7 Top Herbs to Balance Your Hormones Naturally
For most women, menopause is no fun at all. While a small percentage may experience few or no symptoms, that last period is followed for most by hot flashes, fatigue, headaches, mood swings, and other unpleasant symptoms. For some, these symptoms start even before menopause itself.
To relieve these symptoms, you may want to consider taking herbs. I will give you some recommendations in just a moment, but first I want to address the question, “Why not simply try hormone replacement therapy?”
If you’re considering hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to try and bring your body back in balance and alleviate those symptoms, think again. HRT was prescribed widely for women in menopause and post-menopause for a long time (which is why you may be thinking, “But my mother did HRT”). But now doctors are a lot less likely to recommend it, the main reason being a huge study known as the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI).
The WHI found that taking estrogen plus progestin pills can increase the risk of breast cancer, heart attack, stroke and (especially) blood clots. There are some benefits (fewer hip or bone fractures, fewer instances of colorectal cancer), but for many, the risks outweigh them.
This is why a gentler, more natural approach is a good idea to try first. You may be able to bring balance to your hormones (and your health) more effectively and safely through the use of herbal treatments. Following is a list of popular remedies to get you back on the path to feeling like yourself.
1. Black Cohosh
First on our list is black cohosh, which belongs to the buttercup family. This herb is native to North America. In fact, indigenous people discovered long ago that the plant’s root was helpful in alleviating menstrual and menopausal symptoms including mood swings, hot flashes, and sleep disturbances.
Wondering whether the evidence backing up black cohosh as a menopause treatment is merely anecdotal? Research to date has yielded mixed results—but they certainly lean toward the positive.
You can view information on a number of studies here. Most studies on black cohosh have not been placebo-controlled, but those which are included on this page are among the best-structured.
The one which will interest you most involves 80 menopausal women who were randomized into three groups in a double-blind study. One group was given a placebo. Another was given conjugated estrogens. The third was given 8 mg/day of black cohosh extract. Both treatment groups showed lower scores on anxiety as well as the Kupperman index, which measures a number of menopause symptoms: hot flashes, depression, and insomnia. Interestingly enough, the black cohosh group actually fared better than the group receiving the estrogen therapy. This suggests that black cohosh may be just as powerful as HRT—or even more powerful.
Again, not all study results have been this promising; some have shown no improvement in menopause symptoms from taking black cohosh. Nonetheless, this is currently one of the most promising natural treatments out there, and well worth considering if you are struggling with your menopause symptoms.
2. Red Clover
This is an herbal extract which contains a number of phytoestrogens such as lignans, coumestans, and isoflavones. It belongs to the legume family, and is used in agriculture for cattle to graze on. In traditional medicine, it has been used to treat a number of different maladies ranging from whooping cough to psoriasis.
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 bind to estrogen receptors, blocking off your body’s own estrogen. 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. This should augment the overall amount of estrogen in your body, reducing the symptoms of menopause.
This is why red clover is used as a treatment for menopause. Study results are mixed but promising (as they are with black cohosh). In one small study, it was found that “treatment with 80 mg isoflavones (Promensil) per day resulted in a significant reduction in hot flushes.”
3. Dong Quai
One herb which you will find included in a lot of female hormone balancing supplements is Dong Quai. Of course, you can also purchase it independently (rather than as part of a blend). This root has enjoyed long use in traditional medicine throughout the Far East. In fact, for more than a thousand years it has been prescribed by practitioners to treat problems relating to menstruation, reproductive health and menopause. The herb is also known as “female ginseng.”
Like many of the other herbs in this list, Dong Quai is believed to have an estrogenic effect in the body, but researchers still do not have a strong understanding of it. This one also is not backed up by much in the way of scientific evidence at this point; most of the support is anecdotal. Still, many women around the globe swear by it, so it may be worth a try.
Vitex agnus-castus is also known as “chastetree.” It is typically prescribed during perimenopause, and has a balancing effect on the production of both estrogen and progesterone, particularly with respect to one another. If the ratio is off, you can experience a lot of unpleasant symptoms. Incidentally, it is also a great treatment for estrogen dominance (which I know from personal experience).
