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Anxiety and women's hormonal changes

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Q: I understand that anxiety can happen at any time and for many reasons, but why does it seem to occur commonly during times of hormonal changes for women, such as puberty, before menstruation, during and after pregnancy, and with menopause? What treatments or supplements would you suggest?

A: Anxiety disorders are twice as common in women as in men, and this may be in part due to hormonal changes. Hormones are all about balance. The right hormones at the right time and in the right amount are powerful contributors to our health.

Estrogen and our feel-good hormone serotonin have a close relationship. Similarly, progesterone is sometimes referred to as “the peaceful hormone” because of its relationship with the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is thought to help keep us calm. New research is suggesting that imbalances of these hormones may result in anxiety and panic attacks.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are many formulas that help restore hormonal balance. However, hormones are tricky, so it takes a trained TCM practitioner to choose the appropriate customized Chinese herbal remedies and acupuncture treatments.

A simple remedy for anxiety, that is suitable for many, is one of TCM’s most venerable herbs: reishi mushroom. Also known as “spirit mushroom” and “the immortality mushroom,” reishi has been shown in animal research to help reduce anxiety and stress. Although further studies need to be done, reishi is also traditionally used to help treat fatigue, modulate the immune system, and reduce inflammation.

Because it is extremely bitter, many choose to take it in capsule form. It’s widely available at natural health retailers. As always, check with your health care practitioner before trying any new supplement to ensure it’s suitable for you.

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