10 ancient Chinese herbs that are used to balance hormones and that actually work
Women come into my clinic everyday feeling off and wonder what’s wrong and what they need to take to ‘fix’ it. So often in our culture, imbalances (hormonal, digestive, emotional, sleep…) are due to very simple lifestyle habits and routines that are throwing us off kilter. Because we practice these routines daily, our system gets out of whack and hormones off balance.
When we have an understanding about what’s going on, we’re better equipped to make subtle lifestyle or dietary changes that will naturally correct and balance things over time. And the beauty of this approach is, it’s all within your control!
Here is a list of things that I see on a regular basis that contribute to hormonal imbalance:
- Continual or chronic stress (work, busyness, over-stimulation through media, noise, never ending to-do lists…)
- Overwork without adequate rest and relaxation (aka burnout!)
- Diet – overly processed foods or an unbalanced diet lacking proper nutrition including proteins, fats and variety of vegetables (particularly green ones!)
- Too many stimulants (sugar, caffeine, medications, refined foods)
- Irregular bowel patterns which can lead to a build up on estrogen or hormones in system, as they are not being eliminated through the bowels
- Cosmetic or household products that contain chemicals or toxins that our body has to process. Remember that the skin is one of our biggest detox organs and a boarder to our inner body. Everything we put on our skin is absorbed and processed inside (think nicotine patches and estrogen patches…everything else we put on our skin gets absorbed the same way)
- Inadequate sleep – adequate restorative sleep (7-9 hours/night) is essential to our well-being, mood, hormonal balance and ability to function in everyday life
- Emotions – holding in emotions, not processing feelings, holding onto anger or resentments, or being particularly hard on or unkind to oneself.
Signs and Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance:
Menstrual irregularities (cycle length, time between cycles or flow of cycle), painful periods, skin breakouts, PMS (moodiness, irritability or intense sadness leading up to your cycle, breast tenderness), sleep irregularities (trouble staying asleep or waking with night sweats), headaches that come around your cycle, spotting before your period, mid-cycle or prolonged spotting after your cycle should be finished. Headaches (particularly around your cycle time), temperature fluctuations, weight gain, digestive imbalances, anxiety or depression….just to name a few!
Patterns in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and what they mean:
We break everything down into patterns in TCM, thereby being better able to customize treatments to the individual (not all hormonal herbs are good for everyone). Read though some of the different patterns listed below and see if any of the symptoms listed resonate with you.
Picking specific foods and herbs that are beneficial for these patterns can, if used regularly over time, help to rebalance your system and your hormones. Note: this isn’t a quick fix and should be done in conjunction with lifestyle changes to have lasting and more permanent effects.
Depleted Energy (Qi) – This will show up in many ways: being sick all the time, waking frequently to pee or peeing a lot in the day, hot flashes but also feelings of cold, a period that starts early, watery menstrual blood, heavy for foggy headed a lot, slow to heal from colds or scrapes and bruises, loose and frequent bowel movements, hard to focus or concentrate (tired mind). You might also be prone to over-thinking or worrying.
Stuck (stagnation) – PMS (breast tenderness or mood changes), period cramps and clots in your period, headaches particularly at the nape of your neck or in your temples, sighing a lot, feeling a tightness in your shoulders or around your ribcage, short tempered or irritable
Blood deficiency (could show up as anemia but not necessarily)– dry eyes or nails and cuticles, a scanty period or a period that is very short (2 days), dull dry hair, floaters (little spots) in your eyes, muscle cramps or spasms,
Yin deficiency (low estrogen can be one sign)– hot flash/hot at night, red peeled tongue, burned out, constantly thirsty and feeling like a desert inside (vaginal dryness, heat in cheeks, hands or feet often at night or in the evening), ‘wired’ feeling and have a hard time calming down. Can often include anxiety or nervousness and often shows up in adrenal burnout.
Yang Deficiency (low progesterone can be one sign) – cold, lethargic, waking to pee throughout night, weight gain, swelling or edema (particularly around the eyes when you wake in the morning), sore or weak low back or knees that feels better with heat. Looser bowels that may wake you up first thing in the morning. A pale face and tongue and lack of energy or enthusiasm to get going.
Top Household Herbs for Hormonal Balancing:
We rarely use herbs individually in TCM, but most often work using formulas, combining several different ingredients together to build a balanced blend of herbs.
However, when we include different foods/herbs in our everyday diet, overtime, they can help balance out our system and help to regulate our hormones.
Eating the foods best suited for your ‘pattern’ daily, is the best way to get the medicinal benefits. If you have any question about what your pattern is, it’s best to seek out the counsel of an expert to get you on the right track.
The following are some top herbal ingredients that can easily be included into everyday diet that taste good and have huge benefits for hormonal health.
