Here at Yinova, we treat all of our patients using a whole-body system and we love connecting with other health practitioners who take the same approach. Most of our patients are coming to us for guidance on their hormonal imbalances, which we often treat through their gut.
We recently caught up with Sophie Shepard, a certified Holistic Health Coach and Functional Nutrition Practitioner, and the founder of SHE Talks Health, who offered us some insight into the various easy-to-follow ways that she approaches hormonal health.
Cara Burian: Our first question is about Chinese medicine: what is your exposure to it and/or thoughts on it?
Sophie Shepard: My exposure is through various acupuncturists and Chinese medicine doctors as well as through Elix Healing which does custom Chinese herbs for hormonal support. My thoughts on it are that I’d love to learn more and collaborate with doctors of Chinese medicine so that we can support someone’s hormones. I think it is a seriously underrated and misunderstood science that can dramatically change a woman’s hormonal health.
CB: When did you first become interested in health coaching?
SS: I first became interested in it when my hormones collapsed 9 years ago. I was experiencing immense mental and emotional stress and trauma coupled with years of untreated digestive issues. After I healed from my digestive, thyroid, and adrenal issues I knew I had to pay it forward. I found it so difficult to find actionable information outside of medications like birth control, anti-depressants, and thyroid meds. I wanted to heal naturally and once I did that I began to see how many women were still suffering and in pain without resources to a natural option.
Then a few years later, I was at a conference, working as a producer for an event planning company and, the keynote speaker was a lobbyist for Monsanto, the creators of Roundup Ready. Listening to him tell thousands of conventional farms to use this toxic herbicide that I knew was contributing to my digestive and hormone issues was the last straw. I signed up to be a health coach that night!
CB: What is your advice on eating to support hormonal balance?
SS: Stick with the foundations first, then you can add in cycle syncing. My three food “rules” that apply no matter what your hormonal imbalance is:
- Keep your blood sugar stable by balancing enough protein, fat, and fiber.
- Focus on nutrient-dense foods,
- Eat in a calm environment.
These three pieces are critical pillars because if our stress hormone, cortisol, and our blood sugar hormone, insulin, are on a roller coaster ride all day long it can have downstream effects on just about every sex hormone (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc) many people in the early fall when they’ve just gotten back from summer vacation and
Additionally, if we are stressed and shutting down digestion by running around and not focusing on our meals when we eat them – this will stop the digestive process from working – without proper digestion of nutrients, we can’t build or excrete our hormones effectively.
Once those aspects have been working well for you, that’s when I typically suggest exploring the needs of each phase if necessary. For example, in the Follicular Phase, it can be helpful to add in flax & pumpkin seeds alongside antioxidants like pomegranate and healthy fats like coconut-based products.
As we move into the Ovulatory phase, when estrogen is at its peak and making us hopefully feel amazing, I find most women do well with lighter “summery” foods like salads. Depending on the woman’s needs, she could consider cruciferous veggies during this time forward to help her detox unfavorable estrogen metabolites. I find broccoli sprouts to be particularly helpful because of the high sulforaphane content which helps to eliminate excess estrogen.
From there, as a woman is working on maintaining progesterone in the Luteal Phase, she could consider Vitamin C and vitamin B6 rich foods like oranges, peppers, grapefruit, salmon, bananas, and walnuts. This is the time to really lean into balancing blood sugar since it is naturally not as well managed by progesterone. For this reason, I also love magnesium-rich foods like dark chocolate during this phase since magnesium has been shown to support healthy blood sugar.
Moving into the bleeding phase, as a woman loses crucial nutrients like minerals and iron she can think about replenishing those foods with mineral-rich bone broths, seaweeds, and leafy green vegetables.
CB: Here at Yinova, we use a whole systems approach to health and love that you do as well. How do you help your clients get to the root of their health concerns?
SS: Wonderful question and such a necessary way to approach health concerns. Symptoms are often the tip of the iceberg and they can be far removed from the upstream causes. Instead of looking for the one smoking gun root cause I look at the body as a whole and the functional lab work I suggest clients run for themselves often uncover aspects of the most common imbalances. These include vitamin & mineral imbalances, heavy metal toxicity, mold, and fungal overgrowths, oxalate issues and kreb cycle/mitochondrial dysfunction, immune and viral load, hormonal imbalances, gut dysbiosis, and pathogen exposure, blood sugar imbalances. From there I suggest an opt-in model of self-care that uses food & lifestyle changes that are customized to fit the woman’s needs.
CB: What is your favorite piece of advice for someone dealing with digestion issues?
SS: CHEW YOUR FOOD, calmly, without distractions. Then if you are still having issues we can dig deeper into GI Maps and see if you have a pathogen. Also, food sensitivities are a symptom of a larger issue so dealing with that upstream issue can sometimes resolve common digestive issues.
CB: What goes into being a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner?
