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Wellness And Hormone Balance Post-COVID, With Dr. Margaret Christensen

How can individuals improve wellness and even hormone balance in the wake of the pandemic? Health coaches provide a critical role in post-COVID healthcare, according to Dr. Sandi’s latest guest on Health Coach Talk, Dr. Margaret Christensen. In a world flooded with choices and ever-changing advice, Dr. Margaret advocates for a return to the fundamentals, with health coaches leading the charge toward a holistic, strengths-based approach to well-being.

“Bringing people together in community, looking at what’s strong with them, rather than what’s wrong with them,…[is] helping shift our entire medical care system.”

Dr. Margaret Christensen

Dr. Margaret is passionate about this topic because she’s only a highly credentialed doctor, she’s also an FMCA-trained health coach. In this episode, she describes the transformative power of health coaching, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the problems it exposed in our healthcare system. Drawing from her extensive experience in functional medicine and women’s health, Dr. Margaret shares her vision for health coaches in collaborative care, guiding clients towards resilience and vitality as they work toward spiritual, mental, and physical wellness. Through the lens of character strengths (one of our favorite topics) and hormone balance, she provides practical strategies for healthy lifestyle changes that increase well-being.

By emphasizing character strengths and resilience-building, health coaches can empower their clients to take on root causes and reclaim agency over their health journey. Dr. Margaret underscores the importance of addressing not only physical ailments but also the underlying emotional and spiritual dimensions of well-being, which can support or stifle the body’s healing potential. She calls out the way health coaches can foster supportive community and leverage evidence-based interventions that pave the way for lasting transformation in the lives of their clients.

Episode Highlights

  • How COVID-19 changed the healthcare environment, and health coaches’ role in a post-pandemic world
  • The power of character strengths to shift perspective and open up new paths to healing (we love the VIA Character Strengths Survey)
  • The impact of chronic stress on hormone balance and brain health
  • Practical tips for mitigating the effects of endocrine disruptors and autoimmune conditions
  • An overview of the upcoming summit where Dr. Sandi will also be speaking, Hormonal Havoc: The COVID Fallout and How to Fix It

Meet the Guest

Margaret Christensen, MD, FACOG, IFMCP, ABOIM, CFMHC

Carpathia Collaborative

Carpathia Collaborative

An Institute for Functional Medicine faculty member for 12 years, Dr. Christensen first became interested in functional medicine 15 years ago when trying to solve the riddle of her and her family’s complex health challenges. Unbeknownst to her at the time, they were suffering from the consequences of severe toxic mold exposure. She became intimately familiar with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and the autoimmune, hormonal, neurological, and psychiatric consequences of unrecognized biotoxin illness. A board-certified OB-GYN for 23 years, her initial boutique Functional Medicine practice has grown into The Carpathia Collaborative, a large multidisciplinary FM Practice based in Dallas and covering the full spectrum of complex chronic disease. The practice provides 360 degree functional lifestyle and nutritional medicine and includes an onsite teaching kitchen, yoga studio, and education library that also serves as the site for community-learning events. Dr. Christensen is passionate about educating her clients and colleagues about root cause, whole-systems medicine! She is the author of Birthing a Better Way and a chapter in the Functional Medicine Nutrition Textbook.

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Episode Transcript

Dr. Sandi: Welcome to “Health Coach Talk.” It is my pleasure to be able to bring to you Dr. Margaret Christensen. Welcome, Dr. Margaret.

Dr. Margaret: Thank you so much, Sandi. I’m so honored and inspired to be here with you, and you were such an inspiration for me as you started the whole FMCA coaching program that you’ve put together. It’s just been so amazing, and I know that one of my practitioners was one of your early beta testing. And I just have to say that the level of education and the quality of folks that you brought to the table teaching us, I of course knew all the folks in the functional medicine side, but the folks on all the positive psychology side was just amazing. And, yeah, so thank you for all those introductions to lovely people and just the learning that I did.

Dr. Sandi: Well, thank you for coming to us as a student to become a health coach. And you were one of the people who taught me when I was taking that introductory course for functional medicine way back, and it was around 2010. And I was so inspired by you and your talk about women’s health.

We’re going to get into women’s health and hormones today, but first let’s start out by talking about health coaching. So, why health coach is so, so critical in this post-COVID era?

