Ep 181: Demystifying Hormones with Holistic Pharmacist Heather Rhodes

Hearing the word “hormones” is a bit like nails on a chalkboard to an OB/GYN. There is so much misinformation out there that it’s hard not to feel skeptical about this topic. However, today’s guest, Dr. Heather Rhodes, takes a balanced, science-based approach to her work that I find really refreshing.

Dr. Rhodes is a holistic pharmacist with a passion for women's health. Haven’t heard of a “holistic pharmacist” before? Neither had I! She’ll tell you all about it in the episode - essentially it means that she’s taking what she learned form pharmacology and applying it to holistic hormone healthcare. I love getting to the root cause of issues and her approach is all about treating the cause more than the symptoms.

In this Episode, You’ll Learn About:

  • Why Heather chose to classify herself as a holistic pharmacist
  • What made her decide to focus her work on hormone balance
  • Which hormones are most important for fertility and overall health
  • How she defines hormone balance / imbalance
  • Why she advocates for a combination of traditional and modern medicine
  • How hormones are affected by our daily choices

Links Mentioned in the Episode


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Dr. Nicole (00:00): This episode is for you if you are trying to conceive or you are just interested in hormones. Welcome to the All About Pregnancy & Birth podcast. I'm Dr. Nicole Calloway Rankins, a board certified OBGYN, who's been in practice for nearly 15 years. I've had the privilege of helping over 1000 babies into this world, and I'm here to help you be calm, confident and empowered to have a beautiful pregnancy and birth. Quick note, this podcast is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Check out the full disclaimer at drnicolerankins.com/disclaimer. Now let's get to it.

(00:53): Hello there. Welcome to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 181. Thank you so much for spending some of your time with me today. In today's episode of the podcast, we have Heather Rhodes and Dr. Heather Rhodes is a holistic pharmacist with a passion for women's health. She makes understanding your hormones simple and teaches you practical steps for maintaining hormone balance. Her natural approach to healing creates lasting results and symptom relief. Specifically for PCOS, PMS, acne and fertility. She's a CrossFit instructor, ice cream addict, toddler mom and adoption advocate. In our conversation, we get into why she calls herself a holistic pharmacist. What may her decide to focus on balancing hormones in her work, what she believes is hormone balance, and on the flip side, hormone imbalance. And then what she does goes along with traditional medical providers. She believes they should work together. And then we end with some practical tips. Now, I'm gonna be honest, I was skeptical about this topic and this conversation because when I hear hormones, it is a bit like nails on a chalkboard for me because there is so much misinformation out there. But Heather really takes a balanced and science based approach to this work and I think you will enjoy this conversation. So without further ado, let us get into the conversation with Dr. Heather Rhodes, holistic pharmacist.

(02:44): Thank you so much, Heather, for agreeing to come onto the podcast. I'm really excited to talk to you. This is a topic that we as OB GYNs hear about and from the perspective of folks wanting to know more about hormones. And I'm curious how you as a pharmacist got into it. So I'm super excited to have this conversation today.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (03:05): Yay. I am too, Nicole. Thanks so much for having me.

Dr. Nicole (03:08): Yeah, so why don't you start off by telling us a bit about yourself, your work and your family if you'd like.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (03:13): Yeah, of course. So I am Dr. Heather Rhodes. I am what I've self termed a holistic pharmacist. So I started originally in a pharmacy path and I was doing work inside a primary care office. So if you had a visit with your doctor, you would have time with me to go over your meds and diet and lifestyle and all of that. And the way that I got into doing what I do now is because I started realizing so many patients actually wanted to get better and they wanted to come off of meds and they wanted to heal. And so that kind of led me into the work I do now. And so I help women understand their bodies, understand their hormones really with this kind of simple and ease mindset of how they can essentially pretty much live the life they wanna live, but also do it in a way that supports their body and their hormones. And I am a mom to two boys, three and one. I was like, I gotta remember their ages.

(04:15): So three, one about to be four and two. So life's pretty crazy here. It's just me, my husband, and the two boys. And so I say just, but that keeps us fairly

Dr. Nicole (04:27): Yeah, I hear you. Yeah, we have two girls and they're two years apart, but we are past that stage. They're 12 and 14 now, so

Dr. Heather Rhodes (04:34): But you know, you remember these years?

Dr. Nicole (04:35): I do. I do indeed. I do indeed. So that's interesting to me. I don't think I've heard of a model where pharmacists work in primary care offices. How common is that?

Dr. Heather Rhodes (04:47): It's pretty rare. So you have to go to residency after pharmacy school, so very similar to a medical residency. So that's what I did. I did a residency and it's definitely growing in popularity, they call it ambulatory care and what they do is really manage chronic disease states. So we're not seeing the people that are going in for infections and more of those acute conditions. It's more so if they have diabetes or high cholesterol or high blood pressure because there's so much education the pharmacists can help with in terms of essentially basically what I do now even for hormones. But just understanding how are these meds working, why is it important to take them when you should? Is there something that maybe the doctor doesn't have time to troubleshoot? Or maybe that if the patient wasn't asked, they maybe wouldn't have shared freely. But pharmacists kind of are trained to start asking some of those questions.

(05:41): So it just helps the system along so that meds are being used appropriately so that patients have that additional access. And also so that doctors can get just a tiny bit more info on what's going on with the patient. And it works really well in that model. Diabetes was my specialty, so ironically I worked Congress gave the Navy a grant and said, Hey like we want you to practice this model because we think it's gonna be pretty effective across the board. And so I was in charge of a clinic in the Navy of building up our practice using this model. And it's really funny because as soon as the doctors kind of figured out that I could help the women in the clinic with hormones, specifically P C O S, our clinic filled in a week.

