Whether it’s the time of the month, you’re trying to conceive or you suffer from endometriosis, having your hormones out of whack can make you feel lethargic, irritable, anxious and craving all sorts of nonsense (hello sugar). But instead of reaching for the trusty concoction of Cadburys and Ibuprofen, the answer could be in the herb garden. Ashwaganda and Shatavari have been used for centuries to rebalance hormones and with our growing interest in Ayuredic medicine and a more natural approach to our ailments, Feminax might be out of business before we know it.
It’s not just what you’re popping that you need to think about if you’re dealing with cramps and cravings, though. Surrounding lifestyle factors such as exercise will have an impact too. Get this – in India when a woman is having her period, any vigorous activity is a no-no. Instead she is urged to rest, keep warm and protect her insides and those valuable baby-making organs. OK so that might be a bit far-fetched and granted sometimes exercise helps shift those piercing twinges but assess what kind of exercise you’re doing. A 20 minute HIIT session jiggling around your insides when all you really want to do is hug a hot water bottle might not be the right self-care route after all? Instead, think about a yoga or pilates class that avoids ab crunching and burpees.
One other thing to note is that not all herbs work in the same way so depending on your hormonal imbalance, you’ll need plants prescribed accordingly.
If you’re in sync with your menstrual cycle you might have noticed that all those irritating PMS signs (sore breasts, cravings, even anxiety) will happen in the first and second part of your cycle, also known as the luteal phase. “Vitex drops are great for rebalancing your hormone levels, especially prolactin [what’s behind those swollen boobs] but you need the fluid extract which is stronger, rather than a powder or pill,” explains Medical Herbalist, Victoria Kearns. 10-15 drops in water every morning should do the trick.
Cassandra Barns, nutritionist at Pukka teas also suggests a helping of Shatavari. “It translates as the woman who has 100 husbands and is great for helping to regulate the menstrual cycle, alleviate PMS symptoms and enhance a flagging libido as it rebalances oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone,” she said.
And spice things up with a side of Turmeric. It has anti-inflammatory properties and also boosts blood flow so your period literally ‘goes smoothly’. In addition it helps support the liver – which by the way is essential for happy hormones as it’s your insides way of breaking down excess hormones that can contribute to PMS. Pukka’s new Womankind supplement (£15) blends Shatavari with B vitamins, Turmeric and Green Tea for a reputable all rounder.
FOR PERIOD PAIN
Period pain often comes under the PMS umbrella but you don’t have to suffer with both. For those who don’t suffer with mood swings and soreness at the time of the month, you just need something to get rid of those tummy-clutching cramps. Hello Viburnum Opulus or ‘crampbark’ (the clue’s in the name)! Anti-spasmodic it soothes and calms your insides and acts as a relaxant.
High strength fennel in a tea or tincture is another good shout and eating anti-inflammatory foods like leafy greens, nuts, berries and fatty fish at this time get a big thumbs up from our herbalists, too.
It’s unclear what causes endometriosis but regardless of the trigger, you will have too much of the hormone oestrogen. This means that there will be too much blood circling the uterus which in turn causes pain and a proliferation of the cells. Because oestrogen is stored in fat cells, a high fat diet has been said to contribute but pressure on the liver and congestion in the lymph areas will also have an impact as the body won’t be able to flush away the neccessary toxins and hormones it needs to (note that poor bowel health is another side effect of endo).
High doses of the aforementioned Vitex will help to reduce oestrogen while Witch Hazel acts like an astringent to moderate the heavy bleeding. To combat the inflammation and formation of scar tissue that’s common in those with endometriosis, Calendula and Centella Asiatica, another Ayurvedic herb will both heal and soothe your insides.
Barns also flags up red clover. “It contains phytoestrogens which are natural plant substances that have a similar structure to oestrogen and can have a balancing effect on women’s own oestrogen levels by blocking it’s effects when oestrogen is high.”
There are so many factors that surround fertility issues but stress can be a major factor as it impacts the reproductive hormones so you need calming adaptogenic herbs that reduce any anxiety and tension in the body.
It’s also vital to get blood to and flowing around the uterus for which Kearns suggests Angelica Zevensis and Yarrow. Both can be taken in tinctures or teas although for best effects you will need a prescribed dosage from a herbalist if you want to see real results.
Chinese medicinal remedies and practises are also called out for fantastic fertility benefits too. Schisandra berry is not only brilliant for liver function, it’s good for the reproductive organs. Take it with a side helping of Acupuncture. OK it’s not a herb but it can be helpful in regulating hormone levels and recommended by specialists treating women for IVF as it has been clinically found to enhance success rates by up to 60%.