I am delighted to have Dr. Sonya Jensen joining me on the show today! Dr. Sonya is a Naturopathic Physician with a mission to change the way women understand their bodies and themselves. She believes that women are the center of their families and communities, and by supporting them, they create a ripple effect that supports the whole.
Dr. Jensen is a mother of two boys, an author, a yoga teacher, a podcaster, and a workshop and retreat leader. She runs her practice with her husband, and they help their community move into a state of thriving from surviving. Her background in cell biology and her lived experience with Ayurvedic Medicine in her home have given her insights into the human body that help her serve the women and families she works with from multiple different lenses. She is the co-founder of Divine Elements Health Center, The Longevity Lab, and The Health Ignited Academy, alongside her husband, Dr. Nicholas Jensen. Dr. Sonya believes it is everyone’s birthright to live a happy, healthy, joyful, and abundant life.
Younger women often tend to pressure themselves to be perfect, both personally and in their professional lives. That sometimes occurs unknowingly. It usually happens because of peer pressure and the expectation, influence, and conditioning they get from their families. In this episode, Dr. Sonya talks about her new book, Woman Unleashed: Release Your Story. She discusses the effects of stress, talks about contraception, and explains how synthetic hormones like oral contraceptives can influence women’s lives. She also shares some tips for coping with the changes that occur as women approach menopause. Stay tuned for more!
“As humans, the thing we need to do always is to survive, and we will do whatever it takes to do that.”
Dr. Sonya Jensen
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- Dr. Sonya explains what motivated her to write her book, Woman Unleashed: Release Your Story.
- The conditioning we get from our families starts in the womb, and it affects many of the choices we make in our lives.
- Most children experience traumas, micro-traumas, and stresses that impact them in profound ways.
- What happens in a woman’s body when she is under stress and in survival mode?
- Dr. Sonya shares strategies for bringing women out of the fight, flight, freeze, or please mode and back to the calm parasympathetic reproductive physical state.
- The effect that synthetic hormones like oral contraceptives have on women’s bodies.
- Dr. Sonya talks about various contraceptive options that will allow you to honor your body and stay connected with it.
- The physical and emotional changes women can expect to experience as they approach menopause.
- Dr. Sonya shares some tips for dealing with the changes that occur as women transition into perimenopause.
- Dr. Sonya explains how fasting is a strategy for supporting your hormones, becoming more aligned, and honoring your life.
Connect with Dr. Sonya Jensen
On her website
The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing by Bessel van der Kolk
Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
The High 5 Habit: Take Control of Your Life with One Simple Habit by Mel Robbins
This Is Your Brain on Birth Control: The Surprising Science of Women, Hormones, and the Law of Unintended Consequences by Sarah Chapman Hill
Connect with Cynthia Thurlow
- Follow on Twitter, Instagram & LinkedIn
- Check out Cynthia’s website
- Check Out Dry Farm Wines: www.dryfarmwines.com/cynthiathurlow
About Everyday Wellness Podcast
Welcome to the Everyday Wellness podcast with Cynthia Thurlow! Cynthia is a mom of 2 boys, wife, nurse practitioner, and intermittent fasting and nutrition expert. She has over 20 years experience in emergency medicine and cardiology, but pivoted to focus on food as medicine. She loves to share science-backed practical information to improve your overall well being and is grateful to be interviewing leaders in the health and wellness field. Her goal with Everyday Wellness is to help her listeners make simple changes to their everyday lives that will result in improved overall wellness and long term health.
Presenter: This is Everyday Wellness, a podcast dedicated to helping you achieve your health, and wellness goals, and provide practical strategies that you can use in your real life. And now, here’s your host, Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Thurlow.
Cynthia: Today, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of connecting with Dr. Sonya Jensen and discussing her new book, Woman Unleashed. We dove deep into the value of self-discovery, talking about past traumas, the role of breathwork, yoga, and integrating the parasympathetic or rest and repose set of our central nervous system, the net impact of stress on women’s hormones, ways to nourish and support our bodies, the role of curiosity, physical activity, and play. We talked a great deal about how our hormonal health starts and the role of how long it takes for us to actually be at full sexual maturity, the role of synthetic hormones and how that can impact our body, the use of contraceptives, grief centering around aging, the role of wisdom years and menopause, how we can reframe our stories, and the importance of fasting and our relationship with food. I hope you will love this discussion as much as I did.
