My guest is Hormone Health Educator, Candace Burch MA. Right off the bat, I will say it’s female-centric (even though we do discuss why MEN SHOULD NOT BE DRINKING MILK). Candace gives us a road map to not let our cycles or menopause take us down. She first addresses the lifestyle buckets and then gets into if certain hormones have packed their backs, what is the safest, smartest ways to explore creams or other forms of support.
She is matter of fact and very helpful. Why suffer if you don’t have to. We can even help our teens who can then take this information into their 20, 30’s, and beyond.
Listen to the episode here:
- Supporting the Young [00:01:45]
- Product Compositions [00:06:30]
- Candace’s Journey [00:10:09]
- A Closer Look at Your Hormones [00:14:11]
- Balancing Your Hormones [00:27:51]
- A Woman’s Inner Workings [00:34:18]
- Facing the Next Phase [00:39:00]
- Replenishing Hormone Levels [00:46:45]
Candace Burch – Female Hormones, Testosterone & Estrogen
Welcome to the show. My guest is Candace Burch and she is a Hormone Health Educator. I’m going to say right at the top of this, if you are a man that has a female in their life, a mom, sister, daughter, wife, or girlfriend, read this. This particular show is heavily female-centric because we talk all about, whether we’ve got teenagers who are entering into the hormone journey, if you’re having a rough time with your cycles, PMS, menopause, perimenopausal, whatever it is, we go deep on this.
I love this conversation because Candice is on a mission to remind us that it’s not about losing your mind or gaining tons of weight. We don’t have to suffer through it, whether it’s bad periods, if you’re a young person trying to navigate this, if you are menopausal or perimenopausal. There are things we can do. Let’s start with our lifestyles first and the natural ways that we can try to calibrate our hormones, or if in fact, we do need some bioidentical and navigating what that looks like.
If you’re interested, she is offering a saliva test at home. You can go to their website, YourHormoneBalance.com. If you put in the code GABBY at checkout, they will give you $50 off of your test. I love this conversation selfishly, but also to share that with you so that we can help each other enjoy our lives better and know that there’s tools and resources out there.
I was wondering if maybe we could touch a little bit about hormones and then I want to spend more time in the weeds to get a better understanding about what’s going on or ways that we can help if we do have daughters or a sister. Is there anything that we can even do to support them for a younger person that’s realistic?
First of all, some women get their periods young. A 9-year-old that’s getting their period probably has too much estrogen from eating foods that are possibly injected with estrogen like the meat and the dairy that is commercially processed that is shot up with estrogen hormones to make the cattle grow fat faster and produce more milk. When kids have a lot of dairy that include hormones, they can have estrogen thickening that uterine lining and it’s a growth hormone. It grew all of our female organs but during our cycles, it’s what thickens the uterine lining, what we shed is a period, and it’s also growing that egg in the ovary.
The normal time to get a period is more like 12 or 13. Girls that are exposed to estrogens early not only include the foods I was talking about but it includes cosmetics, household, chemicals, Xenoestrogens, and the chemicals in the environment that act like estrogens when they get into our bodies. Meaning, they can dock up to a receptor site for what should be a naturally produced estrogen and replace it. It’s like the unwanted guest who comes to your house and sleeps on your couch forever and you can’t get rid of them. They take up residence and don’t leave. That can happen with fake estrogens that mimic normal.
It’s important for young women for us moms to be aware that we want to watch that when we’re shopping to buy hormone-free, GMO-free, labels that say things like, “Our cows are happy cows,” or, “We don’t give them any artificial hormones.” It should say something like, “These animals were raised without hormones.” It’s not good enough for the label to say, “No added hormones.” That often refers to just adding it to the feed, but what about injected hormones? There are so many things.
[bctt tweet=”I don’t think women ask for help enough either because we’re the ones always doing everything. “]
The Cosmetic Safety Act hasn’t been updated in over 80 years so we are using cosmetics that aren’t disclosing a lot of the chemicals that are in there, the placental tissue in some of the anti-aging moisturizers, etc. That doesn’t apply to younger girls, but there’s lead in lipstick. There are heavy metals in these things. They act like hormones and they can disrupt the normal establishment of a period for a young woman.
A couple of the other issues to watch out for with our young girls is that they get so emotional about animals and they want to be vegans. That can become an issue. Let’s say you haven’t had your period yet or you’re young and you still don’t have an established period and now you’re refusing to eat any protein that comes from animals. That becomes important to figure out how to eat proteins properly with plant-based foods so that you’re not missing out on the protein, especially good fat benefit of those of the hormone building blocks.
Would it be appropriate if you had a family and they’re vegetarian or vegan and you as a child who, for her own purposes, says, “I don’t want to eat animals,” to supplement them even young with an omega?
Absolutely. They support and nourish all the organs and glands that are responsible for making these hormones, so why not? There are better choices like grass-fed beef. Grass-fed animals are higher in omega-3s. If you’re a meat-eater yourself and your child is insisting on being a vegan, maybe you can get them over to the understanding that grass-fed animals live a happy, good life. Their life may be short but it’s humane, or the idea of eating fish. A lot of people are pescatarian. They’re not eating meat but they’re eating fish.
