I think hormones are something that people really neglect to talk about EVEN THOUGH they’re everything. They affect our mood, weight, SEX!, skin & so much more.
Candace Burch is a Hormone Health Educator who has been on the podcast but I also wanted to have her on The Skinny Confidential to get really specific when it comes to hormones. In this post Candace really goes deep into common hormone imbalances & how we can rebalance them for overall health & well-being.
Through her own life experience, she became passionate about hormone testing & rebalancing. She’s all about natural hormone health & through her company Your Hormone Balance, she offers coaching & guidance for optimal health.
Enough of me, let’s get right to it. I think you guys will love this because it’s packed with value & just makes so much sense.
+ What are the 4 hormone phases of our cycle?
The Ovarian cycle refers to the cyclic changes throughout the course of the monthly cycle and is divided into the follicular, ovulatory and luteal phases followed by menstruation.
+ What’s to be expected during the different phases?
The follicular phase is kicked off by FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and is all about growth driven primarily by estrogen, the master female hormone that governs this cycle. While the egg within the follicle of the ovary is growing, the blood-rich lining of the endometrium is thickening in preparation for a possible pregnancy. If there is no fertilized egg that cycle, the thickened lining is shed and menstruation begins. Your physical energy is at one of its highest points in the follicular phase so it’s a good time to dive into stimulating projects and tap into creative and social energies.
The ovulatory phase is all about ovulation, powered by more FSH and now LH (luteinizing hormone), the egg pops and is released into the fallopian tube for its journey to the uterus where it will encounter friendly sperm. Your communication skills are sharper in the ovulatory phase making this a good time to convey your ideas and goals with those you connect with in your community.
The luteal phase is all about preparing the womb for a possible pregnancy, powered by the hormone progesterone which is made by the corpus luteum, the all-important organ magically made in each cycle from the ruptured follicle, which is responsible for making the womb healthy and inhabitable for a fertilized egg. Progesterone is then vital to maintaining the fetus snugly in the uterus throughout the first trimester and until the placenta takes over. The luteal phase is where you just feel like going home and getting comfy…you notice things around you more as hormone levels surge so it’s a great time to rearrange the furniture, organize your home and take better care of YOU.
The menstrual phase is triggered by the disappearance of the corpus luteum and the subsequent drop in progesterone in the absence of a fertilized egg, the signal to shed the lining. And voila, we get our period! This is the phase when we may feel some sense of relief as estrogen has peaked and our powers of intuition kick in…good time to do some journaling.
+ How should you plan your life accordingly to the different phases?
Generally speaking, by practicing the principles of balance on an everyday basis, you are planning your life to benefit all phases of the hormonal cycle.
That means eating fiber, good fats, protein and greens with every meal, in every phase of the cycle and being mindful of keeping blood sugars in balance by not skipping breakfast and eating protein-rich snacks. Dimming the lights and turning off the electronic gizmos should be a big part of your plan to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night (10 min. power naps if need be). Avoid the xenohormones (aka “endocrine disruptors”) in your food, home and personal care products (you can use the ThinkDirty app to help with this). Balancing HIIT with less intense yoga, swimming, walking, etc., speaking your mind vs. bottling up resentments that take a toll on your emotional health, and coaxing your creative juices (singing, writing, painting, time for rest, relaxation and self-care) are other things you can do.
Finally, I refer you to the Woman Code protocol by Alissa Vitti, as she takes great pains to drill down into the emotional and physical aspects of each phase of your cycle.
+ What foods promote happy hormones?
In a nutshell: whole foods, nutrient-dense proteins (grass-fed beef, wild fish, etc.), whole grains, greens (especially cruciferous veg like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts known to promote hormone metabolism), GOOD fats, nuts, seeds, legumes, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, anti-inflammatory, GMO-free REAL foods.
I always suggest the Mediterranean diet as a good working example and the Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet. Go for the FabFour at every meal for hormone balancing benefits: Fats, Fiber, Protein and Greens!
+ SEX! Let’s talk about sex & hormones.
These are the hallmark hormone imbalances that impact sexual health, desire and frequency:
Estrogen Dominance (an excess of estrogen relative to inadequate progesterone levels)
Mood swings (a common cause of not being in the mood for sex), migraines (makes sex out of the question), fat gain in hips and thighs (poor body image affects desire for sex), low thyroid symptoms (low libido, feeling cold all the time, sluggish metabolism).