Dr. Margaret: Well, one of the benefits and/or fallouts from COVID is the fact that we’ve exposed the absolute failures of our conventional medical model really to deal with any chronic illness. And we know that the people who got sick from COVID have long-haul COVID and/or have gotten sick from the spike protein exposures, including from the vaccines. So much of that can be dealt with lifestyle and diet, basic nutrients, all the things that health coaches have been trained to do and really working with the mindset, because I think it’s the mindset that blocked so many people. We know what to do, but we don’t know how to do it. And I think that’s really critical as we shift now into what you… When I’ve interviewed you for my summit, you talked about health coaching really as primary care, as part and parcel of primary care in this country. And people feel overwhelmed. They don’t know where to start. And bringing people together in community, looking at what’s strong with them, rather than what’s wrong with them, which how I was trained, I think is so critical and it’s really helping shift our entire medical care system, which is what we’ve been wanting. Those of us in the functional arena have been dreaming about this, what, for 20, 30 years, and I think it’s happening.

Dr. Sandi: Absolutely. So to talk about this model of character strengths and why you think it is so crucial for coaches to be helping people in this area to build resilience.

Dr. Margaret: I think resilience is the key here. And so much resilience was taken away from people during the last four years. So, again, when we are trying to figure out when we’re in complete overwhelm, I’ve got so many different balls in the air. Maybe we’re sick. Maybe our kids are sick. Maybe everybody’s sick together. What can we do? How can we draw on what’s right with us to help make that shift? And it’s funny because when I’m doing a whole summit on this whole topic, and I actually asked people to start out before they watched this to take the VIA Character Strengths. What’s strong with you again? And that’s what you taught me, and I think it’s absolutely critical because there is so much data now that we have regarding our brains, and our limbic system, and our prefrontal cortex and who’s running the show. And when we can stay in our strengths in that prefrontal cortex, that rational mind, and out of our limbic brains, that’s how we make the shifts. And that’s what health coaches can do.

Dr. Sandi: So important. For those who may not be familiar with character strengths or the VIA, this is a free survey that you can take, and we can link to it in the show notes. And it has to do with these fundamental traits that we all have. And we have them across cultures, across different religions, philosophies, and it’s all research-based. And some are of the mind, like we may apply perspective and good judgment. Some are of the heart, like love and kindness. And put together, they are the keys to thriving. And as you said, we are often thinking about what’s wrong with us especially now. We’re thinking about what’s wrong with the world in general post-COVID. And coaches can bring this element of thriving. What makes a life worth living? And I just love that you address this in your summit.

Dr. Margaret: Really that’s the only way that people heal. You have to have that heart piece as part of the healing process. It’s just like a no-brainer, and I’ve learned from you and your level of zest, and you can probably tell that in my top strengths, I have leadership, and bravery, and creativity as well as spirituality, gratitude, and love of learning. I think those are the top six, and I know that’s what moves me. So, I just think that when we bring this to everybody’s… We need some hope. There’s so much craziness going on right now. And a lot of it, I have to say, is deliberate in terms of feeding us a lot of fear and so to counter that with what’s beautiful, what’s right, what’s possible. When you have a big challenge, how do we grow from it? How do we find purpose and meaning and suffering too? That’s another piece of that, and that draws on our strengths.

Dr. Sandi: So important. You’re a hormone expert. I learned a lot about hormones from you. Talk about the role of hormones when we are under chronic stress, which so many people have been these last few years. What’s going on with our hormones?

Dr. Margaret: Well, that’s a great question. And I think what’s incredibly important to understand is that they’re all connected, that again, our estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, again, that this is what’s causing women in particular to have periods and stuff, is intimately connected to what’s going on with our insulin levels and blood sugar levels is intimately connected to what’s going on our thyroid. And above that, it’s intimately connected to what’s going on with our adrenal system and the production of cortisol, and adrenaline, and DHEA. And how all these things are linked can… All of it’s coming from here, from the HPA axis, then the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which is being fed all this information, all these inputs from all of our body, and helping us to decide is it time to eat, to sleep, to procreate, to laugh, to have a period, to get pregnant.

So, if we are under so much stress all the time, that we are in constant sympathetic overdrive, that means we’re making adrenaline all the time, and our hypothalamus and our HPA axis in our brain is signaling our adrenal glands, “Hey, make more cortisol, make more adrenaline,” and we’re staying in that constant state, that’s going to impact downstream all the other hormones that are being produced. Also neurotransmitters. So, it’s going to impact our mood as well as sleep-wake cycles, as well as the menstrual cycles, fertility issues, testosterone levels, libido, again, weight. So, all of these things are linked together.

All of us have stress, and there’s nobody who lives life that doesn’t have some stress. The question is, what are your tools to help manage it? Because if you are staying in this constant deluge of synthetic overdrive, then that is going to impact everything. So, can we learn how to use some of these tools that you taught me through health coaching to calm down that limbic system in the brain, that distorted hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis that’s in overdrive? And how do we shift that so that we don’t have that same pattern over and over again of never allowing the body to calm down or relax? Because that is impacting everything else.