I see a lot of test results of younger women who have low estrogen and progesterone levels when they’re in their 20s and even in their early 20s. They have symptoms as though they’re a menopausal woman. They have hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and vaginal dryness at 23. That’s an issue that is often related to restrictive dieting. My own daughter missed her period for a couple of years because she was so strictly vegan. I think that’s the reason.
There are websites for makeup that at least tell you what is good.
Environmental Working Group, EWG.org, has something called the Skin Deep program and they list a ton of different products. You can look up a product that you’re thinking of buying or that you’re already using and find out what its toxicity level is. Is it full of hormones? Is it full of toxins and chemicals that you wouldn’t see in a product in Europe? There are about 1,400 different chemical ingredients that the Americans allow in our products that are not allowed in European products. Same with your food in Europe.
I’m glad I raised my girls in England because they didn’t allow hormones in the food and that was before I knew about it. I wasn’t thinking about it then in the early days. They don’t allow hormones in milk or dairy or cheese or any of that. European cosmetics may be a safer way to go or check out indie programs. There’s something called Think Dirty or Tuesday Morning that has some way when you’re in the store to shop, you’re standing in front of the product and you can look it up right then and see.
There are products like Beautycounter, which should be talked about because Beautycounter’s owner has been a real activist up on Capitol Hill trying to get the Cosmetic Safety Act updated to protect us from these different heavy metals and chemicals that are in this stuff that we’re putting all over our skin. Women use billions of dollars worth of beauty products every year and we’re smearing it all over our skin. Our skins are great absorbent organ so we’re picking up a lot of toxins that are disrupting our hormone balance. There’s Beautycounter and Thrive Market.
The simplest thing to do for people is you look at all these labels and you’ve got to become an investigator and read labels. If you have a million ingredients that are hard to pronounce and have all kinds of X’s, Y’s, and Z’s, do we need all these things? It’s good to look for simple ingredients that are not hard to pronounce. If there are too many of them, forget about it. One in particular is laureth sulfate, propylene glycol, all of these names that are hard to say and nobody knows what they do, except that they’re disruptors of our endocrine system. Stay away from that and go simple.
It’s like eating well. A good product shouldn’t have a lot of processing and shouldn’t have more than five ingredients when you’re trying to eat clean. When you’re trying to use products that you’re putting on your body and on your hair, and we use pounds and pounds of it a year, we need to be careful. I still haven’t gone gray. I’m still too vain to go gray so I tried to do the plant-based hair dyes. Aveda is one of them and I know there are others.
Every chance you get to look for a less toxic alternative is the way to go. It’s chemicals and heavy metals. Microwaving your food in plastic, there are chemicals in plastic that when they’re heated, they leach into the foods we eat and they act like estrogens in the body. They’re called estrogen mimickers. They’re imposters but they can create an overstimulated excess of hormones and throw everything else out of balance. The hormones are the musicians or the instruments. If any one of them plays out of tune, the whole thing is lost. Synchronized swimmers, if one swimmer swims off to the other side of the pool or dives down or splashes around, what happens to that beautiful petal formation?
Maybe you could go a little deeper from your journey to hormone health educator because you had your own moment of like, “This isn’t working.” I love to know what that looks like for you, and then I want to dive down into cortisol, adaptogens, and hormones.
What it looked like for me when I was staring at Ryan with her big blue eyes filled with tears, I thought, “This is hormonal. I’d been a health educator already for many years. I knew I had to get a handle on it.” At the time, I remember thinking, “There’s such a thing as a hormonal imbalance and that’s something people still don’t realize. It’s so important to know the symptoms of hormonal imbalance.”
How painful should a period be? It shouldn’t be painful at all. We shouldn’t have period pain, heavy periods, missed periods, and horrible PMS that turns us into Jekyll and Hyde every month. There are so many different symptoms women should be made aware of. I started looking into it. I did a test and I found out at 48 years old, my progesterone levels were low because progesterone is the hormone that’s made upon ovulation and supports that whole second half of the cycle.
If you get pregnant, progesterone rises to make a lush, leaky, juicy environment for that embryo to implant in. If you don’t become pregnant, that cycle progesterone drops, which is one of the reasons we get horrible PMS sometimes. If it drops too much, we get a period. I realized I was low in progesterone. The test results showed me that. Why? Because I was 48 and my hormones were starting to fluctuate. Perimenopause is that time between your 30s and late 30s and all through your 40s when your ovaries are starting to pack their bags and they take about 8 to 10 years to do that.
Depending on the amount of stress in your life and how crazy busy you are all the time, overbooked, overcommitted, maybe you’re overexercising and under eating, etc., this all adds and complicates the issue of how long your ovaries are going to supply you with some respectable amount of hormone. People who are under a lot of physical, mental, and emotional stress don’t do as well. I was under a lot of stress because I was always working to deadlines. I had two kids and I was drinking too much coffee. Whatever it is, people know what they’re doing. People are up late on their laptops.
I heard you on one of your podcasts talking about blue blockers that is a sponsor for you. It’s important to block that blue light at night because it disrupts melatonin, which then creates more cortisol, which makes us more stressed, which messes with our sleep-wake cycle. The testing tests all of these levels. It looks at your estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and stress hormone levels. I was a basket case. Everything seemed to be out of balance.