Well, Dr. Sonya, it’s such a pleasure to have you with me this morning. I know it’s early on your side of the country, but thank you so much for carving time out of your schedule to connect and talk about your new book.
Dr. Sonya: Oh, thank you. Such a pleasure to be here with you this morning. Yes, it’s early but it’s amazing to be able to actually get back into routine to be honest.
Cynthia: Yeah, [crosstalk]
Dr. Sonya: Yeah, it got me going this morning.
Cynthia: Many of us probably didn’t appreciate enough through pandemic, now there are many little things about life that we really try to savor. So, being an author myself, I always like to start the conversation saying, what was it about this book that you felt really needed to be shared with the world? Because that’s a wonderful way to start the conversation. I really enjoyed the book and certainly will encourage listeners to purchase it, but what was the impetus between this book right now?
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. I think the hope is that women really start to fall in love with themselves again. I find there’s so much in our life that tells us that we’re not enough or we look at ourselves first thing in the mirror already looking at our imperfections, and thinking about our to-do list, and thinking about all the things that we’re not good enough in. What my hope is that, through this process of self-discovery in the book that women start to realize how brilliant they really are, and what a miracle we all humans are because that one specific sperm and that one specific ovum came together for you to be here in this moment. So, everything is on purpose. So, that really is my hope and my desire when I was writing it to help women understand that we’re not alone. Often, we go through so many processes thinking that it’s just mine, or this emotion, or this feeling is just mine, this challenge is just mine. When we start to share with some vulnerability that really all of us women have this common thread that weaves through us that connects us, I think, it opens up so many doors for healing, and we start to understand that life really is a process that’s not about this journey that we have to bring to an end all the time and meet this goal and that goal. Goals are amazing and great. I think they’re necessary to help our trajectory towards the direction that we want to go in, but I really hope that women take time with this book, so that they can self-discover.
Cynthia: Well, I think it’s so important. I was taping another podcast yesterday for another guest and one of the things that we started the conversation a narrative on was, how much pressure women feel to be perfect? And not just perfect physically, but in their personal lives, in their professional lives, the amount of pressure that we put ourselves under sometimes unknowingly, and it may be that it takes us until late 30s, early 40s that all of a sudden, you start to really figure this all out as opposed to when we’re younger, there’s so much conditioning that we get through our families. I always say well-meaningly, but on many levels or through peers and you retrospectively look back and I’m like, “Wow, I almost didn’t realize how much influence these individuals had on me.”
Now, I’m at a point now where I can confidently decide where I want to be in time and space and what mass we want to shed. I always think about Brene Brown’s work and mass of imperfection. For many of us feeling a strong sense of pressure, I certainly felt it, my parents had expectations of me that were beyond my wildest imagination. There was always pressure at a very early age to look a certain way, to behave a certain way, to be the obedient dutiful daughter, do not question. Obviously, now, I always say, I’m probably the opposite of that in many ways because I stand firmly in my power and say, “This works for me or this does not.” But do you think on many levels that the conditioning we start with as children that really begets a lot of the choices that we make even as young adults. From teenage years and the young adulthood, when we’re starting to break free from our parents that we start to question things, do you think that family really is the root of our own perceptions of ourselves?
Dr. Sonya: Yeah, absolutely. In the book too, I go through even when we’re in the womb the conditioning actually starts there, because we’re taking notice of our mom’s hormones, her environment, her emotions, and we’re really understanding the environment that we’re going to be stepping into. As humans, the thing that we need to do always is to survive and we will do whatever it takes to do that. Fetuses will even change their phenotype. So, how they’re going to look is going to adjust according to the family that they’re going into, so that when they come in, they are already accepted into that tribe. So, as we’re stepping into this new tribe of ours and this culture, and this family, we are then observing our environment. Oh, so, how do we respond to this challenge or how do we respond when somebody speaks to us in this way? So, we’re learning, we’re like sponges, especially, up until the age of seven. Everything’s going into that subconscious brain, so, it’s telling us that this is fact, that this is how we behave, this is how we need to look, this is what we need to do in life, this is our purpose. We’re even given that often and we really do identify with that.
