Ever feel like something is just “off” with your mood, energy level, and general zest for life? Or, if you’re anything like me, you might notice some seriously annoying PMS symptoms that crop up around your period – ranging from digestion issues to headaches and muscle aches. 

These are all signs of hormone imbalance. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to live with these symptoms forever. 

The modern world isn’t exactly set up to help us thrive when it comes to hormone balance. Exposure to toxins, constant stress, poor diet, and inactivity can all contribute to hormonal issues. But it’s not just the “bad” stuff that’s the problem. In fact, sometimes behaviors that are otherwise considered healthy can contribute to hormone imbalance if done in excess (exercising too much or eating a diet that’s too ‘clean’, for example). 

Hormone issues are surprisingly common, and often fly under the radar. While some hormone issues require medical treatment, lifestyle changes can sometimes be enough to help support your body’s ability to naturally regulate its hormone health.

For help with hormones in the modern era, we can actually look back thousands of years to the ancient practice of incorporating adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms. 

Keep reading to learn more about how adaptogenic mushrooms can support hormone balance.

Possible Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance 

All of the hormones in our body are part of what’s known as the endocrine system. Endocrine glands, like the adrenal glands and thyroid, secrete hormones to communicate with other parts of the body. Hormones are responsible for facilitating a wide array of body functions – from metabolism and blood sugar, to our stress response, and fertility. 

The brain houses the main control center for all hormone production and regulation: the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is like the middle-man between the environment and our body – it perceives our needs and sends hormonal messengers in response, all without our conscious involvement.

Hormone levels in the blood are supposed to fluctuate throughout the course of a day, week or month. When hormones are in “balance,” it means that the body is effectively producing the right amount of hormones, and that other parts of the body are “listening” and doing what they need to do. When your hormones are balanced, you’ll likely feel energized, sleep well, have clear skin, and notice a healthy libido.

Hormone imbalance can occur when the body lacks resources it needs to produce enough of the right hormones, or is busy responding to other needs that it perceives to be more important.

Possible Signs of hormone imbalance include:

  • Missing, irregular periods
  • Heavy periods
  • Zero libido
  • Mood changes
  • Painful cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sluggishness or fatigue
  • Sleep issues
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Hormonal acne

How Can Adaptogenic Mushrooms Support Hormone Balance?

Adaptogens are compounds in foods that help the body better respond to stress, fatigue and anxiety. 

Without adaptogens, the body responds to stressful situations by triggering your “fight or flight” response. In a short period of time (like when you need to escape a dangerous situation), this can be a life-saving mechanism. But activating the fight or flight response is brutal for hormone regulation when it happens over and over again. Unfortunately, the body hasn’t evolved past primal instincts in its response to stress, so the brain perceives modern-day stressors the same way it perceives a life-threatening event – and many people find themselves in a chronic state of stress.

Think of chronic stress like a wildfire in the body. The endocrine glands are so preoccupied with trying to put out the fire and keep the body alive, they aren’t able to produce hormones to coordinate other functions in the body.

Adaptogens in mushrooms and other herbs have been shown to help the body mitigate this stress response, which can create space for the body to better regulate hormones and keep them in healthy balance.

Some strains of mushrooms, with their high levels of terpenoids and antioxidants, have been shown to have an adaptogenic effect. They are:

  • Reishi
  • Chaga
  • Lion’s Mane
  • Cordyceps

How Do These Mushrooms Work?

Adaptogenic mushrooms help the body regulate hormones by targeting different layers of the stress response. 

Many adaptogenic mushrooms, like Reishi, Chaga, Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps, functionally support the body’s innate ability to reduce inflammation and fight oxidation [*,*,*,*]. While some inflammation in the body is designed to keep you healthy, too much inflammation can lead to overproduction of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. Too much cortisol is itself pro-inflammatory, as it causes elevated blood sugar, encourages the body to store visceral fat, and suppresses digestion and absorption of nutrients [*]. 

