5 Best Adaptogens to Treat Hormonal Imbalance Symptoms
You’ve probably seen the word “adaptogen” all over social media and in the news; but while you may not have heard of adaptogens until fairly recently, they have been used for hundreds of years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to promote health and well-being and to support the body’s natural resistance (1) to stress. They’re also very effective at treating hormone imbalance symptoms including stress, anxiety, mood swings, weight gain, low libido and more.
What are adaptogens and why are they effective as a treatment for the symptoms of hormone imbalance?
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are compounds, usually originating from plants, that help to restore balance in your mind and body. (2)
Before a plant-based remedy can be called an adaptogen, it must meet four criteria:
- It must reduce the harm caused by stressed states, such as fatigue, infection, and depression.
- It must have positive excitatory effects on the human body.
- In contrast to traditional stimulants, the excitatory effects produced by plant-originated adaptogens must not cause side effects such as insomnia, low protein synthesis, or excessive energy consumption.
- It must not harm the human body.
How do Adaptogens Work?
Adaptogens work at a molecular level by regulating a stable balance in the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands. To fully understand the value of adaptogens, we must understand the 3 phases of stress and how the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol work to combat stress in the body.
The 3 Phases of Stress
There are 3 phases of stress:
- Alarm Phase
- Resistance Phase
- Fatigue or Exhaustion Phase
When your brain first perceives a threat, it signals your body to go into the “alarm phase” and prepare to deal with the stressor. This stressor could be everything from not being able to find your keys, your child reaching out to touch a hot stove, a looming deadline at work or a car narrowly avoiding you at an intersection. After the alarm phase, the body quickly moves into the second phase of stress: the “resistance phase”. During the resistance phase, your adrenal glands pump out adrenaline (epinephrine).
Adrenaline is the neurotransmitter of the adrenal gland and a chemical messenger in the brain. (2) It quickly signals your stored fat cells to release energy for resisting the threat. This adrenaline rush is intended to stimulate the body to face the danger or run away from it, which is why you often hear adrenaline referred to as the “fight or flight” hormone.
When the danger has passed, we’re supposed to enter the third phase, the “fatigue or exhaustion” phase where our systems stabilize and recover from the work in the resistance phase. However, when the body experiences chronic stress (meaning your stress system stays activated over a long period of time) his healthy process does not work as intended. Instead of pumping out more adrenaline during the resistance phase, chronic stress causes the adrenal glands to secrete more cortisol, which is often referred to as the “stress hormone.”
Cortisol’s job is to regulate your body’s functions in response to stress. Cortisol levels initially rise in response to a stressful event, which is normal— but if stress is ongoing, the adrenal glands become exhausted trying to produce elevated amounts, and eventually, they are unable to produce even normal amounts.
When cortisol levels remain too high or too low for an extended period of time, we do not spend enough time in the third phase of stress; the recovery phase. This disequilibrium wreaks havoc on the body.
Out-of-normal-range cortisol levels destroy healthy muscle and bone, slow down healing and normal cell regeneration, impair digestion, cause abdominal weight gain, lead to insulin resistance, dull mental processes, interfere with healthy endocrine function, and weaken your immune system.
When the adrenal glands malfunction, it can trigger a serious syndrome known as "adrenal fatigue."
Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, although a single stressful event or even severe medical illness can also be the cause.
People with adrenal fatigue experience a range of symptoms in addition to fatigue, including:
- Body aches
- Trouble concentrating
- Racing thoughts
- Irritability, moodiness
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Cravings for sweet and salty foods
Adrenal fatigue can also trigger sex hormone imbalances, bringing more uncomfortable symptoms into play, such as low libido, weight gain, difficulty sleeping, and even depression.
Certain adaptogens have been proven to lower stress levels and protect us against the damaging effects of excess cortisol and adrenal fatigue. Let’s look at 5 of Dr. Randolph’s favorite adaptogens for combatting stress as well as other common symptoms of hormone imbalance.
The 5 Best Adaptogens to Treat Hormone Imbalance Symptoms
Sinensis is an annual Ascomycetes fungus that grows in Tibet. It is closely related to the mushroom. Cordyceps supports adrenal recovery and helps the body balance cortisol and other stress hormones. (3) It has also been proven to increase energy and stamina (4).
