When we say the word "hormone", what comes to mind? Maybe you think of the hormones that control puberty, and those fickle days of mood swings that came with it. Maybe you think of later in life and the bodily changes of menopause. Maybe you think of gender transitioning, and the testosterone or estrogen that is taken to adjust biological gender.
The fact is, the human body is laced with hormones. There are something like 66 different hormones in the human body. These range from the well-known giants like Adrenaline (responsible for fight or flight) and the sexual hormones Estrogen and Testosterone, all the way to hormones like relaxin, which isn't quite understood to this day. That's right; there are hormones in the body that we don't know the purpose of. Scary, right?
It's even scarier when you think about how delicate the entire human system is. Changes in hormones can lead to a wide variety of health problems and biological changes. Some are intended: steroidal hormones can encourage muscle growth, and the aforementioned gender transition is powered by hormones. On the other hand:
- Adrenal Hyperplasia, a disorder of the adrenal glands leading to imbalanced hormones.
- Hypo- and Hyperthyroidism, disorders of the thyroid gland that make it over or under-produce thyroid hormones.
- Cushing syndrome, where the adrenal gland produces too much of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Sexual dysfunction, caused by a wide variety of different hormonal imbalances.
There are dozens if not hundreds of hormonal diseases and disorders. Some of them are congenital, some of them are side effects of other diseases like tumors on a gland, and some are diseases in and of themselves. All of them share one thing in common: imbalances of hormones.
Even minor imbalances in hormones can lead to health issues you might never identify. Small changes in hormones can leave you with poor stress responses, sexual issues, increased body fat, acne, sleep issues, and a whole host of other issues. None of them are bad enough to warrant hospitalization, and many might not even be recognized as hormonal in nature. Unless you do a full hormonal workup, you might never know.
Millions of people suffer from minor hormonal imbalances every day. In part, it stems from environmental factors, including the chemicals we're in contact with and the foods we eat.
The Interconnected World of Hormones
The human body is a fantastically complicated machine made out of hundreds of moving parts, most of them microscopic. You might think your brain is responsible for regulating it all, but that's only partially the truth. The whole truth is, your hormonal system does a ton of the heavy lifting.
Hormones are, at their core, messengers. They're chemicals that tell different parts of your body to react in different ways. If you're in a stressful situation, your adrenal gland produces adrenaline, also known as cortisol, which gives you a temporary burst of energy to extricate you from the stress. Your brain is hardly involved; in fact, until the cortisol wears off, much of your brain's activity is dedicated to the lower processes, not higher thought.
Cortisol, meanwhile, controls or causes a myriad of reactions within the body. This can be everything from a burst of strength or speed to escape a predator (or a dangerous situation like a car accident) all the way to telogen effluvium, an acceleration of your hair's growth cycle leading to temporary hair loss.
Hormones regulate just about everything. Blood pressure, your circadian rhythm, metabolism, digestion, glucose levels, healing, pain regulation, appetite, nutrient absorption, ovulation, sexual pleasure, muscle growth, lactation, and a thousand other bodily processes are all influenced or controlled by hormones. Most of it is autonomous; your brain barely controls any of it.
The Effects of Diet on Hormones
Your body is a delicate system, and the endocrine system (the scientific name for the network of glands and hormones in the body) is particularly vulnerable to disruption. One major source of that disruption is your diet. The availability of nutrients, from those necessary to produce hormone precursors to those the hormones use to relay their messages, is a huge factor.
A simple example is blood sugar. Consume a lot of carbohydrates and your body will produce insulin to deal with the sugar. As insulin imbalances occur, your body reacts to that sugar differently, typically by storing it as fat. As this cycle accelerates and gets worse, you end up with a disease of insulin; diabetes. This is vastly simplified, of course, but the idea is there.
In addition, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests your gut bacteria play a role in balancing hormones. A nicely balanced gut biome promotes good, symbiotic bacteria. Bad bacteria taking over (such as through a poor diet) leads to a range of health problems, including hormone disruption.
This is why some people are beginning to subscribe to the theory that humans are piloted in part by their gut bacteria and that a healthy gut is a huge contributing factor to overall health and wellness.
This is where moringa comes in. Moringa Oleifera is a vegetable that is primarily native to southern Asia and parts of Africa. It's resistant to drought and grows quite quickly, and is thus cultivated as a vegetable. Many different parts of the moringa plant are consumed for nutrition, including the leaves, seedpods, and the seeds themselves.
We've written several times before about moringa and its variety of health benefits. Today, though, as you might have guessed, we're focusing on the effect it has on the endocrine system.
Moringa has two kinds of effects on the hormonal system throughout the body. First and most obviously, it's part of a healthier diet. In general, people who consume moringa (whether it's fresh or as a supplement) are usually more concerned about health than others. Consuming moringa means you're less likely to be consuming junk food laced with high fructose corn syrup or other nasty ingredients. A healthier diet means a healthier gut biome, and that means a healthier endocrine system.