SS: I think the most important part of being an FDN-P is helping people find a custom D.R.E.S.S. protocol – that is Diet, Rest, Exercise, Stress Reduction, Supplementation. Not all people are built the same, they have various weak links like missing organs or diagnosis, but at the end of the day, the foundation of my practice comes back to D.R.E.S.S.
The “Stress Reduction” part is more than people think. Stress can mean what most think – perceived mental/emotional stress but it also goes much deeper than that. FDN-P’s look for opportunities to build health by helping our clients uncover H.I.D.D.E.N sources of stress (hormonal, immune, detox, digestive, energy production, neurological). When we can help a client identify a H.I.D.D.E.N. stressor and give them suggestions to remove or reduce that stressor – symptoms tend to go away as the person achieves balance. Our job is NEVER to diagnose or “Treat” anything specifically but rather to build health by identifying “healing opportunities” and giving the client the holistic options to improve their health. In this way, it truly is an opt-in model of support and care.
As a health coach that was also trained through IIN, I also find that the other big part of my job is lovingly supporting clients through their journey. Many of the women who come to see me have been feeling terrible for so long and they are desperate to feel better but it is still very difficult to make lifestyle changes like going to bed at 10 pm! As their coach, I am their biggest cheerleader, it is my job to encourage them, support them when they feel like they can’t keep going, and to help them find alternative solutions when they hit a roadblock.
CB: How often do you recommend your clients have bloodwork? What are you looking for in their results?
SS: I recommend my clients get a good baseline of blood work 1x a year or more depending on what they are dealing with – for example if they have a thyroid condition they would want to consider more frequent testing. In my practice, I like to suggest clients get full panels for CBC, CMP, Thyroid, Iron, B12, Folate, Magnesium, and Homocysteine and inflammatory markers like HsCRP. Because I am not a physician I don’t diagnose anything specifically but often blood work can show us a pattern. I’m looking for nutrient deficiencies that might point to low stomach acid, I’ll correlate that with digestive issues like acid reflux and then typically will also correlate with H.Pylori on a gut test. Then we can take a comprehensive approach by having that client try foods rich in those nutrients they are deficient in or even supplementing with those nutrients until their digestive system is working more optimally again.
Another pattern I see often is blood sugar issues which I will correlate with the person’s energy drops during the day but waking up frequently during the night – this is another opportunity for support with diet and lifestyle (and physicians support of course)
We want to make sure liver markers look good and if they are elevated I refer them to their physician and often suggest some supportive liver herbs, foods, and mechanisms like castor oil packs that can be helpful ways to support liver function.
Finally, a full thyroid panel is crucial – so many women are coming in with numbers that wouldn’t be medically necessary to be medicated but could indicate that their gut and liver isn’t converted thyroid hormone efficiently – in those cases, I would suggest the person considers eating foods that have been shown to support the thyroid.
CB: Many of our patients are busy New Yorkers who are constantly on the go and are looking for ways to maintain their health in a simple way. How do you approach setting health goals for clients who are juggling multiple different responsibilities?
SS: Create boundaries and come up with your non-negotiables. I’m a New Yorker, I get it but here’s the unpopular opinion, you are choosing to opt into the go-go-go lifestyle and you don’t have to do that to yourself. If you are always sick and run down or dealing with a ton of unfavorable symptoms then please take that as a sign that your body is asking you for a break. It’s okay to slow down, say no to obligations, delegate, and get support. I know we want to be social queens, working professionals, the world’s best parent, and still make time for our health but the reality is something has to give. I’m of the opinion that you either make time for your health or you will have to make time for dis-ease. We get to choose.
The other thing that I see people do is making it too complicated. We need the basics – good quality sleep between 10 pm – 6 am, stress reduction methods, nutrient-dense foods, and movement that works for our body. Most people don’t need every Instagram blogger’s favorite new supplement or to deprive themselves of entire food categories. Unless you are working with a practitioner on your health because you know something isn’t right, just working on stress, sleep, food, and exercise can go a long way.
CB: Do you notice patterns throughout the year with your patients, for example, do you tend to see a spike in imbalances around stressful times like the holidays?
SS: January is always my busiest time. I think over the holidays, we just let ourselves enjoy!! Which is wonderful, but sometimes it comes with whiplash in regards to our health. I also see many people in the early fall when they’ve just gotten back from summer vacation and they are trying to get adjusted to a new schedule with their kids at school. So yes, I think stress plays a big part in it.
Sophie Shepard is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner, FDN-P, and the Founder of SHE Talks Health and THE SHE TALKS HEALTH PODCAST and the Co-Creator of the 12-week EmpowerHER Gut & Hormone Restoration Program. Sophie helps women around the globe transform their menstrual health through a combination of root cause diagnostic testing and nutrition & lifestyle science so they can finally have straightforward answers to their most mystifying symptoms. Sophie’s mission is to educate and empower women so they can reclaim their health and get their lives back!