Whether you’re menstruating, trying to conceive or suffering 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. Ashwagandha and Shatavari have been used for centuries to rebalance hormones, and with our growing interest in Ayurvedic 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.
Okay, so that might be a bit far-fetched for some of us in the UK, but there are other things you can do to help ease your pain. 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 estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone,” she says.
Don’t forget to 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 ($5) 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 from both. For those who don’t suffer from 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)! As an 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 estrogen. This means that there will be too much blood circling the uterus, which in turn causes pain and proliferation of the cells. Because estrogen is stored in fat cells, a high-fat diet has been said to contribute. Although 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 necessary 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 estrogen, while Witch Hazel acts as 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 estrogen and can have a balancing effect on women’s own estrogen levels by blocking its effects when estrogen is high.”
There are so many factors that surround fertility issues, but stress can be a major factor, as it impacts the reproductive hormones. For this, you need calming adaptogenic herbs that reduce 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 an herbalist.
Chinese medicinal remedies and practices are also called out for fantastic fertility benefits. Schisandra berry is not only brilliant for liver function, it’s also good for the reproductive organs. Take it with a side helping of Acupuncture. Okay, 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%.