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Episode 81: Herbals for Hormones

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After thousands of hours coaching people to better health naturally, Rachelle Robinette, Registered Herbalist, is here to share the herbalistic perspective on balancing our hormones.


The content of this podcast has not been evaluated by Health Canada or the FDA. It is educational in nature and should not be taken as medical advice. Always consult a qualified medical professional to see if a diet, lifestyle change, or supplement is right for you. Any supplements mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please note that the opinions of the guests or hosts are their own and may not reflect those of Advanced Orthomolecular Research, Inc.

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Welcome to Supplementing Health, a podcast presented by Advanced Orthomolecular Research. We are all about applying evidence based and effective dietary lifestyle and natural health product strategies for your optimal health. In each episode, we will feature very engaging clinicians and experts from the world of functional and naturopathic medicine to help achieve our mission to empower people to lead their best lives naturally.

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[01:09] Cassy Price: Hello and thanks for tuning into Supplementing Health. Today we are joined by Rachelle Robinette, Registered Herbalist, to give the herbalist perspective on hormones. Rachelle is the founder of Supernatural, a New York based company dedicated to the modern herbalist education. After thousands of hours coaching people to better health naturally, Rachelle designed these classes to bring herbal wellness into the daily lives of others. Welcome Rachelle. Thanks for joining me today.  

[01:29] Rachelle Robinette: Hi. Thank you.

[01:31] Cassy Price: Before we dive into the nitty gritty of how we can use plants to help us reach and maintain hormone balance, I would love to hear a bit more about how you found your passion in this space.

[01:40] Rachelle Robinette: Absolutely. You know I think it sounds cliché to say that it found me, or that it was something that the world was asking for from me, but it is really the truth. I have always been interested in the human experience and how this mind and body and vehicle that we move through the world in, responds to what we take in. So food and drink, and light and ideas, and everything in our environment affects our experience in life. That is sort of the essence of what I have always been drawn to and it has taken me through a lot of different paths, meandering through food and nutrition and the world’s religions and spirituality, into herbs and supplements and fitness, which I love dearly. All of those studies which I have been really absorbed in since I was a kid became this holistic practice. The only term that I know that really sums up something that is that holistic, we are talking about mind and body and what we eat and drink and sleep and all of it, is the practice of herbalism. You could say naturopathic health as well or holistic health. That sort of moment when I realised that is what herbalism is, it is this holistic practice, that became a title for me. I would say from a career standpoint I never intended to be an herbalist. I never intended to even work in health actually. There was a point in time where enough people said, “I want to know what you are doing with your life. I want to know your food. I want to know your supplements. I want your practices. Can you teach me?” Then that became a turning point and I started to teach. Long story short.

[03:52] Cassy Price: Awesome. Do you work in the spiritual aspect into the herbal and natural ingredient aspect all into one in your educational sessions?

[04:07] Rachelle Robinette: I would say that in my work with clients and classes, across the board, I take a very holistic approach. A lot of times people hear ‘herbalist’ and they come to me for herbs, and we might not talk about herbs in the first session, or the second, or the third, or the fourth. We might, but it depends on where you are in your individual life. I would say I always start with food and I move into herbs and supplements and the lens through which I work with herbs is global. As you know, there are medicinal systems like traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda and many more that have concepts that can be spiritual, they can be energetic, they can be a lot of different things. I respect those and I will take those into consideration if I am working with somebody who resonates with those ideas and concepts, or if I am working with herbal formulas from those medicinal systems. I don’t know if ‘spirituality’ is the right term for the way that I work with people, but I would say that a lot of times it feels a lot like therapy. We are definitely getting into the motivations behind our behaviours, our cravings, our desire or inability to change, and if someone has a spiritual practice or a mindfulness practice, or any other kind of practice, we will definitely consider that, but I don’t inject it if it is not already there.

[05:44] Cassy Price: That makes sense. What are some of the most common imbalances that you see in your practice?

[05:50] Rachelle Robinette: They haven’t changed, in the time that I have been working I see the same imbalances over and over again. It is clear that humanity has its pillars of struggle. Those tend to be digestion and gut health issues, hormone imbalances, energy and brain health matters, stress and anxiety, sleep issues, and then metabolism and weight loss. That is what I am most frequently dealing with.

[06:21] Cassy Price: I am not surprised. It would make sense that those are the groups that you see. A lot of those actually do overlap as well, right? Hormone imbalances can affect digestion and sleep, and are driven partially by stress as well. Within that hormone imbalance category, what are some of the biggest things that you end up having to deal with with your clients?

