In our popular article last year, we introduced you to the seven best herbs for women of all ages that were clinically validated to help with a range of hormonal conditions, including perimenopause, menopause, PCOS, endometriosis, oestrogen dominance and more.
Since then, a huge amount of scientific evidence has uncovered some potent new plant-based powerhouses that are proven to work even better than last year’s favourites...
These new additions have knocked several herbs off last year’s list and feature a number of extremely clever ‘adaptogenic’ herbs.
Adaptogenic herbs help the body adapt to – or resist – a number of health conditions, from stress to inflammation. We like to refer to them as “Smart Extracts” because they know just how to adapt to your body’s unique needs.
Before we take a look at the top-ranked Smart Extracts for 2021 and beyond, it’s useful to first explore some root causes of hormonal balances so we can better understand how these herbs work to set things right.
There is a range of factors that can cause you to produce too much or too little of a certain hormone. Let’s take a look at some of the most common environmental and natural causes.
Environmental Causes of Hormone Imbalances
1. Gut Imbalances
The trillions of flora or bacteria that live in your gut do more than help your digestion – they’re also crucial to maintaining a healthy immune system.
When too many bad bacteria take over your gut, they can disrupt levels of the estrobolome, a friendly group of bacteria responsible for metabolising oestrogen.
This can leave you with an excess of oestrogen, which can, in turn, cause a range of problems including fatigue, diarrhoea, constipation and nausea.
What you eat can also have a huge impact on your hormones. Some foods (particularly processed foods and non-organic produce with pesticide residue) can contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which interfere with the way the body’s hormones work.
Some EDCs can trick your body into thinking that they’re hormones, while others can stop natural hormones from doing their job.
Sugary foods also cause a spike in the hormone insulin, which can lead to increased levels of oestrogen and testosterone.
Both physical and mental stress can directly affect the production of a variety of hormones, including epinephrine, cortisol and adrenaline.
This can then cause problems with your heart, blood sugar levels, appetite and digestion.
For example, when your body is chronically stressed, it starts converting progesterone into cortisol.
This, in turn, depletes your progesterone levels and causes an imbalance in your oestrogen-progesterone ratio.
Our environment also includes non-bodily hormones that imitate natural ones. In doing so, they can have a hormonal effect on us even though they aren’t produced internally.
Synthetic xenoestrogens, for example, mimic natural oestrogen and can be found in a number of industrial chemicals and products, including cosmetics, parabens, herbicides, pesticides, processed foods, household cleaners and preservatives.
Natural Causes of Hormone Imbalances
Perimenopause refers to the years before your body makes the transition to menopause. It can last anywhere between a few months and 10 years.
During this time, your oestrogen levels begin to decline, albeit in a pretty erratic fashion.
This is partly due to the fact that the two hormones that help to control oestrogen levels in the body – follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH) – are changing.
The resulting hormonal imbalance causes your periods to become less frequent, irregular or heavier. And you may start to experience mood changes, hot flashes and night sweats.
In clinical terms, the menopause is when the menstrual cycle has permanently stopped. It's defined as the point in time when a woman has missed her period for 12 consecutive months.
During this time, your body naturally stops producing oestrogen and progesterone, and your ovaries stop releasing eggs.
Perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms begin to ease when these new hormone levels start to settle down, and many women choose to use natural supplements to help this process along.
Post-menopause is the final stage of menopause, which can be as many as 8-10 years after your last period. During this time, progesterone and oestrogen levels continue to fall until they eventually stabilise.
Your body will continue to produce these hormones, but in smaller amounts.
Low levels of oestrogen and progesterone can put you at higher risk of developing certain conditions, however, including osteoarthritis and heart disease.
This is why hormone therapy and herbal supplements are often used to help keep levels in check.
4. Oestrogen Dominance
Oestrogen dominance occurs when your body has normal, deficient or excessive amounts of oestrogen but has little or no progesterone to balance it out. It can often happen when a woman transitions to perimenopause because during this time, progesterone levels in the body naturally begin to fall.
