Herbs that help balance hormones
Herbs are a group of plants whose leaves, flowers, roots, and seeds are used for various purposes.
If you love to cook, you may be most familiar with using herbs as cooking ingredients. Interestingly, humans have also used them for healthcare, spiritual rituals, and more for thousands of years (1, 2).
Traditionally, some herbs have even been used to balance hormone levels. Although rigorous research on the topic is limited, some evidence suggests that certain herbs could influence hormone levels in your body, as well as other related functions of the endocrine system.
Still, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to using herbs for medical or health reasons.
That’s why we’ve sifted through the science and put together this list of 5 herbs, all of which have evidence to support some of their hormone-balancing claims.
A word of caution
The safest and most effective ways to use herbs to balance hormone levels remain uncertain. At times, misinformation surrounding herbal medicine and nutrition makes it hard to know which claims about herbs are valid and backed by evidence.
Certain herbal remedies may be safe for some, yet dangerous for others. People who are pregnant, breastfeeding, using hormone therapy, living with endocrine or mental health disorders, or have cancer may be particularly at risk of experiencing dangerous side effects.
Talk to a professional
Using herbs or any other type of therapy to alter your hormone levels should always be done under the guidance of a doctor or other healthcare professional.
Hormones and your health
Hormones are chemical messengers that help your cells communicate and trigger various actions. They’re the bedrock of your body’s endocrine system, which regulates growth, reproduction, metabolism, temperature, and even your mood.
Hormones and the endocrine system keep your body in a balanced state of homeostasis. Therefore, having a hormonal imbalance — too little or too much of a certain hormone — can have harmful side effects.
Women undergo natural changes to their hormone levels at certain times throughout their lifecycle, notably during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
Similarly, men may experience signs of hormonal imbalances during puberty or as they age, though often at a slower and less noticeable rate than women.
Some women may be interested in herbal hormone balancers during certain times in their lives like puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Other people might consider using herbs to balance their hormones for reasons related to health and aging.
- Nigella seeds
Nigella sativa is also known as kalonji or fennel flower. Its flowers produce tiny black antioxidant-rich seeds. These seeds have medicinal properties, as they contain thymoquinone — a type of phytonutrient, or plant compound (7, 8).
Researchers are investigating nigella seed’s protective and therapeutic effects in those living with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a disorder associated with abnormal hormone levels, among other symptoms, in women of reproductive age (9, 10, 11).
What’s more, Nigella sativa extract exhibits estrogenic activity, meaning it acts similarly to the hormone estrogen in your body (14).
In fact, some studies in rats are exploring whether nigella seed extracts could be an alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause, a time when the body typically produces less estrogen than it used to (14).
Concentrated Nigella sativa supplements are becoming increasingly popular and sometimes marketed as “black seed” or “black cumin seed.” Whole nigella seeds have an herby aroma and are easy to add to bread, salads, and other dishes (15, 16).
Still, keep in mind that most studies on nigella seeds and hormones were conducted in animals and used concentrated extracts or isolated thymoquinone. Thus, while using whole seeds in cooking can be healthy and delicious, it may not confer the same benefits.
Concentrated nigella seed extracts contain a plant compound called thymoquinone. Early research, mainly in animals, suggests that thymoquinone could act like estrogen in your body and possibly offer symptom relief during menopause.
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Ashwagandha, also known as winter cherry, Indian ginseng, or Withania somnifera, is an evergreen shrub from the nightshade family. It’s highly regarded in herbal medicine, with many ashwagandha supplements, teas, and root powders widely available.
This adaptogen is thought to help your body overcome stress by moderating the brain’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis produces and releases multiple hormones — including cortisol — that initiate your body’s response to stress (17).
Cortisol helps you get through stressful and event-filled days. However, according to human and rat studies, a chronic imbalance of the hormone might cause endocrine disorders like Addison’s disease and Cushing’s syndrome (3, 18, 19).
One 2019 study in 60 adults who took 125–300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily for 8 weeks resulted in less stress, better sleep, and lower blood cortisol levels compared with a placebo group. A similarly designed 2012 study observed similar results (20, 21).
An 8-week 2018 study in adults with elevated levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced by your pituitary gland and used to assess thyroid conditions, found that taking 600 mg of concentrated ashwagandha extract daily improved TSH levels (26, 27).
On the other hand, some studies have found conflicting results when it comes to ashwagandha’s health benefits.
People have also reported side effects from ashwagandha supplements during clinical trials, and ashwagandha may be unsafe for those who are pregnant and breastfeeding, as well as people with autoimmune diseases or thyroid disorders (27, 28, 29, 30).
Ultimately, additional larger studies in humans are needed on the topic.
By supporting pathways in the brain that are responsible for producing and administrating hormones in your body, ashwagandha might help normalize blood levels of cortisol and thyroid hormones. However, more research is warranted.
- Black cohosh root
Black cohosh comes from the same family of plants as Nigella sativa — commonly called the crowfoot or buttercup family. You may also have heard black cohosh called bugbane or rattleweed (31).