I did start using some progesterone cream, which is one of the first steps. The idea is to replenish what your body is no longer able to make enough of for you. That’s a different story if you’re 23 and your body should be ovulating and you should be making enough hormone. When a woman is in menopause or perimenopause, that can be wonky so you have to clean up your act stress-wise, eating-wise, etc., and then maybe use a little dab of progesterone cream at bedtime, which I did.
You have to take a break from progesterone during your cycle. You only use it during the luteal second half of your cycle because you’re mimicking natural physiology. When I’m two weeks off the progesterone, my daughters would be saying, “Mom, where’s that cream? You need to rub that cream back in.”
Let’s say a younger woman is thinking, “It hasn’t been good and I am stressed.” They have a different battle with the phone all the time, connectivity, and all these other things that they navigate that you and I didn’t navigate coming through. Is there a time universally for either someone in their 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s to take a test? If you still have your cycle, is it two weeks after your cycle? When would be the optimum time to get a healthy snapshot of what your hormones are looking like?
On a broader level, anyone that has symptoms of hormone imbalance that are disrupting their lives. They can’t sleep, they’re gaining weight that even though they’re doing everything right, they think they’re eating clean and they’re exercising, they have mood swings and acne, etc. Their old school doctor is saying, “We need to put you on the pill.” That’s the time to think about testing hormone levels to see if there is an existing imbalance.
When cycling women, the test is always done in the second half, the luteal phase. It’s generally 19, 20, 21 of a 28, 30 days cycle. Right around midway, you ovulate and then we test a few days later so that we’re getting the peak of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, all those hormones right before they start to dissipate a bit into that second half of the cycle moving up towards getting your period again. Right before the period, they’re at the lowest levels so we want to capture them.
I use saliva because it’s noninvasive. You can collect it at home the minute you wake up in the morning, and then at noon, evening, and bedtime because you want to track cortisol, stress hormone levels, and adrenal cortisol. Not adrenaline that has you running from the Taliban, but the cortisol that is your 24/7 energy hormone. That also regulates your blood sugar, which boils down to energy, insulin, sleep, and immunities.
We can track all of that and all the other hormone levels by testing in the second half of your cycles. When women get a kit, they do need to wait until days 19, 20, 21. Collect all throughout that same day and we can get a good snapshot. People will say, “Everyday is different,” but still, there are healthy ranges that are set and we want these hormones to fall within. It’s about resilience. Even if you’re stressed or let’s say you’re cut off in traffic and you’re late for work or whatever is happening that can stress you, the adrenal should be resilient enough to get back to a normal level.
[bctt tweet=”Under 19% body fat will impede ovulation.”]
When we see levels that are way too high and chronically high, flatlined, or low, bloody women are shocked to see their cortisol levels are low. They’ll say to me, “I’m a lawyer. I work ten hours a day. I’ve got three kids and I’m so busy all the time. I thought my stress hormones would be off the charts and they’re low. How can that be?” It’s common because so many people are going for years and years.
Women are not notorious for taking care of everyone but ourselves. We are putting people before us, before we put the oxygen mask on ourselves, so we get depleted and we start to run on empty. With women who are in the perimenopause or menopause years, the adrenals become our main source of hormone when the ovaries are done. We have to support them and give them a lot of tender loving care.
A lot of us can clean up a lot of these situations when we’re younger with our lifestyle.
For younger women, the heavy painful periods or the irregular periods, or the PMS are huge.
They accept that as a sentence.
Should you have horrible heavy periods? No. Periods shouldn’t be an inconvenience. None of these things should disrupt your life to the point. How many women have I talked to who say they have to leave work or leave school or they’re curled up in a fetal ball when they’re having their period? That’s a numero uno clue that you probably have some kind of hormonal imbalance going on.
We have a symptom quiz on our website, Your Hormone Balance, which is a good place to start because there are many symptoms of hormone imbalance. Some of them aren’t as obvious as others. Weight gain is a big one. Also, belly fat and weight gain around the waist. There are many symptoms that can be identified in a hormone test. There are supplements and hormone creams, but it’s like, “What’s appropriate for your age?”
If I talk to someone who says she’s working out 6 or 7 days a week, doing high interval training, is a vegetarian or doesn’t get much protein or diet, doesn’t like protein, and has a raft of symptoms, we know that these are things she’s going to have to change in her lifestyle. As well as create support through some of the good adaptogens, herbs, vitamins, etc. that we all need. Because our soil is denatured, it’s hard to get everything in the foods that we eat, and who eats perfectly?
For younger women, are we seeing some of these because of the stress, lifestyle, lack of sleep, and all of that?
It’s chicken and egg. For younger women, it’s because their diet is not good or they’re eating a lot of junk food or processed food. I remember when I went to Beverly Hills High School, which I’m usually embarrassed to admit, we thought it was cool that our nutrition break was a glazed donut and a chocolate milkshake. Only in a highfalutin high school are you going to get that. That’s the worst kind of nutrition. I was hooked on glazed donuts for years and probably had way too much sugar, carbs, and all of that. That’s common with some younger women. With some younger women, it’s overexercise. That’s a real problem.
