Candace Burch is a hormone health educator and founder of Your Hormone Balance, an at-home hormone testing + consulting practice that helps people of all ages detect and correct hormone imbalances that negatively impact health and longevity.
Her mission as a wellness advocate is to educate, inspire and guide women toward safe, natural approaches to hormone balance and breast cancer prevention. In an exclusive interview with VINAZINE, she answers all your questions on how hormones shift as we age, checking in with yourself, and what it means to balance our your hormones. Read on below!
NOTE: Vinazine readers will receive $100 off any test kit / consultation package from Your Hormone Balance using code “VINAZINE.”
Q: Thanks for talking to VINAZINE! From the perspective of someone who doesn’t know much about hormone imbalance, how do hormones shift over age? What are issues that women should be on the lookout for during certain decades/phases of life?
A: Pre-Menopause – The PMS Years. During their 20s and 30s, women should experience fairly regular cycles, with balanced estrogen and progesterone production. But increasingly, younger females prone to High Intensity (HIIT) exercise, heightened or prolonged stress, crash dieting and continuous contraceptive use are not ovulating regularly. These anovulatory (lack of ovulation) cycles are associated with hallmark symptoms of hormonal imbalance, including severe PMS and are also common in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Peri-Menopause – The Rollercoaster Years. In the years approaching menopause, 40-something women begin to experience erratic cycles, as ovaries start to sputter and estrogen and progesterone levels start to fluctuate dramatically dozens of times a day. A whole new world of symptoms, from hot flashes and mood swings to insomnia and low libido, take women on a hormonal rollercoaster ride. Now is the time that the search for symptom relief begins in earnest!
Menopause/Post Menopause – The End of Periods. As the ovaries take their final bow, ovulation ends and menopause begins. Falling levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone trigger unexpected symptoms that can surprise women. With less hormone to go around, their role in protecting the health of the breasts, bones, skin, brain and heart is greatly diminished. And with fewer hormones to go around, their natural aphrodisiac properties and role in protecting our sexual health dwindle significantly, and it falls to the adrenal glands to pick up the slack in hormone production. Now is the time when learning to balance hormones naturally and, providing your hardworking adrenals with extra care and feeding becomes all important to your best, healthiest, sexy self.
Q: How can you check in with yourself in terms of hormone balancing other than getting them tested—is there something that we can do more frequently?
A: The best way to check in with your hormonal health is to be alert to the signs and symptoms of a hidden imbalance … Don’t assume that missing work or school because of miserable monthly periods is normal. Or that PMS’ing to the point of insanity is your cross to bear. Don’t assume that sore, tender breasts (‘fear of hugging’), belly fat that won’t budge, foggy brain, and pushing through the day because you’re so tired but unable to sleep at night because you’re so wired, is normal. Don’t assume that you can’t lose weight no matter what you do, and that your libido has gone permanently AWOL.
Don’t allow persistent anxiety, bad moods, stress and/or depression to rule your life. In short, don’t become your symptoms …become aware of them and take action to rebalance naturally (you can take my hormone imbalance quiz to help here).
Q: When balancing hormones, what are realistic expectations to have for things like energy levels, mood, and weight loss?
A: By taking the right steps to rebalance the mother of all imbalances—estrogen dominance—that shows up in a majority of test reports I see (I recommend testing in saliva), women can start to make headway on weight control – first to stop gaining weight and then to start losing (at last!) Or if, for example, there are adrenal imbalances—lets say, a picture of erratic cortisol levels (high and/or low) are revealed through testing—you should expect your best efforts, using herbs, vitamins, bioidentical hormones (as needed) and specific stress-busting techniques, to pay off in renewed energy that lasts throughout the day, helping you take stress in stride AND better sleep for sure!
Q: Once you start implementing ways to balance hormones, is there any way to tell that your hormones are actually getting balanced besides retesting? Can your body feel a difference? Feel better?
A: Yes! The first big clue that your hormones are actually getting balanced is the RELIEF from symptoms you may have been struggling with for weeks, months, even years. Once you start to live in a way that leads to hormone balance vs. hormone collapse, you can count on feeling better in mind, body, and spirit. What I hear most often from clients who have started to implement and stick with the changes we suggest to rebalance hormone levels naturally, is that their periods are less painful and miserable, or that their PMS is not turning them into a monster every month. They tell me that their anxiety is lessening, that sleep comes more easily, or that their libido’s finally back; Some have even said “I feel like a different person,” or, best of all, that after years on birth control and absent periods, they have finally been able to get pregnant!
Once you are living life in balance, your hormones fall into line along with your periods (normal vs. heavy and painful); your energy (ready to rock vs. ready to crash); your moods (upbeat vs. upset); your skin (smooth vs. broken out); your sleep (solid vs. sketchy), your libido (alive and kickin’ vs. AWOL); your weight (under control); your state of mind (focused vs. foggy).
In short, when your hormones are in balance, YOU are in balance—feeling and looking your best no matter what your age.
Q: Can you describe the roles of the following hormones in women? Estrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone.
