A Functional Medicine Guide To The Best Female Hormone Balance Supplements

A-Functional-Medicine-Guide-To-The-Best-Female-Hormone-Balance-Supplements

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. 

Signs of hormonal imbalance

Hormone imbalances can manifest in different ways with symptoms varying depending on the specific hormones involved and whether the imbalance is due to an excess or deficiency of certain hormones. But with that said, these are the main signs of a hormonal imbalance that I see most often in my telehealth functional medicine clinic:

  • Acne
  • Anxiety
  • Brain fog
  • Depression
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular periods
  • Low libido
  • Mood swings
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss resistance

What causes hormonal imbalance?

Similarly to symptoms, what causes a hormonal imbalance can vary between individuals and can be a culmination of multiple factors, including:

  • Chronic stress
  • Poor diet
  • Toxin exposure
  • Inflammation
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Gut dysfunction

Ultimately, hormone imbalances happen as a result of prolonged dysfunction that is left unaddressed for too long - rarely does someone wake up sick one day with a chronic health condition after being perfectly healthy the day before. That’s why it is so important to work with a functional medicine practitioner who can identify the root cause of your hormone imbalance so that you can work toward healing before it develops into something more serious. For example, years of estrogen dominance can increase your risk for insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Can supplements fix hormonal imbalance?

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 dietary changes, limiting alcohol and caffeine, and establishing a consistent stress management and exercise routine — which are all amazing for promoting hormone balance — Using supplements to balance hormones can often produce amazing results. I often recommend the following hormone balance 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 led to a considerable decline (2) in the number of hot flashes compared to placeHow To Naturally Dissolve And Shrink Ovarian Cysts bo. You can take black cohosh in capsule or tincture-form. 

  1. 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. 

  1. 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!) 

  1. 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. 

  1. 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 a great hormone-balancing supplement 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 hormone balance supplements above and some key diet and lifestyle changes, better hormone balance is achievable.

  1. Ashwagandha - Healthy thyroid function

Considering low thyroid hormone levels are occurring in epidemic numbers, especially in women, it’s good to know that research has shown that ashwagandha can do wonders for boosting an under-active thyroid. One study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that after just eight weeks of supplementing with ashwagandha, patients with a thyroid disorder had much healthier TSH and T4 levels, and therefore more normal thyroid function. (11)

However, it is important to note that those with an overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism should be more cautious. If your thyroid hormone levels are already too high, ashwagandha may not be for you. If you aren’t sure about your thyroid hormone status, ask your doctor to run a thyroid panel and advise you on whether you should be adding this herb to your routine.

  1. Milk thistle - Estrogen dominance

Another great supplement for estrogen dominance is milk thistle. One of your liver’s main responsibilities is to break down excess estrogen in your body but things like toxin overload and inflammation can inhibit your liver function. Herbs like milk thistle have been used for years due to its ability to restore damaged liver cells and increase optimal function. 

  1. Magnesium - Cortisol and blood sugar regulation

Chronic stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels, which can disrupt hormonal balance. Magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system and can help reduce stress and anxiety and subsequently balance progesterone and estrogen levels. 

Magnesium also plays a role in insulin signaling and glucose metabolism. Adequate magnesium levels can enhance insulin sensitivity, which is important for regulating blood sugar levels and can be particularly beneficial for people with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.

I recommend The Magnesium from my supplement line, The Collection, as it is formulated with carefully curated magnesium compounds backed by research and studies for their enhanced bioavailability.

  1. Zinc - Reproductive health

Zinc is particularly important for reproductive health in both men and women. In men, zinc is required for the production (12) of sperm and testosterone and in women, it plays a role in the development and release of eggs during the menstrual cycle. It is also necessary (13) for proper fetal growth and development once a woman does become pregnant.

  1. Vitamin D - Overall hormone health

Vitamin D, often referred to as the "sunshine vitamin," plays a crucial role in various bodily functions, including hormone regulation. While vitamin D itself doesn't directly "balance" hormones, it influences hormone production, receptor sensitivity, and overall hormonal health in several ways. For example, vitamin D receptors are present in various endocrine glands, including the pancreas, adrenal glands, and the cells responsible for producing hormones. While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, vitamin D is believed to influence hormone production and receptor sensitivity in these glands. Studies have also shown that Vitamin D can influence fertility by increasing the health (14) of sperm and increasing (15) healthy pregnancy rates.

Finding the right treatment for your unique needs

A majority of the clients I see face some kind of hormonal health concern. When implementing any kind of treatment plan or consistent supplement use, it’s important to first consult a functional medicine professional to determine the root cause of your hormonal imbalance. 

In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, we take a whole-body approach to hormone health, taking into account everything from diet to chronic stress. This, combined with your comprehensive lab work, we are able to come up with a plan of action to address your symptoms and rebalance your hormones.

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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.
  11. Sharma, Ashok Kumar et al. “Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 24,3 (2018): 243-248. doi:10.1089/acm.2017.0183
  12. Osadchuk, L V et al. Urologiia (Moscow, Russia : 1999) ,5 (2021): 84-93.
  13. Garner, Tyler Bruce et al. “Role of zinc in female reproduction.” Biology of reproduction vol. 104,5 (2021): 976-994. doi:10.1093/biolre/ioab023
  14. Martin Blomberg Jensen, John E. Nielsen, Anne Jørgensen, Ewa Rajpert-De Meyts, David Møbjerg Kristensen, Niels Jørgensen, Niels E. Skakkebaek, Anders Juul, Henrik Leffers, Vitamin D receptor and vitamin D metabolizing enzymes are expressed in the human male reproductive tract, Human Reproduction, Volume 25, Issue 5, May 2010, Pages 1303–1311, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deq024
  15. Bodnar, Lisa M, and Hyagriv N Simhan. “Vitamin D may be a link to black-white disparities in adverse birth outcomes.” Obstetrical & gynecological survey vol. 65,4 (2010): 273-84. doi:10.1097/OGX.0b013e3181dbc55b

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Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

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