(06:28): So it was really interesting that we had a lot of PAs and a couple docs, but I feel like they kind of knew, okay, when it comes to the hormone stuff, there's so much, especially around PCOS, infertility, there's so much that can be done, but we just don't simply have a ton of the time to educate patients as deeply as they would need. And so they were utilizing me for that and it was pretty awesome.

Dr. Nicole (06:52): Yeah, it's a great model, especially for chronic diseases where people can be on multiple medications. So I just never heard of it before. So that's really cool. So you went to of as far as your education and training tell us about that, cuz I like folks to know. So background of what people have.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (07:12): Yes. So I went to four year, well I went to undergrad for clinical research and then I did four years of pharmacy school and then I did a year of residency afterwards. And then after practicing in pharmacy for about seven years is when I started diving a little deeper into the holistic side. So I went back to school at a school for natural medicine to become a certified health practitioner. And so technically the services I provide and everything is technically as more of that holistic health practitioner, but that obviously never, you can't take away seven plus, I guess really we're at 11 plus years of pharmacy experience. So that's always integrated so deeply. So when people ask and you're like, well, what's the difference of working with you in a health coach or the difference of working with you and maybe even a traditional doctor?

(08:01): I like to tell them that in pharmacy school, basically we spend all of our time figuring out how does the body work? Because you have to know how every single drug works in the body and what the implications of that medicine are. And in order to do that, they teach us how every single system in the body works. And so they pharmacists learn so much about how the body works and I simply take that knowledge and essentially apply it in a way that's not focused on utilizing that information to work with medicines, but more so utilizing that information to work with the signals and the lifestyle kind of things that we tell our body day in and day out.

Dr. Nicole (08:39): Interesting. Okay. So then makes you, or why do you call yourself a holistic pharmacist? I can gather that because part of it is that you step back and take a big picture approach. But tell us a bit more about why you call yourself a holistic pharmacist.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (08:56): So holistic is really all about getting to the root cause. So figuring out, okay, if these are your symptoms, if this is what you're experiencing, what is deeper? Why is this happening? And so when we think about taking a holistic view of how the body's working and how your hormones are working, it really is going deeper than just managing symptom by symptom. So if somebody was saying, I have fatigue, or I have excess weight, or I have really bad periods, I don't simply say like, Okay, perfect, here's what you do to fix fatigue. Here's what you do to fix your period. Here's what you do to fix your weight. I more so go deeper and say like, okay, why is your body basically asking you for support in this way? And where is gonna be the place where you can apply that support to get the biggest bang for your buck?

(09:38): Because the really cool things about our bodies is that, and I'm sure this body wants to be in balance and it wants to be healed and it doesn't wanna have inflammation, it doesn't wanna have excess weight, it wants to be able to give us plenty of energy. It's just that somewhere along the way a system has been dysregulated to cause the symptoms that wo a lot of women are experiencing. And so when you take that holistic approach, you're looking deeper at what got out of balance here and how do we support the system? Your body already has to put things back into balance because when you're letting your body put things back into balance, it knows how to do and you are not simply trying to fix levels or shoot towards target ranges. A lot of the times we see that people get cascading results. So when you really go to the root, then things like your mood and your energy and your periods and even your weight can all start healing at the same time. Whereas when our focus is just like, okay, how do we get you to have as much energy as possible? Sometimes we can miss what's actually the root of why you aren't having that.

Dr. Nicole (10:42): Yeah, that's definitely I love that approach because it's definitely a fault of traditional medicine is that we tend to focus on treating symptoms and not enough emphasis on looking at the underlying cause of problems and seeing how we can address the underlying issue. And that's not to say that medicines aren't important because they can be, or the symptom control isn't important cuz that can also be very important as well. But we definitely need to step back and see if we can take a look at the underlying issue and address it from that perspective instead of covering up things in some regard. Yeah,

Dr. Heather Rhodes (11:18): And I think so much of it too that I feel like a lot of times the fault can get placed on traditional medicine and I think the model itself allows for some of these gaps. But on another side, I think a lot of times patients for a while were wanting that it was like, Hey, I don't really care about all this, I just wanna feel better. And it's sometimes almost more of that we have to give people what they need, not what they want. But I think when we got into the more traditional model where patient satisfaction and reimbursement and all of that started infiltrating the system, it started changing a little bit. And so I think that just opened the door for gaps in really both worlds because just as much as there may be a gap there in traditional medicine, I actually see sometimes in more naturopathic and functional medicine when people go that route that there's a ton of testing and a ton of supplementation. And I like to say that I sit a little bit in the middle because I really think that both ends can allow that gap for the client to not really know how is their body working and how can they support it rather than doing a ton of testing and having a ton of supplements or just symptom chasing. So I think there's room really for all of it to merge and meet in the middle

Dr. Nicole (12:38): That, I mean, that's really how it should be, that we should all come together and work for the benefit of what's best to getting people healthy. So definitely it sounds like you're saying that you wanna work alongside as best you can with traditional medical providers. Is that fair to say?

Dr. Heather Rhodes (12:56): Oh, for sure. I tell all my clients, You need your regular Doctor

(13:02): I mean there will always be limitations to what I can do and what anybody can do. I like to encourage a lot of my clients too to have a healthcare team. And that's kinda a little bit what that model I was talking originally about that my residency created, they called it the Medical Home. And it really is, it was, I think a pharmacist, a dietician, a couple other people, nobody was really coming in with a holistic perspective. So I think there was room for that. But when I talk to clients, especially when it comes to fertility, I think about, hey, it might help for you to have a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, someone like me that can help with the diet and lifestyle kind of pieces of it. And so I really feel like even traditional Chinese medicine can be something that can sometimes be sprinkled in there a little bit. And it really is more aligning with what is your goal and what type of support do you want, what do you wanna know, what do you need that confidence and clarity in? And then how do you build a team of people to support you in that?

Dr. Nicole (14:00): Love it, love it, love it. So what made you decide to focus on hormones specifically in your work?

