Nettle Root and Women's Health
Nettle Root and Women's Hormonal Health
Many women are already familiar with the benefits of the above ground parts of the common stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) plant. The leaves are known to be deeply nutritive as a food and as a tea, able to improve skin, hair, and nail health. Some might also know the seeds to contain tonifying qualities both of the Yang energy and also building deep Kidney Jing. Few, however, know of the benefits that the root, harvested when Fall starts to turn blustery with Winter, gift to women's hormonal health.
For women, the actions of Nettle Root on the body are similar to those of men: optimizing and regulating the hormonal (endocrine) system. Nettle Root has the unique ability to add sex hormones where they are needed and delete them where they are doing damage. I like to think of Nettle Root as more of an ally or a best friend, supporting you to become the best version of yourself. It doesn't supplement with phyto-hormones. Nettle Root doesn't do the work for you, but what it does it is assists your own body in finding a healthy harmony. In this way, it is a premiere first line of defense, but also an important and powerful medicine for the long haul. Sticking with the best friend analogy, Nettle Root is both the friend you can sit with and BS over coffee or a beer, and it is also the friend who stands by you through thick and thin, when you need them the most and when others are nowhere to be found.
For women, Nettle Root is able to minimize harmful estrogen metabolites in the body. Some sex hormones undergo a process called aromatization where the end products are implicated as primary causative factors in several types of cancer, including hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer and uterine cancer. Decreasing levels of these estrogen metabolites have shown beneficial both in assisting prevention of cancer as well as an adjunct therapy. Conventional medicine has identified the importance of blocking this process, and three common breast cancer drugs are Arimidex (anastrozole), Aromasin (exemestane), and Femara (letrozole). These medications all work similarily to Nettle Root, in blocking the aromatization process. Nettle Root, unlike these medications, is a safe, natural medicine, with no known side effects or toxicity. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, natural plant medicines are far reaching, providing a host of benefits, not a singular action.
Clinically, and for a broader audience, more and more herbalists are using Nettle Root to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome/disorder, known as PCOS or PCOD.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is one of the most common endocrine disorders plaguing women, and it seems that more and more women are suffering from PCOS. The effects of PCOS are severe, and affect many areas of a woman's life and do so in a multitude of ways. Polycystic ovarian syndrome causes a lack of ovulation, known as anovulation (the prefix of a or an = without). Anovulation results in irregular and absent menstruation (amenorrhea). PCOS also causes ovulation-related infertility, and polycystic ovaries. PCOS leads to an excess of androgenic hormones (the male sex hormones), which often results in acne and excessive hairiness (hirsutism). PCOS also contributes to insulin resistance leading to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol.
PCOS is a serious disorder, affecting many women, and Nettle Root has show promising abilities to correct the syndrome and reverse the associated side effects.
Linda Crockett, author of Healing Our Hormones, Healing Our Lives, includes Nettle Root in her formulas for treating PCOS, and many Naturopathic doctors and herbalists are currently working with Nettle Root in treating PCOS. Susan Weed, the popular women's herbalist, writes, "Use nettle root as a hair and scalp tonic, a urinary strengthener and stimulant, an immune system/lymphatic strengthener and a bit of first aid– primarily in cases of diarrhoea."
Unlike the research that has gone into the benefits of Nettle Root on the male system, scientific analysis of how Nettle Root helps alleviate PCOS is lacking, and many of the hypotheses available do not make physiological sense. One common suggestion is that Nettle Root helps women by blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT (a more active form of testosterone). This might be of benefit to women, however, Nettle Root does not block the conversion of testosterone to DHT (Saw Palmetto does). While Nettle Root lacks scientific research, the clinical applications are there.
When combined with an improved healthy diet and regular exercise, Nettle Root shows much promise in alleviating PCOS and reversing the harmful symptoms associated with it. My hypothesis for how it helps the female hormonal system is the the actions of Nettle Root, like all tonic plants, are not linear. Scientific methodology is strictly linear, however, life and the natural world are cyclical--the antithesis of linear. And this is how Nettle Root works: not a singular, straight action, but a tool kit of cyclical actions. Nettle Root knows where assistance is needed, and is able to adapt, finding a healthy harmony of sex hormones, both in the female and male body.
Much of Western medicine is actually built on the back on Western herbalism. The first synthetic drug was aspirin, known as salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a synthesis of of the White Willow plant, the Latin binomial being Salix alba, and the family name being Salicaceae. Here, you can see the root of the word for salicylic acid. Today, many common drugs are just the synthesis of medicinal plants know to herbalist and indigenous people the world over. I include this as part of discussion on the linear, scientific method thinking, noting how much of our understanding of medicinal plants mimics the application of Western, alopathic medicine.
We have to break out of this methodology to truly understand not just plants and plant medicine, but how we fit into a holistic ethos of the world and the natural environment. We have to break our of linear thinking to find health.
In this way, we have much to learn from classical Chinese medicine, where the top, most prized and highly regarded plants work not linearly, but cyclically. We know these plants as tonics and adaptogens. An adaptogen, like a best friend, knows exactly what you need at any given point, and helps you become your best person--the best version of yourself. This is where Nettle Root fits in. The actions of the plant in the male and female body might differ, as they might differ from one person to another, or even differ within the same person at different points of their life. But the end result is always the same, a heather, more harmonious endocrine system.
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