Symptoms of oestrogen dominance include mood swings, irritability, bloating, worsening PMS and heavy or irregular periods.
5. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) produce higher levels of androgens than normal. This hormonal imbalance can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg during the menstrual cycle. PCOS can also cause acne, excessive hair growth on the face and body, and baldness.
Birth control pills, diabetes drugs and herbal supplements are commonly used to correct the hormonal balance in PCOS sufferers and improve symptoms.
Endometriosis is a condition in which the endometrial tissue, which normally grows in the womb in preparation for ovulation, grows outside the uterus instead. It’s an often painful disorder that’s linked to high levels of oestrogen and, consequently, oestrogen dominance.
Endometriosis is often resolved at menopause. But, until then, surgery, medicine and herbal supplements can be used to treat the symptoms.
7. The Pill
Contraceptives pills work to maintain a healthy hormonal balance. But, in some cases, the introduction of these synthetic hormones can actually cause an imbalance in the body.
The combined pill contains synthetic versions of both oestrogen and progesterone, while mini pills contain progesterone only.
When any of these synthetic hormones bind to the wrong receptors or cause a peak in one or other natural hormone levels, they can throw the body off balance.
The Top 9 Hormone Balancing Herbs for Women in 2021
The good news is that if you believe your hormones are out of balance, there are many herbs you can take to align them naturally.
We’ve picked out the top nine, with scientific proof to support all claims.
Here are this year’s clinically proven, effective and fastest-acting Smart Extracts that work to quickly balance hormones, eliminate hot flashes, calm anxiety, alleviate stress and ease mood swings.
1. Gymnema Sylvestre (The “Destroyer of Sugar”)
Gymnema sylvestre is a powerful Indian herb also known as Australian Cowplant or Gurmar (which means “destroyer of sugar” in Hindi). It has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine as a herbal treatment for diabetes, as well as a number of other conditions, from constipation to liver disease.
Gymnema sylvestre’s superpower is its ability to help reduce sugar cravings. The herb contains gymnemic acid, which can block sweet receptors on our taste buds. One study by the Florida State University showed that when taken an hour before sugary foods, Gymnema sylvestre reduced the perception of sweetness, making sweet treats less appealing and so causing participants to eat less of them.
In this way, regular supplementation of Gymnema sylvestre can help reduce sugar cravings and make you less likely to want to hit the calorific snack cupboard.
As well as blocking sweet receptors, 200-400 mg of Gymnema sylvestre taken daily has been clinically proven to block receptors in the intestines responsible for sugar absorption and lower your blood sugar levels after eating. This makes it a particularly helpful supplement for diabetics. One study on the effect of Gymnema sylvestre on insulin levels also showed that taking the herb for 90 days lowered blood glucose levels in people with diabetes by 11% on average.
Recent research also supports the use of Gymnema sylvestre as an effective weight management tool. Research published in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry revealed that taking Gymnema sylvestre for just two weeks was enough to reduce body weight and HDL cholesterol.
A Georgetown University Medical Center study also found that 400 mg of Gymnema extract taken for eight weeks decreased body weight and BMI by 5-6%. A further study showed that when 120 mg of Gymnema sylvestre extract was taken for 21 days, it significantly reduced levels of serum lipids, insulin, leptin and glucose in the blood.
Plus, studies have shown that Gymnema sylvestre can raise antioxidant levels in the body, too, thereby helping to protect it from dangerous free radicals and oxidative stress. This is because Gymnema sylvestre contains several valuable antioxidants, including flavonoids, phenols and bioactive compounds.
2. Ashwagandha Root Extract
Ashwagandha is a small flowering shrub that’s found in North Africa and India. It’s another important herb in Ayurvedic medicine and has been clinically proven to help a variety of mood and anxiety disorders, including mood swings, irritability and anxiety.
Ashwagandha’s potency as an anti-anxiety remedy has been shown in a number of clinical studies. In one randomised controlled trial, 75 participants with moderate to severe anxiety were prescribed either a placebo or 300 mg ashwagandha root extract a day for eight weeks.
