More and more women are turning to natural medicine to help alleviate their menstrual concerns and take control of their hormonal health. Herbal medicine has the unique ability to not only reduce cycle-related symptoms such menstrual cramps, but also to resolve the underlying hormonal issue that is causing symptoms in the first place.
Herbs are an effective, safe and gentle option to restore hormonal balance and address some of the most common menstrual irregularities.
An optimal cycle is roughly 28 days, with natural variation of plus or minus 1-2 days. Irregular cycle length can happen for a number of different reasons and a large deviation of cycle length can suggest a hormonal imbalance. Thyroid problems, polycystic ovarian syndrome, estrogen deficiency from malnutrition or over-training, lack of ovulation, or stress, to name a few causes, can alter cycle length, making women spot or bleed more frequently, or cause missed periods altogether. It is important to identify the cause of the irregular cycles and a daily tonic may be considered throughout the cycle to correct the issue.
Chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus) can be a useful herb for irregular cycles, as it acts as a great hormone “normalizer”. It works at the level of the brain to tell our ovaries to develop a follicle and also to ovulate, both of which are important to help restore normal hormonal fluctuations throughout the cycle for an optimal cycle length.
PAINFUL PERIODS & HEAVY BLEEDING
Pain-free periods are possible! Menstrual cramps are typically caused by inflammatory chemicals called prostaglandins, with higher levels contributing to increased cramping and pain. The intuitively named herb Crampbark (Viburnum opulus) is an effective anti-spasmodic, meaning it can lessen the frequency and severity of menstrual cramps as they occur. Crampbark can be taken leading up to, and during, the time menstrual cramps occur.
Heavy or flooding periods can be an inconvenience for many women that could be related to an existing hormonal imbalance, or caused by a hormonal transition such as after pregnancy or in perimenopause. Astringent herbs have a drying effect in the body, and Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) is an astringent herb with “tissue specificity” in drying and toning the uterus. A formula such as Regular Flow (formerly Capsella Combo) is a combination of uterine tonics and astringent herbs that reduce menstrual bleeding and help tone and strengthen uterine tissue.
Estrogen needs to be in a harmonious balance with progesterone. One of the main causes of “estrogen dominance” is an excess of estrogen. Excess estrogen can cause menstrual cramps, heavy bleeding, clots, painful breasts, bloating, and PMS. It can often be the cause behind large cysts and fibroids and can put one at risk for hormone-dependent cancers, including breast cancer.
To rid the body of excess estrogen, we must ensure estrogen elimination routes are functioning optimally, including liver detoxification pathways and healthy digestion with regular bowel movements. The liver is instrumental when it comes to hormone metabolism, including phase I and II detoxification, and estrogen specific pathways. To increase liver function and offer gentle detoxification, one may consider is Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) as a daily liver tonic. Healthy digestion also includes a robust, diverse microbiome to rid the body of estrogen, and is essential to convert and utilize plant compounds called phytoestrogens. These plant estrogen-like compounds will bind weakly to estrogen receptors, blocking the effects of too much estrogen such as occur in estrogen excess, or increasing the action of low estrogen, such as occurs in menopause. Phytoestrogenic herbs include flax, soy, hops, red clover, licorice, kudzu.
Symptoms associated with perimenopause include hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbance, mood change, difficulties losing weight, low libido, and vaginal dryness, to name a few. Phytoestrogens, as mentioned earlier, have been shown to be useful to offset the symptoms of estrogen withdrawal that accompany menopause and also preserve tissues that estrogen protects, including the brain, heart, and bones. This reduces the risk for dementia and cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease and stroke, and fracture associated with bone loss.
Identifying and addressing any menstrual issues and hormone imbalances prior to menopause can smooth the transition through this hormonal shift. Further, as ovarian reserves dwindle, and ovarian production of estrogen slows, other bodily systems pick up the slack. The adrenal glands that make our stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine) become the predominant source of estrogen and progesterone production. Thus, this hormonal transition is an opportunity for women to look to their adrenal function, and, specifically, what could be affecting cortisol production, including poor sleep, inflammation, and lifestyle stress. Herbal adaptogens create more resilience and vitality within the body, allowing our stress hormones (cortisol) to be more effective at receptor sites, reducing adrenal burden and allowing for optimal estrogen production in the adrenals to mitigate symptoms of estrogen decline.
St. Francis Herb Farm has herbal formulations and a wide array of herbal singles to help you achieve hormonal balance and make menstrual symptoms become a thing of the past!
References available upon request.