As women, our bodies are highly complex and sensitive. A chorus of hormonal queues, involving numerous glands and organs, controls our rhythmic bodies. We live in a delicate balance, and as most of us know, it is far too easy to become unbalanced.
Almost every woman experiences reproductive health issues at some point in her life- from PMS, to cramps, to fibroids, to yeast infections, to UTI’s - there are many ways our feminine bodies can go out of whack. Thanks to the research being done in the constant evolving field of natural medicine, we now know that most of these conditions share similar root causes.
In the world of medicine, this has been the decade of the gut. There are new discoveries about the role of the microbiome happening all the time, and much of this new knowledge has splashed over into the women’s repro realm. We now know that many women’s hormonal health issues stem from gut imbalances. This marks a significant shift of focus in terms of women’s herbalism.
Since the beginning of the herbal renaissance in the 1960’s herbalists have known that improving diet by reducing sugar and processed food was a primary approach to healing the womb. Today, we are able to take that understanding to the next level. More than just improving the diet, we now know that we must identify hidden food sensitivities that are triggering systemic inflammation (cramps anyone?), remove them, and heal the lining of the gut wall.
Restoring the microbiome is also of critical importance, as there is a specific contingent of bacteria in the gut called the Estrobolome whose purpose is the regulation of estrogen in the body. When the microbiome gets disrupted by an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut (called dysbiosis), our estrogen levels get disrupted as well. This can greatly contribute to a number of estrogen related conditions, from endometriosis to breast cancer.
Luckily, herbs can come to the rescue in both of these cases. There are many plants that can help to heal the lining of the gut and fight off microbial overgrowth in the intestines. What this clearly represents, however, is an expansion of the idea of what “women’s herbs” are.
Another root cause is something most women in today’s hyper-yang world deal with, chronic stress. Chronic stress causes the constant elevation of hormone called cortisol. When we are under constant stress, cortisol gets overproduced by the adrenals, and contributes to insomnia, systemic inflammation, gut microbiome disruption, and causes overall reproductive hormone havoc. Adaptogenic herbs like Eleuthero and Ashwagandha can be profoundly healing when chronic stress is at play.
Finally, the female body is highly susceptible to environmental toxins, in particular a category of toxins called endocrine disruptors. These widespread chemicals, found in everything from soft plastic wrap to conventional cosmetics, throw our endocrine system into a tailspin, playing in as a major underlying factor in most reproductive conditions. Once again, we can turn to herbs for support, choosing plants that support liver detoxification such as Milk Thistle and Schisandra.
While this new view of Herbal Medicine for Women may seem overwhelming when viewed from one perspective, from another it can seem absolutely empowering. Now more than ever we have the knowledge to heal from chronic health conditions. As always it takes a committed heart, a lot of self-love, and the help of our teachers, the plants.