We could talk about the overexercise because somebody like myself, who is at a high level for a long time, I never exercised for the sake of trying to be skinny because that wasn’t what was going to help me. Performance was going to help me, but I sometimes feel that there’s a different energy around when people are not eating enough nutrition to support their system and then training to be thinner or, “I’m not thin enough,” and all of that. With young women, it’s like, “Let’s get your food lined up, your caloric intake congruent at least with your output, and the right kinds of calories.”
It’s easy to get too much sugar in the diet, first of all, so that gets into the whole conversation about having to be your own detective and start reading labels because there’s sugar in most foods. It’s hard to find foods that don’t have high fructose corn syrup in them or don’t have too many grams of sugar. You have to be careful about that, especially younger women because when we’re young, we often don’t have a weight problem yet or we don’t think there’s anything wrong with being too thin. We think we can eat whatever we want.
We could be slowly building a polycystic ovarian syndrome unwittingly because we think, “I don’t have a weight problem. I’m active. I can eat all the sugar I want.” Women that are too thin usually don’t have enough estrogen. If they’re overeating carbs and sugars, they’re making too many androgens as in testosterone and DHEA because the effect of sugar is that it raises insulin. You’re eating a lot of sugar and your body’s job is to turn that sugar into energy in the muscles or to store it if there’s too much. That’s insulin’s job.
If there’s too much sugar and simple carbs coming into the diet all the time and high glycemic foods, maybe we like to eat fruit but we don’t want to be eating only pineapple, banana, and papaya. We need fruits that are more balancing and have antioxidants like berries, peaches, and things that have natural phytoestrogens in them.
This isn’t something we get in sex ed. Nobody’s telling us this in nutrition. I didn’t learn this stuff in high school, so how would a young woman know? Unless your mom’s savvy. With that combination of being too thin and not having enough body fat to make the right component of estrogens, eating too much sugar creating too many androgens, you’d then become dominant in testosterone and hormones. That makes us fat around the middle and cause the ovaries to develop cysts, which then start creating even more testosterone. That’s an imbalance of testosterone and estrogen. Now you’re edgy and aggressive, you’ve got acne, your hair starts to get oily, and your skin is oily.
There’s a lot of problems with polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is the most common hormone imbalance among women in their reproductive years. It all starts when they’re young. If they are not heating, the importance of getting complex carbohydrates, we don’t want these carbs in general. Carbs are good. Good complex carbs in the form of fruit and vegetables with the skin on, cruciferous vegetables, fantastic whole grains are full of the B vitamins and the minerals that we need to also make hormones.
It’s not about saying you’ve got to get off all carbs or that you have to stop all proteins or any of it. You just want to go back to balance and back to the healthier forms of these foods. That’s what younger women need to hopefully learn at home. Kids are interesting, too because when they have allergies or they have skin problems, and when you tell them, “This is the healthier version of what you’ve been eating and this is going to help you,” they take it seriously. They can be compliant more so than us unruly adults who’ve had years of misbehaving in our way of eating and living.
It’s a holistic thing. It means we can’t overexercise. In your world of athletics, women athletes are well known for having ovulatory cycles where they do not ovulate. If they don’t ovulate, they don’t make progesterone, estrogen becomes excessive and so can these other hormones because there isn’t anything there to balance.
Is there a way by doing certain things naturally to try to get things a little bit into balance?
First of all, it comes back to ovulation. For women who are cycling, all those years to your 20s and 30s and even into your early 40s, women have their cycles. The follicular phase builds the estrogen and then we go into the ovulatory phase and we make progesterone. We should be ovulating. If I see a test result in a younger woman and her progesterone is low and that puts her into an estrogen dominant phase or her testosterone and DHEA are high because either she’s overexercising or she’s eating a lot of carbs. Those are lifestyle changes that can be made.
We have to look at what disrupts ovulation. First of all, birth control. A lot of younger women are on birth control. A good 52% of them are on birth control, not for contraceptive purposes. They had acne or heavy periods or missed periods or mood swings or they’re gaining weight and their immediate default is to put them on birth control. That’s the obvious reason they’re not ovulating.
Too much exercise and too little body fat. Under 19% body fat will impede ovulation. Overexercise, over half the women you were training with weren’t getting their period and weren’t ovulating. That’s significant. Also, the toxins. We started talking about early on some of these Xenobiotics that get in there and mess with hormone levels to the point where ovulation can be disrupted.
Exposure to these different chemicals. I’ve talked to women who work in a plastic factory or they’re exposed to it every day. What do you do with that? You either have to switch jobs or take other draconian means to stop the exposure. There’s a lot of things that we can do in our lifestyle before we do anything in terms of using hormones. I don’t think women need hormones until they’re in perimenopause.
[bctt tweet=”The simplest thing to do for people is to look at all these labels. Become an investigator and read labels.”]
Sometimes it’s just that gentle little bit of progesterone because it’s so balancing. Sometimes it’s Vitex Chasteberry, which is an herb that can also increase progesterone naturally. That’s a natural approach without hormones, but it can boost hormone levels. Sometimes it’s changing the diet so that we reduce the carbs and the sugars.