How does it work? Research into Vitex is ongoing and still not all that conclusive. Right now, the prime theory is that the herb acts as a dopamine agonist—meaning it stimulates your body’s production of dopamine. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter which regulates a number of functions, including hormone production.
More About Vitex: Chaste Tree Berry for PMS, Infertility, Menopause and More
Chances are good that if you have heard of kudzu, you know it better as the aggressive species of vine which will grow over pretty much every square inch of everything in its path. It strangles other vegetation and can compromise the integrity of structures it overgrows, which is why it is classified in the US as an invasive species.
What you may not know is that kudzu plays a role in phytotherapy, and is sometimes recommended as an herbal treatment for balancing female hormones. It contains five different isoflavanoids which can bind to your estrogen receptors. This in turn can have an estrogenic effect on your body while you are going through menopause.
So while you probably do not want kudzu anywhere near your garden, it can be quite a handy thing to have in your medicine cabinet.
6. Wild yam
When it comes to female hormones, estrogen tends to get all the attention—but progesterone is just as important. And just like estrogen, progesterone production tanks when you hit menopause. The decline in progesterone causes unpleasant symptoms as well, so you really need to treat both.
Wild yam has been used since the 18th century to treat menstrual cramps and help promote healthy childbirth. It was not until the 1950s however that researchers found out that wild yam roots contain a phytoestrogen known as “diosgenin.” Even though diosgenin is a phytoestrogen, it can actually be converted to progesterone. This means it can effectively augment the amount of progesterone in your body.
Now, here’s the hitch. Your body is incapable of converting diosgenin to progesterone on its own. This chemical process can only take place in a laboratory.
This means that simply taking wild yam capsules is unlikely to actually confer any benefit on you—although researchers are still not 100% positive that this is the case. There are plenty of reviews which say that wild yam capsules work, but this could be the placebo effect.
Wild yam is inedible, by the way—just in case you were thinking of trying it. But even if you could eat it, it would not provide you with progesterone, because your body would still be unable to convert the diosgenin. Sweet potato yams will not work either; they are a completely different species.
There are a number of “natural progesterone creams” on the market you can apply topically. These creams do contain progesterone, chemically converted from diosgenin in a lab. Researchers are not positive it can absorb through your skin, but with this product you will also see many positive reviews. The cream is more likely to work than the capsules, and may have a cumulative effect in the body—so be careful using it.
Take note that “natural progesterone cream” is arguably not all that “natural” at all because of the chemical process the wild yam has undergone to yield the progesterone. In fact, wild yam is also used to create birth control pills, which you would never refer to as a “natural” treatment. There are a lot of different schools of thought here, but at least now you know some of the complexities of dealing with wild yams.
Finally, one further herbal remedy to consider is soy, which contains isoflavones. They can bind to your estrogen receptors, hypothetically acting estrogenically on your body. Research on the effectiveness of soy as a treatment for menopause symptoms is mixed. You can read a couple of illuminating and promising studies here and here.
Soy is at least quite a bit more familiar than many of the other treatments here, and chances are you have already eaten it at one point or another. Most of us have tried tofu or soy milk at least once in our lives, so you already know that soy is safe and healthy overall.
As a bonus, soy may actually help to reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol in your body. Note that this is only true when you are using it as a replacement for animal proteins. So eating soy is a better option than taking soy supplements (which are often questionable and contain less soy than their labels claim). Doing so can help you to reduce saturated fats in your diet and boost your cardiovascular health. If the soy puts the brakes on your hot flashes along the way, even better.
A Combination May Work Best
You can see that there are no solid answers right now when it comes to treating menopause with herbs. While there is some promising scientific research, much of the evidence is still anecdotal and grounded in traditional medicine.
But we already know that HRT is not necessarily a smart course of action. You do not want to treat your hot flashes with hormones only to find that you develop blood clots later down the line.
So you will need to experiment with balancing herbs to find the products which are right for you. Some women may get the relief they need using just one or two herbs, while others may do better with a formulated blend that contains a number of different herbal remedies for menopause. Do your research and approach your experiments with caution. It may take some time, but when you find something that works, you will be glad you discovered a natural solution!