Today we're looking at how our hormones impact our health and wellbeing, alongside natural ways to support our vitality from a hormonal perspective.
In this blog we’ll explore:
- The endocrine system: what it is and how it affects us
- The impact of stress on hormones
- How our hormones behave at different stages in our lives
- Female & Male hormonal health
- 5 herbs to support our hormonal health
Introducing the Endocrine System
The Endocrine system is a complex and dynamic set of reactions and feedback loops that powers us through each 24 hour cycle, lunar revolution, and stage of our lives. You can think of it like your body's very own postal service, but instead of delivering letters, it sends chemical messages called hormones. These are dispatched by various glands around your body and help to control all sorts of important functions, from how you grow to how you feel on a daily basis.
This is a delicate dance indeed. The Endocrine system manages our energy and metabolism via the thyroid, our response to our surroundings via the adrenal glands, our blood sugar levels via the pancreas, and even things like things like the onset of puberty, fertility, and differences between male and female bodies via the ovaries and testes.
It is through the endocrine system that we respond to pretty much everything and without it our survival would be rather limited. Our brain and ego thinks it is in control but well, it’s not: the endocrine system rules all. It is even responsible for our mood, when we sleep, when we wake, when we have children, when we stop being fertile, when we pee, how we bond with others. What is your endocrine system doing right now? Probably balancing out the glucose in your bloodstream after that meal you had, surveying the surroundings for potential threats or mates, regulating your contentment via the serotonin floating about and, as you’re looking at a blue screen, making sure melatonin (sleep hormone) isn’t released as you clearly need to be awake to read the rest of this article!
The Impact of Stress on Hormones
In an ideal world, life runs smoothly and we function perfectly. But as we know, the modern world is never that simple. Ever adaptive, our endocrine system does its best to keep us functioning at maximum capacity. The stressors and complications of life often mean we’re in a high state of alert as our adrenals pump out stress hormones - cortisol and adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) – to make sure stay awake, stay alert. In fact this state of constant alert is so “normal” in today’s world that if we start to relax or feel sleepy, we find ways to go against our signals to rest by fuelling up the cortisol levels with caffeine and other stimulants, not to mention electric lights to mimic daytime and blue lights so we stay looking at our screens.
This stress is good in small quantities and keeps us safe, but when we are constantly exposed to stress, everything else shuts down. When we are meant to run away from a tiger, the main drive is to stay alive. There is no need to procreate the species, bond with anybody, digest food properly, have steady blood glucose levels or perform basic biological functions, we just need to run away as far and fast as possible. What this means is that we are not able to function at optimum brain power, maintain friends, and can have wildly out of range blood glucose levels, which is damaging to cells and can lead to diabetes and metabolic disorders. This is because generally speaking we aren’t actually running away from tigers. Our mood can vary wildly as we bounce from highly stimulated to burnt out (that anxiety-depression cycle) and the impact on our sex hormones - expressed via our libido and fertility - is notable. And as one cycle goes out of control so the others follow.
If we learn to honour our hormones and listen to our body’s signals, rest when we need to rest, exercise when we feel the need to, and nourish our burnt out adrenal glands with herbal support, then we can start to restore balance and recover our natural rhythms and urges.
Hormones at Different Life Stages
Hormones are at work from birth helping us to grow, develop and survive from day one. Once the sex hormones kick in during adolescence, things become significantly more complex as we’re hurled towards adulthood with not only daily maintenance to tend to, but the responsibility of furthering the species now resting on our shoulders. At least, that’s what Mother Nature has in store for us, despite being able to take some control over this drive, it is the motivator behind a lot of our behaviour.
Once into adulthood, we generally become more settled and our hormones behave slightly differently depending on where we’re at. When we’re young and driven, we may ooze pheromones and be bursting with testosterone or oestrogen looking for a potential mate. If we’re in a steady partnership and starting a family, both male and females emit more of the bonding hormone oxytocin for stability. After having a child, hormones shift to protect the newborn (and mother) from any immediate rivalry to ensure both parents are available to care for them as well as promoting lactation so that nutrition is available.