Both groups also received psychotherapy and deep breathing relaxation techniques. The group who took ashwagandha reported a 56.5% reduction in anxiety and fatigue, while the placebo group reported only a 30.5% reduction. In another double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers found that 88% of people who took ashwagandha for just six weeks reported a reduction in anxiety.
Ashwagandha has also proved its worth as a popular natural remedy for depression, mood swings and irritability. One randomised double-blind, placebo-controlled study, for example, looked at the effect of the herb on 64 stressed adults. Researchers found that those who took 600 mg of high-concentration ashwagandha extract daily reported a 79% reduction in severe depression.
Another experimental study compared the effects of ashwagandha to those of the antidepressant medication imipramine in rats. Results showed that, as a mood stabiliser and antidepressant, ashwagandha was just as effective as the pharmaceutical drug.
And in a clinical trial involving 51 randomly selected menopausal women, patients who received 3 mg ashwagandha twice a day for three months reported a reduction in a range of menopausal symptoms including irritability, mood fluctuations, sleeping problems, hot flashes and anxiety.
This potent herb may also be useful as a natural weight management tool. An exploratory study by the Advanced Centre for Reverse Pharmacology in Traditional Medicine showed a reduction in total body fat percentage and an increase in muscle strength in individuals who took increasing daily doses (up to 1,250 mg) of ashwagandha.
Further research has revealed that ashwagandha can also increase muscle mass and strength and help to minimise muscle damage after exercise. This natural adaptive herb can also help the body to adapt to stress. Research has found that taking 300 mg of ashwagandha root for 60 days can build your resistance to stress and help you cope in demanding situations.
3. Maca Root Extract
Maca root is a native Peruvian vegetable that’s recently achieved super herb status, thanks to a nutritional profile that packs a powerful punch with plenty of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
This adaptogenic herb has proved particularly helpful in easing perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. In one randomised pilot trial supported by NSW’s Charles Sturt University, for example, 10 perimenopausal women were given a placebo and another 10 received 100 mg of maca root extract twice daily for two months.
The women who took maca root reported a dramatic reduction in perimenopausal systems of up to 87%, as well as lower blood pressure and body weight.
Another clinical study of 34 early-postmenopausal women found that the group who received 1,000 mg of maca root powder twice daily for two months experienced reduced menopausal symptoms, and an alleviation of night sweats and hot flashes in particular.
These findings were supported by another clinical examination that found that women who took 2 g of Maca powder a day benefited from either reduced or completely eliminated hot flashes in as little time as four days to a week (Muller V. South American Herb Maca as Alternative to Hormone Replacement Therapy. Whole World Botanicals Report. 2002. p. 11).
Furthermore, the mood-boosting flavonoids in maca root extract have been shown to fight depression and anxiety in postmenopausal women. One randomised pilot study of 29 postmenopausal women revealed that those who received 3.3 g of maca a day for six weeks experienced a significant decrease in both depression and blood pressure.
4. Chaste Tree Berry Extract
Chaste tree berry (also known as monk’s pepper or chasteberry) is the small, dark berry of the native south Asian tree. Chaste tree berry extract was traditionally used to treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms in ancient Greece, and it is still used to treat a number of hormonal conditions in both men and women today.
This popular herbal treatment has been shown to support healthy hormone levels and relieve menstrual cycle irregularity. In one review of 13 randomised, controlled trials, researchers concluded that chaste tree berry extract was helpful in regulating hormones during the menstrual cycle and, consequently, helped to ease PMS symptoms such as mood swings and irritability.
In one randomised placebo-controlled study of 170 women, half the patients were given one tablet of dry chaste tree berry extract a day for three consecutive menstrual cycles, while the other half received a placebo. At the end of the trial, 93% of the women who had taken the chaste tree berry reported a decrease in PMS symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
Another randomised double-blind study looked at the effects of chaste tree berry extract on the hormone levels of 52 women with menstrual cycle irregularity. Researchers found that after three months, progesterone levels and luteal phase length had normalised in the women who took 20 mg chaste tree berry extract a day.