Once we do, because that’s anchoring us into this tribe, so now, we’re feeling love, we’re feeling connected, we’re feeling accepted, all the things that we crave as humans. So, then we move through those adolescence really identifying with it, and then really defending that identity, and really looking in our environment and everything that we look at starts to validate that identity, because that’s the lens that we’re now carrying through those years and really isn’t like you said, until we start looking at our parents in kind of a different way. I’ve noticed this with my oldest now, now that he’s 10. he’s questioning more. Before something that I would say, he would just take it. And now, he’s like, “Well, I don’t actually agree with that.” I’m so proud of him for doing that. I’m really trying to create a space for him to be able to question. I can’t say it’s easy all the time because sometimes as a mom, you have to just listen. This is how it is and I have to stop myself because that’s my own conditioning, and that’s my thought, and that’s my lens. So, I’m constantly reassessing when I’m communicating with him like, “Hey, yeah, you’re right. You can have an opinion, you can have a totally different lens than I do,” but I don’t think our generation actually received that space, many of us didn’t, because a generation before didn’t.
Now, not only are we carrying the conditioning of our world right now, but also the lineage from before like seven or even 14 generations they’ve counted back. So, we’re carrying all of those beliefs. That’s what’s anchoring our identity is anchoring us to our own core. If we start to unravel that, that creates chaos in our world. It creates grief, it creates all this uncertainty, and we humans don’t do well with those things until we understand that all of that hasn’t been serving me. In order for me to step into that power that you were speaking into, I need to unravel it, release it, and accept the components of it that do feel right for me. So, that’s the journey I’m really hoping all women, all humans really go on because I do feel like that is what’s going to create deep connection within ourselves and with each other.
Cynthia: Well, this discussion is so incredibly timely. I have a cousin who I adore and think of his sister. I didn’t grow up with a sister, and she and I were texting this morning, voice texting, and we’re very, very close, and both of us have survived some pretty traumatic childhoods. The one thing that I have confidently found is that the reason why I turned out very differently than I could have with a strong compass of the direction I wanted my life to go in. But I also had the love of extended family members and always had a very, very tight group of girlfriends. In fact, most of my girlfriends that I’m closest to are the friends I’ve been friends with for 30 or 40 years. So, I think when we’re talking about a lot of the things we experience as children and trying to shift the focus or recreating or not recreating the environment we grew up in. For me, I had an alcoholic parent and parents who did a lot of yelling and screaming.
For me, I grew up being a quiet child because if I was quiet, and I was perfect, and I got good grades, no one bothered me. So, that carried into my young adulthood with the again people pleasing mentality, which I’m carried into a job where I was very well liked because I was a people pleaser. So, I feel like it took quite a bit of my lifetime to figure out that was no longer serving me and ensuring that my boys are growing up in an environment. My husband and I are very, I would say, we’re largely introverted, we’re social but introverted. We like a very quiet home. So, there’s not a lot of yelling and screaming. So, sometimes, now that my children are teenagers, I can speak more openly about the environment I grew up in as a child, and how they’re growing up very differently, and how important is for them to understand, what happens in our bodies when we’re exposed to chronic stress, and how I’m ensuring that we are breaking those generational traumas and you do talk about trauma. You do talk about generational trauma, and that’s a lot of what you’re alluding to in that conversation.
I think it’s really important for listeners, because this is a concept for me that only really became apparent in the last three years. So, 2019, I spent 13 days in the hospital, almost died. And that really shifted a lot of things in my life. Coming out of the hospital realizing, I was no longer playing it safe, I was definitely going to push boundaries, I was going to live a little differently in a good way and very positive ways. So, let’s start the discussion really talking about like, what does trauma do? Because I think in my brain as a Nurse Practitioner, when I thought about trauma, trauma was a rape, trauma was murder, trauma was something grandiose and big. What I’ve come to find is we can experience micro traumas throughout our lifetime that can have a really profound impact on us as individuals, but we just don’t recognize it as such. If I talked to my clinical psychologist friends, they laugh about this like, “How did you not know?” So, I wasn’t trained that way. As a traditional allopathic western medicine trained provider, traumas were big things, like the trauma in the ER, or the trauma that went on when someone experienced some type of catastrophic event and yet these microtraumas throughout our lifetime can really influence and imprint us in really profound ways.
