Nettle root is an herb with a long history of use in traditional medicine, and it's one of my favorite potent botanicals for hormone balance. Let's dig into how nettle root can help with PCOS symptoms by managing androgens (and a few other supplements to try that only add to its effectiveness).
Public awareness about polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) continues to grow, with celebrities and influencers sharing their experiences on social media. I've been treating women with PCOS and talking about it for years, and I'm so glad that more people are learning about this common endocrine disorder.
One of the most frustrating aspects of PCOS is the symptoms associated with androgen excess, such as acne and hirsutism (excessive hair growth). Androgens can also throw your menstrual cycle out of whack and make it tough to get pregnant. The good news is that there are things you can do to manage your androgen levels, and one of them is taking nettle root in combination with other hormone-supportive practices.
What is PCOS?
Let's start with the basics of PCOS and androgens. Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder that affects approximately 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. It's one of the most common endocrine disorders, yet it's often under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed.
PCOS and Androgen, Testosterone Issues
Androgens are present in both men and women, but women with PCOS tend to have higher androgen hormones than women without the condition. Androgens are made in the ovaries and the adrenal glands and contribute to essential biological functions like sexual development, fertility, and muscle mass. But like any other hormone, androgen must exist in the right balance with other hormones.
Hyperandrogenism in PCOS
Androgen and testosterone activity depends on another hormone, sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), to keep it in check. SHBG is a protein that binds to testosterone and other sex hormones, making them inactive. In this way, SHBG becomes a critical regulatory protein for testosterone because your body can't use it when it's bound to SHBG.
In women with PCOS, levels of SHBG are often low, which means there's more free testosterone circulating in the body. Women with PCOS can have hyperandrogenism that shows up with symptoms, or they can have high androgen levels that show up in the blood without any physical signs.
Beyond the symptoms mentioned earlier, there's a close link between hyperandrogenism and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition in which your body can't effectively use insulin. It often goes hand-in-hand with PCOS.
With insulin resistance, the body makes more insulin to try to get glucose into the cells. But all that extra insulin can cause androgen levels to increase, leading to even more insulin resistance—and the cycle continues. And guess what? Insulin also inhibits the activity of SHBG, making blood sugar management a top priority for PCOS.
Normal Androgen Levels in Females
Normal androgen levels for premenopausal women are:
- Total testosterone: 35-60 ng/dL
- Free testosterone: 1.2-2.2 pg/ml
- DHEAS: 200-380 microgram/dL
There's a wide range of what's considered “normal” when it comes to androgen levels, so it's important to work with a doctor to get your levels checked and to understand what's going on with your unique biochemistry.
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How to Improve PCOS Symptoms
There's no band-aid or one-pill-fixes-all to improve PCOS symptoms, but there are things you can do to help improve symptoms and address root causes. First step? Embrace a hormone-balancing plan that addresses all the different areas of PCOS. This can include diet, stress, toxins, and more.
I get it. It can feel overwhelming and hard to know where to start if all of this is new to you, which is why I've created a free hormone-balancing starter kit. In it, I break down the most important diet and lifestyle changes you can make to help improve PCOS symptoms. You can grab it here.
Balancing Hormones Naturally
Here are my top lifestyle tips for helping to improve PCOS symptoms (and health overall):
- Examine your daily diet. Eating a nourishing diet rich in nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods is so helpful and important for PCOS. This means reducing your intake of processed foods, inflammatory oils, and sugar.
Don't stress about overhauling your diet overnight or hard-core restriction, which always backfires. Instead, try to include lots of vegetables, healthy fats, and quality protein at each meal, and you'll naturally reduce your intake of other foods. You’ll find the best diet for PCOS tips in this article.
- Double down on fiber. Fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels and promotes healthy hormone balance. Fiber-rich foods include veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
- Sleep. Getting enough sleep is vital for overall health, but it's also crucial for blood sugar control. If you need a little extra support, I've written about the best supplements for sleep here.
- Take steps to address stress: Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your hormones, so it's important to find ways to eliminate stressors when you can, and manage the stress that’s left. This can include things like yoga, meditation, and journaling.
- Pay attention to endocrine disruptors. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are found in everything from cosmetics to cleaning products, and they can throw your hormones off balance. To minimize exposure, avoid synthetic fragrance products and try to gradually replace plastic containers in your kitchen with glass or stainless steel.
- Practice gratitude and kindness, especially to yourself. Don't throw this out as some “woo woo” tip; gratitude is a simple practice that could help your hormones. So be gentle with yourself, embrace self-compassion, and find things to be grateful for daily.