In addition to easing the symptoms of PMS, chaste tree berry extract has also been shown to relieve the symptoms of menopause. In a 2002 study of 52 pre- and postmenopausal women, 33% of patients who took chaste tree berry essential oil experienced major improvements in menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, while an additional 36% reported moderate improvements.
5. Chamomile Extract
Like the popular tea, chamomile extract is made from the dried chamomile flower plant. This natural sedative is renowned for its calming effect. But chamomile also has powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-irritant properties proven to be effective in the treatment of premenstrual tension, digestive tract inflammation and stomach pain.
Chamomile is packed full of anti-inflammatory compounds called flavonoids, which also help to protect the body from toxins. These flavonoids might be one reason why extract from the plant has been found to be useful in relieving symptoms of indigestion and stomach pain or discomfort.
A systematic review of 27 studies also concluded that chamomile has anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety effects that all help to relieve symptoms of premenstrual tension.
In addition, chamomile extract has anti-diarrheal properties and has been clinically proven to be effective in the relief of inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal tract.
In fact, one 12-month double-blind study of 96 patients with ulcerative colitis found that a herbal treatment of myrrh, chamomile extract and coffee charcoal was comparable to the medicine mesalazine in preventing a relapse of the inflammatory bowel disease.
6. Rhodiola Extract
Rhodiola is another clever adaptogenic herb that helps the body cope with physical, environmental and chemical stress. Traditionally, Vikings drank cups of Rhodiola tea to enhance stamina and physical performance before a raid. Today, rhodiola extract is still used to increase energy, but it’s also clinically proven to be effective in de-stressing, treating depression and boosting confidence.
Rhodiola works by increasing levels of dopamine – a hormone and neurotransmitter that boosts confidence, self-esteem, happiness, motivation and alertness.
Plus, it’s been shown to work incredibly quickly. In fact, one clinical study compared the mood state of 10 patients who had been given either a placebo or rhodiola extract before exercise. The study found that the herb significantly improved mood in just 30 minutes, compared to those who had the placebo.
A six-week clinical trial involving 90 people with mild or moderate depression also found that those who were given either 340 mg or 680 mg of rhodiola daily experienced significant improvements in depression, emotional stability and insomnia. Those who were given a placebo, however, showed no improvements.
Rhodiola extract is a known fatigue fighter, too, and it’s been shown to be particularly effective against stress-related fatigue. A randomised double-blind study of 60 patients suffering from stress-related fatigue revealed that fatigue levels and attention were improved in those who took 576 mg of rhodiola daily, compared to those who took a placebo.
Another clinical trial that studied 100 patients with chronic fatigue showed that 400 mg of rhodiola per day can significantly improve symptoms in just one week.
Clinical evidence also suggests that rhodiola extract can increase the body’s resistance to stress and help you to cope during stressful times. One clinical trial involving 188 patients suffering from burnout found that taking 400 mg of rhodiola extract daily over 12 weeks alleviated both stress and depression.
7. Fennel Seed Extract
Fennel is a flavoursome herb with wide culinary uses, and its seeds provide a range of health benefits, too. In particular, fennel seed extract is clinically proven to provide antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits that are useful in relieving a number of premenstrual and digestive problems, including pain, bloating, fluid retention and gas.
Fennel seed extract contains helpful compounds that can mimic oestrogen’s role in the body, which might explain why the herb is useful in relieving symptoms of premenstrual tension. One clinical trial studied 80 female students, half of whom were given 30 mg fennel every four hours, from three days before menstruation until the fifth day.
After three months, the group that had taken the fennel seed extract experienced a decrease in weakness and nausea, as well as a significant reduction in the duration of their period. And another study of 68 patients found that taking fennel and vitamin E was more effective than ibuprofen for the treatment of period pain.