1. Goji berries (Gou Qi Zi)
- Builds and nourishes blood and yin
- High in antioxidants,
- Great for building Liver blood (dry eyes, blurred vision, floaters etc.), hang nails, ridged or brittle nails, scanty blood flow headaches after your cycle)
- Easily found in most health food stores, local china town or grocery stores.
- Add to cooked oatmeal, make as tea or use in anything you might normally use raisins or cranberries.
2. Dang Gui
- Regulates and nourishes blood (good for Qi/stuck type and Blood or Yin deficient)
- A phytoestrogen-rich root, used to build blood, regulate cycles and to help with hormonal balance and menopausal type symptoms.
- add to soups or stocks such as chicken soup along with red dates or boil it in a tea form and sip on in the day with other blood builders such as goji berries or some of your other favorite herbal teas
3. Astragalus Root (Huang qi)
- Great for Qi and blood deficiency and long term can help build the Yang energy.
- boosts immune system and builds energy.
- Buy this at a well-stocked heath food store or a Chinese Herbal store.
- Add to soups/broths or make into a tea steeped daily. (note: It looks a lot like a tongue depressor and can be broken into pieces to make it easier to make a tea from it. You can also wrap the smaller pieces in cheese cloth when cooking with it so it’s easy to fish out when you’re done – you don’t want to eat it – it would be a bit like snacking on a piece of bark ☺)
4. Longan Fruit (Long Yan Rou)
- Great to nourish the blood and to calm the mind.
- Wonderful for anxiety, insomnia or palpitations from exhaustion or being overly depleted.
- Found in Chinese Herbal store or source it online.
- A delicious little fruit that comes from the lychee family and can be easily made into a tea, added to oatmeal or a desert/crisp or cookie that you would usually use cranberries or raisins. If you make a tea with it, you can eat the fruit after. Great mixed with goji berries and red dates.
5. Chinese Wild Yam (Shan Yao)
- Great for Qi or Yang deficiency.
- Hormone balancer, strengthens the digestion system, and kidney system in Chinese Medicine.
- Wonderful tasting, a fabulous addition into blended soups or a hearty chicken soup. You can also make it into a tea or add to stock.
- Buy this in fresh form at your grocery store or buy a dried version to keep in your pantry for use any time.
6. American Ginseng (Xi Yang Shen)
- A milder and more controlled action compared to the Chinese ginseng.
- Nourishes both the yin and the yang energies in the body and helps to boost Qi and build the immune system.
- Supports the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, helping to maintain hormonal balance without over-stimulating the endocrine system.
- An adaptogen that helps the body handle stress and strengthens the digestive system, which aids in absorption and assimilation of nutrients from food.
- Benefits male reproductive health – improves sexual drive and performance.
- Have in tea form brewing a pot in the morning and sipping on throughout the day or by adding it into soups or stews.
- Try taking mid afternoon if you get a slump in energy but avoid taking too late at night as it might affect your sleep!
7. White Peony Root (Bai shao)
- Supplements the blood, regulates the menses, nourishes the Yin and calms the liver Yang.
- Translation: it can help with PMS, irritability, period cramps and headaches associated with your periods as well as dull complexion and brittle nails associated with blood deficiency.
- Bought in a Chinese Herbal market
- Make into a tea or added to broth and use in a base for soups
8. Lotus Seed (Lian Zi)
- Strengthens the digestive system (which will help build your blood and regulate hormonal balance)
- Strengthens the reproductive system in both men and women by treating premature ejaculation in men and regulating bleeding and discharge in women.
- Helps calm the spirit curbing anxiety, irritability and insomnia.
- Classified as a food herb so can be mixed into rice or vegetable dishes easily, sprinkle on your rice or porridge in the morning, add it into your baking or snack on it during the day with other nuts or seeds and goji berries or other dried fruits.
- This should not be used if you have dry stool or constipation or have abdominal bloating.
9. Chinese Red Dates (Da Zao)
- Builds the Qi and gently nourishes the blood
- An incredibly nourishing food in Chinese Medicine and eating one or two daily can help nourish your blood and promote energy.
- Make into a tea with goji berries, chrysanthemum, rose or other herbals.
- Add to a smoothie, use in soups or broths or add a gentle sweetness into cooking.
- Easily found in an Asian market or some health food stores.
10. Black Sesame Seeds (Hei Zhi Ma)
- Nourish they Yin of both the liver and the Kidney systems in TCM
- Great for dryness in the body (hair, skin, eyes or bowels) and also known darken the hair (goodbye greys!),
- Easily found in grocery stores and you can add them to cereals, sautéed vegetables, baking (I’ll add to banana breads or power cookies to boost up the nutrient content), or add into your smoothies or blended drinks.