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Seven essential oils to balance your hormones

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These essential oils can help you soothe stress, balance your hormones and feel like your best self again, says Marcelle Pick

Have you ever noticed the impact a scent can have on your mood? I’ve experienced this so often—with a deep breath of ocean air or the earthy smell of a forest when I’m hiking, I can feel my body calming and my mood lifting.

The power of scent is just one of the ways that essential oils can have a positive impact on your health. Essential oils can help with restoring hormonal balance, which is vital to all aspects of health.

Many women come to see me about difficult symptoms related to hormonal imbalance. I’m not just talking about PMS or menopausal symptoms, either. The constant stress of daily life brings women into my office who are overloaded with cortisol, the stress hormone, or have been battling stress so long that their thyroid and adrenal glands aren’t functioning the way they should.

As part of a healthy lifestyle that includes stress reduction techniques, good quality sleep and a nutritious diet, essential oils can really make a difference.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are all-natural oils made up of a complex mixture of natural chemicals extracted from certain parts of plants—leaves, barks, rinds and roots.

A few different methods can be used to extract and concentrate these oils. Examples are distillation with water and/or steam, mechanical processing known as expression (unique to citrus peel oils) and a process called maceration, which is used on only a very limited number of plants.

After distillation, the oil is separated from the water so it’s truly pure oil. That makes these oils extremely concentrated—and very powerful. A little goes a long way, and very few essential oils should be used in their fully concentrated form.

Research on the impact of essential oils is limited, but there are some studies that show benefits, particularly for hormonal activity. Many people use essential oils for healing quite simply because it works for them.

Essential oils for stress

One of the most important things you can do for your health is to reduce stress, and pleasant scents can help that happen.

Your olfactory bulb is connected to the part of your brain responsible for emotional reactions, the amygdala, as well as to the hippocampus, where memories are stored. Psychological studies have revealed the power that scents have over positive or negative associations.1 Those associations can influence your levels of both “feel-good” hormones2 and the stress hormone cortisol,3 which can make you feel lousy.

Conventional practitioners rely heavily on prescriptions to make you feel better. But if something might help you feel just as good without chemical intervention, wouldn’t you want to give it a try?

No intervention will work for everyone. We are all such unique individuals that what works in one way for some may have the opposite effect in others. But there is little to no risk in using essential oils if you use them properly.

What is hormonal imbalance?

Hormonal imbalance is exactly what it sounds like. Your body has multiple hormones, all with specific tasks to carry out, and if the levels of any of these are too high or too low, your body can suffer. Additionally, if the ratio of some hormones to others is out of whack, you might experience uncomfortable symptoms.

There are so many hormones in your body that carry essential messages to so many systems. And it’s not just the sex hormones that everyone thinks of immediately, though of course those are important. Imbalances in estrogen, progesterone and testosterone can be responsible for the uncomfortable symptoms women experience in menopause—hot flashes, fatigue, weight gain—and during the menstrual cycle.

Equally impactful are cortisol, insulin, thyroid hormones and human growth hormone (HGH). If you have too much or too little of any of these hormones, your health can really suffer. Symptoms might include weight gain, extreme fatigue, depression, anxiety or other mood disorders, insomnia, headaches and fertility problems.

Prolonged imbalances in vital hormones can cause adrenal and thyroid dysfunction, which can lead to more serious conditions. That’s why it’s so important to do anything you can to even out your hormone levels.

What causes hormonal imbalance?

Hormones are sensitive, and so many factors can impact your levels. That’s why we have to look at the whole picture when we are assessing our health.

When your lifestyle is as healthy as it can be, your body is far more able to keep up with producing the proper amount of hormones for every situation. But when it gets derailed by factors like chronic stress, exposure to toxic chemicals, poor diet and sleep deprivation, your body is likely to experience a breakdown somewhere, and that’s usually in hormone production and signaling.

Take cortisol, for instance. When your adrenal glands are constantly pumping out cortisol, they stop production of other “less important” hormones—like estrogen and progesterone. That’s because survival takes precedence over reproduction in times of stress.

But our stress these days goes far beyond survival concerns—we’re stressed about work, children, aging parents and other responsibilities. We’re trying to do it all. And our body can’t tell the difference.

A healthy lifestyle is your best defense, and reducing stress is key to maintaining good health. That’s where essential oils can come in.

The super seven

There seems to be an essential oil for everything, but these seven are particularly good for restoring and maintaining hormonal balance.

  1. Clary sage

A number of studies, albeit small (and many on animals, which may not apply to humans) have shown the impact that clary sage essential oil can have on hormones.

One study showed that cortisol levels in participants were reduced by 31 percent and 5-HTP (a precursor of melatonin) levels increased after inhalation of clary sage oil. The participants’ levels of thyroid stimulating hormone also lowered, though this effect wasn’t statistically significant.4

A chemical in clary sage oil, sclareol, has been shown to fight breast and uterine cancers.5 Since these are often estrogen-linked cancers, aromatherapy expert Robert Tisserand suspects that sclareol inhibits estrogen and/or interacts with estrogen receptors.6 This is a big deal because so many issues women face are in part due to excess estrogen, and so many things in our food and environment can raise estrogen levels.

Research has also shown aromatherapy is effective for relief of menstrual cramps. In fact, some preliminary research found aromatherapy massage that included clary sage was more effective on menstrual pain than the painkilling drug acetaminophen (paracetamol).7

Another study in 2010 found that inhalation of clary sage oil reduced blood pressure in women and helped them relax as they were undergoing medical testing.8 Those are a lot of good reasons to give it a try.