I was listening to your interview with Dr. Axe. I like him. He was saying with PCOS women have to be conscious of carbs. He wasn’t dissing all carbs, but he was saying brown rice that is cooked for a long time and carbs like nuts, seeds, and legumes and not much more if there’s a real problem. All of these things, nutrition, exposure to chemicals, getting enough sleep, although sleep can be a result of a hormone imbalance. Let’s say you’re on your computer late at night like so many kids are or on their cell phones. The blue light is disrupting the production of melatonin and now cortisol is in the ascendance. Cortisol is the stress hormone.
Over time, if cortisol is high or stays out of whack, then all the other hormones will be out of whack because cortisol trumps all. It’s the king. We have to have it live. If we have stressed demands that are high, either emotional stress, we’re in a toxic relationship, or in a toxic job situation or we’re overworking, overexercising, overbooked, we’re not eating well, all of those things, that comes first. We also need to support ourselves with some of the healthier, good foods, good fats, good protein. Vitamin B is huge. Adaptogenic tinctures, those herbs that help to nourish and strengthen the adrenals. There’s a lot we can do before we have to use a hormone.
We talk a lot about meditation and breathing. Personally, I’d rather exercise and find quiet time. It’s also getting people to say, “I know all these things that I can do and should be doing that I’m not doing.”
I’m happy that you mentioned the thing about meditation and breathing because I was talking about all these other things, but stress management, reducing any unnecessary stress however you can, deep breathing. I love Dr. Andrew Wiles’ 4-7-8 breaths when you can’t fall asleep at night. It’s excellent. Deep breathing, stopping and taking a moment to assess the situation, meditation, sketching, creativity, all those things that cultivate stillness.
I often ask women to make a list of the ten things they love to do most in all the world that destress them, relax them, and bring them joy. That’s an easy list to make when you think about it. “I love to scrapbook.” “I love to go to the theater.” “I love to camp.” “I love to spend quiet time.” “I love to spend time by myself.” You go back through that list and you enter next to each entry. “When is the last time I did that thing?”
I’ve met women that say, “I’m a singer but I haven’t been singing in two years.” “I love to laugh.” We have people who are isolated because of COVID. There’s a great phrase called collective effervescence. We don’t laugh or have as much fun on our own as we do with other people. Many of us have been isolated and we don’t have the chance to laugh out loud. All of these things are stress releases. That’s hugely important. I’m happy you brought it up. There are things that increase our experience of stress that make us feel jittery or edgy. That’s things like caffeine, but it depends on what caffeine it is. I like my cup of coffee in the morning. Doesn’t your husband have some lovely collagen that you can add? I use that.
We have a vegan creamer because though that’s fat, which is good fat, it’s from coconut, but not MCT. It’s from the food. That’s releasing caffeine slower so you don’t go up and go down. I wonder sometimes a lot. I have a universal reoccurring question about myself and women, which is I’m all for being stoic. I try to practice stoicism. “Am I careful with my words?” All of these things. I’m wondering sometimes what is the mechanism inside women that it’s so hard for us to get to that list of ten things?
Sometimes they think, “We’re the protectorate of the species. We’re the ones that create ourselves. We’re the ones longing for life itself. We’re the ones growing that egg. Maybe there’s something spiritual and subconscious about our responsibility we feel to others and to our responsibility to make sure that everyone else is taken care of before we think about ourselves.” Most women I meet and talk to will say that over and over again. They don’t have any downtime. They don’t have any me time.
Test results are a great way to show your family, “Do you see this? My cortisol levels are flatline. Mom’s a basket case. Mama needs some time.” I remember a little book I used to read to the kids, it was called Five Minutes’ Peace and it was about this elephant family. The elephant mom would somehow manage by the end of the book to have five minutes for her cup of tea in the morning. I remember adopting that habit early on back when we were living in England. I would say to my family, “I’m like the elephant family in Five Minutes’ Peace. I need my morning to sit my tea, stare out the window, and not think or do anything in particular.”
There’s that thing about cultivating stillness and not feeling like we always have to be busy. I know it’s easy enough to say these things, but it starts with a simple step. Instead of the second cup of caffeine, you switch to matcha. Jessie, my daughter, is an Institute for International Nutrition health coach and she’s created a matcha blend that is the first one that I’ve ever tasted that I like. I didn’t like the taste of green tea. She has all these alternatives to coffee that give you a little bit of a buzz but calm alertness rather than the jittery feeling that you can get with certain caffeine.
If you add some collagen, some coconut, something good like your husband’s product, Laird Superfood, if you eat something sweet, or if you’re drinking wine, which has phytoestrogens, which is not the worst thing, cut it with some fiber. Always eat something with some good fiber in it to cut the impact of caffeine or sweets upon your GI tract.
Women love their wine. That’s one place where women do let down and relax. That’s not a bad thing. Red wine has some natural plant resveratrol and plant-based phytos that can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of lower estrogen as we get older. The hot flashes, the night sweats, and the mood swings. Making that list and saying, “I’m going to build back into my life these two things that I love. I’m going to make a commitment to myself and I’m going to ask for help. I’m going to tell my family, ‘I’m exhausted,’ or, ‘I need this time to get calm again,’” or whatever it is.
