An Accredited Member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society, Julie Graduated with distinctions from S.A. College of Botanic Medicine and Natural Therapies Pty Ltd. Professional Qualifications include: Naturopathic Doctor, Herbal & Homoeopathic Practitioner: Diet and Nutritional Medicine: Remedial & Therapeutic... more
For thousands of years, herbs have been used as a primary treatment for ill-health and disease due to their remarkable healing properties enabling them to restore functional balance to your physical and emotional body. In this article, I will talk with you about the endocrine system. This system is responsible for the production of hormones for both men and women.
Facts about hormones and herbal medicine
- Hormones are important because they regulate your metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood, among many other processes within your body.
- The endocrine system is made up of the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, adrenal glands, pancreas, ovaries (in females) and testicles (in males).
- Herbal medicine is formulated from plants using the roots, bulbs, bark, flowers, berries and seeds. The body heals from the power of these plants because it recognizes them as fuel. Therefore metabolizing the powerful constituents in these plants to heal and restore function.
When your hormones are out of balance, you may suffer from a number of symptoms which will vary from person to person. They may range from mild symptoms to more severe and chronic ones. In this article, I will help you to identify if you are suffering from hormone imbalance and the primary causes of these imbalances with the necessary support to repair and restore healthy hormone function.
As you can see, if you have a hormone imbalance this can become a serious problem if not restored. So how do you know if you have a hormone imbalance. Bearing in mind that we are not just talking about women here, men also have an endocrine system producing hormones to regulate their bodily functions as well. Hormone imbalance can either occur suddenly or over a period of time. This may be due to lifestyle, stress, trauma and habits that aren't congenial with your body functions. Hormones have a tremendous amount of influence on the way our bodies work, not just for woman but also for men. Hormonal imbalance affects mental health, brain function, metabolism, sleep cycles, sex drive and emotional health.
Hormones are your silent messengers that have influence on all of your body systems.
How to identify if your hormones are out of balance
As mentioned, you are not likely to suffer from all of these problems and it may only be from time to time.
However, if they are on an ongoing basis and you notice that you have more than 50% of these symptoms, you have a chronic imbalance with your hormones and some serious work needs to take place to bring them back to alignment.
- Unexplained weight gain, that just seems to be continuing no matter what you do.
- PMS: Each month you suffer extreme mood swings, unexplained crying, anger and nasty thoughts. You also have excruciating pain and cramps, sometimes even nausea or vomiting.
- Insomnia on a regular basis
- Extreme anxiety, feelings of panic and low self-esteem
- Painful or lumpy breasts
- Cyclical headaches mainly around the time of your menstrual cycle
- Digestive problems: Bloating, heartburn, irritable bowel
- Lethargy: Unexplained tiredness to the point you feel like "the stuffing has been taken out of you"
- Hot flashes
- Either very heavy bleeding or very light bleeding
Many women will experience some of these symptoms and in varying degrees. But what is important to notice here is how often you are experiencing these symptoms, to what extent are they reoccurring, and most importantly how much they are effecting your lifestyle. Symptoms are the way your body talks to you to let you know when something is wrong.
The next step is to work out why you are experiencing hormone imbalance. The "Whys" can be a number of things or it could just be something out of the blue that has happened to throw things off.
The main causes of hormonal disturbances
- GMO and tampering with food sources - The consumption of foods laden with hormones can be a cause. These have been used for decades in the meat and dairy industries. Synthetic oestrogen and testosterone are the most common. Understanding the safety of the foods you eat is vital for your health.
- Storage of foods and how foods are cooked - Plastic containers are just so harmful and damaging as they contain a load of xenoestrogens and endocrine system toxins that get into your body through the usage of plastic products. It is easily enough to cause damage in your endocrine system and testosterone production.