  1. Frankincense

When it comes to balancing T3 and T4, the thyroid hormones, frankincense essential oil is a great bet. This oil has been shown to reduce inflammation and decrease cortisol,9 which has a big impact on proper thyroid functioning. And because inflammation is tied to autoimmune diseases, frankincense is a great bet to soothe these symptoms as well.

Although research is again limited, some practitioners have used frankincense successfully to reduce symptoms of menstruation and menopause, such as pain, constipation, anxiety, nausea, headaches and mood swings. It may also help regulate the production of estrogen.

  1. Lavender

Lavender essential oil has been well researched and shown to have a beneficial effect on stomach trouble,10 depression and stress, and the amount of cortisol released by the adrenal glands.11

One study out of Wesleyan University showed that using lavender oil therapeutically can boost the percentage of deep, restorative slow-wave sleep in men and women.12 Other research demonstrates that inhaling lavender can soothe symptoms of depression and the emotional swings that come with PMS.13

Lavender aromatherapy can also significantly reduce symptoms of menopause.14

It’s an adaptogenic oil, which means it can be particularly useful in hormonal balance because it can adapt to the specific needs of your body. So if one hormone is too high, but another too low, lavender might be able to help level out both without the adverse side effects you might get from prescription remedies.

  1. Peppermint

This one may come as some surprise, as it isn’t typically used for PMS or other issues related to menstruation. But peppermint oil has been shown to affect hormones that impact mood, so its use can help your emotional healing, which in turn can help keep those hormones stable. It also helps alleviate menopausal symptoms.15

Headaches often accompany hormonal shifts, and inhaling peppermint oil can help reduce this pain. In fact, one study showed that peppermint oil had the same impact as 1,000 mg of acetaminophen, but without the potentially dangerous side effects that come with using too much of the drug.16

Peppermint oil can also help you keep a clear head instead of succumbing to the “foggy brain” that so often accompanies hormonal imbalances.

  1. Rose

Rose essential oil balances testosterone levels in your body, which is important for women as well as men. Rose is also known as an aphrodisiac, which can aid in boosting your libido. Low libido is commonly associated with menopause.

A study in 2009 also showed that rose essential oil promoted greater feelings of calm and relaxation than the placebo,17 which can help in balancing cortisol and supporting the adrenal glands. It also found the oil decreases blood pressure and breathing rate. Rose oil improves levels of serotonin and other neuropeptides in mice, promoting a sense of calm.18

  1. Rosemary

Because excess estrogen can have such an impact on issues like infertility and some cancers, and rosemary essential oil can remove excess estrogen from your body, it’s a great aid in healing hormonal imbalances.

Research has detailed the many benefits of rosemary, including lowering cortisol in saliva,19 fighting cancer,20 improving memory and impacting mood.21

What makes rosemary so effective? Many say it’s the antioxidant activity of its chemical composition.

  1. Thyme

Thyme essential oil impacts hormonal balance by raising levels of progesterone. Since infertility is correlated with low progesterone levels, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and depression and can also impact the levels of other hormones, thyme oil can be a big help in restoring balance.

Research backs up this balancing effect,22 and it’s certainly less risky than seeking out synthetic hormone replacement, which often comes with severe side effects.

How to use essential oils

Essential oils are potent, and most shouldn’t be used in pure, undiluted form. For topical applications, a few drops can be mixed with a carrier oil such as olive, coconut, jojoba or sweet almond oil.

Essential oils can be used topically as lotions or massage oils, depending on which carrier they’re mixed with. They can also be added to bath water, and, of course, one of the most common ways to use essential oils is to mix a few drops with water in a diffuser and inhale the scent in the air.

Most should not be ingested; they are so much more concentrated than what you would find in an herbal tea. And some people—particularly pregnant women or those with serious health concerns—should not use essential oils.

It’s always a good idea to work with a certified herbalist or healthcare professional before adding any new therapy to your routine, particularly if you have any specific concerns. Most essential oils don’t come with side effects, but because we are all individuals with our own sensitivities, it’s a good idea to test an area on your skin before applying essential oils in any form.

See ‘Essential oils to ease depression, dementia and more’ for more information about using essential oils safely.

Choosing essential oils

Essential oils are widely available online and in health food stores, but make sure you are getting pure essential oils from reputable companies.

A good rule of thumb is that if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. The last thing you want to inhale or absorb through your skin is a bunch of additives or other chemicals that could make your hormonal imbalance worse, not better.

Read labels carefully, research companies and pay attention to what you are purchasing.

See ‘Healthy shopping: How to select quality essential oils’ for some good brands to try.

What do you think? Start a conversation over on the... WDDTY Community

References
 
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  5. Biomed Pharmacother, 2006; 60(3): 127–33; Phytother Res, 2007; 21(11): 1105–8
  6. Robert Tisserand, “Is Clary Sage Oil Estrogenic?,” April 25, 2010, roberttisserand.com
  7. J Obstet Gynaecol Res, 2012; 38(5): 817–22; Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2012; 2012: 187163
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  15. Explore, 2023; doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2023.09.001
  16. Nervenarzt, 1996; 67(8): 672–81
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  18. Heliyon, 2021; 7(4): e06620
  19. Psychiatry Res, 2007; 150(1): 89–96
  20. Nutrients, 2016; 8(11): 731
  21. Int J Neurosci, 2003; 113(1): 15–38
  22. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med, 1998; 217(3): 369–78
JUN24, 'Essentially Balanced'
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