In addition, fennel seed extract is packed full of the organic compound anethole, which is clinically proven to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antimicrobial benefits. This potent oil can also work as an anti-spasmodic, helping to relieve stomach cramps and digestive discomfort.
Anethole has also been shown to relax the passages in the gastrointestinal tract, allowing gas to pass more easily and helping to reduce bloating. And in one frequently cited experimental study, dried fennel extract was shown to improve bile secretion in rats, which directly helps with digestion, too.
8. Rosemary Extract (Reverses Oestrogen Dominance)
Rosemary isn’t just a delicious herb, but it’s also a potent medicinal plant that’s packed full of antioxidants such as carnosic acid, which helps to protect your cells against dangerous free radicals that play a role in heart disease and cancer. It has also been shown to regulate metabolism.
Rosemary is also high in carnosol, which has important benefits for hormone regulation. Cancer research has shown that carnosol has both anti-androgen and anti-oestrogen properties. It has shown to have promising anti-cancer properties, too. And according to research published in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, rosemary may also have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour benefits.
The hormone-regulating properties of rosemary also make it a fantastic natural remedy for women with heavy periods, bad PMS, fibroids, fibrocystic breasts, endometriosis and hot flashes.
One recent randomised study conducted on 82 students, for example, found reduced menstrual pain and bleeding in those who took 250 mg rosemary capsules in the first three days of menstruation.
This adaptive herb has also been shown to aid the breakdown and detoxification of oestrogen, making it particularly helpful for those with oestrogen dominance. A study on female mice found that a diet high in rosemary extract increased liver break down of certain oestrogen hormones by 54-67% in just three weeks.
9. American Ginseng
American Ginseng also goes by the name of Panax, which comes from the Greek word panacea, which means “all healing.” Traditionally, the root of this all-healing aromatic plant has been highly valued for its sedative and cooling medicinal effects.
In recent years, however, American Ginseng has also been recognised as a powerful adaptogen that can boost immunity, fight inflammation, lower blood sugar levels and enhance physical performance. Plus, Ginseng has been clinically proven to enhance mental performance, improving both memory and mood.
In one controlled clinical trial involving 82 postmenopausal women, half the participants were given 3 g ginseng daily, and another half were administered a placebo over a period of 12 weeks. Researchers then assessed blood antioxidant enzymes and oxidative stress markers in the women and concluded that ginseng can help to increase antioxidant enzyme activity in the body, thereby reducing oxidative stress.
American Ginseng may also fight tiredness and increase energy levels, particularly post-exercise. During one clinical investigation, nine participants were given 2 g red ginseng extract three times a day for a week, and another nine were given a placebo. The participants then underwent an exercise test, after which they had their inflammation levels tested. The group that had taken ginseng showed significantly lower inflammation than the placebo group.
Importantly, ginseng has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels and improve cholesterol levels. A 2016 analysis of eight clinical trials found that using ginseng as part of a treatment program for patients resulted in improved fasting glucose levels, total cholesterol levels and insulin resistance.
And in one 12-week study of 19 patients with type 2 diabetes, patients who were given 12 g ginseng daily showed an 11% decrease in blood sugar levels, a 38% decrease in fasting insulin and a 33% increase in insulin sensitivity.
Last but definitely not least, ginseng may also act as a powerful immunity booster. One expansive scientific reviewconcluded that ginseng helped the body regulate each type of immune cell and fight off inflammatory diseases and microbial infections. Another study found that antibody production and natural killer cell activity increased by up to 150% in mice who were fed ginseng root for just six days.
These hormone-balancing adaptogenic herbs provide a clinically backed method of treating PMS, perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms, as well as a number of other physical and mental conditions. Plus, they’re completely natural. So before you jump straight into pharmaceutical medication or traditional hormone replacement therapy, why not give these powerful smart extracts a try.
A personal note: If you’ve been trying dozens of HRTs, elimination diets, doctors or supplements and your body is still out of control, with emotions bursting out of you with no warning...