- Nutritional imbalances - These occur from having a diet consisting of mainly packaged, processed foods and meals. To gain adequate nutrition from the food you eat, it has to be as fresh as possible and as close to nature as possible with as little interference as possible. When hormone imbalance has occurred through inadequate nutrition, taking supplements will be very ineffective. This is where herbal medicine plays an important role combined with a revised and improved eating and lifestyle plan. This will help to bring your hormones back into balance. It is also important to assist the body's elimination of the heavy toxins and chemicals that are playing a significant role in interfering with your hormonal pathways.
- Medications - Certain medications, the combined contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy are known to cause hormone imbalance. Taking of any medication on a long-term basis will cause imbalance with other organs and tissues within your body.
- Alcohol - Interferes with endocrine function by blocking the secretion and regulation of hormone functions. For example - the pituitary gland synthesizes and secretes essential healing and repairs hormones such as human growth hormone (HGH). The drinking of alcohol causes an increased spike in blood sugar levels. Insulin comes to the rescue to transport this sugar into the cells to be used as energy. Results of this dramatic action result in just as a dramatic spike resulting in low blood sugar. This is particularly harmful for anyone who has been diagnosed with diabetes or can lead to type 2 diabetes. Alcohol also has the potential of impeding the body’s ability to regulate and absorb calcium, creating a strong risk factor for the development of osteoporosis. Long-term health problems such as liver damage, sexual dysfunction, and ulcers typically result from chronic or acute consumption.
- Cigarette smoking - Smoking has a significant impact on thyroid function. Thiocyanate, a major component of smoke, derived from hydrogen cyanide, leads to increased excretion of iodine, inhibits iodine uptake by the thyroid, competes with iodide in the organification process (Ermans et al., 1980), and inhibits thyroid hormone synthesis, therefore having a great effect on your weight management and also your energy levels. Cigarette smoking depletes the body of vitamin C, therefore disrupting effective immune and detoxification support. Cigarette smoking causes a decrease in oxygen. This results in poor nutrient absorption, imbalanced hormone production and regulation, and places increased pressure on the glands in the brain.
- Marijuana - This has so many detrimental effects on the body, interfering with endocrine and brain function. Marijuana and its active component THC affect multiple endocrine systems. A suppressive effect is seen on the reproductive hormones, prolactin, growth hormone, and the thyroid gland. Therefore, it has detrimental effects to fertility, sexual function and depletion of a healthy appetite which may lead to malnutrition.
Here are some of the most common herbs I prescribe: Why and how they work
Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus): One of my favorite and most-used female hormone-balancing herbs. It normalizes the cycle, so it’ll lengthen a short cycle and shorten a long cycle. This beautiful herb is wonderful for reducing the emotional symptoms of PMS such as irritability and teariness, as well as sore breasts, spotting, erratic or missed periods, painful periods or pain during ovulation, and infertility. It can also help when there is premenstrual acne (or even acne in males), or acne when you’ve just come off the pill. I usually prescribe this herb as soon as one of my female clients comes off the pill, so we can help regulate her cycle. It’s also prescribed where there’s relative oestrogen excess, e.g. in cases of endometriosis and fibroids, as it supports progesterone production (indirectly).
Bacopa (Anemone pulsatilla): This amazing herb helps to support healthy brain and nervous system function. It works as an effective nerve tonic, improving brain function. It improves feelings of depression, lethargy, emotional disturbances and helps to relieve tension headaches, promoting restful sleep. It’s also a beautiful nerve tonic, soothing for anyone feeling depressed, exhausted, teary, emotional, excitable, or those who suffer from tension headaches or insomnia, as it promotes sleep.
Turmeric - Curcumin: Turmeric's antispasmodic action can help with menstrual cramps. Turmeric is one herb that helps tone, bringing the uterus back in proper shape and functioning after childbirth. It is also believed that turmeric helps in balancing hormones, regulating and normalizing the menstrual cycle. Due to the powerful antioxidant properties of turmeric, it purifies and moves stagnant blood. This is an important process in normalizing menstruation.
