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Learn how to create balance and enhance vitality in this lecture on women’s hormones. 

Dr. Marnie Wachtler joined us at Practice with Clara Virtual Yoga Studio to discuss lifestyle changes that help balance women’s hormones and boost vitality. 
The discussion included tips and tools to educate individuals about menstruation, perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause. 
What You Will Learn:
  • How to be mindful of yourself and your relationships. 
  • Reduce weight gain and increase strength and mobility.
  • Recognize what your body is telling you through your symptoms.
  • Develop habits that will give you the healthiest body and mind for the rest of your life.
  • Increase your energy and become vibrant, healthy, and active daily.

About Dr. Marnie Wachtler

I’m a naturopathic doctor. I went to school in New Westminster, B.C., but I’ve been out of school for 17 years. I have two children, ages 10 and 9. I work full-time in practice and have an online program that works with women’s health and menopausal transitions.

I am passionate about hormonal health because I found that there was just not enough information for women as they transitioned through the levels of hormones from fertility to menopause.

From the Women’s Hormones Lecture:

Symptoms of Hormonal Health 

One of the things that I wanted to go over was all of the symptoms that hormonal health can cause in women. That is, the fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone and how they work through menstruation and postmenopause. 

Irritability, agitation, anger, insomnia, cramping, and painful menstruation are all abnormal symptoms of your hormones.

If you’re having food cravings before menstruation or hot flashes at night, all of these are symptoms in which your body is reacting to either the high amount of hormones or the low threshold of hormones as you go through the menstrual cycle. 

I’ve been seeing a lot of patients with hive reactions from a histamine response, and it has to do with the inflammatory response that is happening from the hormones themselves.

A lot of the time in treating women in menopause, I see brain fog, forgetfulness, and even migraine changes with that type of transition into the postmenopausal perimenopausal years. 

So, I want to go through all of these symptoms and help you understand what your body is telling you with these symptoms. So this is just the outside of the layers of the symptoms, and we have to get to the core and understand what our body is telling us individually. 

The Female Hormone Cycle

Let’s review the female hormone cycle. Here is an idea of what we often see in a monthly cycle.

Generally, a cycle lasts 28 days. It’s not necessarily exactly 28 days for every woman; it can be up to 35 days, which is normal. The biggest part of the cycle is that in weeks one and two, the hormones are often at their lowest, and that is because we’re menstruating in the first one to five or seven days of the cycle.

Mid-cycle, on day 14, we have a rise of estrogen, which releases the egg from the ovaries. After ovulation, progesterone starts to rise during the latter part of the cycle, which is called the luteal phase, where the egg is out in the uterus and ready for availability to obtain pregnancy. 

Estrogen and progesterone hormones can fluctuate from 1500 to 150 in every woman cycling. Below 150 is the number for blood serum, where postmenopausal women will start to sit for a longer period. When they’re between 45 and 60, they’ll see that 1500 number of estrogen come down to 150. And this is often where those symptoms will come from. 

So, depending on where you start with your estrogen and where you go in menopause is often where we get the symptoms, and that withdrawal of the estrogen can wreak havoc, where we have hot flashes, night sweats, and brain fog.

Ideally, that transition happens a little bit more slowly, and supporting women in making that transition naturally with botanicals and nutrition can be very helpful with loading that extra estrogen into your body. Progesterone is the hormone that I often see deficiencies in women who are trying to obtain fertility or pregnancy.

Hormones and Contraceptives 

I’ve been seeing a lot of women being put on oral contraceptives for hormonal symptoms or having an IUD insertion.

This covers up the symptoms your body is telling you. Where that discrepancy or that imbalance of the hormones is, estrogen dominance will come down if you give exogenous hormones.

And that can cover up the PMS, the PMDD, that metaphoric disorder, as well as the menopausal symptoms with hot flashes and night sweats. So the big thing is that the oral contraceptive primarily is made up of lots of different estrogens.

We only have three primary amounts, so we have to detoxify these estrogens when we’re taking them in orally.

That can mess up our microbiome, so our digestive system and the good bacteria are where some of these estrogens are starting to wreak havoc with women’s digestive health. This is just not getting to the root of the issue of the PMS symptoms; you are just covering it up with that oral contraceptive.