[06:50] Rachelle Robinette: What you just mentioned there about the overlap, that is where the magic happens, right? When we realise that the skin and beauty concerns are actually coming from gut health, then the world opens up. We realise the cause of our symptoms. That is really my goal with people, it is to understand the cause of our symptoms as opposed to just treating the symptoms. From a hormone imbalance standpoint, one of the big things that I see is stress hormone imbalance. Usually we are talking about sex hormones, but stress hormone imbalance like chronically high cortisol is super common, obviously. There is a lot of estrogen dominance. PCOS is very common and that tends to be related to metabolic issues, and less to hormone imbalances as the cause. Lots of people who are ending courses of birth control and wanting to regain hormone balance after that. Skin issues as a result of hormone imbalances. Lots of PMS symptoms that are unnecessarily intense. A little bit of menopause. I don’t see a ton of clients with that sort of challenge, but I do see plenty. It is just not as common as some of those other issues.

[08:13] Cassy Price: Do you find there is a certain age range that tends to be most affected, knowing of course there is always going to be outliers from that?  

[08:23] Rachelle Robinette: I think it might also be the nature of my community and the age range of the people that I treat most often. In the 20s and 30s I see the most amount of PMS, PCOS, skin complaints and just generalised hormone imbalance. Also, the fertility interest, which is huge.

[08:53] Cassy Price: Yes. That makes sense as far as the age range as well. Do you think that some of those issues like PCOS and fertility issues come up because of the life stage they are in, rather than maybe the hormone imbalance existing only in that timeframe?

[09:12] Rachelle Robinette:  Yes, I do. I think that if I were treating teenagers, for example, I would see hormone imbalance in that age range as well and it would be different symptoms. I think there are a couple of different factors at play, in terms of tying the hormone issue back. Look, I think the hormone imbalances that we are seeing as a people, are becoming more and more lifelong. They are becoming a struggle earlier in our lives and they are lasting longer, and they are becoming more severe. They are not the cause. Other things are causing those imbalances. That becomes the symptoms and that causes other symptoms.

[10:05] Cassy Price: What do you think some of the main drivers of that extended imbalance within the body are?

[10:12] Rachelle Robinette: I think some of the main affects are diet and lifestyle. Nutrition is huge. What we are eating then effects our body composition and body fat, and that effects our hormone levels. Chronic levels of stress. The relationship between cortisol and estrogen and others, but especially that one, is quite clear. We are not eating very well and we are over caffeinating.  Caffeine and alcohol both affect the hormone balance. We are having processed food and a lot of sugar which also affects our hormone levels. Whether or not you are on a plant-based diet, most people are still not, that is going to affect things. It goes back to food quality, sleep and then lifestyle. Again, stress and sleep. That is a lot of reasons, but all of those things are the top five contributors to hormone imbalances. You manage to manage those, and you may not even need herbs. The other big piece of hormone balance is liver health. I always work with liver support when we are working on hormone balance as well. I definitely start with food and lifestyle because that tends to be the cause and tends to make the biggest difference.

[11:43] Cassy Price: Which herbal remedies do you find have the widest range of treatment capabilities? Are there certain ones that you find touch every single patient or the majority compared to others that are more tailored to very specific situations?

[11:59] Rachelle Robinette:  Actually yes. Food is going to be the first one, food as medicine is major. Even something like increasing fibre can help with detoxification in the body and when we are doing that, we are supporting the liver’s function and improving that function. The liver filters hormones out of the blood. That there, eating more fibre might help balance your hormones. It can also help balance your blood sugar, which again is going to help overall. It seems so unrelated and yet, it is not at all. That’s an example of one of the approaches, ‘Can everybody eat more fibre?’ 100%. Is that a sexy herb? No. I have to give the herbs too. Some of those are an herb called chasteberry or vitex. That works really well. It works through the pituitary gland to increase luteinizing hormone which essentially helps to reduce estrogen in the body. I use chaste or vitex with my clients in their 20s or 30s to help normalise cycle regularity, to help clear up acne, to help minimise PMS symptoms. Then you can also use chaste along with black cohosh, they actually work better together. You can use those and some other herbs for menopausal symptoms. The other herbs there would be sage, motherwort and licorice. Chaste is phenomenal, black cohosh. Together, those are really great. I think the liver support is also great for all ages. That is nothing crazy. It tends to be, if I am doing a supplement, it would be a dandelion root, burdock root, milk thistle, turmeric and lots of fibre and water with your great diet. That combination alone, I use over and over again with great success.