Dr. Sonya: Mm-hmm. Yeah, no, I absolutely agree with that. Those Traumas that we were talking about, they’re also a bit more accepted in a sense, too. So, when somebody is moving through a process and talking about their story, and if they don’t identify with a Trauma, we ourselves and think, “Oh, well, maybe my story isn’t worth voicing because somebody else has had such a bigger trauma than I have.” We also then diminish our own experience with those micro traumas and those micro moments that I call, and those can be so simple with even when as parents, I’ve noticed myself and my responses to my children, when for example, if my youngest is doing a drawing and I’m busy with work, with now, our work is on our phones often. If I’m doing something, if I don’t immediately step into that mom space where he’s trying to show a drawing is really excited about it, that in itself is creating this dialogue in his brain that, “Oh, that is more important than me.” Even though, my intention is, “Well, no that you are so important and this work that I’m doing is all for you.”
But as a child, when you look through their vision and their lens, they don’t see or understand that. All they want is connection. That’s the only thing that they understand. So, those micro moments that happen throughout our lifetime do accumulate into these bigger beliefs about ourselves that I’m not important, I’m not significant, I’m better seen than heard, all these different things that we start to really relate to or identify with are because of those micro traumas that have started at a very young age and from even when we were infants, because that’s when we’re reading people’s energy. That’s when we’re reading our caregivers expressions, “Oh, when I cry, my mom looks like this. When I’m happy, she looks like this. So, I better be happy in order for her to be happy.” So, again, the home is safe, the home is steady, and all the things that we were just talking about. So, I do think that these micro-ones have just as much as an impact as the bigger traumas that we experience.
Cynthia: I think it’s important for people whether they’re working with a therapist, whether they’re doing Reiki, or energy work, or coach that the acknowledgement that your own experiences are exactly what they are. They are significant. Each one of us might have a very different background, but each one of us have experienced traumas to some degree. I certainly had girlfriends that have experienced what I would consider to be a macro trauma, something profound. And I did diminish a lot of things that I experienced as a child and young adult because I would compare. I would say, “Well I didn’t go through that, So, this can’t possibly be as bad.” But yet, the imprinting on our bodies, you talk about the book, The Body Keeps the Score, and it was a book that actually had been recommended to me, I had not yet purchased it, I then took it as divine inspiration that I am meant to read this book. But it is the recognition that it doesn’t have to be something that happens to you on a physical level to not have that profound impact on you, whether it’s on a mental and spiritual level. So, it’s the recognition of how important and how our body processes that information.
I know on many levels, a lot of what you talk about in the book is the impact of micro traumas and stress on us as women. So, let’s talk a little bit about what happens in the body when we’re under stress and it could be an acute stress, it could be a chronic stress as we’re heading into another year of the never-ending pandemic and all out from that, I’m sure for many of us it has now become chronic stress. Talking about kids being home from school, etc., additional stress on parents. But let’s unpack what stress does to a woman’s body. Because the one thing that I think many women don’t recognize whether or not they’re at a point in their lives where they want children or do not that our bodies are designed to be fertile. They’re designed to procreate. they’re designed to transform life. So, on many, many levels, our perception of stress has such a profound impact on our bodies and finding balance in terms of how our body responds to these stressors, whether are they day-to-day, major or minor stressors.
Dr. Sonya: Yeah, absolutely. The way our physiology is built just like you said, our reproductive system really is the one that helps us thrive, because it is all about creation and it’s about evolution. When we are in a state of survival, which most of us absolutely sit in, we are in that fight-flight, freeze or please. When we’re there, there’s a certain set of hormones that are going to be influenced rather than when we are in that state of parasympathetic and really being rather than doing. So, when we’re in that survival mode, simply put, we’re increasing our stress hormones like cortisol. If cortisol rises, progesterone goes down. Progesterone really is that hormone, it’s like that warm hug that helps to regulate everything in our system, it helps to activate receptors in our brain for GABA, which is the neurotransmitter that helps us feel at ease and calm. So, it has a huge influence on how we’re receiving information because when you’re receiving information from that space, you’re going to pause and assess before you respond. When you’re receiving information in that fight or flight state, you’re going to react.
