As women, we naturally go through several phases in our lives where our hormones will fluctuate, whether it’s menstruation, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, or anytime during menopause. Many of these changes are short-term and will balance out, but sometimes there can be more irregular changes that require closer monitoring to manage and overcome.
To do so, there’s a long list of lifestyle changes that you may want to consider from reducing your caffeine intake, to increasing your exercise and focusing more on your diet and nutrition. It’s also important to consult your doctor to find out if there are any major underlying causes of imbalances and to seek appropriate treatment as needed.
As we’ve recommended here before, you may also want to think about taking certain herbs as supplements to help rebalance your body, as herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years to support women’s health in particular. Though their efficacy still needs to be confirmed by high quality research, consider looking into the following herbs to support your unique needs.
Vitex for PMS
Chasteberry, or “Vitex” (Vitex agnus-castus), is a commonly used herb known for reducing symptoms related to PMS as well as helping with the transition into menopause. Vitex is a small shrub that originates in the Mediterranean, with purple flowers and small brown berries that are also known as “monk’s peppers.” (It earned the name “chaste tree” because during ancient times it was erroneously believed to lower libido -- monks would eat it to reduce their sex drive.)
Though its use as an anaphrodisiac has been debunked, vitex is still widely believed to have an impact on regulating female hormones by helping promote progesterone production, which is what may in turn help with symptoms of PMS. There have been more than 10 randomized controlled clinical trials of vitex for this use, which suggest beneficial effects; however, there is still more research needed to be conclusive. Vitex also reportedly helps with breast lumpiness, breast pain and helps to regulate period length.
Lara Briden over at The Period Revolutionary has some helpful do’s and don’ts for taking vitex, including:
Take it in the morning
Take a break from it every month (e.g. a five day break every 25 days)
And take it for a short period of time (not more than 3 or 4 months)
Nicole Jardim recommends taking 60 drops of a vitex tincture by Gaia Herbs, or to use their capsules (500-1000 mg), as the standard dose. A few months after I had my IUD removed, I was still experiencing irregular periods and taking vitex capsules for 3 months actually helped normalize my cycle.
The meta-analysis of vitex linked above showed that there are limited adverse effects reported from vitex, such as headache and stomach indigestion, and it is generally considered safe. However, it is not recommended if you are currently pregnant or breastfeeding, taking certain medicines for mental disorders or if you have a hormone-sensitive condition like endometriosis. Vitex may also interfere if you are taking hormonal contraceptives. Because of these risks, you’ll want to check in with your doctor to determine appropriate usage and doses of vitex so that you can take it under her supervision.
Ginkgo Biloba for Libido
Chasteberry may not be the sexual depressant it was once thought to be, but there are still plenty of herbs that promise to do just the opposite. One of these herbs is ginkgo biloba, which comes from the maidenhair tree and is one of the oldest plants on the planet. Ginkgo biloba has long been used in Chinese medicine for a variety of reasons (including boosting memory and cognitive function), but for now we’ll focus on how it might help boost your sex drive. Gingko reportedly improves circulation and blood flow, including to the genital area, which is helpful for boosting sexual sensation. If you’ve been experiencing a drop in libido, consider taking ginkgo as a tincture, capsule or as a tea (but never eat the seeds of the gingko tree alone because they are poisonous!). You can steep the dried leaves of the gingko tree in freshly boiled water on a daily basis to make a nice loose leaf brew or you could make your own tincture by placing leaves into a jar with vodka and muddling them which will help extract and preserve the herb’s beneficial properties. After your concoction has spent about 4-6 weeks in a dark location, strain it and use by the dropperful.
Precautionary measures include avoiding ginkgo biloba if you are taking NSAIDs, blood thinners, and certain medications; it is also not recommended if you are breastfeeding or pregnant. Otherwise, for the most part, ginkgo appears to be safe with only minor side effects reported including; headaches, upset stomach, dizziness, and heart palpitations, according to the Mayo Clinic. Using ginkgo biloba, like many herbs, will likely take a few weeks for its effects to appear. While you wait, start thinking about other holistic ways to increase your sex drive like making healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Black Cohosh for Hot Flashes
Black cohosh, or Actaea racemosa, is a member of the buttercup family. It grows in North America and has a long history of use by Native Americans. Though the flowering part of the plant is white, the roots are black and these are what are commonly used for medicinal purposes. Black cohosh has a number of names (e.g. snakeroot, black bugbane, rattleweed) from ways that it was originally used but recently it has been studied for its treatment of hot flashes and menopausal symptoms in addition to PMS and cramps.
Black cohosh is now prescribed in Germany for these issues but scientific literature is still inconclusive regarding its effectiveness. It’s thought to work by either influencing levels of serotonin and norepinephrine but more research is needed. Black cohosh may work better with certain body types than others, however, if you’re seeking relief from hot flashes you don’t have anything to lose by trying out moderate amounts under the supervision of a doctor. The Right Tea recommends taking dried leaves or roots of black cohosh and steeping 1 teaspoon per cup of water for 20-30 minutes for medicinal purposes or steeping for as little as 3 minutes for a more milder version to be used 2-3 times per day.
Since black cohosh hasn’t been studied in trials lasting longer than 12 months, it is not recommended for long-term use. Side effects do appear mild at this time, mostly involving upset stomach and rashes but some caution that it may lead to liver damage. If you are at risk for blood clots or blood disorders, it is not recommended that you use black cohosh for treating menopausal symptoms.
Other Natural Remedies to Try
Women's health is a broad and important topic that we'll be discussing on a regular basis, so this list really is only the tip of the iceberg! While we work on curating more articles to inspire you, here are a few more herbs that you can look into for a healthy, happy lifestyle:
Your skin is your largest organ. Treat it kindly by using aloe vera, which can help moisturize it year-round (not just when you’re sunburnt) and help with inflammation. Apply the gel of the plant to your face to treat acne, use it wherever you find stretch marks, or even use it to treat dandruff.
Since women are more likely than men to report symptoms of stress, check out ashwagandha and kava, two herbal remedies that can help you decompress. Kava can give you more immediate relief while ashwagandha needs to be used over longer periods of time to be effective.