Herbs to Balance Your Hormones and Cycle
Lily Joan Roberts – Ayurvedic gut- & Voedingscoach
If you’re interested in cooking, you probably know a little bit about herbs already but herbs can do a lot more than add spice and flavour to your food. Did you know that certain herbs can actually help support your cycle and your hormones?
While studies provide some promising results regarding the potential benefits of herbs on menstrual health, it's essential to remember that further research and clinical trials are needed to establish the efficacy and safety of herbs conclusively. Herbal remedies can have interactions with medications and may not be suitable for everyone, so it is crucial to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before incorporating them into your health regimen.
In this post, we’ll tell you all about herbs and their potential impact on hormones and give you a list of our favourite herbs that can help provide support for your body throughout your menstrual cycle.
How Herbs Can Help
Herbs are a group of plants whose leaves, flowers, roots and seeds are edible and used for different purposes. Humans have used herbs for thousands of years for healing, spiritual rituals and cooking so even though the scientific research behind them is limited, we can look to our ancestors for reassurance that herbs really do have healing properties.
Traditionally, herbs have been used to balance hormone levels. They can be used to balance both estrogen and progesterone, help your body process hormones, replenish low vitamin and mineral levels and fight inflammation. Yes, all this from a humble plant! Each herb has unique powers, but nutrition experts like herbalist Lily Joan Roberts have singled out a few that can make a huge difference for women during their cycle.
Here are a few of our favourite herbs and what they can be used for.
Vitex, also known as Chaste Tree or Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus), is a herb commonly used in traditional medicine to support women's health and address various menstrual issues. The active compounds in Vitex are believed to affect hormonal levels and the menstrual cycle, leading to potential benefits for certain women's health concerns.
- Menstrual Cycle Regulation: Vitex is often used to help regulate the menstrual cycle, particularly in cases of irregular or infrequent menstruation. It is believed to influence the hormonal balance by acting on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which are involved in the production and regulation of reproductive hormones.
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Relief: Research suggests that Vitex may be effective in alleviating symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as breast tenderness, bloating, irritability, and mood swings. The herb's ability to influence the hormone prolactin may play a role in reducing these symptoms.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Vitex has been studied as a potential remedy for PCOS, a condition characterized by hormonal imbalances and irregular menstrual cycles. Some research suggests that Vitex may help restore hormonal balance in women with PCOS, leading to improved menstrual regularity and potential fertility benefits. However, the evidence is still limited, and more research is needed.
Where can you find Vitex? It comes from a shrub found in the Mediterranean and Asia. The fruit and seed of the shrub is used to make supplements. Unfortunately, there are no food sources of Vitex so you’ll need to look for it in teas or in a supplement.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a flowering plant traditionally used for its medicinal properties. While research on dandelion's specific effects on women's health and menstrual health is limited, some potential benefits have been suggested based on its nutritional content and traditional use.
Dandelion leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, iron, and potassium. These nutrients can support overall health and well-being, including women's health.
- Diuretic Properties: Dandelion has diuretic properties, meaning it can increase urine production and help flush out excess water and waste from the body. This property may be beneficial for reducing bloating and water retention, which some women experience during their menstrual cycle.
- Liver Support: Dandelion has been traditionally used to support liver health and aid in detoxification. A healthy liver is crucial for hormonal balance, as it helps process and eliminate hormones from the body. By supporting liver function, dandelion may indirectly contribute to menstrual health.
- Anti-Inflammatory Potential: Dandelion contains compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, such as flavonoids and polyphenols. Inflammation can play a role in menstrual pain and discomfort. By potentially reducing inflammation, dandelion might help alleviate some menstrual symptoms.
The best way to get dandelion is to drink it in a tea. You can find dandelion teas and dandelion tinctures in most health food stores.
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a plant native to North America, and its oil extracted from the seeds has gained attention for its potential health benefits, especially for women's health. The oil is rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential omega-6 fatty acid.
Evening primrose oil (EPO) has been studied for its potential role in alleviating symptoms of PMS, such as breast pain, mood swings, irritability, and bloating. Some studies have shown that the GLA content in EPO may help regulate prostaglandins, hormone-like compounds that can contribute to PMS symptoms. However, the evidence on its effectiveness is still somewhat mixed, and further research is needed to establish a definitive link.
Evening primrose oil's anti-inflammatory properties, primarily due to its GLA content, may be beneficial in reducing inflammatory acne lesions. Some research has suggested that the supplementation of EPO might help improve mild to moderate acne in certain individuals. However, the evidence is not yet robust enough to make it a standard treatment for acne, and it should not replace conventional acne treatments.
It's important to note that while evening primrose oil may offer potential benefits for some women struggling with menstrual issues and acne, individual responses can vary.
As with any supplement, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before using evening primrose oil, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications. They can help determine the appropriate dosage and advise you on its suitability for your specific health needs.
Dong Quai is also sometimes called “female ginseng” because it may have a lot of benefits for your reproductive system. Dong Quai contains compounds called coumarins which are shown to help relax your muscles. That’s why it is believed this herb may be beneficial if you struggle with muscle contractions such as period cramps. Some women say dong quai relieves symptoms such as hot flashes during (peri)menopause. Researchers are not sure whether dong quai acts like estrogen or blocks estrogen in the body. Studies are conflicting so more research needs to be done to say conclusively how Dong Quai can support your hormones and your cycle.
