10 ancient Chinese herbs that are used to balance hormones and that actually work

Pierre Van ZylHearty Alternatives, herbs, Hormone

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This amazing guest post was written by Corinne Keating, a wellness blogger, and founder of Why So Well. Follow her on Facebook for health and wellness inspiration.

Hormonal balance (or imbalance as they case may be) is something we hear a lot about in our media, talk about around our kitchen or coffee shop tables, and the proverbial social media water cooler. So what is going on and how come so many of us – young, old and everything in between – are experiencing this?

Hormonal imbalance can show up in many different ways and from many different sources throughout life, and it is so important to understand the root of what’s going (the why) and treat from there.

No two people are the same, so taking a general ‘hormonal balancer’ isn’t necessarily the best option as what’s good for one person isn’t necessarily good for someone else. Checking with a complementary health provider is the best way to get a very specific picture of how your hormones are off and what needs to be done to balance things.

Having said that, there are many great herbs and medicinal foods that are extremely beneficial in balancing hormones.

Some key things that contribute to hormonal imbalance:

Every day in my clinic, women come in 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 of 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!

7 things that I see on a regular basis that is leading to hormonal imbalance:

  1. Continual or chronic stress (work, busyness, over-stimulation through media, noise, never ending to-do lists…)

  2. Overwork without adequate rest (aka burnout!)

  3. Diet – overly processed foods or an unbalanced diet lacking proper nutrition including proteins, fats, and a variety of vegetables (mainly green ones!)

  4. Irregular bowel patterns which can lead to a build up on estrogen or hormones in the system, as they are not being eliminated through the bowels (eat your fiber!)

  5. 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 border 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)

  6. 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

  7. Emotions – Holding in emotions, not processing feelings or holding onto anger or resentments as well as being particularly hard on or unkind to yourself.

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.

Headaches (particularly around your cycle time), temperature fluctuations, weight gain, digestive imbalances, anxiety or depression.

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 through 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 regularly used 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 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)

Parasympathetic nervous system, 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.

Yang Deficiency (Low progesterone can be one sign)

Cold, lethargic, waking to pee throughout the night, weight gain, swelling or edema (particularly around the eyes when you wake in the morning), sore or weak low back or knees that feel 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.

10 Household Herbs for Hormonal Balancing

goji berries

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, over time, they can help balance out our system and help to regulate our hormonesEating 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.

1. Goji Berries

Builds and nourishes blood and yin. High in antioxidants, great for building the blood of the liver system in TCM which will show up in your eyes (dryness, blurred vision, floaters, etc.), nail quality and also your menstrual cycle regularity.

Easily found in most health food stores, local china town or grocery stores. This is a great addition to your daily diet adding to cooked oatmeal, in tea form or anything you might normally use raisins or cranberries.

This is a great addition to your daily diet adding to cooked oatmeal, in tea form or anything you might normally use raisins or cranberries.

Give this delicious Goji Berry & Coconut Butter Fudge recipe a try!

2.  Dang Guy

Regulates and nourishes blood (good for Qi/stuck type and Blood or Yin deficient)Dang Gui, a phytoestrogen-rich root, has long been used to build blood, regulate cycles and to help with hormonal balance and menopausal symptoms. Traditionally it is used in a formula along with other herbs, but it can make a wonderful addition to soups or stocks.

Add it to chicken soup with red dates and other herbs for your pattern 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)

This is good for Qi and blood deficiency, and long term can help build the Yang energy. It’s also great for boosting your immune system and building your energy. You can buy this at a well-stocked heath food store, or if you have a China town in your city, you can buy at a Chinese Herbal store.

This can be added to soups/broths in the cook or made into a tea steeped daily. 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 cheesecloth 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)

This is great to nourish the blood and to calm the mind. It’s wonderful for women who are prone to anxiety, insomnia or suffer from palpitations when they are exhausted or depleted. This can be found in Chinese Herbal store or source it online.

It’s 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. It’s great mixed with goji berries and red dates.

5. Chinese Wild Yam  (Shan Yao)

Wonderfully tasting, this TCM staple is used in balancing hormones particularly for those who are Qi or Yang depleted. This can be a fabulous addition to blended soups or a hearty chicken soup. You can also make it into a tea or stock. You can buy this in fresh form at your grocery store or buy a dried version to keep in your pantry for use anytime.

Check out this video on how to make your own Chinese Wild Yam And Pork Bone Soup!

6. American Ginseng (xi yang shen)

This is a milder and more controlled action compared to the Chinese ginseng It nourishes both the yin and the yang energies in the body and helps to boost energy and build the immune system. Great for those who are Qi deficient or who have yin or yang deficiency.

It supports the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, helping to maintain hormonal balance without over-stimulating the endocrine system. This is an adaptogen that helps the body handle stress, strengthens the digestive system for absorption, and assimilation of nutrients from food. It has special benefits for male reproductive health too since it improves sexual drive and performance.

You can consume this herb in tea form brewing a pot in the morning and sipping on throughout the day or by adding it to soups or stews. You can try taking mid-afternoon if you get a slump in energy then and want a boost. But avoid taking too late at night as it might increase your energy and cause you to be up later.

7. White Peony Root (Bai Shao)

Supplements the blood and regulates the menses, nourishes the Yin and calms the liver, Yang. Translations – 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, it can be made into a tea or added to broth and sued as a base for soups are sipped on when eating meals.

8. Lotus Seed (Lian Zi)

This seed not only strengthens the digestive system, which will help build your blood and regulate hormonal balance, it also strengthens the reproductive system in both men and women by treating premature ejaculation in men and regulating bleeding and discharge in women.

It’s also known in Chinese Medicine to help calm the spirit helping to curb anxiety, irritability, and insomnia. This is classified as a food herb so can be eaten. This should not be used if you have dry stool or constipation or have abdominal bloating.

You can sprinkle this on your rice or porridge in the morning, add it to your baking or snack on it during the day with other nuts or seeds and goji berries or other dried fruits.

9. Chinese Red Dates (Da Zao)

An incredibly nourishing food in Chinese Medicine and eating one or two daily can help nourish your blood and promote energy. They are great made into a tea with goji berries, chrysanthemum rose or other herbals. They can be added to a smoothie,  into soups or broths or add a gentle sweetness into cooking. Easily found in an Asian market or some health food stores.

10. Black Sesame Sees (Hei Zhi Ma)

These tasty little seeds nourish both the Liver and the Kidney systems in TCM, and it is used to nourish the yin and great for dryness in the body. It is also known darken the hair classically, (goodbye greys!), moisten dry eyes and help with dry bowels.

You can easily find these in grocery stores, and you can add them to cereals, sautéed vegetables, baking (I’ll add to banana bread or power cookies to boost up the nutrient content), or add into your smoothies or blended drinks.   

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