Once we lean into middle age, our hormones change again as our bodies slow down, less is the drive to procreate as simply maintaining balance becomes the main focus, often becoming a major challenge. Our winter years have their own hormonal dance as we strive to stay alive and healthy and enjoy our life’s achievements. At this time, there can be a burden of hormones that we no longer want or need, as well as noticeable deficiencies as we stop producing quite what we would like to have. Let’s look at the differences in Male and Female from a biological point of view and see how we can help support you at different stages of life.
Female Hormonal Health
Women tend to be more aware of monthly cycles as there is a natural rhythm to the female body that can have a very clear impact on overall wellbeing, mood and behaviour. Oestrogen is peaking on the run up to ovulation, energy is high and with the biological drive to attract a suitable male, there is a glow and brilliance that fuels activity and creates good mood. Libido increases at the most fertile point (between day 10 and 15ish) and generally everything is rosy. Once this point is past, the female body prepares to grow a new human inside and this causes a shift in the hormones that is often noticeable as some women suffer more in week three with the potential decline in oestrogen production. Add this to the tiredness frequently experienced in week four on the lead up to menstruation which can often be accompanied by irritation, low mood and weepiness as the cycle closes.
Not everyone follows these cycles and some are more susceptible to disturbances than others, particularly at times of change such as menarche in teenage years and menopause at the other end of the reproductive span. The demands of modern life greatly impact women as they do not allow for cyclical shifts in hormones, and so honouring the changes can be challenging. Our Vitality Tea can help with this by supporting hormonal shifts over the month and honouring the highs and lows, while our Menstrual Support Tea may come to the rescue in those more challenging times.
Becoming a Mother
This is not necessarily a path chosen by all, but those who do decide to bear children will experience a hormonal upheaval. The pregnancy hormones which are designed to cocoon mother and baby lead to a slowing down in the mother, often referred to as “baby brain”, which protect mother and child from stress, amongst other things. Closer to the birth of the baby, bonding hormones (oxytocin) and prolactin increase in preparation for the birthing process and subsequent feeding of the newborn. Post birth, the prolactin increases dramatically as the milk comes in and, as this is one of the stress hormones, can lead to the “baby blues” as the soft cushioning of pregnancy drops away and the reality of little to no sleep kicks in. It’s an amazing time, but a time when women need internal nourishing and caring support from those around them. The body has been through an incredible experience and it can take time for women to adjust to the new role, especially with the overwhelming amount of information and judgement out there. Our advice is: go with your maternal instincts, ignore judgement from everybody and make sure you get at least half an hour to yourself every day to sip a cup of tea and, if possible, have a soothing soak in the bath. We’ve got plenty of pregnancy and new mum-related products to help you do exactly that.
As women come through menopause the oestrogen levels alter. Less is produced by the ovaries and more is from the adrenal glands, which is then converted to a slightly different form of oestrogen in the liver. Supporting the adrenals at this time is more important than ever, particularly if there has been stress throughout life. The monthly cycle might not be quite so marked, but the fluctuation in hormones still occurs and the need for balance is still high. The menopause itself is quite an upheaval and some suffer greatly with hot flashes, sweats, irritability and depression. Our Meno-balance Tincture offers support through this time as you adjust to your amazing new self while our Focus collection can help with brain fog and our Sleep collection supports the often disturbed sleep suffered before and during menopause.
Male Hormonal Health
Fertility & Libido
Much of male identity is fiercely driven by that well-known player in the endocrine system: Testosterone. This is what drives teenage boys to distraction, the hormone that is behind a healthy libido and which actually fuels a lot of other actions not directly related to sex. Just like in the female body, there is a delicate dance of hormones behind fertility and libido. The pituitary sends out signals and messengers (aka hormones) to the adrenals and testes to start the production of testosterone, sperm is produced and arousal is available in the right circumstances. When libido is healthy the drive to mate is strong. This is a desirable state in early to mid adulthood and high levels of sex hormones are seen as being positive. Male overall health is vitally important to maintain fertility and libido including energy levels and resilience to stress. Cardiovascular health is also a major consideration to allow blood to flow to the right areas at the right times. Our Male Vitality Tincture provides support for men during your most fertile years.
