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These herbal multitaskers help to ease hormonal issues from PMS to symptoms of menopause
Many women have discovered that herbal remedies can combat monthly misery from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and ease the discomforts of menopause. And considering the risk of conventional treatments such as hormone therapies and antidepressants, safe and effective supplements are certainly worth a look.
While basic lifestyle strategies such as good nutrition, getting enough sleep, and stress management go without saying, herbal remedies can tip the balance. Here are three herbs I believe every woman should have in her medicine cabinet.
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis)
Dong quai, the Chinese “queen of herbs,” also bears the moniker “female ginseng.” This herb is a favorite in the repertoire of Chinese herbalists, and is often used to treat female hormone imbalances. Although modern Western practitioners often recommend dong quai as a treatment for PMS, as well as for menstrual cramps and symptoms related to menopause, it is not commonly used this way in Chinese medicine. Instead, it is used along with other herbs to create a highly individualized treatment, often in combination with peony root or bupleurum root. These herbal combinations are used to treat PMS, menstrual pain, fibrocystic breast disease, and pelvic inflammatory disease. A 2014 study showed promising results for dong quai extract in osteoporosis.
Use 2 grams of dong quai per day in capsules.
Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus)
The herb chasteberry is a widely used European treatment for PMS symptoms, and is especially effective for breast tenderness. Chasteberry’s use in modern herbal medicine began in the 1950s, when a German pharmaceutical firm produced a standardized extract, and it has become a mainline European treatment for PMS.
The basic indication for this herb is to treat progesterone deficiency, or said another way, estrogen excess. Chasteberry is believed to work by suppressing the release of the hormone prolactin from the pituitary gland. Prolactin may play a role in cyclic breast pain and tenderness connected with PMS. Chasteberry also appears to be sedative and antispasmodic.
In one study comparing the efficacy of chasteberry with a placebo, women suffering from PMS symptoms such as breast tenderness, abdominal bloating, and migraines experienced a 40 percent reduction of symptoms compared to 10 percent in the women taking a placebo. Another placebo-controlled study of 178 women found that treatment with chasteberry taken over three menstrual cycles significantly reduced PMS symptoms. Women in the chasteberry group experienced significant improvements in symptoms, including irritability, depression, headache, and breast tenderness, and more than double the response of women in the placebo group.
No single constituent has been identified as being the active one, as chasteberry contains mainly constituents also found in other plants. The total sum of constituents appears to generate a synergistic effect. Because it lowers prolactin levels, which are naturally elevated in pregnant and nursing women in order to stimulate milk production, chasteberry is not suitable for pregnant or nursing mothers.
Use 2 grams per day in capsules.
Bupleurum root (Bupleurum chinense)
Chinese herbal formulas designed to regulate the menstrual cycle or treat PMS almost always center on bupleurum. The main action of this herb is to relieve blood stagnation in the liver. In women, liver stagnation can cause menstrual cramps, breast swelling, irregular menstrual flow, irritability, and food cravings, according to traditional Chinese medicine. Numerous recent studies have found beneficial effects for the liver and have supported the herb’s immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. Because bupleurum is relaxing, it can be helpful in PMS with anxiety and irritability. Its liver-supportive qualities help to reduce sugar cravings, a common PMS symptom. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the “energy” of bupleurum is “bitter and cool,” so it is particularly good in women who are always hot or who have a fever.
The classic bupleurum patient is a woman who is hot or feverish (maybe with chills), irritable, nauseated, and dizzy, with menstrual pain, high cholesterol, and a tight, sore chest. Bupleurum is sometimes combined with dong quai.
Use 2 grams per day in capsules.