When the body is in a state of chronic stress, the adrenal glands will favor the production of cortisol over “non-essential” sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, potentially leading to hormone imbalance over time [*]. Stress also decreases the function of the thyroid gland by decreasing the conversion of inactive to active thyroid hormone, which can contribute to significant fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and slowed metabolism [*].

Incorporating adaptogenic mushrooms consistently can help dampen the impact of stress by improving the body’s ability to cope with inflammation. 

Aside from reducing stress, Reishi mushroom extract has been shown to exert estrogen-like activity, which may help regulate reproductive hormone levels for some women [*]. Reishi has also been found to reduce anxiety in mice, and shows promise as a mood-booster in humans [*,*].

How to Use Adaptogenic Mushrooms

Experts recommend giving some time (6-12 weeks) for adaptogens to build up an effect in the body [*]. You may not feel an immediate effect of taking an adaptogenic mushroom, but you may notice your mood, energy, and sleep improve after a period of weeks. You might consider tracking your symptoms to see what changes you notice, since many of the changes will be gradual and build up over time.

Some evidence indicates that the body can develop a tolerance to certain adaptogens, so you may consider taking a break in adaptogen use periodically to maximize their effectiveness in the long run [*]. 

It’s important to note that there are very limited studies investigating adaptogen use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, and most experts recommend avoiding them during this time due to unknown safety risks [*].

How to Buy High-Quality Adaptogenic Mushrooms

Adaptogens can come in many forms – pills, powders, tinctures, teas, etc. It’s important to find an adaptogen supplement you enjoy taking so you can be consistent and enjoy the most benefits. 

It’s also important to ensure you’re taking a high-quality supplement with the most potent forms of the mushroom or herb. When it comes to adaptogenic mushrooms, not all supplements are created equal. In fact, most mushroom supplements in the US are made from mushroom mycelium grown on grain, not the fruiting body. It’s important to be sure the adaptogenic mushroom supplement you choose is made from 100% fruiting bodies for maximum potency.

Other Tips for Hormone Balance

Depending on the type and severity of hormonal imbalance you experience, you may notice that incorporating adaptogens alleviates your symptoms entirely, or it may be one piece of a larger puzzle. With something as complex as hormonal balance, one single habit is unlikely to “cure” everything on its own, but it can make it more likely that other lifestyle changes will be effective.

Here are some other tips to help optimize your adaptogen use and restore hormonal balance:

  1. Align with your circadian rhythm: The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock and heavily influences hormone production over the course of the day. When life gets out of sync with the circadian rhythm, various disruptions in hormone balance can occur [*]. Light is a key circadian signal to the body. One way to re-align with your circadian rhythm is to aim to get sunlight exposure in the morning, and reduce your exposure to blue light in the evening. 
  • Incorporate mindfulness: Like adaptogens, mindfulness practices can help the body regulate stress hormone production and reduce chronic inflammation [*]. 
  • Exercise, but not too much: High and low intensity exercise has a multitude of benefits for the body, including building stress tolerance. It’s important to not overdo it, however, as too much exercise can be perceived as a stress of its own, disrupting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis – a key hormone regulation system that affects the thyroid and fertility [*].
  • Prioritize rest: The body needs to rest and recharge in order to properly regulate and balance hormones. This means not only prioritizing 7-9 hours of high quality sleep every night, but also giving yourself permission to take it easy when your body is telling you to slow down. There is nothing to be gained from burning yourself out, especially when it comes to your hormones and feeling good. 
  • Eat plenty of healthy fats: Many hormones are built from a steroid backbone, which are made of fat and cholesterol. Women’s reproductive hormones, in particular, are sensitive to fat intake and not eating enough can lead to disturbances in menstrual cycle [*].

In Conclusion

Hormone imbalance isn’t something you have to live with forever. Tried and true strategies, like adaptogenic mushrooms, have been used for thousands of years to help humans feel their best. 

The body knows how to keep hormones in balance when it’s not preoccupied “putting out the fire” of chronic stress and inflammation. High quality, adaptogenic mushrooms like Reishi, Chaga, Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps can help support the body’s immune system and innate ability to fight off inflammation, which lays the foundation for the body to regulate hormones effectively.

Recommended for Hormone Balance:

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