Day to Day
Men also follow certain cycles, although they are not as clearly defined as they are for women. There are also fluctuations in mood which may depend on multiple factors; often connected to stress levels and testosterone excess. Excess testosterone can cause irritability and aggression while low testosterone may result in low mood and a lack of drive. Maintaining good health and supporting the hormones is essential to being your best, well-motivated self from day to day. Exercise is key, as is respecting your daily rhythms and physiological drives so that they don’t become unbalanced.
Testosterone is a great driver for both sexes, but as men age, levels often decrease or become lower than circulating oestrogens. When testosterone levels become very low the result can be depression and inertia; oestrogen may dominate, which can lead to troubled prostate glands and other health issues. These are very complex pathologies and far too much goes on to describe here, but needless to say, the endocrine system needs support to achieve balance and work to prevent these issues from arising.
At Zen Maitri our herbalists have put together essential herbs to support men at all ages, our Male Vitality Supplements will help maintain balance throughout the different stages of life
Five Herbs to Support Hormonal Health for Men and Women
Liquorice is well known as a traditional sweet grown in Pontefract, Yorkshire and was dug up by children during rationing for its sweetness. The sweets available today are somewhat different to the twiggy-looking roots and bear little medicinal value. However the root is still used by herbalists across the world as it has been for centuries to support overall health. Glyccyrhiza glabra is a go to herb for the endocrine system for the following reasons:
- adaptogenic and improves resilience to stress
- acts on fatigued adrenal glands and impacts circulating cortisol
- found to balance reproductive hormones, so can be useful in conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome and benign prostatic hyperplasia
- mildly oestrogenic and can support women through menopause
You’ll find it in our collections for Men & Women.
Not as well known as licorice, Gokshura or Tribulis terrestris is a traditional herb used in Ayurvedic medicine that has long been used to support hormonal health in both men and women. It has been found to:
- boost libido, testosterone levels and sexual performance in men
- increase libido in postmenopausal women
- reduce menopausal symptoms
Shatavari or Asparagus racemosus is a traditional women’s tonic in Ayurvedic medicine and is now more common in western herbal treatments. The name is said to translate as “woman with a hundred husbands” as it was traditionally given to support women, but has more recently been found to provide benefits to both sexes. Not only does it support women through menopause, but also can have a positive effect on the HPA axis supporting adrenal health and improving mood. For new mothers, it is excellent for supporting lactation as well as being an all round nourishing tonic.
Want to try for yourself? Get our Shatavari Supplements here.
Nettle is a wonder plant. All parts can be used (even the sting) and have multiple purposes, but are particularly helpful for hormonal health. The seeds which can be found hanging in abundance right now from the female plants are packed with protein and vitamins, but also excellent for supporting adrenal health. The leaves are used as a tonic, anti-allergenic and to nourish and strengthen the whole system. It is our native adaptogen and supports both men and women throughout the year and the cycles of life. The root has been found helpful in prostatic conditions, particularly benign prostatic hyperplasia, and also through menopause. Nettles are strong plants and virtually impossible to remove and they can pass this strength onto us.
Rose is associated with love and beauty, not only for its perfume and gorgeous appearance, but also for its soft, cooling nature and wonderfully balancing influence on the hormones. Rose offers great emotional support having an affinity with the heart and the womb, making it great for PMS and the emotional upheavals for menopause. The scent is relaxing and found to relieve depression as well as simply being pleasant to have in the air.
You can try it yourself with our Rose Incense.
Supporting Your Endocrine system and Boosting Hormonal health
As you can see, our natural rhythms are multifaceted and many factors have an impact on our endocrine system function and hormonal health. Balance is possible for all with support from our plant allies and through respecting our natural signals. Explore our Vitality collections for sex-specific support and feel free to arrange a consultation with a herbalist for more complex hormonal concerns.