For PCOS, stinging nettle modulates androgen receptors and inhibits enzymes to effectively treat symptoms of excess testosterone, including lowered fertility, acne, and unwanted hair growth. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) disrupts a woman’s endocrine system and increases levels of the male hormone testosterone, an androgen. Stinging nettle root (Urtica diocia) decreases symptoms of hyperandrogenism, the results of excess testosterone, by inhibiting an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase. It helps modulate androgen receptors so that they are not over-stimulated by sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), and also binds to SHBG, all of which lead to lower free testosterone. Elevated insulin levels in women with PCOS can cause SHBG to drop, and when SHBG is low, there is more testosterone circulating freely in the blood. Insulin also stimulates more testosterone to be produced by the ovaries, an escalating cycle with which stinging nettle can help.
Stinging nettle is an adaptogenic herb, a term describing a botanical with the unique ability to “adapt” its function according to the body’s specific needs. Stinging nettle root works to optimize and stabilize the endocrine system, binding to and removing excess androgen hormones in the body or distributing estrogens and testosterone when and where they are needed. Due to the vast array of side effects associated with pharmaceutical agents typically prescribed to treat PCOS, natural therapeutics including botanicals may be a much preferred and effective approach.
Stinging nettle is a thorny weed that grows profusely in temperate and tropical climates. Many hikers and trail runners are painfully familiar with this aptly named plant that leaves a burning rash when touched. Luckily, its medicinal properties were identified thousands of years ago, and now its active ingredients can be extracted and used beneficially. For PCOS, stinging nettle’s main use is to effectively treat hyperandrogenism—or symptoms of excess testosterone.
In a study by Schottner et al. on the effects of nettle, it was reported that stinging nettle has an anti-androgen effect as it blocks SHBG.1 A 2014 study was undertaken to evaluate the therapeutic effects of Urtica dioica in forty women with hyperandrogenism. Results revealed that this plant can affect sex hormones and androgens by inhibiting the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase. It also helps to modulate androgen receptors so that they are not over-stimulated by SHBG. In the group receiving nettle, a significant reduction was observed in the post-treatment levels of total and free testosterone compared to controls.
Patients taking nettle also saw a significant decrease in their DHEA levels, plus improvement of acne and menstrual function. Oily skin problems were significantly higher in the control group compared to the experimental group taking nettle.3 Clinical research suggests that taking dried extract of stinging nettle root 300-600 mg daily for approximately four months decreases total and free testosterone levels.
Nettle root can modulate the effect of male sex hormone stimulation on prostate cells, so that androgen receptors and prostate steroid receptors are not over-activated. Also nettle root may help normalize prostate cells by preventing SHBG from attaching to them, and by blocking dihydrotestosterone (DHT) from binding to SHBG. You may be thinking, “But I’m a woman, I don’t have prostate cells!” However, women do have skene glands, historically thought to be vestigial organs, but more recently discovered to produce the same protein markers, PSA and PAB, as the male prostate.2 These glands could be seen to function as a female prostate. Their over-activity may explain why excess unwanted hair growth and acne are present in 70% of women with PCOS and only 10% of women without the disorder.
PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder among women aged 18 to 44 and is complicated to treat, as it has many contributing factors including elevated androgen, impaired glucose metabolism, increased insulin levels, and abnormal triglycerides and cholesterol. According to the Mayo Clinic, PCOS is also linked with low-grade inflammation and hereditary factors.
In our clinic, we use a potent dose of around 240mg of nettles root standardized for its sterol content, the required high amount used in successful clinical studies to reduce total and free testosterone levels. The benefits of nettle root can also be enhanced by Saw Palmetto Berry Extract which helps to decrease symptoms of elevated testosterone levels, by inhibiting the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase. Pygeum (Prunus africana) Bark has hormone-balancing effects and also inhibits 5-alpha reductase so that less DHT is made. Pollen concentrate has powerful anti-inflammatory benefits, and also testosterone-calming actions.
Recommendation: Stinging nettle root, 240-250mg, standardized for over 15% total sterols. Take once or twice daily, best between meals, or as directed by your healthcare provider.
- Schottner M, Gansser D, Spiller G. Lignans from the roots of Urtica dioica and their metabolites bind to human sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Planta Med 1997; 63(6); 529-32.
- “A female prostate?” Berkeley Wellness, University of California at Berkeley. 18 April 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
- Najafipour F, Rahimi AO, Mobaseri M, Agamohamadzadeh N, Nikoo A, Aliasgharzadeh A. Therapeutic effects of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) in women with hyperandrogenism. Int J Curr Res Aca Rev. 2014;2(7):153-160.
- Arezoo Moinin Jazani et al. Herbal medicine for oligomenorrhea and amenorrhea: a systematic review of ancient and conventional medicine. Biomed Res Int. Epub date 2018 Mar 18.
- Azziz R. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Obstet Gynecol. 2018 Jul 10.
- Teede HJ et al. Recommendations from the international evidence-based guideline for the assessment and management of polycystic ovary syndrome. Clin Endocrinol. 2018 Jul 19.