The second sort of effect is less direct. The chemicals that make-up moringa include a variety of phytonutrients and compounds. Some of those have been observed to have beneficial effects on hormones throughout the body. Most testing has been done on women, looking specifically at estrogen, but effects may be observed in both genders and all across the spectrum of hormonal balance.
Moringa and Estrogen
The strongest link between moringa and the endocrine system is through estrogen, the "female sex hormone." Estrogen is produced in both males and females (in fact, in all vertebrates and even some insects) and is responsible for the primary regulation of female sexual characteristics, and secondary sexual characteristics in all people.
"Estrogen" is actually a bit of a misnomer. There's not just one estrogen, but four: estrone, estradiol, estriol, and estetrol. In women between puberty and menopause, estradiol is the primary estrogen in their bodies. After menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen and the pituitary gland picks up the slack, and the primary estrogen becomes estrone.
Estrone is less potent than estradiol, which is why menopause involves so many biological systems essentially shutting down. Observations of the effects of moringa on estrogen levels indicate that the plant can help manage that reduction. It won't stop menopause, of course, but it can help mitigate some of the issues that crop up due to lower estrogen levels. Among these is the increased risk of ovarian cancer; moringa seems to have some cancer suppressant effects.
There's also some evidence to suggest that moringa may be able to help reduce estrogen levels in people with too much of the hormone in their systems. Moringa, then, isn't a suppressant or counter-agent to estrogen, but rather a balancer and regulator. It helps keep estrogen levels in check, neither too high nor too low.
Moringa and Testosterone
Now let's flip the coin; what does moringa do to the male reproductive system and the associated hormone, testosterone? The conclusions here may be a bit less pleasant. Tests of moringa seeds on rats indicate the supplement decreases testosterone, as well as sperm motility, sperm count, and luteinizing hormone levels. In other words, it contributes to infertility.
On the other hand, a different study (on the same breed of rats) indicated that moringa's antioxidant properties helped reduce the oxidative effects of cortisol, reducing stress and stress-based ailments. This includes stress-related infertility and sexual dysfunction. In short, this experiment showed improvement in sexual performance and fertility in rats.
The difference may be in the supplement; the first was the seeds, and the second was the leaves. Given that 90% of the moringa you find on the market short of growing it yourself is the leaves, you're likely in the clear on these effects.
Numerous studies have also shown that moringa has some benefits to the prostate gland, inhibiting prostate cancer the same way it inhibits ovarian cancer.
Other Balancing and Beneficial Effects of Moringa
We've already mentioned several of the main effects moringa has on the body. Balancing out estrogen and testosterone, regulating insulin levels and blood sugar, and reducing cortisol levels and the resulting oxidative stress. What else can this feisty little plant do for you?
While it's not directly related to hormone levels, moringa is still a leafy green. Leafy greens – even in a powdered supplement form – are full of fiber. Fiber is a powerful nutrient both for long-term energy levels and for digestive health. Fiber slows the digestive system, allowing your body to get more nutrients out of the food you eat while suppressing your appetite and allowing you to eat less.
Plus, fiber feeds the good gut bacteria, while sugars feed the bad. Giving your gut bacteria more to chew on helps promote the health of your overall gut biome, which in turn helps promote and regulate your overall hormone levels.
Moringa is also full of vitamins and nutrients, many of which have their own beneficial properties. Sure, you can get most vitamins and minerals from a multivitamin, but it's always nicer to get them from an organic plant source.
How Best to Take Moringa for Hormone Health
So how should you go about taking moringa if you want to bolster your endocrine system and keep your hormones in balance?
You should consider three factors: the type of moringa, the type of supplement, and the timing.
As for the type of moringa, leaves are the best. Moringa leaves are the primary source of supplements, as they're dried and ground up like an herb or spice. You can buy powder in a bottle, or you can buy capsules, already packaged and easy to take. Alternatively, you can buy moringa juice, typically made from the leaves or the seed pods and water. Avoid the seeds themselves; they're best left for water filtration seed cakes.
The type of supplement is the same; powder, juice, or even whole leaves if you can find them are all valid options. Consider what is most accessible to you, what you enjoy taking the most, and what form you want it to take.
Consistency is the key in all things. To get the most out of moringa, you want to take the same amount at roughly the same time of day, every day. Moringa supplements with breakfast in the morning, moringa greens as part of a salad in the evening, moringa as part of a smoothie after workouts; it's up to you what you prefer. Taking a consistent dosage of moringa, on a consistent schedule, is the best way to see the benefits of the miracle tree.
Do you have any questions about moringa? We've written a lot about it, so feel free to search this blog, or just leave us a question in the comments below. We'd be more than happy to help you out in deciding if moringa can help you with your issues, and what form you should look for when you want some of your own.