If you need it for preventing pregnancy, then stay on it and keep doing that. But the biggest thing is understanding your body’s needs and treating it accordingly. So, these estrogens can disrupt digestion. 

Estroblome: the Gut Biome

Recently, studies have revealed that this phenomenon is called the estrobolome, a natural bacteria that activates and metabolizes estrogen in our system. We’re just learning about this really important process and being able to work through hormonal imbalances. The estrobolome is quite important in this process. 

It’s a collection of gut bacteria that metabolizes estrogen. You can test for this in the stool sample. It is called beta-glucuronidase, and it can affect your estrogen levels by metabolizing the estrogen.

Your estrogen metabolites will affect the healthy gut bacteria. So, there’s a push and a pull between the two, and it’s important to have good, healthy bacteria.

That will help metabolize any estrogen or excess estrogen in your system. So, too much bacteria in your digestive tract is not good, and not enough bacteria is not good either.

This is all part of our immune system, our ability to digest foods and assimilate them effectively without bloating or gas. 

So high estrobolome side effects can cause cramping, painful periods, migraines, bloating, and gas. As well as the hormonal symptoms that we have with endometriosis as well as POCS syndrome.

Hormones and Diet

An increase in beta-glucuronidase also affects this SIBO phenomenon. Over the years, people have been using quite a few different restrictive foods, such as the low FODMAP diet, gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, and keto. There are so many different diets out there right now.

And I think that they can all have their place and time. But one of the things I want you to understand is that if you find that you’re getting more and more restricted in the foods that you can eat and tolerate, you might need to look into this to make sure that your bacteria are balanced and that you’re not overgrowing too much of the bacteria that can be problematic for you. 

One of the things that I wanted to share with you today was that excess estrogen affects our body, causing the PMS symptoms or all of those hormonal symptoms that I listed before.

There are two things that you can do every day to help your body deal with the hormonal changes that are happening. 

Fat and fiber are the most important things you can incorporate into your diet.

Fiber and fat have been proven to balance blood sugar and bind and remove excess estrogens.

One of the things that I also wanted to touch on today was that your body and what you intake daily will be affected by your gut bacteria and vice versa.

The Effect of Sugar on Digestion

Sugar and alcohol can increase the amount of bad bacteria and create more overgrowth. They can also affect the estrobolome and the beta-glucuronidase, creating that dysbiosis.

So, what happens with sugar and alcohol? Sugar causes candida or yeast overgrowth.

Our digestive system contains commensal bacteria and commensal yeast. The yeast can overgrow when we consume more sugar and alcohol, experience psychological stress, or have high cortisol levels.

Being on the go all the time can also affect our digestive system. So, rest and relaxation, sitting down for meals, and not eating on the go can also help increase digestive enzymes and decrease bloating, gas, constipation, and cramping.

A lot of people that I see with anxiety have a lot of trouble digesting their foods because there’s just no blood flow, and there are no digestive enzymes to be able to help them digest their food.

Sit down to eat, chew 30 times before you swallow.

The Effect of Alcohol on Digestion

I wanted to touch on what normal alcohol intake is and how we work with that in our social settings. 

So, alcohol intake in women is really important to recognize; it is a huge risk factor in changing genetics for breast health, and it’s directly linked to breast cancers.

A low and moderate intake of alcohol is acceptable and won’t increase breast cancer rates in most individuals. It can be slightly different if you have a predisposition in your family.

But what happens is that there’s an increase in the genetic predisposition, or it gives this a genetic environment for breast cancers to start to develop.

So heavy drinking is not recommended: seven drinks per week or more than seven drinks in one setting.

The serving of alcohol is one and a half ounces of hard alcohol: five ounces of wine and five to ten ounces of beer. They say that the clearer the alcohol, the more healthy it is for women.

Gin and tonic or vodka soda can be much better for you. So, if you’re choosing what type of drink to have on a special occasion, you can choose more of those hard alcohols. If you want to have some social time, feel relaxed, and get some dopamine to your brain, alcohol can be okay. It’s not a terrible thing in low amounts if you tolerate it. 