I don’t think women ask for help enough either because we’re the ones always doing everything. It’s on us to know what the symptoms of imbalance are. Women don’t always know a whole lot about what their hormones do. We just go with it. I’m like you, you power through, muddle through, don’t complain a lot, and carry on. Even when you bang yourself somewhere, we just soldier on and we do and do. We don’t pay enough attention to ourselves because somehow, it’s selfish.
I remember one Mother’s Day, my daughters took me to get a pedicure and that was only a few years ago. I’d never had one before. I didn’t take the time. I didn’t take the time to get a massage. I didn’t take the time to sit and do a sketch. I love to sketch and I wasn’t making the time to do that. It takes a conscious effort to say to everyone that loves you.
The other thing is when women get into hormonal imbalances, we are irritated, annoyed, and oppressed by the people we love most in the world. We spend so much time apologizing to them and feeling bad. Then we redouble our efforts to be the perfect mother before we get to the place where we say, “I’m going through changes here and I need you all to understand that.”
They will stop what they’re doing. They depend on us to be there forever and to be perfect and to never have anything wrong. Especially those of us who do everything well. People just let you do it. Your family will let you do it. They’ll let you organize every single event and every single bedtime story all the way down the line forever.
If you’re moving into menopause, perimenopause, postmenopause, it doesn’t have to be a complete misery.
Perimenopause can definitely famously be linked with roller coaster symptoms. Part of that is physiologic because the hormones are fluctuating. The ovaries are getting wonky and are shifting. It’s like the seesaw, but how precipitous the drop is being on a seesaw when you’re a kid and some kids slam you to the ground. You’re either on the ground or you’re hanging up high and about to fall off and there’s no balance there. That is when we’re talking about extremes.
Especially women in perimenopause, because their hormones start to fluctuate, they get panic with the first sight of some extra weight around their belly. They hate it. Women hate their belly fat so they start spinning and working out to an extreme undereating. At the same time, maybe they’re not getting enough sleep because they’re on their computer. We’re all so addicted.
I lost my phone and I was out of sorts for the whole half of the day because I didn’t have my phone. It was like, “There’s nothing earth-shattering that’s happening on that phone. Let it be.” Turning off the phone at night and not just putting it in another room can be a real liberation. With perimenopausal women, we can have terribly dramatic symptoms and we’re more known for having dramatic symptoms than are male partners who also have hormone issues. It’s more of a slow slide for them. They start to lose enthusiasm for the things they used to love to do or they don’t have the same competitive drive because their testosterone is going down and their estrogen is going up.
That relative thing will make some men more emotional, tearful, less athletic, and all kinds of things. With us, we can go between highs and lows. We got all of these hormones, the same hormones as men just in different amounts. If we’re getting higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of estrogen, then we’re going to have heart palpitations, which sounds like that’s what you were having. Your heart was racing because estrogen is wobbly and testosterone tends to remain more steady. In the face of lowering estrogen as you get into your 50s, you may start to have heart palpitations. There are all kinds of symptoms around that.
You said something that you would love that morning of fifteen minutes to yourself to meditate but you can’t do that right now. That’s what we have to investigate. Is that true or is there some adjustment you could make? Is there some space you could carve out for you? That’s where we need to do that because if we don’t, rapid aging is also part of our experience as we move into menopause. You look gorgeous.
For me, I’d rather take a quiet moment or do a check-in like a sauna. I also look at it as a luxury. I’m well aware. When I do my training, I’m like, “This is me time.” Besides all of the benefits when I train, I’m like, “I’m not apologizing. I don’t compromise this time. This is my thing.” My point of that was saying to people, “It’s whatever’s going to support you the way you need it.” It could be that you go take that walk and not go sit for fifteen minutes and be quiet.
Whatever it is, it’s knowing what you want. A lot of women have not even thought about what they want or what they need for years.
I’m curious, I have a friend who told me she was going through menopause and she said, “I’m eating air. The pounds are coming.” What is there to do? What happens there for women when they get into that? That’s a quicksand that a lot of women experience that. It kicks their ass in a real way.
First of all, the ovaries produce most of our estrogen, all of our progesterone, and 50% of our testosterone. Between 25% and 50%, the adrenals produce a lot, too. As we move into perimenopause and menopause, metabolism slows down and estrogen becomes higher because we’re not ovulating and making progesterone to balance it. When estrogen is higher, it’s absolutely linked to weight gain. There’s an estrogen fat pattern distribution, hips, thighs, the bottom. We start to see fat building up there if we’re gaining weight. We start to gain weight and the fat seems to go to those areas.
There’s also a connection between estrogen dominance, so we’re talking about estrogen that’s either high or an excess relative to waning progesterone. When estrogen is dominant, it blocks thyroid action. That’s another situation where a lot of women who are gaining weight think, “It must be my thyroid,” and they’ll go and get a thyroid test and it comes back normal. It’s important when you do a thyroid test also not to just do TSH but to test the free T3, which is the active thyroid hormone, and free T4, which is the most abundant hormone but isn’t active.