Low Estrogen / Fluctuations of Estrogen and Progesterone
Hot flashes, night sweats (a big distractor from comfortable sex), palpitations, vaginal dryness and atrophy leading to lack of desire for fear of discomfort and painful intercourse.
See Estrogen Dominance above.
Low Testosterone / DHEA
Causes low libido, decreases in bone and lean muscle mass, metabolic rate, energy, strength, and stamina, which affects sexual drive/desire, and even one’s enthusiasm and zest for living.
Cortisol High (Stressed Adrenals)
Insomnia and anxiety negatively impact sexual desire and performance; not to mention the belly fat resulting from elevated cortisol levels that causes women to feel overly self-conscious and embarrassed of their bodies. This obviously does nothing to enhance the desire to undress and have sex!
Cortisol Low (Adrenal Fatigue)
Chronic fatigue and low energy puts the brakes on both competitive and sexual drive.
+ Sleep / energy levels: how can we do better here?
Because the adrenal glands play a huge role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, adrenal cortisol levels need to be following the normal pattern. The levels should be highest in the morning to get you up, dropping gradually over the course of the day (allowing you to take stressors in stride) to lower levels in the evening and lowest at bedtime in preparation for sleep.
We can measure one’s diurnal cortisol pattern through a simple saliva test, which can show us if levels are out of whack and to what extent. Once we know where these levels are, we can take action to improve the picture in a variety of ways. First, balancing cortisol levels with herbs, various adaptogens, progesterone at bedtime (hugely sleep promoting), making sure we are not deficient in certain key sleep-enhancing vitamins like magnesium, limiting caffeine after 3pm, not eating huge spicy meals or drinking alcohol too close to bedtime, and last but not least turning off the cell phone and laptop at least an hour before bed. We know the blue light they emit robs us of the master sleep hormone, melatonin!
+ How do you balance hormones after birth control?
Hormone levels after birth control use are often very low given that contraceptives work by shutting down ovulation and thus our body’s supply of naturally-occurring hormones.
Chasteberry/Vitex is a centuries old herb known to safely restore normal cycles after years of birth control. Replenishing with progesterone cream (which can be used with Vitex) can go a long way towards balancing estrogen and progesterone levels to bring back normal cycles. And of course eating nutrient-dense foods, good fats and proteins that feed the ovaries is a must!
+ What hormones are out of whack if your period comes too early or too late?
Generally speaking, this would be down to an imbalance of estrogen and/or progesterone. E.g. low estrogen (lining does not thicken) or low progesterone levels (inadequate to signal shedding of the lining). These can be identified through testing.
+ How does medication impact hormones?
This depends on what meds are being taken, but yes, certain types of medication can absolutely impact hormone levels.
For example, hydro-cortisone creams and inhalers for allergies, skin rashes and asthma can spike stress/cortisol hormones. Interestingly, these sorts of health issues are generally due to an existing adrenal imbalance.
Anti-acne drugs like Spiranolactone act to drastically lower testosterone levels, thus leading to decreases in strength and stamina, mental sharpness, and competitive and sex drive – (libido takes a big hit).
+ How do hormones impact anxiety & depression?
All have an impact since ALL hormones work synergistically- often described as a symphony or orchestra. Imagine if even one of the instruments starts playing out of tune, the whole melody is shattered…so go our hormones!
If cortisol is high we will not only feel anxious, but tired and wired, where we are longing for sleep but are too hyped up to even fall asleep, much less stay asleep! And of course, it goes without saying that anxiety and depression are the bad and sad fellows of lost sleep, so it’s a vicious cycle.
If, on the other hand, our stress hormones are low, we may feel tired all the time with a chronic lack of motivation. Should this go unaddressed, it inevitably leads to depression.
Another key point is that progesterone is the precursor (raw source) of adrenal production of cortisol, so if and when it is low, we don’t have the energy to rise out of our anxiety or depression.
+ How do low hormones impact the ‘sex recession’/low libido?