Dr. Heather Rhodes (14:08): So this is a really ironic story. When I first started working, so after residency we moved and I had to work in retail for a little bit and I liked it, but I knew I wanted to do something more along the am Caroline. So I actually started working at a compounding pharmacy that works specifically for hormones. And I remember my first day being like, Listen, I'll work here, but I'll never be the expert. I don't care about hormones. Only doing this. I literally said that to him. I was like, I'm only doing this. I want a little bit of extra hours and to get some merge in the community a little more. And I'm sure now he's probably dying, but I'll say that was one of the best experiences because he was such an expert. Now granted everything, he was an expert in terms of managing women's hormones, was kind of coming through that lens of compounding hormonal preparations for women.

(15:06): So especially in the menopause range. And I definitely worked a little on the other side of that now. But really my own journey is what sparked me getting into this realm. I really spent my whole life never knowing what hormones were, never really knowing much about my period or caring about it, but I had a ton of symptoms so that I just thought were normal. And then we went through a fertility journey that actually was kind of sparked from years of an eating disorder hypothalamic amenorrhea which I also experienced. And so that entire journey going through that and actually having multiple physicians just say, this was normal or you could start birth control or there's nothing actually wrong with you. It made me really start to hate my body and feel like you've betrayed me. You are broken, you don't work. And now I know no, no, no, no, my body was doing everything it could to keep me safe and alive.

(16:02): I was the one destroying it with a lot of what I was doing in my lifestyle. And so once I started realizing, hey, what if I remember that I had this epiphany and I was like, you know what? If our bodies aren't designed to just break and require chemical substances after we turn 30 or 40, because all I'd ever done was worked in pharmacy. So all I see is that millions of people are on drugs all the time. And I was like, What if they weren't designed that way? What if they actually were designed to heal and something else was messing things up along the way? And when I was really frustrated with our own fertility journey and just felt like I wasn't getting the help and the support and the answers I wanted, I decided I would take what I had learned in pharmacy and clinical research and really just dive into research that was a little different than where I was living, which was in the traditional medicine space.

(16:55): And so that's when I opened my mind a little bit more to complimentary medicine and Chinese medicine and just taking this more natural approach and that I feel like once I found the key and unlocked that door, I think about in Beauty in the Beast, this is so lame, but when Bell opens the library and she's like, Oh my gosh, and there's books to the ceilings and it's just this overwhelming, wow, all of this is here and possible. And it really just was what I was looking for in my personal journey that I hadn't found previously. And so what I decided was I was writing clinical trials, I had these degrees in medicine and research and all of this, and I still felt lost and confused and stuck in my journey. And so I think there are women out there that have amazing skills and amazing education and background and knowledge, but also don't have the capacity to learn and figure out as much as I was able to in my journey.

(17:54): And so that's when I was like, I've gotta help. I have to share this and help them and make it easy for them to understand and make sure that they know there's another way that this doesn't have to be their normal, that their body can heal and really that their life doesn't kind of have to be plagued by these things that seem minuscule period cramps and acne, but are actually pretty big deals. Because for me, acne and being on my period and mood swings, they damaged what I wanted out of my life, which was relationship flourishing and having a social life and feeling confident when I went to the beach. And so many things that were influencing being influenced day to day that I just kind of felt like, well, this is just how my body is, and that just wasn't the case.

Dr. Nicole (18:39): Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha. Yeah, it's always interesting how so much our life experiences influence what we end up doing in our work. Yeah, so true. Talk about hormones, cuz I'm gonna tell you, as you probably know, the word hormones drives OBGYNs crazy because in the sense that honestly we're in our training, we're not taught to, hey, let's check for these levels or this level is too high or too low or how to balance or imbalance or all of those things. So let's talk about what those things mean. Cuz I can tell you when people come into the office and they're like, Can you check my hormones? It we're always, what does that even exactly mean? So I would love to hear your thoughts on hormones. So let's start with what hormones in general, I guess is maybe hard to say, maybe not do you believe are important for women's health and especially for fertility?

Dr. Heather Rhodes (19:40): Yeah, such a good question. And I think one thing just to hit on what you were mentioning about people coming in and asking for hormone levels and all that, I think sometimes we apply basic terms or basic kind of principles in medicine if we want to get our labs checked and we're like, I wanna know what my iron levels are, I wanna know what my cholesterol levels are. And then that kind of determines a treatment plan. I feel like we try to apply the same thing to hormones, but it's not that simple because as hormones really work in what we call feedback loops So certain imbalances don't just show up clear cut in blood work. And I always actually encourage my clients to wait on blood work when it comes to hormones because it's kind of like they know something's iimbalanced and they think it's their hormones, but rather than support the foundational pieces, hey, we know these things support hormone health, they always wanna go to testing first.

(20:35): And I'm like, if you go get testing right now, that thing's gonna light up a billboard. We know things are off, so let's support your body first and then you can have more of this targeted approach, approach if you need it. But to answer your question about the ones that are important, so I think the basic ones that are probably gonna be the most important for women is really just the hormones that are dictating our cycle. So I'd say primarily you have to understand that your body is cycling every single day. But I think a lot of clients kind of struggle to think about it that way. We just think our period shows up and that dictates, like that's when our hormones change, right? Right. But as women, our hormones are literally working in this cycle every single day. So your hormone levels change every single day, which is also why somebody walks into an office and is like, I want my hormone levels checked.

(21:24): It's like, well, we'll get a snapshot of what they look like for the next eight hours, but they're gonna look completely different next. And so I think that that's just something to keep in mind. But I would say the biggest players are gonna be estrogen, progesterone, sometimes testosterone and sometimes cortisol. And really it's cause those four hormones all work together and imbalances in one lead to imbalances in the other. And this is why if somebody is simply Googling their symptoms, you can find an article that tells you you have low estrogen and high estrogen based off of your symptoms. You can find an article that tells you you have low progesterone and high testosterone and high estrogen, and it's like, well, how does all of this work together? And that's what Google doesn't tell you. And so I think that's why it's really hard and why women probably want the testing done because the information out there seems so confusing and so conflicting.