Both historically and currently, black cohosh has been and is used to support women’s health issues like menstrual irregularities, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and symptoms of menopause (31, 34, 37, 38).
Like Nigella sativa, black cohosh might act as a phytoestrogen — a plant substance that acts similarly to the hormone estrogen when ingested in large doses. Still, whether black cohosh is a true phytoestrogen or works by other mechanisms remains unknown (35, 38, 39).
Nevertheless, more rigorous studies in humans are needed, especially since there have been reports of adverse — and even severe — side effects from black cohosh. Thus, it’s best to consult a doctor before using the herb (44, 45, 46, 47).
The estrogen-like effects of black cohosh supplements make the herb another candidate for supporting women’s reproductive health and treating side effects of menopause.
Chasteberry is another common herbal supplement that’s commonly available in extract or capsule form.
It’s often combined with other herbs like black cohosh and marketed as a remedy to treat symptoms of menopause and support women’s reproductive health (48).
Chasteberries are the fruit of the Vitex agnus tree, which is also called chaste tree, monk’s pepper, or vitex.
Multiple literature reviews have found that chasteberry might lower levels of prolactin in the blood. Elevated levels of this hormone are often associated with PMS. The supplement may also treat certain symptoms of PMS like breast pain (51, 52, 53).
Though it appears that chasteberry could help balance certain hormones like prolactin, many scientists agree that further research in humans is needed to make any conclusions about its effectiveness (56, 57).
Chasteberry might work as a hormone balancer by targeting the hormone prolactin. By lowering how much prolactin is in the blood, the herb could help treat symptoms of PMS.
Early research on marjoram in humans and animals has evaluated how it could reduce stress and help people with PCOS (61).
For example, a recent study found that rats induced with PCOS had improved levels of estradiol — a hormone produced by the ovaries — after being treated with marjoram extract (62).
Also, one small human study had people with PCOS drink marjoram tea twice daily for 1 month. Compared with the placebo treatment, marjoram tea was linked to significant reductions in fasting insulin hormone levels, which could indicate improved blood sugar management (63).
However, it’s too early to say how marjoram is best used as an herbal supplement to improve hormonal imbalances. Plus, some scientists warn that there’s a lack of research on the safety of the long-term or intensive use of hormone-altering herbs (64, 65).
Marjoram appears to influence cortisol, estradiol, and insulin. Though the herb has been used for many years, scientists are just now learning the safest and most effective ways to use it.
Other ways to balance your hormones
Medicinal herbs are just one of many treatment options for hormonal imbalances.
Herbs may be best used for balancing hormones when paired with other evidence-based therapies.
The best treatment options for you depend on the cause of the imbalance, your lifestyle factors, and more. As such, it’s best to discuss options with your doctor or healthcare provider before taking medicinal herbs or starting any type of hormone therapy.
The following is an overview of how to balance your hormones:
- Eat a healthy diet. A balanced diet that’s rich in lean protein, healthy fats, and fiber but contains limited amounts of processed sugar may help balance the hormones that regulate your appetite, metabolism, and mood (66, 67, 68, 69, 70).
- Drink green tea. Green tea may help balance insulin in some people by improving the body’s response to the hormone, although the potential effects of green tea extract on insulin resistance warrant further investigation (71, 72, 73, 74, 75).
- Get regular exercise. Engaging in physical activity appears to influence appetite hormones and improve the body’s use of the hormone insulin (76, 77, 78, 79).
- Manage your stress. Too much stress can drastically change levels of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Calming activities like yoga, listening to music, or taking a walk in nature might relieve stress and keep these hormones in balance (80, 81, 82, 83).
- Get enough sleep. Getting too little sleep or being exposed to artificial light during nighttime hours may lead to disruptions in melatonin and cortisol. It may also influence insulin resistance (84, 85).
- Avoid endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are compounds in the environment, such as tobacco smoke, pesticides, herbicides, plastics, flame retardants, and fragrances in lotions and cleaning supplies, that may cause hormonal imbalances (86, 87).
Herbal remedies are not the only way to balance your hormones. In fact, there are many natural ways to keep your hormones in check, such as enjoying a nutritious diet, getting regular sleep and exercise, and managing your stress levels.Bottom line:
Hormone levels in the human body are constantly changing. There are hundreds of reasons why they fluctuate daily, and to some extent, those ups and downs are necessary. Nonetheless, long-term hormone imbalances might affect your health.
Using herbal remedies is one of many natural ways to address such changes in blood hormone levels. The five herbs discussed in this article each have the potential to help balance your hormone levels.
Still, given that altering your hormone levels can be dangerous, talk to a healthcare professional before taking any herbs or medications for this purpose.
Just one thing
Try this today: Interested in learning more about natural ways to keep your hormones in balance? Check out this article for a few more evidence-based suggestions: Natural Ways to Balance Your Hormones.Reference:
Photo Credit: Markus Spiske