Low testosterone and DHEA are tightly tied in with sex drive, so deficiencies of either of these anabolic hormones are going to negatively impact libido, as will lows of estrogen that not only trigger hot flashes and night sweats, but can cause vaginal dryness and pain with intercourse, which is hardly stimulating.
+ Why/how should we avoid artificial hormones?
Saying NO to “xenoestrogens” at every opportunity! Xenoestrogens are the man-made chemicals in our environment that mimic estrogen actions in the body to a toxic extent. Xenos are totally unnatural and foreign to our bodies but they are able to barge into the target cells of the body, displace the naturally-occurring estrogens and take over the cell machinery. This over-stimulates and increases estrogen-dominance symptoms, disorders and disease (from bloating, weight gain and PMS, to fibroids, endometriosis and long-term risks for cancers of the breast and uterus).
Saying NO to Xeno’s means choosing grass-fed, hormone-free meat, chicken, and dairy products. It means rejecting canned foods and eating fresh and organic to avoid the pesticides and herbicides that poison our soil and the foods grown in it. It means heating/ microwaving/storing foods in glass or ceramic VS. plastic, drinking out of BPA-free or stainless steel water bottles, and even swapping out your plastic shower curtain with an all cotton version. It means getting rid of the Comet and Pine-Sol under your bathroom cabinet and switching to all-natural, sulfate-free personal care (shampoos, cosmetics, face creams, etc.) and going GREEN with earth-friendly products across the board. It means throwing out toxic perfumes and finding natural fragrances and other personal care products by tapping into the Environmental Working Group’s Skin-deep program, and the Think Dirty App among others!
+ How does sugar impact hormones?
Too much sugar is a hormonal deal breaker for so many reasons. It raises insulin which leads to insulin resistance and increased output of testosterone and DHEA by the ovaries, which can lead to acne and oily skin, excess facial or body hair, PCOS, irregular periods, etc. High insulin resulting from high sugar intake leads to fat storage around the abdomen, the big bad belly fat!
Overeating simple carbs, sweets and other sugar-laden foods hardwires us to crave it all the more, so we find ourselves hitting the vending machine and eating all the wrong foods. Over time it leads to chronic inflammation in the body that takes its toll on our energy, moods, libido and longevity, as it is a major contributor to the obesity, diabetes and heart disease that is now considered an epidemic and robbing our quality of life.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of maintaining a steady blood sugar level if you want to balance your moods, energy, libido, sleep, lose weight AND keep it off. Being mindful of keeping your blood sugars balanced in this way helps your body to begin burning fat rather than storing it – as the body otherwise hangs on to the very fat you are trying so hard to lose.
+ What throws hormones off balance?
Well, aging is a fact of life (hormones do have a biological decline, but how quickly our hormones decline and how rapidly we age has everything to do with how well we eat, exercise and de-stress). High intensity exercise (HIIT), a lack of good fats and high-quality protein in the diet (especially with vegan or plant-based diets if the go-to is carbs), overuse of caffeine and alcohol, less than 6 hours of sleep a night, overexposure to xeno hormones in foods, toxic cleaning and personal care products, unaddressed thyroid issues, and uninterrupted use of synthetic birth control or HRT (hormone replacement) are a few main causes!
+ How do we rebalance hormones?
We have to know the symptoms of hormone imbalances in the first place. Heavy, painful periods, low libido, anxiety, weight gain and belly fat, fatigue, inability to sleep, sugar cravings, etc., then we need to test our hormone levels so that we know exactly what we’re dealing with (i.e. to what extent specific hormones are out of balance).
Once we pinpoint existing imbalances by testing bioavailable hormone levels (those active in the target tissues of the body), we can take steps to rebalance naturally using herbs like chasteberry/vitex to restore regular cycles and adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, rhodiola, maca, etc. to feed the adrenal glands. Progesterone creams (bioidentical, made of plants) can be used to replenish low levels and reverse estrogen dominance, along with a hormone-nourishing eating plan, the right balance of high and low intensity exercise and a renewed commitment to work/life balance and ME time, we CAN get there!
Through my practice, Your Hormone Balance, I offer at-home hormone testing and consulting packages to help individuals get to the root of the symptoms they are experiencing and onto an all-natural plan for hormone rebalancing. (Readers can use code TSC for $100 off any package).