(22:20): And I think it's because that basic knowledge of understanding how hormones interact isn't always there. So we try to apply a belief system around what we know about other areas of our health. I wanna test for an infection, I either have it or I don't. And we think it could be like I either have high estrogen or I don't, but that's not always the case. There's certain times of the month you're supposed to have high estrogen. And so I definitely think that our primary ones are gonna be those main hormones that dictate our cycle, and we definitely have accessory hormones that help your cycle along, but just to keep it as simple as possible, I say those for estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol are really our main dictating hormones. Okay.

Dr. Nicole (23:04): I'm surprised you didn't mention thyroid hormone.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (23:06): Ooh, that's true. I should have, now that you're saying, like yeah, I think I was saying so much around the cycle, but yeah, I mean, if somebody's coming to me and saying, These are my symptoms, like same with testosterone, I'll only look at testosterone if I really think something's off. But thyroid definitely would play a role there. I think sometimes we don't think of it as, we should think of it more as a cycling hormone because it's actually, I feel like if we were looking at this a pyramid, thyroid would be at the top and then you have pituitary and all of that stuff. And then you would see because that directly, that would be the top of your pyramid and your next line would be some of those hormones we just mentioned, the estrogen and the progesterone, those things. Definitely. Yeah. I'm glad you mentioned it though.

Dr. Nicole (23:58): Yeah, of course. We know that estrogen and progesterone are so dominant in women's cycles. So do you mean when you say that, what is it like when people have a hormone imbalance? What does that mean? How is that determined?

Dr. Heather Rhodes (24:14): Yeah. So a lot of times I think what it simply means is that, again, going back to your body, having a system that keeps all of your hormones balanced, when there's a disruption in that system, it can allow for things to get out of balance. And so what that kind of can seem or look like is, let's say that you've got a ton of stress, so you've got a lot of cortisol of stress hormones, and that will influence your thyroid. So then maybe your thyroid slows down a little bit, and then that can influence, and granted, this is a very isolated example, but sure, that can then influence things like your gut health or how your body's making progesterone. Well then we know that that can influence how you're detoxing estrogen and breaking it down. And possibly you start experiencing some symptoms of estrogen dominance.

(25:04): So somebody's coming to you saying, Hey, I'm having a lot of cravings. I'm having cycles where around ovulation, I'm having really intense system symptoms, and then I have crazy PMS. And so they're thinking, Okay, I know this means my hormones are imbalanced because along throughout my 28, 35 day cycle, I'm feeling all of these changes. And so I find that a lot of times the idea of, hey, my hormones are imbalance dis really probably meaning, Hey, I'm having symptoms that I know are linking back to my hormones and I don't really know what to do about 'em. And so a hormone imbalance can be something as simple as an under-functioning thyroid or a overactive cortisol or even a missed pattern cortisol. So we see that a lot. It's so common for women to just live off of coffee all day, especially I'm sure you see a lot of postpartum women and women that are younger moms with a lot of kids.

(26:05): And so their bodies under so much stress that their stress hormones are just really high. And sometimes that even is something that we don't necessarily see on blood work. So in the functional world, we have a Dutch test, which looks at cortisol and all of that stuff, but that requires a 24 hour collection. And so I think when we think, Okay, I have a hormone imbalance, I really feel like it's just meaning, Hey, something is off and it's influencing how I feel throughout the month, and I'm noticing the same pattern at the same time each month. And obviously that's telling us, Hey, your body isn't keeping things as in balance as well as it should. And I usually say the main reason for that comes down to about two things. Number one is the signal from your brain to either your thyroid, your hypothalamus, or your ovaries.

(26:54): So your brain starts the signaling, and it's either that or that there's a nutrient deficiency somewhere in your body, and it's not able to make the adequate amounts of the hormones you need for one reason or another. So for me, and my example of my own journey, my body wasn't getting any fat because I was diet crazy. And so it was really having a hard time making things like progesterone because you have to have an excess of cholesterol to make sex hormones. If you don't have cholesterol, your body's really gonna struggle to make them adequately. And that caused a lot of things. And I was like, I think my hormones are imbalanced. So I definitely can see how it can feel very abstract. It can feel like a really abstract concept.

Dr. Nicole (27:38): It definitely can feel abstract for sure. But I, I totally hear and understand what you're saying. We can't always measure things by a single blood test. Sometimes it takes looking at things over time, like you said, over the course of your whole menstrual cycle and seeing how things are. And I know that that can be complicated, especially for people who have irregular cycles or things like that. But it's it, I can definitely appreciate taking a step back and looking at that big picture approach and not just a spot, Hey, I want, give me this number. What do I do to fix this number kind of thing. Yeah, yeah. Cause it's not really how it works,

Dr. Heather Rhodes (28:24): Especially when we think about the pathophysiology behind how hormones need to be excreted from the body and how hormones are produced and what things influence that signaling from the brain to the ovaries. A lot of times there's really clear things that I think can be addressed without necessarily having to do all of that. So I think, for example, if somebody's showing up and they've got some symptoms of what I would term high estrogen activity, so it's kind of clear, hey, your estrogen is really being overactive, whether it be the entirety of your cycle, even when estrogen should be a little less active or that it's peaking too high, if that same person is telling me they have major gut issues and they're constipated all the time, I'm thinking, Okay, this makes sense because we know that estrogen has to get out of the body through the bowels.

