As we come to the end of the first annual JSHealth Menstrual March, we are excited to chat to the incredible Jenna Longoria, AKA 'The Period Guru,' about how to have an empowered relationship to your body and cycle. Jenna is a relatable and respected board-certified functional nutrition practitioner who specialises in everything to do with women’s hormones.
Through her virtual private practice, Jenna helps women reclaim their hormones and digestive health with a multidisciplinary approach combining functional medicine, nutrition, and diagnostic lab testing in her results driven Root Cause Program. Jenna is a firm believer that the right diet and lifestyle can put any hormonal condition into remission.
We love that she truly embodies the motto 'power to the period' and know you'll get as much out of her expert knowledge. Here's what we picked her brain on...
Can you start by telling us what your mission in life is?
My mission is to empower women with the knowledge of how their bodies work so they can be their own health advocates. My passion is to help women balance their hormone and digestion imbalances so they can banish mood imbalances, anxiety, painful periods, PMS, migraines, acne, and chronic fatigue and digestive issues. This enables them to lead the authentic and vibrant lives they deserve.
How has your personal experience shaped your work?
Growing up, I struggled with PCOS and endometriosis, and was only offered the birth control pill as a solution. The pill made my problems worse and left me feeling depressed, tired and disempowered. That’s why I decided to learn everything I could about womens hormones and nutrition so I could heal myself naturally, which is what I did. My PCOS and Endometriosis has been in remission for over 5 years and I am no longer on pharmaceuticals. My pain is my purpose as my struggle guided me to devote my life to help others reclaim their health as well.
What does a “healthy period” look like? And why do some people have shorter or longer cycles?
First of all, let’s get the definition of what a true period is, because there is a lot of confusion out there!
Period: A true period takes place when there is a rise in oestrogen which causes an LH surge, prompting ovulation, then a rise and fall of progesterone (we’ll learn more about this hormone symphony in the next section).
Breakthrough bleed: Ovulation does not occur. Instead the uterine lining builds under the effects of estrogen and when it gets too heavy it sheds.
Withdrawal bleed: A drop in synthetic hormones in hormone birth control cause a bleed. Ovulation does not occur.
Characteristics of a normal period:
- It should arrive every 25-36 days (average is 28-30 days)
- Bleed for 3-7 days
- Lose 25-80ml of blood (average 50ml). This is why a menstrual cup is an excellent option because you can track how much blood you lose. To put the amount in perspective, 80ml of blood is the equivalent of 20 tampons per cycle
- Pain free (if you have to take a few ibuprofen on the first day and the pain goes away that is fine, but ideally you want to get to a place where you don’t need painkillers)
- Bright, cranberry coloured blood that is the consistency of jello that hasn’t set yet
Luteal phase of 11-16 days
It’s important to note that we will all have abnormal periods at some point. One month you might have a painful period, heavier bleed, or start early or late. If this is not your normal pattern, don’t fret. Observe this change and take note on your next period. It’s only when this deviation in your period persists for three cycles in a row that a pattern is created, signifying there is a hormone imbalance at play.
Shorter and irregular cycles can be caused by hormone imbalances and life transitions. In the beginning phases of peri-menopause, cycles will become shorter. Stress can also cause cycles to shorten.
Are PMS symptoms normal? Why do some people experience these more than others?
A painful period, PMS symptoms, digestive woes, and chronic fatigue are all ways in which your body can communicate with you that something is off. If you are missing work or school because of a painful period, then something is wrong, and it’s time to investigate. Society has led us to believe that painful periods and all of the PMS symptoms that can accompany them are normal. But this is a misfortunate myth. Yes, painful periods are common, but they are not normal.
Diet, lifestyle, and genetics can determine chances of experiencing PMS. However, it’s important to note that our genes are not our destiny. As humans we control our environment so we can influence the expression of our genes. This is called the science of epigenetics.
We love your belief that ‘your hormones are not the problem, they reveal the problem.’ Can you expand on this?
The mainstream narrative is that we are a victim to our hormones. This is a disempowering mantra that couldn’t be farther from the truth. With awareness of our hormone levels throughout the month, we will be empowered with the intuitive knowledge on how to support our bodies with the right food, exercise, and activities at each phase of our cycle in order to ensure our emotional and physical bodies are fully supported. By understanding our own unique menstrual cycle we can work with it in order to use our hormones to your advantage.
Working against our hormones results in frustration, fatigue and hormone chaos. But when we work with our body’s innate internal wisdom, we’ll notice life flows much easier! Pun intended!
Hormones do much more that help us have babies! They influence our mood, emotions, appetite, sex drive, choice in mate, energy levels, personality, and so much more.
What are the biggest causes of painful periods? Signs / symptoms to look for that suggest something may be wrong?
Some of the biggest causes of painful periods are inflammation from hidden stressors such as gut infections, inflammation from inflammatory foods like processed industrial seed oils, sugar and processed foods. These increase inflammatory prostaglandins and deregulate blood sugar, which elevates stress hormones and increases inflammation. Exposure to toxins from air, water, toiletries and cosmetics, and congested detox pathways can be factors which prevent daily elimination of hormones. Last but not least, emotional stress.
Charting your cycles and using your period as a monthly report card can give you immediate feedback if something is wrong.
How about if your period has gone missing? What tools can people use to help regain their menstrual cycle?
Lowering stress with techniques such as meditation and breath work to calm the nervous system and eating a nutrient dense diet will help one regain their cycle.
We are fascinated by the way that women’s cycles tend to sync up. How does this happen?
There is really no scientific evidence for this but the theory is that women will sync up with the alpha female of the group. In the past, women’s cycles synced with the moon due to light exposure which regulates our infradian and circadian rhythms. Full moon would be a time women ovulated because the light from the moon activates the pineal and pituitary glands, and the new moon would be a time of menstruation. Now we live in a world with artificial light and our cycles are all over the place.
Could you speak to the link between diet / balanced hormones and a pain-free, regular cycle?
Inflammatory foods cause inflammation. Inflammation causes painful periods. Eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory fats from omega 3 rich foods, such as wild caught fish, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds, and farm fresh eggs, instead of industrial seed oils (soybean, canola, sunflower) will lower inflammatory cytokines in the body and decrease pain. Making sure to get an array of antioxidant rich foods from fruits and vegetables and enough fibre will also help regulate hormones and digestion.
If there is one piece of knowledge you wish you could share with everyone, what is it?
The first step to empowerment and control is by charting your menstrual cycle. Download an app (I like 'Kindara' or 'Read Your Body') and dive into the Fertility Awareness Method to learn the language of body literacy, and watch your life transform before your eyes.
Connect with Jenna