[14:13] Cassy Price: Do you incorporate a lot of leafy greens for the DIM that they produce? Things like broccoli and whatnot to help support the liver?

[14:21] Rachelle Robinette: I am such a fan of greens. Yes, everyone, more greens. It is top of my list for food. Totally.

[14:32] Cassy Price: Do you have tips then on ways to cook them or serve them? Things like kale kind of have a bad rap, right? They are kind of boring or bland, overly healthy and not fun. Do you have tips on how to make them ‘fun’?

[14:50] Rachelle Robinette:  Yes, I really do. I have lots of recipes that I share with clients and also publicly. I have a show on YouTube that’s all just recipes, and they’re all food with functional herbs worked in. My website has lots of recipes. I would say that I am talking about food about as often as I am talking about herbs because they are one and the same.

[15:19] Cassy Price: Do you usually recommend certain herbal remedies for a set period of time and then reassess with your clients to make sure that you are seeing the effects you are looking for? Or is it pretty much safe to continue with that set regimen indefinitely?

[15:36] Rachelle Robinette: With herbs there is usually not, there are always exceptions, there is usually no need to stop taking herbs. It is like saying “do you only need to eat broccoli until you feel better?” No. We should probably have it forever. Herbal support is the same. Of course, there are some herbs that are going to be exceptionally strong, or unnecessary to take for a period of time, or more often you feel better and you don’t necessarily need the same dose. You might want to try a different blend or something in your life changed, and you need an adjustment. I like to breakdown the idea that herbs are only safe for a short period of time. Generally, they are safe to mix, they are safe to have all day long. I cannot count the number of herbs that I ingest on a daily basis. There isn’t really a need to take breaks. They are just helping us as we consume more of them. I do like to draw the analogy to eating your vegetables. We should never stop that. Great question. Common question. Keep your herbs up.

[16:55] Cassy Price: Do you know then if any herbal options are unsafe to take during pregnancy and breastfeeding? I know those are time periods where a lot of things that can be done no problem when you’re not pregnant or breast feeding, become controversial or concerning when you are in that stage of life. Is there a similar situation with some of the herbal remedies?

[17:18] Rachelle Robinette: With herbs, we, when I say we, I mean herbalism in general. We tend to recommend food herbs only, so nothing that is a concentrate, or a tincture, or something super strong. You want to stick to food herbs only. If you are not sure if a certain herb is a food herb, always err on the side of skipping it. The reality is that there is a ton of use of herbs during pregnancy and nursing in traditional medicine, however there is very little science to confirm that the use is safe. You can look at how people for thousands of years have been using plants and if that is comfortable to you, you could do the same. If you want science to say, “this herb is safe during pregnancy or while nursing,” we are going to have to wait because there are very, very few studies that say yay or nay for herbs. Again, it is less that there is a fear that these herbs are problematic. It is more the reality that there is just no science to confirm.

[18:36] Cassy Price: Which is the case for a lot of things. Obviously, that is population that most people don’t want to experiment with.

[18:44] Rachelle Robinette: Totally. I have to say one other thing that we do recommend during that phase are teas. Teas are great. It is when you get into capsules and tinctures and concentrates and these really potentised formulations that it is better to avoid.

[19:06] Cassy Price: Makes sense. We talked a little bit about the excess estrogen being one of the concerns that you see in younger women, part of that might be due to phytoestrogens in the diet like soy milk, soy cheese and things have become more popular, as people move away from dairy and onto the non-dairy alternatives. Can you talk a little bit about phytoestrogens and how that plays into the whole hormone replacement therapy plan and potentially causing those imbalances as well?