(29:16): That's how it's broken down. And so if you are constipated, your body is probably reabsorbing a lot of that broken down kind of halfway estrogen. And that could be a reason for some of the symptoms. And so I feel like yes, we could go straight into testing estrogen levels and trying to figure that out and trying to get them to an exact level. Or we could say, Hey, let's actually help your body. Let's help support estrogen breakdown a little bit. Let's decrease some of the habits that are most likely contributing to things like constipation and see where you're at in a month or two. And I feel like the majority of my clients end up not even needing the testing at that point, because it's kind of more of this, Okay, there was a really clear correlation with what you were experiencing and what could have been at the root of it.

Dr. Nicole (30:04): Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha. So then what determines hormones being in balance, per se?

Dr. Heather Rhodes (30:11): Yeah, I really encourage women to, again, just look and think about their cycles. And this is where that merging of traditional medicine alongside of more of the holistic approach is great, because first, we do want adequate blood work. So if you're going to your OB and your thyroid levels are all off the handle, even if you don't have a ton of symptoms, we still wanna correct that.

(30:35): And so I really seeing, obviously having that clear, normal checkup from your provider, but then also I feel like most women just assume if they have kids and they're busy, that they should be exhausted all the time, and it's normal for them to not be able to sleep. And it's normal to have PMS and rage and really heavy cycles. And so when I think of somebody that is experiencing their hormones being in balance, I feel like they're not being disrupted in their day-to-day activities by symptoms that their body's having. So they've got enough energy, they're sleeping fine, their cycle's showing up, definitely depleting their energy a little bit, but not with just crazy debilitating either cramps or mood swings or rage or inability to lead the house because of flow. I think that that's probably the biggest thing is you should be able to continue the quality of life that you're desiring without essentially having being and feeling held back by symptoms of your body.

Dr. Nicole (31:37): Love that, love that, love that. So you're recognizing that we're going to have fluctuations in how we feel in our moods. Some of those things are just a normal part of life, but nothing should be so extreme that it's interfering with your ability to function and to live and feel good most of the time.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (32:03): Yeah, And also I think there's also a component of understanding the why's. So if I am, let's say this is a great example. Let's say I got the virus nobody wants right now, and then I had total exhaustion for three weeks. Well, that makes sense. There's an understanding there of what's going on. And so I think that's a big piece of it too. Whereas if this was a part of my story when I was healing my hormones and had really ragy PMS and I know now why it was happening, but I mean, I was actually turning kind of violent, picking up a chair and throwing it at my husband when I was never a violent person.

Dr. Nicole (32:45): Heather. Oh my goodness.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (32:47): I know. I tell this story a lot and I'm like, I wish you guys had a picture of it, because I picked the chair up, I put it over my head to throw it at him, but it's like it was all slow motion because I felt in my brain, I don't wanna hurt the wall, I don't wanna hurt the floor, I don't wanna hurt him. So I threw it at the couch and it just did a flip and landed perfectly straight up in front of him. And I mean, he started, then he started laughing, and then it was on

(33:13): Was the floor. But essentially, I think my brain was saying, Who are you? What are you doing? Right? This is not you. Right? But my body was in such, I wanna say dysregulation, that I felt like I didn't have a ton of control, and I definitely did, but I knew that was when I knew. So every time I would have those episodes, my period would start the next day. And that's when I knew, hey, something really needs some support and some work here, because that is not a normal, there wasn't a reason for it. There didn't seem to be a ton of rationale behind it. I knew it wasn't me. And that's what I have a lot of women say when they come to me and say, I don't, I'm not feeling like myself. I don't feel normal. I just want to be in a place where I feel like myself again. And as much as I feel like this used to be, again, kind of being raised in traditional pharmacy world, I used to feel like this was kind of quackery. But I do think women have an intuition, especially now that I'm a mom, I kind of hone into that a little more. And I do think that if something in your intuition is telling you, Hey, my body needs some support or something about my lifestyle needs some adjusting, then I think that's a really good place to plug into as well.

Dr. Nicole (34:26): Yep. Love it. Definitely love it, love it, love it. So let's get into some practical advice and some tips, and I'd love to focus on things that you feel like are good for helping balance things for fertility in particular. I have lots of folks who listen who are either trying to get pregnant or even postpartum. That's another area also. So what about, what dietary or lifestyle tips do you have for folks?

Dr. Heather Rhodes (34:51): Yeah. Well, and I wanna say too, that when we understand how that hormone balancing system we already have in our body works, then a lot of the same things we do to improve fertility actually improve postpartum, right? Because someone who has essentially a hormone system that's supported, most women in our most optimized form, wer'e fertile. That's what our bodies wanna do. They want to get us pregnant all of the time. And so that's kind of a cool thing that I think I like making the connection for is women understanding, hey, a lot of the same tips you use for fertility, you can also use for postpartum because it gets you when you're postpartum. Yeah, you might not want to have another baby, but if your body is fertile, it's actually a great sign that your hormones are a little bit more in balance. And so you might not be having a lot of those crazy symptoms.

(35:39): And so it's really just about supporting that system that hormone balancing system we already kind of naturally have in there. So when it comes to, okay, what do we need to do with diet and lifestyle? I say the number one thing for both trying to conceive and postpartum is going to be a focus on lowering stress. And I don't mean lowering the stress we have in our mind. I really mean lowering stress hormone production. And what that means is coming from more of, again, that physiological standpoint of your body being under stress. So if you are someone that is constantly on their phone, are constantly working or jumping from thing to thing, or you are, I'm so bad at this at night, but you're on your phone, you're watching tv, you're running first thing in the morning while listening to a podcast, you are barely eating because you've just gotta get everybody out the door.