The more we do that, the more we influence our body and our physiology to tell it that, this is the state I need to be in in order to survive and make it through my day. That could be simply putting our kids lunches together, getting them to school, taking them to soccer, maybe have an argument with our partner, it’s those daily things that we’re doing that are going to perpetuate that cycle or the one where we thrive. So, that’s where those pause moments that I bring into the book come in of being able to recognize when we’re in one state over the other, so we can shift because stress isn’t bad. It’s there for a reason. But we’re only supposed to be in that for 2% of the time and we should be able to shift out of it into that parasympathetic and really work on that vagal nerve, which will then tell the rest of the body that, “It’s okay, I’m not in danger.” You’ll read, once you read, the body keeps score.
There’s a study that I mentioned in my book that they did in the 90s, where this one particular study really stood out for me just because I was a mom, and she had got into a car accident with her son who had passed away, and then she also lost a child that she had in her belly and 10 years later is when they do this study, and she relays what happens to her, and then as she’s hooked up to all these things to measure her physiology and how it’s responding to the stress, and they’re relaying it back to her through audio, her visual cortex got activated more than anything else as if she was in that moment again. So, when we look at our everyday moments and when we’re under stress, or we smell something, or there’s a trigger with a song, or a sound, or a shirt that we’re wearing, it could be anything. Often, we’re not responding to the moment we’re in right there. We’re often responding to something that happened in the past that created that imprint in our brain to tell our amygdala to be activated, to get information from our limbic system, to look at our hippocampus that has all our memory, to then tell the hypothalamus and pituitary gland that, “Hey, these are the hormones that I need.”
It’s that circuit that we need to work on breaking in order to create a new pattern to say like, “Hey, that was stressful, that was awful. I am still carrying grief but being able to hover over that rather than getting wrapped up in it, I do feel that is the key to bring us now back into that parasympathetic reproductive state.” Because the body’s not going to want to create life if it has to just survive life.
Cynthia: Well, I think it’s an important distinction, and there’s no irony lost in the fact that over the past two years, I think many, many people have lived in this chronic state of stress, and much to your point, as you eloquently talked about the amygdala will override the prefrontal cortex and all of a sudden, you’re no longer having the ability to make executive functioning decisions and think about it when you’re really, really stressed and you can’t find your keys, or you can’t remember a number, or you just can’t think clearly, and that’s a byproduct of these physiologic changes that happen in the body. I would imagine for you, when you’re working with your patients, you probably have some strategies that you like to utilize or you recommend to get people back into the parasympathetic. I’m in the midst of reading for the second time the book, Breath by James Nestor. Have you read it before?
Dr. Sonya: I haven’t.
Cynthia: Well, I’m completely nerding out on the science.
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. [laughs]
Cynthia: But really, I always say I have to preface and say like, “I’m completely nerding out.” I made my husband use mouth tape last night because he occasionally snores and I was talking to him about what happens physiologically in the body when you’re breathing through your nose, not breathing through your mouth. So, he had some interesting things that will depending on which side of your nostril you suppress, you can activate the parasympathetic or the sympathetic and I was like, “I had no idea.” So, it’s completely blown my mind. But for the benefit of listeners who are trying to think of ways that they can integrate into their daily life, that can get them out of that fight or flight, get them back into that rest and repose side of their brain, what are some of the strategies you like best for women in particular? Because what I love about your work is it’s really very focused on women and it gets very granular. But I think in these circumstances that we’re living in right now, everyone would benefit from proactively utilizing every day finding strategies to support their brain, support their bodies, and support their hormones, so that they are really optimized.
Dr. Sonya: Yeah, absolutely. I love that you brought breath up, because I’m also a yoga teacher. So, breath is a huge part of my own practice, and that right and left nostril, you were talking about the Pingala and [unintelligible [00:22:07], it’s activating different parts of our brain. So, that is that brilliance that I was speaking to in the beginning. When we really start to unpack what the body already has within it and all and we have to do is fuel it with the right tools and just reactivate, not activate but reactivate, it’s always been there. If you watch a child breathing as they’re sleeping, when they’re a few months old, you see their belly rising. How are we breathing? Usually from up here, from our chest, because we’re always hyperventilating instead of actually taking a fresh breath in. So, it’s those simple things that make more of a profound effect than the big things that we think we have to do and that we have to do maybe on a New Year’s resolution, or spring cleanse, or these things that also work. It’s the everyday things that are going to actually make a huge difference and how we feel about ourselves, and then how we feel about life.