Dr. Sandi: Sure. So, we are in a continual state of sympathetic overdrive, and we don’t have sufficient amount of time repairing, restoring, resting. And one of the things that always strikes me is how little people rest. And that means they’re always on. I know I’m definitely guilty of this too. We’re constantly checking emails, checking social media, going from one event to the other and not taking sufficient time to pause. And so recently I took up a new hobby, which is going to force me to pause. It’s needlepoint. I’ve been a knitter, a crocheter for years, but that you can do while you’re doing something else and not needlepoint. You have to actually look at the canvas to get this needle in these tiny holes. And so I’m finding that I’m doing it at the end of the day. It’s a quieting activity, and I’ll just put on some… Not the news. I will put a podcast, put on some music, and I will just lose myself in this very repetitive activity. It’s also putting me in touch with an activity that my grandmother did, great grandmother, and so there’s a whole history of women using crafts like this to just quiet themselves and also be in communication with other women as well.

Dr. Margaret: Yeah. Well, needlepoint is so beautiful. Yeah, just a stitch in time, right?

Dr. Sandi: Exactly.

Dr. Margaret: And very meditative. So, yeah, absolutely. All of us. And this is of course part of the functional medicine coaching training is that we have to work on ourselves, and we have to make sure that we are always incorporating our own, again, daily practice of some sort that’s meditative, some kind of movement every day, making sure that we are getting adequate rest. And to that other R, I would say rejuvenation. Make sure that we play, that we have fun, that we laugh. And that’s actually one of the questions I ask every client. What makes you laugh? And it’s surprising how many people just have a blank face and I’ll give them that as a task. That’s going to be your task. I want you to find something that makes you laugh.

Dr. Sandi: Yes, and there’s something called laughter yoga. So, it is just like generate… Even if you don’t think of something funny, you’re not spontaneously laughing, you could create that or even just smiling. There was a study where they had people just smile and take a walk and smile at people and look at the beautiful trees around and just smile. And it really had a profound impact on their stress levels.

Dr. Margaret: I’ve done work with limbic retraining for many years, and I have several people that I’m interviewing regarding retraining the brain, and there’s many different programs out there, but one of the things that you do is smile whether or not you mean it because you are triggering all those cranial nerves to disrupt old pathways. So, it works, yeah. They can take it sometimes.

Dr. Sandi: Absolutely. It’s effective. Can you talk about the role of hormones in terms of brain health?

Dr. Margaret: Oh, yeah. Just really so critical for longevity, for memory, for critical thinking skills. So, for example, estrogen is very important, particularly postmenopausal, to maintain some levels, particularly if you’ve been under tons and tons of stress because we know estrogen helps maintain appropriate neuronal connections in the brain. Testosterone is very important for memory and also up and go for libido. Progesterone has a wonderful calming effect on the brain.

Now the challenge is we’ve had a lot of people on synthetic hormones all their life, or synthetic birth control pills, or synthetic hormone replacement that’s not natural or identical to what we have, and that can disrupt our own hormones’ impact for our brain and for nurturing our brain. So, I think that there is, again, so important to have adequate levels of progesterone, testosterone, estrogen, DHEA, pre and postmenopausal, but again, if you’re under chronic amounts of stress, you’re going to be disrupting some of those and really impacting them.

Now, the downside impact of hormones, chronically high cortisol and adrenaline and insulin, impact the brain negatively in terms of causing more rapid brain neurodegeneration, not allowing new neurons to connect. And we certainly know that Alzheimer’s is being called type 3 diabetes, again, high levels of insulin and blood sugars can all impact that. So, having adequate levels of hormones… And we saw this during COVID, that women who were postmenopausal who had adequate levels of estrogen had far less neurological side effects than women who were not getting hormones and got some type of brain fog issue or cognitive decline afterwards.

Dr. Sandi: So, it’s really important to understand your hormones and be aware of potential need for bioidentical hormone replacement. And health coaches, they’re not practitioners, they’re not going to prescribe these. They can play such a key role in educating people about the role of hormones, particularly for brain health.

Dr. Margaret: And again, where health coaches come in is understanding that no different than neurotransmitters, gut health and hormonal health are completely tied together. And so just a basic gut repair is incredibly important, and again, supporting detoxification pathways and liver, all of the things that can improve hormonal balancing, and then all the lifestyle pieces about getting rid of all the plastics and hormonally contaminated food supply things that we have in our pantries and really looking at whole foods, non-toxic things. And those are all areas that our health coaches have had training in. Sometimes very simple things that you can do to really improve hormonal balance without having any hormone replacement.