(36:30): These are all things that basically tell your body, Hey, we're not in a safe environment because our bodies really are the same as they've been for years and years. We live in an ancestral body, but in a very modern technological time. And so I think a lot of times women don't necessarily get taught that connection between, Hey, you think that waking up first thing in the morning and going outside and running four miles is a stress reliever, but your body thinks that you are waking up every morning and running because a bear is chasing you. And so that naturally increases your stress hormones. And so it doesn't mean, Oh, okay, well you can't run. It just means, okay, how do we tell your body that it is safe in the capacity that you still get to exercise the way you want? Right? And a lot of times it's almost, I like to think about a bank account.

(37:21): And so we have deposits and withdrawals, and I think that it's not necessarily, especially in fertility, I think we can get really crazy in, Okay, I have to do all the things and do it all right and do it all perfectly, and that's what's gonna get me pregnant. And usually it, it's basically like, Hey, you need to deposit more into your body's support and safety bank account than you are in your body's stress and depletion bank account. And so I really like to help women understand that those are some of the pieces that your body needs more so than feeling, you know, have to do a random tip, cut all gluten and dairy and sugar, right? That's really common, especially in the functional side of things, and that's great. But if that stresses you out, if that depletes your calories, if that takes away from your quality of life, then it's just gonna be adding to your stress bank account and depleting your support and safety bank account.

(38:15): And so I like to encourage women that it really is about figuring out what are you already doing in your day to day? What are the foods you love? What are the things you're buying? What is your specific kind of habits look like? And how do we just make some small shifts and adjustments to those so that your body feels safe and supported? And we're decreasing that stress hormone production. And the reason that's so important is because our body works in a hierarchy. And so it will always prioritize making stress hormones over sex hormones. This is what something, like I mentioned earlier, HA hypothalamic amenorrhea is, right. It's where your body feels like, Hey, we're not in a safe enough environment to ovulate to release an egg, because we know that if you got pregnant, there's not enough nutrients and resources around to keep you alive, and your body wants to keep you alive more than it does anything else. And since those stress hormones are the same hormones that keep our heart beating, your body will prioritize those. So if you are undernourished, if you're overstressed if your body doesn't feel like it's in a safe place, then it will actually decrease the production of a lot of those fertility hormones. And some people might still be ovulating, but then maybe they don't have any cervical mucus because they're mineral depleted. So yeah, I think so that would be number one would be lowering. Yeah.

Dr. Nicole (39:33): Yeah. And I love that concept of the stress bank versus the safety bank. You know, can't take away stress. We, it's a part of life, but you can certainly think about ways to manage it. And you're saying do it in a way that fits with your life. If you like to run at four o'clock in the morning, have at it. But just realize that you have to balance things in a way that look at the whole picture of things.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (40:00): Exactly. So if that's your preference, then okay, how are you nourishing your body to do that? How are you turning off your fight or flight system afterwards? How are you telling your body that it's safe the rest of the day? Because I think a lot of us type A-ers just go from thing to thing to thing.

Dr. Nicole (40:17): So let's get into another couple tips.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (40:20): Yeah. Okay. So that really is focusing again on that brain to ovaries signaling. So then the second piece that I think is really important is making sure that your body is nourished in a way that allows it to make basically not only fertility hormones, but also really good markers for fertility. And so one of those I just hit on was cervical mucus. You have to have adequate cervical mucus to get pregnant. And I find a lot of clients, they either don't notice it or they just don't produce a lot, and that's a really good indicator that your body is depleted in some form. And we know this may sound a little abstract, so track with me if our listeners are a little not medically trained, obviously. So we know that we think about hormones, but then if we go even deeper, the thing that makes hormones, the thing that actually fuels every process in our body is gonna be our cells.

(41:11): And they run on minerals. So things like sodium, potassium, calcium. And so I think a lot of times these things get depleted really easily in women, and we don't necessarily have, the standard American diet isn't replenishing minerals and helping women to stay balanced with minerals. And so what happens is when your body's depleted in that way, a lot of times it starts saying, Okay, well we need to find some minerals to fuel reactions. And your most concentrated source of minerals is actually mucus membranes. And so if we think about what mucus membranes are, it's essentially mucus think of, it's not, basically, right? You have that throughout your body. So we have a ton of it in our digestive tract. We have a ton of it in our vaginal tract, our cervical mucus, all of that. And so your body will actually start utilizing that to fuel other reactions because it's really high and dense inminerals.

(42:06): And this is how, if somebody is highly nutrient depleted, we see issues with the guts show up. And usually it's because we start depleting that mucus membrane. And so the gut gets leaky, or the gut kind of starts functioning a little more slowly than it needs to. And a lot of times, in this case, cervical mucus is just nonexistent because the body's like, Hey, we don't have any extra to be taking this really good source of minerals and just giving it to you for free so that the sperm can get you pregnant. And so that's another really kind of big piece, is making sure that your, your dietary focus is not on eating specific foods. I think it should more so be like, how are you supporting your environment to nourish every single process your body is gonna go through to get you pregnant?

(42:53): And it's a lot, so meaning your body's doing a lot, and so it doesn't have to be a lot and really hard to nourish your body, but the mindset has to be a focus on nourishment versus, Okay, there's certain foods I need to or don't need to eat. I think that is a huge mindset shift that actually starts to support women so much more when we can get past it. Because rather than focusing on, again, the very specific foods, if we focus on the environment as a whole, a lot of times your body's resilient enough to make it through the foods that might not be serving you. Well I like to think of it, our toddlers. So if my kiddo is having three meals a day and nourishing, and he is getting his veggies in and his blood sugar staying stable, then he can probably tolerate a sucker without flying off the handle.

(43:42): But I know if he hasn't eaten, he hasn't slept, he's just, we're at the zoo. Or Disney World's a great example where you see all toddlers go to turn into the devil they're hot, they're sweaty, they haven't slept, they're just eating a bunch of sugar, and then they have a sucker, and it's just meltdown city. And our body really does meet, I mean, we work in the same way as adults. I think we just forget it in that if your body's getting nourished enough, you can handle the night out with pizza and drinks with a friend. And I think especially in the fertility world, we don't feel like we can. And I don't know if that's because the focus is on weight a lot or if it's because we just feel like we have, we're just kind of taking things we're taught in the diet culture and applying them to fertility. But it really is a different kind of game when you're thinking about nourishing your body rather than having to be perfect.

