitamin B6, the active form is pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (P5P), not pyridoxine, the common form found in cheaper supplements. For B12 we recommend methyl or hydroxy - cobalamin forms, not cyano - cobalamin. And folate should never be given as synthetic folic acid as it is no where near as effective. Converting folic acid into dihydrofolate quickly and successfully is difficult to do in humans. Unmetabolized folic acid can in fact be harmful!
4. Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are found in the membranes of all cells in the body and are precursors of locally produced hormones, called eicosanoids, which are important in the prevention and treatment of various diseases, especially in women.
One mechanism underlying period related issues is a disturbed balance between anti-inflammatory eicosanoid hormones derived from omega-3 fatty acids and pro-inflammatory eicosanoids derived from omega-6 fatty acids. Increasing omega 3 intake can help regain balance between the two.
Furthermore, omega 3 fatty acids are especially important in women receiving hormone therapy, by balancing triglyceride levels.
Please know, the quality of the omega-3 fatty acid preparation is important. I would never recommend anyone purchase their omega 3 fish oil supplement from a supermarket or pharmacy. A great non-practitioner only brand is Nordic Naturals.
Most of us are aware of the importance of iodine for thyroid health but were you aware iodine can be useful for PMS, uterine fibroids, breast tenderness, heavy periods, ovarian cysts and peri-menopause! That's a long list.
It's benefits are not from the indirect effects on thyroid hormone, but its direct effects on estrogen and ovulation. Iodine promotes the healthy detoxification of estrogens and stabilizes estrogen receptors in the ovaries.
This is not a nutrient you should supplement without help from a holistic health practitioner. Dosages over 500mcg have been known to trigger autoimmune thyroid disease. Combined supplementation with selenium is also often recommended.
6. N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) or Glutathione
NAC is an amino acid derivative that supports the production of glutathione in the liver, which is a powerful antioxidant and natural detoxifier.
NAC may benefit those women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and fertility issues by inducing or augmenting the ovulation cycle, and improving insulin sensitivity. It has also been shown to be beneficial for those with endometriosis.
Glutathione is one of the body’s most important antioxidants, which helps neutralize free radicals that can damage cells and tissues in your body. It’s essential for immune health and fighting cellular damage. Some researchers believe it may even contribute to longevity.
6. Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste Tree)
This popular herb prepared from the berries of a large Mediterranean tree is used for restoring periods (amenorrhea) and improving premenstrual tension symptoms (PMS). Vitex promotes ovulation, and calms the nervous system. It can also balance androgen excess, reducing facial hair growth in women.
Vitex has been shown to reduce levels of follicle-stimulating hormone and increase luteinizing hormone (LH), thereby reducing estrogen and increasing progesterone levels.
Vitex is a powerful herb and should never be taken for longer than 6 months continuously.
It needs to be used with caution in girls under the age of 18, or with polycystic ovaries (PCOS), or in pregnant or postmenopausal women.
7. Turmeric or Curcumin
Turmeric is the brightly coloured yellow spice used in Indian curries. The active ingredient curcumin has anti-inflammatory effects and may improve menstrual flow and reduce period pain. It can also balance oestrogen levels by blocking an enzyme called aromatase.
Supplementing with curcumin should be considered for anyone with period related issues.
Turmeric is better absorbed after a meal containing healthy fats. Supplements with standardised concentrations of the active ingredient curcumin are preferred to improve absorption and effectiveness. Like most supplements, the quality is important. Thorne Research Mervia 500-SF is a great option.
8. Rhodiola Rosea and Ashwanghanda (Withania)
These herbal adaptogens stabilize the HPA axis and help manage the stress response. High cortisol levels due to stress can lead to low progesterone. Rhodiola and Withania may provide calming, fatigue-fighting, pain relieving, immune boosting, memory enhancing, and fertility supporting benefits.
9. Clary Sage essential oil
This essential oil is derived from the flowering tops of the clary sage herb. It contains many components known for their soothing and calming benefits. It is thought to help balance out oestogen levels, and may be helpful during peri-menopause.
During your menstrual cycle, clary sage may bring relief to your abdomen when massaged into the area. It can also be applied (diluted) to the back of the neck or the bottom of your feet.
The method of extraction may affect the components found in the essential oil, so always be aware of your source.
(Note: My favourite essential oil company doTERRA have a special women's hormonal blend called Clary Calm and it contains both Clary sage and Vitex agnus).
10. Tribulus terrestris
However in my clinic I have found it helpful for menopausal women, especially those experiencing hot flashes. Its main active ingredient is the protodioscin, which has been attributed to an increase in testosterone levels and improved sexual function!!
So those are my top ten. Milk thistle, iron, berberine, dong quai, black cohosh, peony and licorice, DIM, calcium d-glucarate are others to consider. However I would not recommend self diagnosing and self subscribing. You are best to seek the help of a trained holistic health professional.
The aim of this post is to help you realize there are numerous natural options. Many are just as effective and typically less dangerous than synthetic hormone replacements or the contraceptive pill.
I also do not suggest you use these herbs as an alternative to discovering the root cause of your hormonal imbalance.
Is your gut health a factor?
Are you nutrient deficient?
Does your thyroid need support?
Are you consuming too much sugar or alcohol?
Do you need to take at look at your stress levels?
Do you need help detoxifying?
Do you need to limit your exposure to phthalates, pesticides and parabens?
The average women is exposed to over 100 toxic chemicals each day!!!
Xeno-oestrogens are found in plastics, perfumes, make up, skin care and more, and can have a considerable impact of your hormonal health. Cleaning up the toxins in your environment is an important step.
If you're interested in assessing your hormones objectively, I wouldn't recommend a blood test, but a dried urine test called the DUTCH test. You'll need to speak to your holistic health practitioner to arrange this.
With around 70% of breast cancer being oestrogen sensitive, I feel every women needs to take their hormonal health seriously. As they say, prevention is better than the cure.
Dr Georgina Compton
Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner & Chiropractor
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