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My Favorite Supplements for Female Hormone Balance

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Irregular periods, fatigue, mood swings, anxiety or depression, hot flashes, painful periods, infertility, acne, and insomnia are all signs that you may be suffering from a hormonal imbalance. 

Unfortunately, if you go to a conventional doctor, they won’t give you many options. If you’re pre-menopausal, they’ll likely suggest hormone birth control pills, which don’t actually correct the underlying issue as much as they cover it up. If you’re menopausal, your doctor may not have any viable suggestions for you at all. 

As a functional medicine practitioner, I’ll never tell a patient to just “grin and bear it” if they’re suffering from uncomfortable symptoms of a hormone imbalance. What I do is all about giving my patients options. And when it comes to hormonal imbalance, supplements are a big part of the puzzle. 

Along with a dietary changes, limiting alcohol and caffeine, and establishing a consistent stress management and exercise routine — which are all amazing for promoting hormone balance — I often recommend the following supplements for female hormone issues:

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1. Black Cohosh — Menopause and Hot Flashes

As you approach menopause, you can experience symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia. Luckily, black cohosh —  a member of the buttercup family that grows right here in North America — can be helpful (1) for hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause as well as PMS and menstrual cramps. For example, one study showed that consuming 6.5 mg of black cohosh dry root extract once a day for 8 weeks lead to a considerable decline (2) in the number of hot flashes compared to placebo. You can take black cohosh in capsule or tincture-form. 

2. Myo-inositol — Infertility and PCOS 

Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is one of the most common causes of infertility in the world. Caused by androgen levels that are too high, PCOS can cause any number of symptoms including male pattern hair growth, acne, painful periods, and of course, difficulty getting pregnant.  

The good news is that there are a whole host of lifestyle changes that can be extremely helpful for managing and even reversing PCOS. Maintaining a healthy weight and cutting back on sugar have to come first since PCOS is intricately linked to insulin resistance. At the same time, I often suggest that my PCOS patients take a supplement called myo-inositol, which has been shown to reduce the size of polycystic ovaries (3) and increase egg quality (4) — two of the main causes of PCOS-related infertility. Myo-inositol is so effective that in one controlled trial, researchers found that women with PCOS taking myo-inositol supplements achieved a natural pregnancy rate of 30% over a 6-month period (5) compared to just 18% on metformin, a diabetes drug that has become the go-to treatment for PCOS in the conventional medicine world. 

Pretty wild, isn’t it? That’s the power of options. Myo-inositol typically comes in a capsule or a powder that you mix into water. 

3. Chaste Tree Berry — PMS

Chaste tree berry, also known as vitex, is a tree that grows in the Mediterranean that has long been used for its health benefits. Research has shown that it may improve mood and reduce pain (6) associated with the menstrual cycle. It’s one of the most commonly suggested herbs for female hormone health woes. Researchers aren’t entirely sure how it works, but it may be it’s ability to target dopamine, one of the brain chemicals responsible for controlling mood or it’s ability to correct female sex hormone deficiencies (7), which can contribute to a host of PMS symptoms. Chaste tree berry most often comes in capsules or as a tincture. (Warning! It has a bitter taste!) 

4. Evening Primrose Oil — Hormonal Acne 

One of the most common symptoms of a hormonal issue is acne, especially cystic acne that comes and goes throughout the month and that occurs on the cheeks, jawline, or lower half of the face. I see patients all the time who tell me they have hormonal acne and have tried EVERYTHING with no luck. One supplement that I typically suggest is evening primrose oil, which comes from a yellow flower that grows in the U.S. and parts of Europe. It was traditionally used for wound healing and hormone balance, so it makes the perfect supplement for healing the skin from acne and acne scars. 

There isn’t much research on EPO but one study did show that it was effective at preventing atopic dermatitis (8) and excessive dryness (9) caused by other acne medications. You can take EPO as an oral supplement and you can also apply it directly to the skin to take advantage of its healing properties. 

5. DIM — Healthy Estrogen Metabolism

Estrogen dominance is another extremely common hormonal imbalance. Estrogen imbalance occurs when there is too much estrogen in the body, which can occur because of issues metabolizing and secreting estrogen or too much exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals and estrogen-mimicking compounds, like those found in many beauty products. The good news is that certain plant compounds, like diindolylmethane (also known as DIM) can help the body metabolize the constant onslaught of estrogen in our world. DIM is found naturally in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and cabbage and helps the liver break down estrogen as well as inhibits aromatase, which is the enzyme that helps convert testosterone into estrogen. DIM has also demonstrated an ability to block the effects of androgen hormones (10), which are often the underlying cause of acne, thinning hair, and mood swings. 

Correcting a hormone imbalance takes some time and attention — and I recommend working with a functional medicine practitioner to make sure the process is as seamless as possible — but I want you to know that it is possible! Thanks to the supplements above and some key diet and lifestyle changes, better hormone balance is achievable.

If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.

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References:

  1. Black Cohosh for Menopause Symptoms. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tn9522
  2. Shahnazi M, Nahaee J, Mohammad-Alizadeh-Charandabi S, Bayatipayan S. Effect of black cohosh (cimicifuga racemosa) on vasomotor symptoms in postmenopausal women: a randomized clinical trial. J Caring Sci. 2013;2(2):105-113. Published 2013 Jun 1. doi:10.5681/jcs.2013.013
  3. Ozay AC, Emekci Ozay O, Okyay RE, Cagliyan E, Kume T, Gulekli B. Different Effects of Myoinositol plus Folic Acid versus Combined Oral Treatment on Androgen Levels in PCOS Women [published correction appears in Int J Endocrinol. 2018 Sep 10;2018:7502102]. Int J Endocrinol. 2016;2016:3206872. doi:10.1155/2016/3206872
  4. Ciotta L, Stracquadanio M, Pagano I, Carbonaro A, Palumbo M, Gulino F. Effects of myo-inositol supplementation on oocyte's quality in PCOS patients: a double blind trial. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2011;15(5):509-514.
  5. Raffone E, Rizzo P, Benedetto V. Insulin sensitiser agents alone and in co-treatment with r-FSH for ovulation induction in PCOS women. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2010;26(4):275-280. doi:10.3109/09513590903366996
  6. Rafieian-Kopaei M, Movahedi M. Systematic Review of Premenstrual, Postmenstrual and Infertility Disorders of Vitex Agnus Castus. Electron Physician. 2017;9(1):3685-3689. Published 2017 Jan 25. doi:10.19082/3685
  7. Ahangarpour A, Najimi SA, Farbood Y. Effects of Vitex agnus-castus fruit on sex hormones and antioxidant indices in a d-galactose-induced aging female mouse model. J Chin Med Assoc. 2016;79(11):589-596. doi:10.1016/j.jcma.2016.05.00
  8. Williams HC. Evening primrose oil for atopic dermatitis. BMJ. 2003;327(7428):1358-1359. doi:10.1136/bmj.327.7428.1358
  9. Park KY, Ko EJ, Kim IS, et al. The effect of evening primrose oil for the prevention of xerotic cheilitis in acne patients being treated with isotretinoin: a pilot study. Ann Dermatol. 2014;26(6):706-712. doi:10.5021/ad.2014.26.6.706
  10. Hwang C, Sethi S, Heilbrun LK, et al. Anti-androgenic activity of absorption-enhanced 3, 3'-diindolylmethane in prostatectomy patients. Am J Transl Res. 2016;8(1):166-176. Published 2016 Jan 15.

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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.

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