Two things that you can do to be able to reduce the side effects of the alcohol is to take milk thistle ~ which has silmarin and syllabum extracts that can increase the liver conversion of the alcohol. Also, taking folate prevents neural tube defects in children as they develop, and it is found high in leafy green vegetables. So you can take a prenatal vitamin, even if you’re not in that category of trying to get pregnant or find a multivitamin that has some folate in it.

It is very important to note that alcohol can decrease the microbiome diversity and then increase the risk of polycystic ovarian syndrome, that is, the cysts on the ovaries that can sometimes burst and be very painful, as well as endometriosis, irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel disease.

So that’s a very important thing to recognize. If those are things that you’re struggling with, try to reduce the amount of alcohol that you’re taking and eat before you drink alcohol. And it’ll bind to that alcohol so that you’re not getting drunk and feeling too much of that effect of the alcohol. 

And then, if you abstain from alcohol, this is a whole generation.

I’ve seen that women in their twenties and thirties are just non-drinkers, which fascinates me because there are so many different generations of acceptable alcohol intake and social ability.

As a treat, I love sparkling water with blueberries floating on top of a wine glass.

Foods to Support Your Hormone Balance

Essential fatty acids are among the most important nutrients that you should recognize and implement in your diet. They are a great way of balancing the hormones and improving your cycle.

If there’s a lack of a cycle or a long cycle, you can create a better hormone balance by implementing omega-3 fatty acids in the first 14 days of your cycle—that’s day one of bleeding to ovulation. Then, you can implement omega-6 fatty acids in ovulation, so from the middle of the cycle until the first day of bleeding.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as cold-water fish, salmon, and anchovies. Ensure your seafood comes from a really good source. Take in line-caught fish, not net-caught fish, and wild fish is also better than farmed fish. 

Flax and pumpkin seeds are also really high in omega-3s. Implementing them on a rotation schedule with sesame and sunflower seeds is called seed cycling.

Increase flax and pumpkin seeds on days 1 – 14 of your cycle. Then, increase sesame and sunflower seeds on days 14 to 28 of your cycle to increase the omega-6 fatty acids.

Essential fatty acids are really important in the hormone cascades. Cholesterol and fat are made into progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone on a downward metabolite. 

I’ve got a RECIPE on my website for seed cycling energy balls.

Natural Estrogens in Your Environment 

Ovulation happens ideally during the full moon. There is a lot of research about recalibrating our cycle with the moon cycle. It’s really old folklore and has been the resting time of women when they’re menstruating during the darkest phase of the moon. 

So, I just wanted to touch on excess estrogen in your body. Unhealthy estrogens you take in via food or skin and hair products can disrupt the endocrine system.

Also, using natural cleaners for our bodies and the environment is very important.

I use baking soda and vinegar for everything in my home. Baking soda works well on toilets and tubs, and vinegar is an activating agent.

Regarding the types of foods you’re eating, organic foods and those that are herbicide—and pesticide-free are always better. 

I will often look at that list called the Dirty Dozen. This is a list of highly sprayed foods that you should eat organic. For example, strawberries are on that list. So, if you buy strawberries, make sure they are organic. The clean 15 refers to a list of clean foods not often sprayed. Potatoes and root vegetables are often a lot cleaner and don’t have as much contamination on your foods. All of these are directly reflected in endocrine disruption. So that means It interrupts your hormone’s natural binding and symptoms. Many of the symptoms can be associated with these endocrine disruptors themselves. 

Hormones and Menopause 

 I have gone through menopause, and it is a big transition for women. I’m seeing in the clinic that many women in their 40s are transitioning earlier than what history has shown.

I feel that women are working full-time, raising children, and being more busy than they’d ever have in life.

Women in perimenopause may see changes in their cycle that will happen where there is intermittent bleeding or a stoppage of bleeding and a starting.

These ovaries have some hormones left, and it can be quite hard for women to understand what is happening, but their hormones are getting lower and lower. And as those hormones get lower, your adrenal glands will need to take over some of that production of estrogen and progesterone.

If you have taxed out your adrenal glands and had lots of stress, it will be a harder transition because you won’t have as many hormones produced by the adrenal glands.

Menopausal women still have hormones but at very low levels compared to when you’re cycling. 