[19:42] Rachelle Robinette:  Yes. That is really interesting because again in herbalism we will use a lot of phytoestrogens to help balance the hormones. Of course, we wouldn’t say go off and eat a lot of processed soy. There is a quality and a quantity conversation that has to happen around phytoestrogens. To give an herbal example, red clover is a plant or a weed that a lot of people will be familiar with. Red clover is considered a phytoestrogen and something that we use all of the time in hormone balancing and hormone supportive blends. The phytoestrogens help to normalise estrogen levels by binding to those estrogen receptors. They are not actually estrogens; they just resemble estrogen. Red clover is not an adaptogenic herb, but that action tends to be adaptogenic in the sense that if your levels of estrogen are high, it can help lower them. If your levels are low, it can help raise them. It is going to respond to the system according to what the system needs. What I would say, in short, is that phytoestrogens are not bad and they are not estrogens truly. However, we want to be consuming whole food and herbs as opposed to concentrated processed things like lots of soy. Those rarely are a large contributor to imbalances. Again, liver health is important and whatever else you are eating. It is an interesting thing with the phytoestrogens because there is a little bit of fear about them, but they can also be really useful in the right forms. I would just say one quick side note, there is also xenoestrogens in the environment, in products and water, we don’t want those. That is also a good distinction for people to make so they understand that environmental estrogens like xenoestrogens are different to phytoestrogens.

[22:03] Cassy Price: Those can often be found in beauty products and personal care products and cleaning products as well, correct?

[22:09] Rachelle Robinette: Exactly.

[22:13] Cassy Price: When you are working with clients do you review some of those detoxing your house kind of situations as part of the whole holistic plan?

[22:23] Rachelle Robinette: We do. Yes. It doesn’t come up too often, but we will absolutely go there if we need to. I have a client right now that had some mysterious allergy-like symptoms and after considering their whole environmental situation, we realised that it was coming from a wheat factory across the street that was producing a ton of flour that this person was inhaling on a regular basis. It is helpful to do that whole life consideration.

[23:04] Cassy Price: Interesting. You had mentioned adaptogenic herbs as well. Which ones do you use most often in your practice?

[23:16] Rachelle Robinette: Which adaptogenic herbs do I use most often?

[23:19] Cassy Price: Yes.

[23:22] Rachelle Robinette: Adaptogens are, as you probably know, a small category of herbs that currently includes about 12 plants, sometimes there are about 20 in that category. We are studying the rest of them still to find out if they are truly adaptogenic. It is a really specific definition that the world has largely misunderstood since it has become popular. Adaptogens are the ginsengs, ashwagandha, rhodiola, shilajit, cordyceps, and one or two others. Of those, I would say that I don’t give any preference to adaptogens. It is really what is the best herb for the person. In that category I would probably use ashwagandha the most which is such a helpful herb for so many different things like thyroid function, cortisol levels, overall stress balance. For stress and anxiety relief, I prefer the category of herbs that are called nervines. Those are herbs for your nervous system. When working with hormone balance, we may not be working with any adaptogens or maybe just one like licorice because licorice is also a phytoestrogen. It depends but I would say the most popular adaptogen for me would probably be the ashwagandha.

[24:59] Cassy Price: You’d mentioned thyroid there, which is another huge group of hormones and another big piece that often affects women in particular but men as well. Is there specific things that you look at or consider when the thyroid is concerned?

[25:17] Rachelle Robinette: Yes. definitely. That all really depends on if thyroid function is high or low. Ashwagandha is a perfect example of an herb that can be helpful for hypothyroid conditions but not hyperthyroid conditions. Let’s see. I have a whole class on both hormone balance and thyroid health. If someone goes through that process, they will get the whole holistic protocol for balancing those systems. For thyroid that also includes looking at things like sources of iodine. A really good herbal source of iodine of course is seaweeds, bladder wrack, as an example. For adrenal health, one of my favourite blends is a combination of rhodiola, cordyceps, eleuthero, schisandra, panax ginseng and licorice. Funny enough those are all adaptogens. All of them. Adaptogens are working on the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal access. That is why that would make sense for adrenal support. It is going to be case by case. Diet is huge for thyroid help too. Somebody who is dealing with Hashimoto’s then we have to have the conversation about being gluten free. It is so important. The immune system plays in there too for autoimmune conditions. It keeps going.

[26:53] Cassy Price: Exactly. Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. If our listeners want to follow you or learn from you, you have your website www.ursupernatural .com and your Instagram handle @rachellerobinette, correct?

[27:10] Rachelle Robinette: That is correct. Yes. Those are the places. We’re all there.

[27:22] Cassy Price: Awesome. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me.

[27:25] Rachelle Robinette:  Thanks so much. Take care.

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Thank you for listening to Supplementing Health. For more information about our guests, past shows, and future topics, please visit AOR.ca/podcasts or AOR.us/podcasts. Do you have a topic you want us to cover? We invite you to engage with us on social media to request a future topic or email us at [email protected] We hope you tune in again next week to learn more about supplementing your health.

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