Head’s up! If you’ve been working to correct a hormone imbalance in your body, but haven’t been getting the results you’re looking for, THIS may be the missing link. While it can be super helpful to work with herbs that balance hormones directly, if you’re not supporting the systems that are responsible for cycling hormones and properly eliminating them, you may not be getting the most out of your herbal formula. Guess what those super important cycling and elimination systems are? Your liver and your colon. Yup, optimizing liver health and making sure you have regular bowel movements is a key part of balancing your hormones.
In case you missed my article on The Connection Between Bowel Health & Hormones (+ 7 Factors That Affect Bowel Habit Health), make sure you check it out to understand exactly WHY we want to support regular bowel movements for hormone health.
To get right to the point… First let’s focus on the liver.
In herbal medicine, anytime we’re addressing hormone health, we want to make sure we’re supporting the liver to ensure proper hormone cycling and elimination in the body.
Liver herbs can promote healthy hormone balance and bowel habits by encouraging bile production and release, which lubricates the bowels and carries excess hormones out of the body.
Herbal medicine even has specific fancy terms for herbs that encourage the production of bile (choleretics), herbs that promote secretion of bile (cholagogues) & herbs that are known to generally act on the liver (hepatics). Herbs that act as digestive bitters are often helpful in getting the liver going and promoting bowel movements.
Bitter herbs have a specific action in the body- they stimulate the release of digestive juices including bile from the liver, promote liver detoxification and help the gut wall repair damage by stimulating self-repair mechanisms. (1) There are SO many digestive bitter herbs, so this list isn’t complete by many means, but here are some of my favorites.
My Favorite Digestive Bitter Herbs To Promote Liver Detox:
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
- Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
- Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
- Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)
- Burdock (Arctium lappa)
- Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
- Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
- Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinalis)
Hepatoprotective Herbs to Love Up Your Liver:
Here’s a list of some herbs that may act on the liver through the bitter mechanisms of action, but also have “hepatoprotective” properties, which means they contain antioxidants that protect the liver from being damaged due to exposure to toxins and metabolic waste:
- Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)
- Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
- Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
How Do I Get My Bowels Moving? Herbs to Encourage Bowel Movements & Colon Health
Through a variety of mechanisms, herbs can also encourage peristalsis, decrease inflammation, soothe damaged tissue in the gut lining and promote tissue healing caused by food intolerances or other gut related health conditions.
There are so many herbs that can help bowel movements in herbal medicine, but here are a few of my favorites, based on how they work in the body (their mechanism of action).
Stimulating Peristalsis: Anthraquinone-Containing Herbs
Anthraquinones are a group of chemical constituents naturally present in certain plants that work by slightly irritating the colon walls, which instigates a bowel movement. This is a list of herbal laxatives that contain anthraquinones (1):
- Aloe (Aloe spp.)
- Purging buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)
- Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula)
- Cascara Sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana)
- Chinese rhubarb (Rheum spp.)
- Senna (Senna alexandrina)
- Yellowdock (Rumex crispus)- I learned that this herb is not habit forming, and is one of the gentler anthraquinone-containing herbs in terms of its laxative effect on the bowels.
Important note: Some caution needs to be taken though, as over time this category of herbs can your body can become dependent on them to have a bowel movement. I recommend using these for short time periods, as they can be helpful, but not for long-term use.
Bulking Up The Stool: Fiber-Rich & Mucilaginous Herbs
Another way to support the bowels is by consuming herbs and foods rich in mucilage. These herbs help to soothe the intestinal lining and bulk up the stool. They can be incorporated as food, or taken in powder form (mixed with water into a paste or in a smoothie).
- Psyllium husk
- Slippery elm
- Flax seeds (freshly ground)
- Marshmallow root
How Else Can I Support My Bowel and Digestive Health?
The easy answer from a herbal perspective- you want to use herbs to decrease digestive inflammation while healing & soothing the intestinal lining. Also, make sure to check out the 7 factors that contribute to bowel habit health and follow the recommended solutions where applicable to you!
While these aren’t necessarily to promote bowel movements directly, there are herbs that can definitely be helpful if there’s damage or irritation to your colon. These herbs are a combination of vulnerary (speeds up and encourages tissue repair), mucilaginous (provide soothing polysaccharides to calm irritation), anti-inflammatory and gently astringent, which will lead to repair damaged cells and decreased irritation in the gut. Sidenote: All of these would be excellent choices for leaky gut too!
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
- Marshmallow Root (Althaea officinalis)
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- Plantain (Plantago spp.)
- St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
- Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
- Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
- Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)
- So many more!
Ever Heard of Triphala?
Triphala is an Ayurvedic blend of 3 different berries- Emblica officinalis (Amalaki), Terminalia bellerica (Bibhitaki), and Terminalia chebula (Haritaki)- and is a revered medicine in regulating colon health. One human clinical trial that investigated the use of Triphala in patients with gastrointestinal disorders reported that treatment reduced constipation, mucous, abdominal pain, hyperacidity, and flatulence while improving the frequency, yield, and consistency of stool. (2) Interestingly enough, it was also found to decrease diarrhea, indicating it has a normalizing effect on gastrointestinal health, making it a great ally here. (2)
As Always, Get Your Herbalist On Board...
As you know, I always recommend consulting a Registered Herbalist or knowledgeable health care provider when deciding what herbs are a good fit for you, especially if you’re on medication or pregnant/ breastfeeding. Many herbs are contraindicated particularly in pregnancy, so it’s always important to find out if it’s safe. Some of the liver herbs can affect medication metabolism and it’s important to be informed. Also, all of these herbs have a host of other incredible medicinal actions, and to get the most out of them, it’s best if they're suited to your unique health situation.
To sum this all up, in order to have a happy and healthy hormone balance in the body, the liver and digestive system need to be in top shape too! Whenever you’re addressing a hormone imbalance, either in yourself or with a client or patient, in order to get the most out of your herbal protocol, always have herbs that will promote digestive health and liver detoxification.
May your digestive system and liver be loved!
With all my herbal love,
READY TO GET TO THE ROOT CAUSE OF YOUR HEALTH ISSUES, NATURALLY? BOOK A CONSULTATION WITH ME SO WE CAN DO IT TOGETHER!
- Hoffmann, D. (2003) Medical Herbalism. Healing Arts Press (Rochester, Vermont).
- Peterson, C. T., Denniston, K., & Chopra, D. (2017). Therapeutic Uses of Triphala in Ayurvedic Medicine. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 23(8), 607–614. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2017.0083