Snake oil or relief?  What to look out for when selecting a hormonal health supplement

Snake oil or relief?  What to look out for when selecting a hormonal health supplement
Snake oil or relief?  What to look out for when selecting a hormonal health supplement. Image source: Pixabay

Supplements can be an effective tool in the management of hormonal imbalances, and issues like endometriosis, PMS and menopause, but in an industry worth billions of Rands it’s hard to know which buzzword ingredient is worth the hype, and whether it’s suited to you.

The lack of resources being put into women’s health conditions is well documented, and as a consequence, more women are taking their hormonal health into their own hands. But to safely and effectively do this, women need to be able to navigate the complex and often confusing range of treatments, supplements available today.

Here are three things to look out for when it comes to selecting healthcare supplements.

Science-backed ingredients:

“When you’re looking at a hormonal supplement, immediately rule out brands that are not clear about the ingredients they use,” says Gia Bertola, founder of Honest Hormones, who manages her own birth control side effects, gut and endometriosis by combining clinically backed Ayurvedic, African herbalism and integrative medicine techniques.

Once you know what is in the supplement, don’t just buy into the marketing hype- spend some time researching ingredients, their efficacy, and their uses.

An ingredient like ashwagandha, for instance, has been used for hundreds of years and, with a rise in its use, science is starting to pay attention. A number of scientific studies have found that it can help to regulate the endocrine system (which is responsible for hormone management) and is therefore useful in the management of stress, sexual healthfertility and PMS.

Turmeric meanwhile, has become somewhat of a superstar in the supplement world, with promises that it will heal a plethora of ailments. And while the science doesn’t back up all of these claims, turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin, have been widely studied and shown to act on inflammation, so it can be useful in managing the symptoms of endometriosis and period pain.

And bear in mind, more is not always better.

“You want to be careful about the amount of things you put in your body. Your liver can only gently process so much,” Bertola cautions.

Contraindications and interactions:

“Certain ingredients might be marketed as natural or organic, but that does not mean that they’re a good fit for everyone,” Bertola says.

She has personal experience of this having sought out solutions to her own hormonal issues.  “Untested combinations of herbs from all over the world made my condition worse. It cost me my nervous and endocrine health, for many years”.

Phytoestrogenic ingredients like Red Raspberry Leaf and Dong Quai, for example, often used in the treatment of endometriosis and for the relief of menopause symptoms, could potentially worsen symptoms and may interact with other medications like birth control,SSRIs and blood thinners.

If you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant or if you have a pre-existing condition which you’re taking medication for, always check with your doctor before starting any over-the-counter supplement regime.

Testing and certifications:

Many natural supplements are not required to undergo testing to substantiate their claims, says Bertola, and there is very little quality control involved in the manufacturing process.

“A lot of brands want to sell you buzz words and make you believe that all herbs, even when combined together, are good for you, and basically will solve all your hormonal issues- that’s just nonsense at best, and dangerous at worst,” she says.

There are also a number  of testing certifications that govern how a supplement is produced. Look out for ISO, FCS 22000 and BRC approvals which govern food safety and require audits of the premises to ensure cleanliness, safety, allergen management among other things to ensure that you’re using supplements that have been produced in a safe environment.