This medicinal mushroom was in the limelight during the Chinese National Games in 1993, when a group of women athletes broke nine world records and stated they had been taking Cordyceps regularly. Studies have also demonstrated that Cordyceps is also anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, larvicidal, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, pro-sexual, apoptotic, immunomodulatory, and anti-HIV! (5)
Rhodiola Rosea grows in cold, mountainous regions of Europe, Asia, and high altitudes in the Arctic. It has been shown to significantly improve the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorders (6) and is the main adaptogen approved by the HMPC/EMA for stress.
A study by the Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment examined the effect of Rhodiola in treating burnout as a result of stress and anxiety and found that the use of this adaptogen began to reduce the negative effects of stress within one week and continued to improve symptoms over time. Rhodiola also works quickly to improve the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome including a feeling of tiredness, lack of energy, emotional stability, and motivation, difficulty in concentration and memory, headache and muscle pain.
Milk thistle or Silymarin (Silybum marianum) is native to Asia and Southern Europe. The uses of Silybum marianum as a hepatoprotective agent to treat different types of liver and biliary disorders in European countries can be dated back to 2000 years ago. Milk Thistle is an effective herb for detoxifying the liver by promoting the flow of bile and protecting hepatocytes.
The health of your liver is directly tied to your hormone health. This hard-working organ regulates the balance of sex hormones, thyroid hormones, cortisone, and other adrenal hormones. It also transforms or removes excess from the body. An unhealthy liver can lead to reduced levels of white blood cells and antibodies, making you more susceptible to infection and disease. It can also lead to many common hormonal imbalance symptoms such as loss of libido, excessive production of adrenaline and emotional instability.
Studies have shown that the hepatoprotective activity of milk thistle is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-fibrotic, anti-viral and anti-cancer! It also boosts the body’s natural immunity and may protect the liver from normal and inevitable exposure to environmental toxins.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) extract is used in Europe and North America to treat dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. Its active ingredients are flavone glycosides and terpenoids. Flavonoids are strong antioxidants are believed to have neuroprotective benefits. Terpenoids help individuals recover following a stroke by decreasing the risk of blood clots in the brain and reducing nerve cell death associated with stroke. Ginkgo may also inhibit neurotoxicity and nerve cell death caused by nitric oxide.
As we explained in an earlier article, there is a strong link between hormones and brain health. There are millions of hormone receptor sites throughout the body, including the brain. When the production of needed hormones declines due to the aging of the ovary or testes, your brain's hormone receptors go lacking, and the result is impaired mental activity. Estrogen dominance can result in hormonal imbalance symptoms such as migraine headaches, anxiety disorders, insomnia, and decreased mental acuity. Most physicians and the public do not realize that age-related hormone level decline is a pivotal variable impacting memory, learning, and overall cognitive function.
The use of Gingko Biloba combined with bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) is recommended to support optimal cognitive function for life.
Bacopa monniera has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, either alone or in combination with other herbs, as a memory and learning enhancer, sedative, and anti-epileptic. (6) It grows in wet tropical environments, and, under its common English name of water hyssop. Like Gingko Biloba, Bacopa monniera is a nootropic as well as an adaptogen which means it has a positive effect on mental skills. The cognition-enhancing effects of Bacopa monniera include improved motor learning and acquisition, consolidation, and retention of memory. Additionally, Bacopa monniera has been proven to have a positive effect on mood and to help reduce elevated levels of cortisol in the body.
Keep Your Hormones Balanced with BHRT and Adaptogens
Dr. Randolph is widely acknowledged as a medical pioneer in the fields of hormone health and optimal aging medicine. The cornerstone of Dr. Randolph’s unique integrative medical approach is rooted in his training as a licensed compounding pharmacist specialized in pharmacognosy (plant-based medicines) including the use of beneficial adaptogens and nootropics. At Dr. Randolph’s Wellness Store, we offer many products containing these ingredients as well as plant-based bioidentical hormone creams and supplements. These products have helped countless patients get back to feeling like themselves. If you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, low libido, mental fog, weight gain, and fatigue, Dr. Randolph's natural approach to treating hormone imbalance symptoms could likely help you too!
We highly encourage you to visit our medical practice to start finding your balance. We’d be proud to help you on your journey!