Top Foods and Herbs to Support Menstrual Hormone Balance and Calm Your Nervous System

Having a regular, healthy period is extremely important for your overall long-term health. An irregular or absent period, or a period with severe symptoms, could be a sign of hormonal imbalance.

Fortunately, you don’t need to turn to pharmaceuticals to correct or manage hormonal imbalances.

A female's hand holding a bouquet of flowers for foods and herbs for hormonal balance

In this article, you’ll learn my top food and herbal recommendations to support a healthy menstrual cycle and a calm nervous system.

The Challenges of Hormonal Imbalance

Before diving into ways to balance your hormones, let’s explore the challenges of hormonal imbalance.

Your hormones are your body’s chemical messengers. Different hormones play different roles and have different functions. For example, some hormones stimulate growth, some regulate your mood and energy levels, and still others control your menstrual cycle.

When there are too many or too little of one or more messengers, it can lead to a chronic imbalance that contributes to or results in serious health consequences. Some factors that can throw off your hormonal balance are:

  • A poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Chronic stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • An unbalanced gut microbiome
  • Endocrine disruptors
  • Emotional distress and trauma
  • Birth control pills

But what do all of the factors listed above actually do to your hormones? Here are a few common ways hormone imbalances can manifest in women:

Simply put, if your hormone levels aren’t right, your body isn’t going to feel right.

If you suspect that you may be experiencing a hormonal imbalance, it’s critical to work with your doctor as soon as possible to have the best chance at finding relief from troublesome symptoms.

Which Foods and Herbs Can Promote Hormone Balance and a Calm Nervous System?

Is it possible to balance your hormones and calm your nervous system naturally? Yes!

Certain foods and herbs can be powerful tools in your journey to restoring balance and to feeling calmer and happier. Here are my favorites.


Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus), also known as chaste tree, is a large flower shrub native to the Mediterranean, Southern Europe, and Central Asia.1 The tree, including its leaves and fruits, has a long history of use as a fantastic remedy for women’s reproductive health problems, including:

  • PCOS
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Postmenopausal symptoms

One of the ways in which vitex corrects menstrual irregularities is by blocking prolactin secretion. Prolactin is a hormone best known for being responsible for lactation and breast development. Women with a condition called hyperprolactinemia may have lower-than-normal progesterone levels and normal to slightly high prolactin levels. These imbalances are believed to cause PMS symptoms, changes in the lengths of your menstrual cycle, and the absence of menstruation (amenorrhea).2

Studies show that vitex may be able to correct these menstrual irregularities caused by hyperprolactinemia. This feat is achieved by binding to dopamine D2 and opioid receptors, which indicates that it may act in a similar manner to dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter.3 Because your dopamine level is inversely correlated with prolactin production, vitex binding to dopamine receptors could exert the same effects.

And by regulating prolactin production, vitex may help balance other hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).4,5

The opioid activity of vitex may also benefit women who experience certain symptoms of PMS like depression, irritability, fatigue, headache, and fatigue. In one study, 170 women were given either vitex or a placebo for three consecutive menstrual cycles. Over 50% of the women who took the vitex extract tablets reported significant improvements in their PMS symptoms, including headache, mood alteration, anger, and irritability.6 That’s impressive!

If you struggle with infertility, vitex may help improve your chances of becoming pregnant. One study compared vitex to placebo in 96 women with fertility disorders. And the results were striking. In women with amenorrhea or luteal insufficiency who were given the vitex-containing product, pregnancy occurred more than twice as often as in the placebo group.7


Maca (Lepidium meyenii), also known as Peruvian ginseng, earned its massive popularity for its fertility benefits.

A lesser-known property of maca root is its adaptogenic quality, which means that it can help your body adapt to and deal with stressors. Although the full mechanism behind this action is not yet well understood, research findings suggest that compounds called sterols in maca stimulate the endocrine system, thereby maintaining hormonal balance.8

Sterols in maca have also been shown to improve functions of the following:9

  • Adrenal gland
  • Ovaries
  • Thyroid
  • Pancreas
  • Pineal gland

Because of its positive influence on endocrine glands, women entering perimenopause may find maca root particularly helpful in regulating hormone levels. In a study involving 20 perimenopausal women, just two months of treatment with maca root resulted in significant improvements in symptoms of discomfort, such as mood swings and cramps.10

Additional benefits of maca root include:

  • Reduced symptoms of depression11
  • Improved blood pressure12
  • Enhanced libido13
  • Clearer skin14
  • Higher energy levels15
  • Better concentration and memory16

Fiber, Protein, and Probiotics

If you’re exercising and eating right but still not losing weight, poor gut health might be the culprit.

Gut health has been a hot topic in recent years largely driven by the close relationship between the gut microbiome and human health. Some scientists even regard the gut microbiome as a separate organ.17

And its role goes far beyond digestion and nutrient absorption. 