T4 has to convert to T3 to get the active thyroid function and that’s where estrogen can serve as a roadblock. If it’s excessive, it can block that conversion from T4 to 3. It’s called functional hypothyroidism. Meaning, the thyroid itself, the gland is healthy and functioning but you have symptoms of low thyroid. It’s because the thyroid is being thwarted or undermined by an underlying hormonal imbalance like estrogen dominance, which is incredibly common as we move into perimenopause and menopause because we’re not ovulating. We’re not making progesterone, which is the hormone that balances estrogen. Without it, we easily become estrogen dominant.
At the same time, testosterone is declining. With the ovarian decline, we’re not getting as much testosterone produced. We’re easily able to gain weight also because testosterone is linked to metabolism. What does it do? It’s an anabolic hormone. It builds bone and maintains it, and builds lean muscle. Testosterone is a DHEA, a precursor. Those two hormones are important when it comes to your strength and your structure.
[bctt tweet=”Turning off the phone at night and not just putting it in another room can be a real liberation.”]
A lot of women don’t feel strong anymore. They work out and they feel exhausted. They got lots of pains in carrying the groceries into the house. It’s too much that their arms are aching and, in the meantime, they’re gaining weight. No matter what they do, they can’t stop it. It’s all down to these waning hormones that have fallen out of balance with each other. That’s where a test can determine that and that can be a relief because then you can say, “At least I have a reason. There’s stuff going on here.”
You can take the steps lifestyle-wise, vitamin-wise, get a life-work balance, and get a balanced exercise program. Sure, do the high intensity, do strength training and weight-bearing because that will boost your testosterone levels, boost your metabolism, boost your lean muscle, and help you lose weight before you have to use any hormone at all.
Women don’t hear this because when they start to gain weight, they ramp out on the cardio. I’ve had people ask me all time, “If I have time for one thing,” of course you try to balance it out. I go, “As you get older, lift some weight, time under tension, your bones, and things like that.” Women are a lot of times afraid of that. I look at it and go, “As I get older, my testosterone continues to drop and I have a lot of explosive training and all these things.” Would you poopoo the idea of a testosterone supplement? I know people who are doing the pellets and things like that. How do you feel about that stuff?
I am a fan of replenishing diminishing hormone levels. Many years ago, we live to be 50. Now we’re living to be 85 to 90. My mother passed at 92. We have a third act. We have a whole nother third of our lives to live where we’re not making much hormone. Our ovary is not like they’re defunct, but they’re not making much hormone for us. We have to depend on our fat cells to make some hormones and we’re down to our adrenal glands to make some hormones for us. We have to depend on our adrenals solely and they already have a huge job of trying to create energy, regulate the sleep-wake cycle and/or immunities against illness. We have to have all of that support.
If levels are low and you’re doing all these good things, it’s a holistic thing. You put in a little puzzle piece of replenishment. It’s not like you can eat enough flax seed to bring your estrogen up to normal levels to possibly keep you from having hot flashes, night sweats, heart palpitations, and vaginal dryness. Sometimes you need a little bit of replenishment. The fact that we have bioidentical hormones now, which European women have been using for many years, but in this country, we had big pharma running the show and giving us synthetic HRT, which should be banned. It’s still out there.
When the Women’s Health Initiative in 2003 showed us the different risks of using synthetic hormones, and there are people out there that say, “That wasn’t exactly representative.” It is still the fact that there are synthetic hormones that cancel out any naturally occurring and that have ill effects that increase breast cancer rates, heart disease rates, bone loss rates, etc. Why not go for the bioidenticals that are made from plants? Who needs a hormone derived from a horse? I’m not a horse.
Plant-based hormones are made from soy and wild yam. That’s number one, bioidentical. We have that choice. They are made in a lab that they’re made to be exact in structure and function to the hormones our own body makes. If you think of a hormone as like a puzzle piece, it has a shape. It has to fit into its receptor site. It has to dock up and it has to fit properly.
Big Pharma created hormones that don’t fit perfectly because you can’t patent a natural substance, so no patent, no profit. Bioidentical hormones are not synthetic, they’re natural, but they work, they fit, and the body knows what to do with them. It says, “A little natural progesterone, we know where to put you.” They also are used in small amounts. There are different forms, so that gets into the delivery system.
With progesterone, the consensus still is that topical is best because progesterone is fat-loving. If you use a little bit of cream, you bypass the gut and the intestine, what they call the first-pass effect. By using a cream, you can use a minimal amount because it’s not going to have to be processed through the gut and the intestine. It goes straight to the cells that need it so you can use a small amount.
With testosterone, with most women, I like to see them do the weight-bearing to increase their lean muscle and if both DHEA and testosterone are low, why not use a little DHEA? DHEA can be used topically as well and it is the precursor of testosterone. DHEA is the most abundant hormone in the body and the first hormone it breaks down to is testosterone and then to estrogen.
Women can use a low amount of DHEA like five milligrams. Start there. Do the strength training and bring in the omega-3s, the good fats, good protein, B vitamins, and adaptogens. You’re filling in all the areas. Most women I know that abuse pellets find that it can be difficult because a pellet goes in for several months and it has a bolus. Your first experience is, “I feel absolutely fantastic. I have all the strength in the world. I’m ready to take on every boyfriend and my husband that I ever had. Where’s George Clooney.”