A: Estrogen. Estrogen has been labeled “the angel of life,” because it makes cells grow, developing the uterus, breasts, pregnancy and the egg within the ovary – and “the angel of death,” because estrogen in excess (estrogen dominance) can become toxic to the body. As they say, too much of a good thing can be dangerous, and too much estrogen can over-stimulate cells to multiply out of control, a known recipe for breast cancer. Knowing and confirming the symptoms of estrogen dominance through hormone testing is a smart move, since an imbalance that goes undetected for too long is not a risk worth taking.
Progesterone. Progesterone is primarily made in the ovaries and produced only upon ovulation. When for a variety of reasons we don’t ovulate, our bodies can’t produce enough progesterone to keep estrogen levels in check, setting us up for estrogen dominance. In a nutshell, progesterone deficiency = estrogen dominance leading to weight gain, water retention, PMS, mood swings, endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts and heightened risk of breast cancer.
Testosterone and DHEA (androgens). Testosterone and its precursor, DHEA, generally decrease in women at menopause and may be particularly low after surgical removal of the ovaries. This is when symptoms of “androgen deficiency” start to become apparent. Along with the most noticeable effect of low libido, testosterone and DHEA deficiency can also lead to depression as well as decreases in bone density, lean muscle, stamina, strength and metabolism.
Q: Why is it so important for our hormones to be in balance?
A: The right balance of hormones is vital to a woman’s health. But during peri-menopause, when ovarian production starts to become erratic (generally around the age of 45 but becoming more common in young women living in the 21st century fast lane), hormones start to fluctuate dramatically from high to low and back again, a seesaw effect, where a deficiency of one hormone triggers an excess of another, resulting in roller coaster symptoms.
During menopause, ovarian production wanes further and further until it ceases altogether, leading to a decline in estrogen of 40-60%, while progesterone production can plummet to nearly zero. This is when lower levels of estrogen cause vaginal secretions to dry up, making intercourse more uncomfortable, even painful…while at the same time, the loss of ovarian progesterone puts women in the estrogen dominant category, gaining weight that is harder to lose (thus impacting body image and desire for sex) and at greater risk for ovarian, uterine and breast cancers.
Q: What are some of the hallmark hormone imbalances that impact sexual health, desire and frequency?
A: Estrogen Dominance. An excess of estrogen relative to inadequate progesterone levels). Results in: 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), with knock-on low thyroid symptoms (low libido, feeling cold all the time, sluggish metabolism), caused by excess estrogen acting as a roadblock for conversion of T4 (mostly inactive) to T3 (active thyroid levels)
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.
Low Progesterone. 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 which does nothing to enhance one’s desire to undress and have sex!
Cortisol Low (Adrenal Fatigue). Chronic fatigue, low energy and drive puts the brakes on drive, both competitive and sexual.
Q: My friend had an early menopause in her late 30’s, why does that happen?
A: Acute and/or prolonged stress, for example, can negatively impact ovarian function and can precipitate premature menopause or a prolonged peri-menopause in vulnerable women as early as their mid to late 30s (note: Average age of peri-menopause used to be around 45 years). Menopause can also be surgically induced through oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries catapults women of any age into menopause overnight), and can also be triggered by hysterectomy, radiation, or chemotherapy.
Q: Do you recommend hormone replacement?
A: This is a qualified “Yes” IF we are talking about *BIOIDENTICAL hormone replacement (made from plants) and “Yes” IF hormone test results identify imbalances necessitating hormone therapy – especially in women who have undergone a complete hysterectomy!
Hormone replacement therapy, as we knew it in my mother’s day (unnatural, synthetic and derived from pregnant mares urine), has been shown to be hazardous to our health. An estimated two million women in menopause (or post-hysterectomy) have been seeking more natural *bioidentical treatment solutions after a landmark study (Women’s Health Initiative 2002) found greater risks of heart disease, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer among HRT users.
Today, hormone replacement is no longer one-size-fits-all, but must be tailored to individual need (after testing hormone levels and using test results as a basis for recommended therapy or prescriptions).
*Women should insist on bioidentical hormones, those manufactured from plant-based substances (vs. synthetic HRT). These natural hormone versions are identical in structure and function to the body’s own hormones, with fewer side effects or known chronic disease risks compared to synthetic HRT.
Q: Are there natural ways to address changes that happen from a decline in the hormones?
A: There are a number of specific herbs, vitamins and natural bioidentical hormones, that can replenish and rebalance hormone levels naturally. But hormones alone, natural or not, can’t turn around a high-octane lifestyle filled with non-stop stress, compulsive work and workouts, processed foods, toxins (chemicals in the foods, cleaners and personal care products we use) lack of healthy exercise, sleep and work-life balance. Balancing hormones to get your mojo back takes a whole mind-body commitment … it’s not just about sex, but about looking after yourself, with extra tender loving care (TLC ☺).
Note: 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 VINAZINE for $100 off any package).
Visit Hey! VINA to discuss your experiences with other women who may be going through hormone imbalances like yourself to discuss best practices, methods, and have a support system.