Understanding Your Hormone Profile 

No two women have the same hormone profile. I’ve seen hundreds of women’s hormone tests, and I’ve never seen the same profile twice. It is just so individual, and the comprehensive functional testing can be done through blood or urine.

These are two very good ways of being able to look at your hormones, so you can go to your medical doctor, ask for estrogen and progesterone testosterone testing, and then understand what is the range in which your body will be able to adjust to the hormones and being able to know how to treat it.

When you look at a hormone profile and see way too much estrogen and not enough progesterone, you can do an estrogen detox, and you will know exactly what you need to do.

Agents such as cauliflower extract, broccoli extract, and calcium D gluconate can detoxify estrogen. 

Herbs like chase tree and healthy fats can build up progesterone. Don’t forget that the healthy fats in your diet are very important in producing those hormones. Understanding our profile and treating it according to it is key.

Ways to Regulate Cortisol and Stress Hormones

As I said before, cortisol can increase the inflammatory response in our digestive system and reduce the metabolism of estrogen and the balance of hormones. Here are some really fun things you can do to reduce stress daily.

Yoga is amazing for stretching, flexibility, strength, and range of motion. Typically, a good routine is three sessions of yoga per week to implement that strength and stability.

Bone density is really important in menopause and maintaining that range of motion. Doing those deep squats so you can get up off the ground and have that range of motion and strength for healthy aging.

Meditation. I’ve fallen in love with meditation over the last year. Clara does amazing meditation classes. I’m fascinated by how you can get into it. And it is tough because every day in the clinic, people say. I can’t do meditation because I can’t turn my brain off.

Weightlifting is very important in postmenopausal women, and women who lack exercise will be more prone to diabetes and heart disease, obesity, and bone density issues post-menopausal.

Weightlifting is a very important thing to integrate. Even if you’ve never done it, there are amazing sources online.

Getting outside in nature is very important for us. Gardening is also good for our health because it allows dirt to get underneath the fingernails, and the microbiome is translocated into digestive health. They’ve done studies with children, showing that the more they play outside, the better their microbiome is.

Highlights of the Discussion

So, a quick recap: What we understand about our bodies is important to get to the root of the problem.

Use fats and fiber to improve hormone balance. Get your hormones tested to determine the imbalances, and then treat them accordingly. 

I wanted to give you a sample of ideal dietary implementation for nutrition with women’s health. 

Being able to understand how much fiber and fat you should be consuming daily.

Being conscious of your fiber, such as flax, chia, and raw veggies. Implement more nuts and seeds, such as avocados and coconut oil, if you can eat them.

I wanted to tell you a little bit about butyric acid. Butyric acid is an extract of butter that is good for the large intestine. It’s an essential extract to decrease the inflammatory response of the large intestine, and you can get it in supplements, butyric acid, but it smells terrible. So, eating a tsp of grass-fed butter/day is perfect.

Probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, lacto-fermented pickles, and artichokes are all very important in being able to make sure that your digestive system has great digestibility and good bacteria in general. 

Eating raw & cooked veggies and fruits in a rainbow of colors.

Diversity and rotation of your diet are very important. I find that women are very restricted in their foods and sometimes habitual.  

Eating before and trying new stuff is very important.

Humans are habitual, so it’s important to get outside the box of what you eat and reduce packaged and processed foods. 

Women often find it hard to say no or find their words to restrict and have boundaries.

It’s very important and healthy to say these are my priorities. These are the things that are not my priority, and not being sorry or feeling guilty about those prioritizations.

So, being selfless and selfish in those boundaries and honoring yourself in all of life’s paths on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis will help reduce cortisol produced in the adrenal glands and help you live in a less inflammatory state in your body. 

I just wanted to give you as much information as possible to help you have a healthy, happy menstrual cycle or menopause.

I wanted to thank you for letting me chat with you today. I’m here to serve you and share all my knowledge.

Seraphina Dawn

Seraphina has a BA in Literature from Simone Fraser University and participated in the Creative Writing Program at UC Berkeley. She is a Kundalini teacher, writer, and poet. She admires Clarice Lispector’s prose, Octavia Butler’s fiction, and Simone Weil's philosophy. Seraphina currently lives in Istanbul.