We feel like we’re on top of the world but over time, the pellets dissipate and you can feel like crap towards the end. What I prefer is a steady-state delivery system. That would mean a transdermal patch, as in the case of estrogen, or a cream, little Goldilocks dose, the amount that is physiologically active and/or oral hormones can be used but you have to use higher doses of them to get the full effect.
Some doctors prescribe progesterone in a micronized oral form called Prometrium. Sometimes that’s great for women that can’t sleep but topical progesterone can be awesome for women that can’t sleep. Use a little bit, rub it in at night, and it can do wonders. We take a break from this stuff, too. It’s not like you use it every single day.
If you’re in menopause, yes, you may have to replenish for the rest of your life because it’s not like menopause ends. We’re in menopause. Once we’re there, we’re there. Everyone has a different journey. Some people don’t absorb creams through their skin well. Some people can’t swallow pills. They hate oral hormones. Some people love the pellets. Everyone’s different and you have to be open to the fact that you want to start slow and low and you want to experiment with different things.
It’s always important when you do take that big step of adding in a little bit of hormone that someone is testing you and they’re not just prescribing. I work with a doctor, C.W. Randolph, who’s written countless books on the subject. He’s one of the gurus in bioidentical hormone therapy. He has a big clinic in Florida and he has helped women with natural hormones for his whole practice. He now makes available his proprietary creams, his formulation. He has a perfect estrogen progesterone cream and it’s over the counter. It doesn’t require a prescription.
We affiliate so that people test first. You don’t want to use a hormone if you don’t need to. You want to try it. You want to do all these lifestyle things first. A lot of women know when they’re not taking care of themselves. A lot of women will say, “I know I needed to get off the pill for ages.” Some women have been on it for 25 years. They’ll say, “I know I need to stop playing Words with Friends at 3:00 AM.”
Do you think for a younger person, they were in a relationship or single and more sexually active if their body could be comfortable with it that an IUD hormonally would have a less negative impact than the pill?
Yeah, it has a less negative impact. I test a lot of women that are on birth control and usually, their levels are going to reflect the chemicals in the contraception. I hope to encourage women to use a more non-hormonal form of contraception. There is the copper IUD. Some people will groan about that but other people have no problem with it. Some people have heavier cramping periods at first and then it gets better. Some women are fine with it. There are degrees.
It’s better to be on an IUD than a pill. It’s better to be on a copper IUD than to use the diaphragm or the sponge or that sort of thing. Best of all now are these fertility trackers. We have the technology now to track our cycles. Everyone I talked to, the younger women especially because they’re savvy and techno-savvy, they’re using fertility trackers like Alisa Vitti’s In the FLO. She’s written a great book about cycle syncing and she’s got a fertility tracker. There’s another one called Natural Cycles. They’re 99% effective, so why use chemicals?
That’s a great suggestion. Dr. Vitti jokes that you should give it to your partner so they know like, “What’s going on?” He’s like, “Give it to your boyfriend.” People can get their at-home saliva test at YourHormoneBalance.com.
We have a great Instagram, too with tons of information on it. That’s @YourHormoneBalance. The website, YourHormoneBalance.com, has our test kits, but I encourage your followers to go do the symptom quiz. It’s right on the front page of the website. If you have three or more symptoms that are troublesome and persistent, you’re probably walking around with a hormone imbalance and you don’t even know it.
If you suspect that the way you’re feeling probably isn’t normal and it’s not normal to have miserable periods and horrible moods and break up with your boyfriend or your husband every time you get a period. I’m saying hormones rule. If you’re doing all these things and you still aren’t feeling like yourself, then you have to investigate a little bit further.
I should mention that when people test with us, we send them a full-on rebalancing guide. All the natural remedies, the lifestyle, the food, everything that we know can be helpful. We do have packages where people can talk to someone. I’ve talked to at least 2,000 women in the last couple of years. I’m backing off a bit, but I’m still available and we have health coaches because people need to talk. We also need to talk about this.
Everybody who’s reading, what we’ve talked about and all the things you’ve raised are a wonderful way to realize that we have a lot of thinking to do and time to put into ourselves now and to our girl children to make them aware. Increasing awareness and taking action are going to change the whole picture for us. It’s a holistic picture. It’s not one thing, it’s many things, but it’s nothing insurmountable.
Balance can be attained. I can’t tell you the number of people that felt so much better mood-wise and period-wise. Women that have gotten pregnant, women that have gotten their periods back, women that are cruising through menopause and feeling great and looking good for their age. It can be done, so more power to us.
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About Candace Burch
Candace Burch is a Hormone Health Educator with a Masters’s in Health Education and over 25 years of experience in the field. In 2017, she founded Your Hormone Balance as a one-on-one consulting practice and is now joined by her two daughters, Ryan and Jess, who have expanded YHB’s reach to women around the world.
Candace’s background includes working as a health editor, writer, and investigative journalist in London, leading educational patient and provider initiatives for ZRT Hormone Laboratory (as their Director of Education for 12+ years), as well as spearheading “Body in Balance,” a hormone testing and rebalancing weight loss program at Metabolic Research Center (a nationwide weight loss company).