Dr. Nicole (44:35): Love it, love it, love it. And I think just in general, yeah, can't really hard to completely restrict yourself from things. But in general, I think if we, would you say it's fair to say in terms of if you wanna step back and look at a big picture approach, just try to put things in your body that are as minimally processed as possible, as close to the ground as as possible, and without with ingredients that you can pronounce. Yes.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (45:05): I love that. And I think sometimes that even gets termed clean eating, but I like to tell people too, here's the thing, if you feel like you have to restrict a bunch of stuff and you're struggling with that, it just means you're undernourished. So you basically need to nourish your body with whole real foods, and then you can try to pull some of the things out that aren't the best for you. And I do like to take an ancestral approach to what I teach women inside my programs around diet. And so we kind of combine a little bit of how do we eat in a way that lower stress hormones that stabilizes your blood sugar, and then also that's gonna replenish those really dense nutrient minerals that you need. And so sometimes that is a little unconventional when we think ancestral, but it involves things like fruit and honey and organic grass fed milk and grass fed meats.

(45:55): And sometimes we even throw organ meats in there, and it's these things that we know can fuel our bodies really well that sometimes get a bad rep. But I think if you were to just take one of those approaches, if somebody was to just eat ancestral, or if somebody was to just eat to stabilize blood sugar, just eat to lose weight, you can, It's almost like it's a Venn diagram, and if you were just sitting in one circle, you miss where the overlap happens. And that's where I think the magic of balancing hormones and getting pregnant and optimizing fertility really lives when it comes to diet.

Dr. Nicole (46:30): All right. And so let's do maybe one more really quick tip.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (46:35): So I would say the next thing is really gonna be mindset, which sounds so woo woo because it's like, Okay, Heather

Dr. Nicole (46:43): It's not though it's mindset is so important.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (46:46): And I think that's because, again, we have to choose things that are sustainable. There's a reason 96% of diets fail, and it's because they are not sustainable. And so I really love encouraging and helping women understand, Hey, your brain is the most important piece of all of this. And it's not only because if your mindset isn't where it needs to be, you're not gonna be able to sustain the changes to basically support your body long enough. Because we know that consistency makes a huge difference when it comes to our body feeling safe. But I think also it's kind of understanding what do you want the journey to look like? Because for me, yes, the ultimate goal is for my clients to get pregnant and have a baby, But we also know that there are just simply other factors. I mean, there are things that cannot always be explained when it comes to creating life.

(47:38): And so I just think it's really important to understand what you want your journey to look like. And for me, that was, I just want clarity and confidence in what I'm doing, so that if I have to do it for the next year or two years, I'm okay with that. And my life isn't totally disrupted, and I'm not just living month to month that I literally know and feel my body is doing everything it possibly can. I'm in the best position, my fertility is optimized, and I am simply just holding onto that hope as I wait for the right timing. And that is something that I think gets missed a lot when it comes to fertility. I think sometimes we just wanna push through and not think about anything and not get our hope up. And a lot of times I think that comes from a place of just feeling really confused and stuck and not clear about what we're doing and why, and just going through the motions. And I think when you can make that flip to, Nope, I'm gonna learn my body, I'm gonna have this confidence and this clarity in my journey, it allows that hope to stay there. And I think that's a really important part of walking through the lifestyle and the diet changes that you may need to achieve fertility.

Dr. Nicole (48:47): Love it, love it, love it. And then what is one, if you had to give one tip or thing that you recommend that people do to help with mindset, is there anything that you like in particular?

Dr. Heather Rhodes (48:55): Yeah, for sure. First, like I said, I think it's so important to identify that goal. So how do you want to feel? Because we know that our feelings are actually what's gonna determine our thoughts and our actions. So we almost reverse engineer a little bit. I kind of teach clients to self-coaching model. So if, hey, I wanna feel confident, and it's like, okay, what thoughts do you need to have to feel confident? And then we'll say like, Okay, well I need to maybe know that the way I'm creating my meal plan every week is something that I aligns with me, or I need to understand how long I should be consistent in X, Y, Z until I see results. And then once you have those thoughts that you need, gonna help you make those actions, and you're not just gonna be throwing everything against the wall hoping something sticks. You have this very clear thought out way of stepping into your journey in a way that doesn't feel heavy and weighted.

Dr. Nicole (49:48): Gotcha. Gotcha. Love it, love it, love it. So as we wrap up, what would you say is the most frustrating part of your work?

Dr. Heather Rhodes (49:56): Probably dispelling all of the things that people learn in diet, culture, also when women, this probably goes along with the last tip I just gave, which would probably be tip number two, is I feel like we cannot go into a fertility journey with the weight loss mindset. And so that's hard because I know studies have shown us five to 10% of weight loss can improve fertility outcomes significantly. But a lot of times it's not necessarily the lost weight that does it. It's whatever losing that weight did for that person. Did it decrease inflammation? Did it help stabilize their blood sugar? Did it nourish them in a different way because they started adding more mineral dense foods? And so I'd say the most frustrating part is just helping. It's not, It's frustrating because I get annoyed that these diet culture beliefs sit so deeply with women, but it's also my story, so I get it. I don't get frustrated at them. I get frustrated that they're being sold and marketed advice that's keeping them from living their best life and achieving this goal of what their body already knows how to do.

Dr. Nicole (50:59): Totally. Totally understand that. So then on the flip side, what's the most rewarding part of your work?

Dr. Heather Rhodes (51:04): A hundred percent. Seeing the babies born.