Dr. Sandi: Can you say more about these endocrine disruptors? And we’re hearing so much about these estrogen-mimicking chemicals that are just pervasive in our environment. And what have you seen and then what can we do about it?

Dr. Margaret: Yeah, so I lump these all under something called biotoxins. So, we have many different types of biotoxins. These would be fat-soluble toxins that get inside mitochondrial membranes and disrupt function. And so, again, common ones would be things like plastics and pesticides, BPA, and all that. Those are actually estrogen mimickers. Many of these petrochemical products end up interacting with our hormonal receptors. The body thinks, “Oh, this is an estrogen-like compound.” So, we’re being exposed to these. Also things like heavy metals are biotoxins, and then you’d have things like mold toxins or mycotoxins, including ones that come from candida or yeast overgrowth besides toxic mold, which is what I’ve been known for in the past. And then we have viruses and chronic infections, things on Lyme and co-infections and the COVID virus. And really it’s the spike protein part that is a biotoxin and can be hormonally disrupting.

So, there’s different mechanisms. Again, some can be actual mimickers, so they can mimic a hormone. And that’s what I was talking about like the BPA. And then mycotoxins also have mimicry. And then you have those that just because they’re creating stress on the body, they’re impacting that HPA axis, they’re pushing that over. And then you have things like heavy metals, which actually disrupts some of the enzyme functions that we have in our bodies. So, any one of these different pathways can impact hormones from these external chemicals.

And so again, knowledge is power. If you know that and you start learning, “Okay, how do I avoid X, Y, and Z? How can I comfortably support my body in its own natural detoxification mechanisms and support that?” And again, that’s a lot of things that health coaches can do.

Dr. Sandi: Absolutely. It’s so important to be aware of the toxic soup that you’re living in. What’s coming out about the spike protein is really now we’re opening our eyes to the impact and the connection between spike protein and autoimmunity. I’d love to have you talk about that.

Dr. Margaret: Well, it’s absolutely huge. And so again, autoimmunity is when our body is attacking itself. Our body is looking at something and making the antibody against it but that also happens to look like some of our own body’s tissues, for example, collagen or something. So, with spike protein, unfortunately, all the data now that’s coming out is a bit distressing. And this is part of what I talk about in my summit, that you are disrupting mitochondrial function. And that’s where a lot of autoimmunity comes from again.

So, the spike protein gets in the cell. It starts disrupting the cell. It disrupts and breaks down the mitochondria, which spills its contents. It signals the cell is in distress. That draws in the white blood cells and the immune system, and then we start attacking our own cells. So, that has been a huge problem, and unfortunately, some of the VAERS data that we’re seeing now, the Vaccine Adverse Events response, we’ve seen an 800% increase in autoimmunity. And I can tell you that I’m seeing that clinically. People who’ve been well stable on all the different things that we’ve done, all of a sudden, a resurgence of their different autoimmune markers or their illnesses in general, as well as infections. So, we’re seeing massive amounts of that, and understanding the physiology behind it and what we can do, again from the lifestyle standpoint, to help improve that is amazing.

Dr. Sandi: What are some of the things that we could do? Let’s say we get our labs back and we never had an autoimmune issue, but maybe our antinuclear antibodies are elevated and now you’re freaking out. What can we do?

Dr. Margaret: Well, again, I think the first place is to go into remembering our body has powerful healing mechanisms. And that if we learn how to engage them, that can be really amazing. I would also suggest reading some of Gabor Maté’s work on autoimmunity from the psychospiritual standpoint. But from the level of the physical standpoint, it just goes back to, okay, how do we lower that HPA axis sympathetic overdrive that is fueling and driving a lot of the autoimmunity. We know that 80% of our immune system is in our gastrointestinal tract. So, for most people, you do a six to eight-week autoimmune paleo type of diet, and it doesn’t have to be forever but it’s just for that time to rest, allow the body to really rest, and get our digestive system back online and really healthy, heal and seal and turn off the inflammation that’s triggering all of this. And so again, we do diet and nutrients. We have different gut repair protocols that are very useful. Then you can actually go to some more advanced therapeutics, things like low-dose naltrexone. And part of it is identifying what is triggering the autoimmunity. Is it a toxin? Is it infection? Is it a nutrient deficiency? And then you’re addressing those things, but in all of it, working on helping somebody and helping yourself stay in a calm, centered place, so that our own minds aren’t attacking ourselves, that we are loving ourselves exactly where we are, and then working with a good practitioner that can help us. But I think an AIP diet is a great place to start, then there’s lots of other advanced therapies, low-dose naltrexone, other things.