Want more information on perimenopause? Check out our blog post called Let’s Talk About Perimenopause.
Dong quai grows at high altitudes in cold damp mountains in China, Korea and Japan. The root of the plant is used to make supplements that you can take as tablets or capsules. It can also be made into tea or tinctures.
White peony is a traditional Chinese herb known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It contains compounds like paeoniflorin, which have been the subject of research regarding their potential effects on hormonal balance and menstrual health.
Studies have shown that paeoniflorin may increase low progesterone, reduce high testosterone and regulate other hormones like estrogen and prolactin. If any of these hormones are out of balance, you’re likely to struggle with painful periods or issues like irregular menstrual cycles.
Another study investigated the effect of white peony extract on dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation). The results showed that the extract significantly reduced pain and improved overall menstrual health in the participants.
There is also a study that explored the impact of a Chinese herbal formula containing white peony on menstrual disorders in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The researchers observed improvements in menstrual regularity and hormonal balance in the participants who received the herbal treatment.
Burdock (Arctium lappa) is a plant that has been used in traditional medicine for various health benefits. While the research on burdock's effects on women's health and menstrual health is limited, and some potential benefits have been suggested, especially concerning skin health.
- Skin Health: Studies have revealed that Burdock can be used to help manage skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Its potential skin-improving properties are believed to be attributed to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. Burdock may help reduce inflammation and support the body's natural detoxification processes, which could contribute to healthier skin.
- Antioxidant Properties: Burdock contains antioxidants, such as phenolic acids, quercetin, and luteolin, which can help neutralize harmful free radicals in the body. By reducing oxidative stress, burdock may have a positive impact on overall health, including skin health.
It's important to note that while burdock may offer potential benefits for skin health and general well-being, the scientific evidence for its efficacy is still limited. As with any herbal supplement, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before using Burdock, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications.
Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) is a herb known for its use in traditional medicine, particularly for women's health and menstrual health. It is commonly consumed as tea. It's important to mention that while raspberry leaf has been traditionally used for women's health and menstrual health, scientific research on its effects is still limited, and results are somewhat mixed. Some studies have shown potential benefits, while others have not found significant effects. But here are some potential benefits:
- Menstrual Health: Raspberry leaf contains anti-inflammatory compounds, such as tannins, which help reduce inflammation in the body. It may help alleviate PMS symptoms too, as studies suggest it can help tone and strengthen the uterine muscles, which can reduce cramping and discomfort during menstruation.Some women use raspberry leaf tea during their menstrual cycle to promote a more comfortable period.
- Nutritional Support: Raspberry leaves are a rich source of vitamins (such as vitamins B, C and E) and minerals (such as calcium, magnesium and iron). These nutrients can support overall health and well-being, which is particularly important for women during menstruation.
- Menopausal Symptoms: Some women use raspberry leaf to potentially alleviate certain menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, mood swings, and vaginal dryness. However, the scientific evidence for these benefits is limited and inconsistent.
Several herbal teas have been traditionally used to support menstrual health and alleviate menstrual symptoms. While scientific evidence for their efficacy may vary, some popular herbal teas known for their potential benefits on menstrual health include:
- Chamomile Tea: Chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties and may help with menstrual pain and discomfort. It is also known for its calming effects, which can be beneficial for reducing stress and anxiety during menstruation.
- Raspberry Leaf Tea: As mentioned earlier, raspberry leaf tea is believed to have uterine-toning properties and may help with menstrual cramps and support overall uterine health.
- Ginger Tea: Ginger has natural anti-inflammatory properties and may help alleviate menstrual cramps and nausea associated with menstruation.
- Peppermint Tea: Peppermint tea is often used to relieve bloating and digestive issues that may occur during menstruation.
- Cinnamon Tea: Cinnamon has been used traditionally to help regulate the menstrual cycle and may also assist in reducing menstrual pain and inflammation.
- Fennel: may reduces tension and spasms and helps prevent or relieve bloating or digestive problems that sometimes occur during PMS
- Nettle Tea: Nettle tea is a good source of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, which can be beneficial during menstruation to support energy levels.
It's important to remember that while herbal teas may provide some relief for menstrual symptoms, individual responses can vary. Moreover, herbal teas should not be used as a substitute for medical advice or conventional treatments. If you have specific concerns about your menstrual health, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and personalized recommendations.
How to Take Herbs
Most herbs cannot be found in food and it would be very difficult for the average person to find many of these plants growing in the wild. We think the best way to take herbs is in the form of a tablet or a tea. You can buy many of the ones we’ve mentioned in bag-form but you can also make your own using dry ingredients.
- Mix the herbs in equal amounts, for example two tablespoons of each herb you want to take. If you are using ginger, we recommend dried chunks
- Shake and store this mix in a sealed jar
- To make an infusion, take two tablespoons of the mix and pour approximately 500ml of boiling water over it
- Let this steep for 15 minutes
- Tip: if you have a french press, this can be very handy for making herbal teas. You can use the press to push the herbs through
- Drink the tea throughout the day