Cramp Bark: The main use of cramp bark is when there is severe uterine pain and cramps either before or during the menstrual cycle. It is also helpful with the symptoms of irritable bowel that can often occur during the menstruation cycle. It has benefits as an astringent if there is excessive blood flow during this time.
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosa): This herb is one of the most important restorative and regenerative tonic herbs for both men and women. Shatavari is an Ayurvedic herb, which translates to “she who posses 100 husbands”. It’s a tonic for the entire female reproductive system, improving fertility and low libido as well as promoting lactation. It increases breast milk production, while also raising the body’s resistance to stress and reducing any spasmodic pain. Shatavari is also nourishing and detoxifying, while also calming stress and anxiety. However, the benefits extend to the male reproductive system, too. Its unctuous properties increase all the reproductive fluids, supporting a healthy sperm count and regularity in men.
White Peony, Paeonia (Paeonia lactiflora): I use this beautiful herb (in combination with Licorice) for women with PCOS , endometriosis, fibroids, high androgens or oestrogen dominance. It is also helpful for painful periods, irregular periods and heavy periods. It is a mild muscle relaxant and anti-inflammatory. It also improves cognition, memory, concentration and mental performance, eliminating period pain and supporting brain function.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis): This herb is both detoxifying and soothing. It helps to regulate the female reproductive system and relieves painful periods. It regulates oestrogen excess (which may cause endometriosis). It’s also wonderful for the digestive system, healing gastritis and ulcers, and reducing inflammation of the stomach and bowels. I also use this herb for acne. It’s a beautiful anti-inflammatory herb and a lymphatic cleanser; it stimulates the immune system, helps the body fight infection and reduces lymphatic congestion and swollen lump glands. It’s also antimicrobial and topically, it’s antiviral and antifungal.
Ladies Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris): This herb is used to help reduce very heavy periods, painful periods and endometriosis. It can also be used to help stimulate menstrual flow if there are missed periods.
Black Cohosh: This herb is used as support for menopause-related symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, disturbances in mood, and vaginal dryness. Black Cohosh is also used to treat menstrual irregularities and alleviate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. It has anti-inflammatory benefits, helping to relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Saw Palmetto - The main role for this herb is in supporting prostate health, decreasing enlarged prostate. Saw Palmetto has also been found helpful in the treatment of benign prostate cancer. It is helpful in supporting healthy urine flow and preventing infections of the prostate gland.
Maca Root - Is well known for it's powerful hormone balancing and for improving hormone function. This would usually be prescribed in conjunction with your liquid herbal formula as it comes either in powder or capsule form. Powder form is usually the preferred mode of taking this wonderful herb. Maca is usually prescribed for improvement of libido, energy, mood, fertility, nervousness, disturbed sleep, depression and heart palpitations. Low dosage to begin with is usually recommended for best support.
Tribulus - Is used to treat erectile dysfunction, angina, restore hormone balance to support fertility, and improve circulation and high blood pressure. It also helps to improve testosterone and oestrogen levels.
As you may well have realized by now, a balanced hormone system is vitally important whether you are a woman wanting to support healthy menstruation, peri menopause or menopause. You may have some other symptoms that are related to hormone imbalance. Now, for you guys, as mentioned your hormones are just as important in helping you to maintain healthy sexual function, heart, circulation, moods and brain function.
These are just a tip of the iceberg of herbs available to treat and support a healthier you. Not all of these herbs would necessarily be used in your formula, or there could be different ones that would need to be included. Each formula is individual, depending on your physical and emotional needs at the time. Always remember that your health is something that continually changes. Therefore, the treatments need to change to suite your changing needs.
Herbs are medicines and help in supporting and restoring healthy organ and tissue function. It is necessary for them to be recommended professionally to ensure that you are receiving the correct treatment. Also, additional lifestyle changes might need to be implemented whether that be diet, exercise or meditation in order to achieve optimal health. I have used herbal medicine combined with dietary and lifestyle changes successfully in restoring healthy, hormone balance.
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Empowering You to Optimal Health, Julie Doherty N.D