- Stop dieting. Embrace eating to nourish your body and ditch restrictive dieting. Chronic dieting stresses the body out, making hormonal balances worse.
What is Stinging Nettle Root?
Stinging Nettle Root is a botanical that can be beneficial for PCOS. If you’ve ever gone on a hike in the Pacific NorthWest and felt a little prickly sting on your ankle, it may be from a stinging nettle plant.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a perennial flowering plant used medicinally for thousands of years. The roots of the plant are used to make supplements and nettle teas to support a healthy endocrine system and help to manage androgen excess symptoms (among many other benefits). The leaves are often cooked down or brewed into a tea to provide nutrients and kidney support.
Nettle contains a wide variety of therapeutic compounds and vitamins that are beneficial for health, including anti-inflammatory compounds, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, and K. It also contains minerals like iron and calcium.
Nettle root also contains a class of compounds known as lignans. Lignans are phytonutrients that have weak estrogenic activity and can be used for hormonal imbalances, PMS, menopause symptoms, and PCOS.
What is the Difference Between Stinging Nettle Root and Leaf?
Both the nettle root and nettle leaf of the plant are used medicinally, but each has different benefits because they contain different therapeutic compounds. The root is typically used for hormone imbalances, and the leaf is typically used for allergies, inflammation, and urinary tract health.
Stinging Nettle Root Benefits for PCOS
Botanicals often have fewer studies to review because, let's face it, drugs have more of a financial incentive for studies than herbs and plants. But there are a few we can look at to better understand the benefits of nettle root.
Nettle root also has anti-inflammatory effects, which can be helpful because inflammation is closely related to PCOS. In one study, people with type 2 diabetes had lower markers of inflammation after taking 100 grams of Nettle Root daily for 8 weeks.
Nettle root may also help improve insulin resistance. In an animal study, nettle root improved blood sugar balance and insulin resistance by increasing skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity (making the muscle cells more responsive to insulin).
But another important reason I use nettle with my patients is its impact on androgen hormones.
Nettle Root for Managing Androgen Excess Symptoms
Nettle root helps decrease the availability of free testosterone, which can help reduce androgen excess symptoms. It may do this by inhibiting 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme that contributes to PCOS symptoms and is often higher in women with PCOS.
Much of the research on nettle and sex hormones is on men and prostate health. Still, one study that examined testosterone levels in women with hyperandrogenism found that taking nettle root daily resulted in lower total testosterone, free testosterone, and DHEA. Symptoms of acne and menstrual irregularities also improved.
As androgen levels drop, symptoms of acne, irregular cycles, and hirsutism may diminish. Remember, taking a single product is not enough because nutrients and botanicals work together to support hormone balance and reduce the symptoms of PCOS.
Myoinositol Plus is a product I created to provide all-in-one PCOS support. It includes nettle root extract, inositol, and other PCOS-supportive vitamins and herbs in research-backed dosages to support healthy ovarian function, blood sugar balance, and hormone health. Find it here.
Additional Supplements for PCOS
In addition to nettle root, supplements are almost always part of my recommendations for PCOS. Here are some of my favorite supplements for PCOS:
- Inositol: A nutrient closely related to B vitamins, inositol may be the most important supplement I use for PCOS because it's so effective for regulating ovulation, balancing blood sugar, and supporting symptoms of PCOS. You’ll find it in our Myoinositol Plus Formula.
- Chromium: This mineral supports optimal blood sugar. A healthy blood sugar and insulin levels helps reduce the unwanted symptoms of acne, hair loss, and irregular periods associated with PCOS.
- Zinc: Zinc is a mineral that supports fertility, egg quality, and hormone balance. It's also helpful for healthy blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.
- Vitamin D. You've got vitamin D receptors all over your body, including reproductive tissues, where it plays a role in hormone signaling and follicular development. Vitamin D is also an essential nutrient for blood sugar—and it's estimated that 67 to 85 percent of women with PCOS have low vitamin D.
- Spearmint Leaf: This herb has been studied for it’s anti-androgen effects in women with PCOS. Women with PCOS are often encouraged to drink it as a tea or take it as a supplement.
Nutrients from food work in combination with each other, and the same goes for supplements for PCOS. The synergistic effect is often more powerful than taking any one nutrient alone. This is why we’ve combined the above nutrients, plus other helpful ingredients, to create a comprehensive formula to support women with PCOS—the Myoinositol Plus formula.
When combined with wise nutrition and lifestyle choices, supplementation can help support your hormones in finding balance.
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