Dr. Sandi: Yes, what I’m hearing is that there is hope and that health coaches can play that key role in helping people have that hope that they don’t have to be a victim, they don’t have to feel like their circumstances are beyond repair. And it does seem to all come back to this mental, emotional, spiritual component, which as we know in functional medicine is the heart of the matrix. It’s at the very…

Dr. Margaret: Right, center. And one of the guests I have on my summit is Dr. Alex Pattakos. He is the Global Meaning Institute. He is the protege of Viktor Frankl, who wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

Dr. Sandi: My favorite book.

Dr. Margaret: Yeah, which I think every single one of us needs to have read this book. Alex is talking about… We call it body, mind, spirit. He said it needs to be the other way around. It’s spirit, mind, body, because that is how things are translating into how things are showing up physicality. We also know about autoimmunity and its link to trauma. And I just wanted to say something about that because that is really important. And that’s also another reason why women have a lot more autoimmune illnesses than men. Part of it is a hormonal piece, but part of it is also that our brains are wired a little bit differently but we are often exposed to a lot more trauma over a lifetime, both from things like physical and sexual abuse, as well as when you’re trying to care for children. And your children are being threatened in some way, that in and of itself is traumatic. And so, again, understanding the connection and the role between trauma and autoimmunity, that’s a whole nother piece. And that is part of what happened in the last four years is these continuous states of global trauma. So, learning tools to recognize what our brain is doing, to tap into our spirit, to learn to regulate our emotions, that can then help us physically.

Dr. Sandi: That is so important. And, yes, there’s a profound connection between trauma and physical illness, including autoimmune conditions, but we can heal.

Dr. Margaret: Absolutely.

Dr. Sandi: Some people seem to think that if you were a victim of trauma, then, well, that’s it. You’re now hardwired. I have seen so many times where people have healed. They have been able to, through a spiritual practice, through a mind-body medicine, even simple breathing techniques, but also doing things they love and being with people they love and having those nurturing relationships. So, we haven’t talked about the power of community much, but this is everything you’re talking about can all be done in community with others.

Dr. Margaret: I can’t tell you how important that is because again, another factor behind chronic illnesses is isolation and loneliness. And we had an epidemic of that particularly for a couple of years of that. And so, yeah, doing things together in community is so helpful. And then I was just going to come back for a second to just the trauma piece and autoimmunity. Pedram Shojai as well as Sara Szal Gottfried. Sara has a new book on autoimmunity, and she and I…when I interviewed her, we talked about this whole connection. And Pedram Shojai, and I got introduced to him through you, again, about how do we overcome trauma, because, absolutely it is completely possible to help rewire, again, our brains and our bodies from that, and that’s so critical.

Dr. Sandi: Yes, so we do it through positive psychology, through our…

Dr Margaret: There you go.

Dr. Sandi: … strengths.

Dr. Margaret: Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Sandi: As we’re drawing to a close. I would love for you to talk a little bit more about the summit, how can people access it, and then how can people find you, Dr. Margaret?

Dr. Margaret: Okay, well, I have a summit that’s coming up in June 2024 that’ll be free online. It’s called Hormonal Havoc: The COVID Fallout and How to Fix It. And, again, I’m talking about all the things that we are seeing now because COVID has completely changed medicine. We are in an entirely new era because of the fallout that we’re seeing hormonally, fertility-wise, cardiovascular, neurological symptoms, mental health is a big one, gut issues, again, autoimmunity. We’re looking at all these different pieces, how to recognize what it is that we’re seeing and what are some of the things that we can do. And also we go into, how did this happen? Supposedly, this country with the best medical system in the world and democracy, there was a lot of things that were unfortunately not well-handled. But we have so much hope. Again, all this resiliency, that’s what we have in this country. We have a resilient population and we’re faced with challenges. How do we work together? And we’ve got to do it in community. We cannot do this in isolation.

Dr. Sandi: Couldn’t agree more. Well, we are a strong community. Kudos to you for creating this summit. And I know our listeners will want to tune in. And all the information will be in the show notes. And one last question, where can they find you?

Dr. Margaret: Yeah, so it’s been carpathiacollaborative.com. We’re just moving to a new website called carpathiahealth.com. I don’t currently see clients individually. People see my practitioners and I sit in with them. But I have an array of amazingly functionally trained practitioners. And we know what we’re looking at these days. And we’re always learning.

Dr. Sandi: Oh, I love that. Well, thank you again for being a guest on “Health Coach Talk.” To be continued.

Dr. Margaret: Sounds great. Thank you so much, Sandi.