This article was contributed by Dr. Bridgit Danner, LAc, FDN. You may know, that I’m a big proponent of food-first to address our hormonal imbalances.
For you to have a healthy cycle, that is timely, fertile, painless, and PMS-free, you need to nourish the glands of your endocrine system, which make your female hormones.
Your adrenal glands make DHEA, a precursor to estrogen. Your ovaries are the main producer of estrogen, at the signal of the hypothalamus/pituitary gland. Progesterone is made mainly by the corpus luteum, which arises in the ovary after ovulation.
In this article, I’ll discuss some of my favorite supplements for hormonal health, some of which can be safely purchased over the counter, and others which you could consider under care of an herbalist, naturopath, functional medicine practitioner or acupuncturist.
Adaptogens are an amazing class of herbs that help you literally adapt to mental or physical stress. They include maca, ashwaganda, rhodiola, schisandra, tulsi (holy basil), panax ginseng and eleuthero.
They can help you adapt to stresses such as a change of climate, but can also help you face life’s daily changes without your body taking a hit. (1)
In the hormone world, they can really raise DHEA, the precursor hormones to testosterone and estrogen. I have seen this in the results of labs I’ve run, and clinically with women feeling better more energy, a greater sex drive and increased fertility.
Adaptogens often come mixed together in a tincture or capsule. Tulsi is pretty easy to find in tea from, and has a nice, mild taste. You can even grow it in your garden.
2. Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids
The lowly vitamin C is actually a power player for our adrenal glands. It is needed to make all our steroid hormones (including progesterone, estrogen and testosterone.)
Sufficient vitamin C helps give you a healthy stress response(2). If you have too little vitamin C, you can release excess cortisol, and then you may make less sex hormones. That high cortisol hanging around can also interfere with your sex hormones attaching correctly to their receptor sites.
I love squeezing a whole or half lemon into water and optionally adding a little liquid stevia as an afternoon pick-me-up. Peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts are other great sources.
In a supplement form, it’s important to choose a vitamin C that includes bioflavonoids (3). (compounds naturally found in plants, fruits and flowers.) You may see ‘bioflavonoids’ listed or quercitin, or sometimes I see rosehips added for a whole food bioflavonoid option.
When bioflavonoids are included, this allows your body see the vitamin C supplement as more of a food and assimilate it better.
You can ask your practitioner if taking 1,000 – 3,000 mg per day is safe for you.
3. Vitex (Chaste Tree)
Vitex or chaste tree is a very popular female tonic these days. I read posts in online forums of women singing its praises as a miracle herb. I would caution that there is no one miracle herb, and vitex is not a fit for every woman. However I have seen it help women bring their cycles back, or help stabilize their luteal phase to become pregnant or reduce PMS. (4)
Vitex is thought to work on the hypothalamus pituitary axis to stimulate signaling to the ovaries. For some women, this is just the push their body needs. For other women, this approach may be too ‘upstream,’ and may cause some adverse symptoms like depression or irritability. Perhaps these women need more of a nutritional approach, stress reduction, etc.
Over the counter vitex supplements will vary in quality and concentration, so be sure to choose a brand you trust. My favorite is from a company called Mediherb, that is available only through distributing practitioners.
It is generally recommended to take vitex for a shorter span of time, such as 3-6 months.[Magdalena’s Recipe] If you want to try vitax in a tea form, I have a recipe here for you.
Chasteberry and Rose Petal Tea
- 1 tablespoon rose petals (where to buy)
- 1 teaspoon whole chaste tree berry, crushed (use a grinder or pestle and mortar) (where to buy)
- 1 teaspoon hibiscus flowers (where to buy)
- 1 teaspoon crushed star anise, about one star
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon chips (where to buy)
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup, honey, coconut nectar or 1 drop of stevia
Steep all the herbs and spices for 10 minutes in 4 cups of hot water, add the sweetener and enjoy hot or cold.
Now we are journeying into a stranger hormonal option. Glandulars are processed bits of animal gland, such as adrenal gland, ovary gland or pituitary gland, distributed only through practitioners who use them.
When a practitioner wanted to prescribe me glandulars many years ago, I resisted at first. It sounded gross to be taking animal parts. But when you consider that for thousands of years we ate every part of the animal, it begins to make sense. The tissue of other mammals is structurally similar to our own, so our body can respond well and quickly to healing our own endocrine with animal glands.
There is, admittedly, a lack of rigorous scientific backing on the efficacy of glandular therapy. The most popular use is desiccated thyroid for issues of hypothyroid, which often even progressive medical doctors will recommend.
As this article is called “a clinician’s perspective,” I can tell you I have seen great results with glandulars to give a boost to hormone levels or restore a missing cycle. I usually use a blend that have material from the nucleus of adrenal, ovary and hypothalamus pituitary mixed together to treat female cycle complaints.
Again, they are only available through practitioners who utilize them, and they are generally for short-term use because they are so concentrated.
Magnesium is also needed to make your steroid hormones. It is often deficient in our diets due to soil deficiency and a lack of vegetables. We also have an especially high demand for it to calm our central nervous system, which tends to be way overstimulated in our modern world.
In women, magnesium levels fluctuate quite a bit. When hormone levels are higher, magnesium is lower. This is partly why we tend to crave chocolate before our periods; we replete magnesium through the cocoa. Choose high-quality 70% + dark chocolate though, not a Kit Kat bar that will further deplete your nutrients with all the sugar.
Magnesium can help with pre-menstrual headaches(5), sugar cravings, cramps and anxiety (6). I find that many young women, who have still developing hormones and sometimes pretty poor diets, suffer from severe cramps that could be very much improved with magnesium.
There are many types of magnesium. Magnesium citrate is a common type, but can move your bowels. If you don’t want this, consider magnesium glycinate, which is non-laxative, absorbable, and has some extra calming properties. The magnesium I take is a blend, and it seems to work for me. I usually recommend 400 mg in the evening.
I hope this helps give you some ideas for restoring your happy, healthy cycle!
Bridgit Danner, LAc, FDN