Dr. Nicole (51:07): Yeah, absolutely.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (51:08): Yeah. So when I get those positive pregnancy tests and when our clients, I see we give our clients little onesies. When I see the onesies on the babies, I'm like, Oh my gosh, this is heaven.

Dr. Nicole (51:21): Yeah, that's always that part. Never gets old, ever, ever, ever. Yeah. So then what is your favorite piece of advice that you would like to give to moms out there listening or fertility or pregnant or postpartum? What's your favorite piece of advice you'd like to give?

Dr. Heather Rhodes (51:39): I would say really for all of them, it's that your body can do it. Your body can support you. It is your greatest asset, and investing in it is something you will never, ever regret. And that once you learn how it works and how much it wants to support you and how much it can do for you, when it is supported, it ends that battle that I think for some women can last for years of feeling like you have to fight your body. We have to control and fight it all the time. And that is not true.

Dr. Nicole (52:11): Absolutely. Love it. Love it. So where can people find you if they're interested in what you're offering?

Dr. Heather Rhodes (52:19): Yeah, of course. So the best place is gonna be Instagram. I am over there just at Doctor d r Heather, Rhodes and Heather h e a t h e r, and then Rhodes, r h o d e S. I always say that because there's two R's, like back to back and people are like, Are there two R's? And I'm like, Yes. Yeah. So that's the best place we have. Our website's great too, but I'd say Instagram is where me and my team are just hanging out with everybody. And we have a Facebook group called Hormones Simplified, and so we hang out in there a lot too.

Dr. Nicole (52:52): Okay. Got it. Well, thank you so much for coming onto the podcast. This was really useful information and I know folks are gonna find it helpful.

Dr. Heather Rhodes (53:00): Of course. Thank you so much for having me, Nicole.

Dr. Nicole (53:10): Now, wasn't that an interesting conversation? You can tell she really takes her work very seriously, and I love so many of the things about the way she approaches what she does. Now, after every episode when I have a guest on, I do something called Dr. Nicole's Notes, which are my top takeaways from the conversation. And here are my Dr. Nicole's Notes from my conversation with Heather. First one is, I really like the concept of getting to the root cause of something and figuring out why something is happening and not just treating symptoms. That is something that we actually do quite a bit in medicine is cover up or try and treat the symptoms. For example, you have irregular periods, Oh, let's put you on birth control pills in order to regulate your periods without really diving into what may be causing that irregularity. And I'm not saying that birth control pills are a bad option or anything like that.

(54:12): I'm not saying that medications are bad, I'm just saying that we need to look at the underlying cost because sometimes there may be other things that need to be addressed to help address the symptoms. So I really love the approach of making sure you're doing a deep dive to get to the root cause of things that may be going on that's also applicable to issues that pop up in pregnancy as well. Number two, I like the mention of there are natural fluctuations in our cycles and how we feel. For example, based on our menstrual cycle, we may feel different at different times of the months and of the month. And that is completely natural. And the more that you can become in tune with your body and in tune with what's going on with you and how you feel, then the better able you are to manage those fluctuations and step back and not be so surprised or overwhelmed or upset when those things happen. You just can kind of recognize it as a normal part of how things fluctuate and then manage it from there. So I appreciate the attention to just recognizing that there are normal changes in the way you may feel depending on where you are in your cycle.

(55:34): And then the last thing is, I really appreciate the mention of listening to your intuition and just really getting in touch with yourself and connecting when you know that something is off. Sometimes I think there can be a challenge, especially for someone like me, I'm raising my hand here who can struggle with anxiety and I will like catastrophize, catastrophize what I'm trying to say. I will make everything into a catastrophe. You know what I mean? I feel a pain and then all of a sudden my ovaries twisted and I need to get to the er. I, my brain will take me down that rabbit hole. But when I am, peel it back a bit and be a little more intentional and say, Hey, calm down. Think about it, What's going on? When you're really connected with your intuition, then it helps you to know what's going on in your body.

(56:29): And it helps you to know when you really actually need to advocate for yourself and speak up about things that occur. That can be especially important in pregnancy when sometimes you have things and you may not feel right, making sure that you address those and you say, Hey, I don't feel right. Something feels off. I feel scared. I feel worried. And getting those things addressed until you get a satisfactory answer for things. So definitely learn how to pay attention to your intuition. That'll be important in pregnancy. And part two, follow through with it. If there's something that you really believe is going on, don't let it be dismissed. Be persistent until you get answers to your questions that are satisfactory. It may not mean that anything is wrong, but you just wanna know that something is thoroughly and properly explored. All right, and then the last thing I wanna say is that for those of you who are trying to conceive, and anyone who's listening who's currently pregnant, once you have become pregnant, and if you are currently pregnant, childbirth education is so, so critical and important, and I have a fantastic option in the Birth Preparation Course that is my online childbirth education class that gets you calm, confident, and empowered to have the most beautiful hospital birth.

(57:51): It gives you the information you need so you really feel prepared and ready for all of the things that happen. Starts off with learning about your mindset, then you learn all of the details of labor and birth. And let me back up and say we focus on mindset first because you have to be in that right mindset, head space, going into your birth before you know anything about what's going on in your body. Then the details of labor and birth in your body, possible things to prepare for, how to get ready for the postpartum period two. So be sure to check out all of the details of the Birth Preparation Course at drnicolerankins.com/enroll. I would love to see you there. All right, so there you have it. Do me a. So let's share this podcast with the friend sharing. It's caring, It helps me to reach and serve more pregnant folks. That is my passion and purpose, and I'd appreciate your help in doing that. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast wherever you're listening to this podcast right now. And if you wanna continue the conversation, come join me on Instagram. I'm on I, I'm on Instagram at Dr. Nicole Rankins, and you can find me there. So that's it for this episode. Do come on back next week and remember that you deserve a beautiful pregnancy and birth.