Research studies report a potential causal link between the gut microbiome, obesity, and metabolism. In other words, lower microbial diversity and higher intestinal permeability (leaky gut) are associated with obesity, systemic inflammation, and insulin resistance.18 This makes gut microbiome diversity an attractive target for scientists because it can be easily regulated by making simple changes to one’s diet.

Researchers have also discovered that there is a relationship between sex hormone-related diseases and the gut microbiome. Cell-level studies performed in the 1980s showed that progesterone could promote the growth of certain species of bacteria, and some human studies have also indicated that fluctuations in estrogen levels could affect the gut microbiome composition.19,20

Furthermore, we’re learning more and more about how our gut microbiomes affect our mood and brain health, so much so that the gut-brain axis is now recognized as an essential part of homeostasis. The gut microbiome has been shown to play a pivotal role in various brain development processes, such as neurogenesis, development of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and maintenance of blood-brain barrier integrity.21

To summarize, your gut microbiome has such a profound influence on your health – and yes, your mood. And this means that what you eat really does matter.

So, what do you need to eat to have a gut microbiome that supports hormonal balance and healthy metabolism?

  • Lots of fiber: High-fiber diets not only increase gut microbiome diversity, they also promote hormonal balance by lowering estrogen concentrations. Research suggests that high-fiber diets may decrease your risk of developing breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.22
  • Adequate protein: Protein also supports a balanced and diverse gut microbiome. Protein is composed of building blocks called amino acids, which are also needed to produce hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. This means insufficient protein intake could lead to hormonal imbalances. Ensuring adequate protein intake can also help stabilize your blood sugar levels, reducing your risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.23
  • Prebiotics and probiotics: Prebiotics and probiotics are key ingredients for a healthy gut microbiome, and therefore, hormonal balance. An observational study of 2,699 women showed that probiotic intake was associated with higher estradiol level in premenopausal women and lower total testosterone level in postmenopausal women. The findings suggest that probiotic intake may be a strategy in managing sex hormone-related diseases.24

Antioxidants and Polyphenols

Your body generates unstable molecules called free radicals as natural byproducts of normal metabolism. They can also arise from exposure to environmental pollutants, smoking, radiation, and other toxins. If left unregulated, an excessive amount of free radicals leads to oxidative stress, which in turn may lead to chronic diseases.

But you’re not defenseless. 

Defenders called antioxidants help quench free radicals, thereby helping prevent diseases like cancer, heart disease, and more.

Polyphenols are the most abundant type of antioxidants found in the human diet.25 Research suggests that polyphenols may provide the following benefits:

  • Better blood glucose regulation26
  • Lower systemic inflammation27
  • Enhanced insulin sensitivity28
  • Better digestion29
  • Boosted brain function30
  • Improved blood pressure31

Although your body produces some antioxidants, I recommend increasing your intake of antioxidant-rich foods, such as:

  • Pomegranates
  • Green tea
  • Curcumin
  • Berries
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dark chocolate
  • Whole grains

Omega-3 Rich Foods

Omega-3 fatty acids are called essential fats, which means your body can’t make them from scratch. Instead, omega-3 fatty acids must come from your diet, through foods like:32

  • Oily fish (example: salmon, mackerel, tuna)
  • Fish oil
  • Flaxseed
  • Nuts (especially walnuts)
  • Some plant oils

But what do omega-3 fatty acids have to do with your hormonal balance and nervous system?

A lot, actually. You may already know that omega-3 fatty acids are good for brain development, but did you know that they’re also good for improving your mood?

In a review of 19 clinical trials involving 2,240 participants, omega-3 supplementation was shown to be effective in treating anxiety.33 A recent observational study also reported that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation significantly improved depressive symptoms when combined with an antidepressant.34

Additionally, a trial of 95 women suffering from PMS symptoms demonstrated that omega-3 supplementation could reduce symptom severity and improve quality of life.35

The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids don’t stop there. Omega-3 fatty acids are also effective in reducing inflammation, which accompanies and/or exacerbates sex hormone-related disorders. One study reported lower testosterone concentrations and more regular menstrual cycles in women with PCOS who took omega-3 supplements.36

Find Your Zen and Achieve Hormonal Harmony With a Woman’s Hormonal Health Expert in Boston

Incorporating the foods and herbs discussed in this article can have a profound effect on your hormonal balance and nervous system. In general, these foods and herbs are very safe. But it’s always a good idea to consult with a specialist before starting any new supplement.

If you’re looking for assistance with hormonal balance, I’m here to help.

I’m a naturopathic physician with a passion for women’s health. While my practice is located in Boston, I support women across the United States in their health journeys.

Schedule a 15-minute complimentary consultation to learn more.



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