My first step with anyone is to bring awareness to that fact that how we receive our environment, our beliefs, our identity, the mass, the roles, everything is impacting your biology. And then that biology with the changes in your hormones is impacting your personality. Now that personality is changing the decisions that you’re making every single day, so the actions that you’re taking. Then, how do we reverse engineer that? So maybe we start with the actions. We start with the physiology, so then we have energy to unpack some of that energetic and that mental burden that we’ve been carrying. Then we look at daily habits. What are we doing first thing in the morning? I love Mel Robbins. I don’t know if you’ve heard of her and her-
Cynthia: I love Mel Robbins.
Dr. Sonya: -new book, The High 5, even incorporated that have gotten women to do that first thing in the morning, because I think that is brilliant, and so simple, and it really is that thought process in the morning. So, what I usually plant a seed with is, how do you want to wake up? So, ask questions. How would you like to wake up? So, the woman will tell me, “I want to wake up with joy.” Great. That’s your word and that’s what’s going to be taped next to your bedside. So, that’s the first thing that you see when you wake up. Now, you take the steps into your next few minutes, so what’s the next thing we’re going to do? We’re going to create a routine that’s going to help serve you and your life. Maybe that’s not an hour of working out in journaling and doing all the things because you have four kids that you need to get ready for school. Maybe it’s three minutes while you go brush your teeth, and you have a mantra that’s playing in the background, you have something written in your mirror, you’re doing calf raises while you’re brushing your teeth, you’re doing something to anchor yourself back into your body after being in that dream state. Now, you’ve already told yourself, “I am worth it that I can carve out time for myself.” Then maybe after that is a cup of tea. These simple things that we can seed, so that the brain tries to recognize that like, “Okay, we can be in a calm state.”
Then the other thing I like to plant in people’s minds is that when you’re in a moment, when a moment is happening, to pause, to give yourself time to breathe, take one, two, three breaths and then you can respond. But during that pause, you’re going to ask yourself a question. “Who does this belong to, what is this actually about, is this mine to carry, is this worth reacting to?” So, when we start doing those things, it starts to increase that space, that pause space between the stimulus and the response. So, then we’ll respond in a way that’s not going to evoke that amygdala, and the hippocampus, and all those things. But now it’s like, “Okay, this is how I need to respond to this situation.” It’s not going to be perfect every time, but what’s going to happen is, we’re going to start to really observe ourselves in those moments more and more, so that next time we can pause a little bit further. Then with the daily habits, the other question I like to seed is, is this going to nourish me? So, this could be when we’re reaching for some food. When we’re trying to eat at 7 AM and I know both of you are on the same page when it comes to eating restricted windows and all of that.
When we’re doing these things or maybe it’s that late night eating, asking yourself, “Is this going to nourish me?” And maybe in that moment, its nourishing your soul. That’s what’s needed and that’s okay. Guilt, shame gone, right? But maybe that question will bring insight into the fact that, “No, I actually just need comfort, I’m actually just tired, maybe I just need to go to bed, maybe I need to read a good book, maybe I need to cuddle with my partner.” It’ll just bring curiosity into your day. The more curious you are about yourself, the easier it becomes to change these habits, which then change the physiology because now you’re going to seek out help or you’re going to seek out the coaches, you’re going to seek out individuals that are going to be in your team to share with you, okay, this is the food that you need, these are the herbs that you need, these are the things that you need to support your physiology. Now there’s space to unpack, now there’s room to look at, where did this all begin? Why did this start? How did I get here? So, then we start doing that energetic and that emotional work.
Cynthia: I think it’s really important for people to understand what you’re really emphasizing are small changes. I think there’s this push for things to be grandiose that you have to spend hours doing something to derive benefits from it. I do think the small things, even reflecting on a word first thing in the morning, doing some type of reflective activity as you’re brushing your teeth. The small things are the big things. The older I become, the more I acknowledge and recognize how important and significant these things are. I love that you’re doing this work, particularly with women and understanding this interrelationship between as you refer to as this role of curiosity and how that in and of itself can help change your physiology. I think that’s really, really key.
Now, I know that a lot of your focus and your work is on women. Because I’ve had this conversation recently, so frequently, I think it’s particularly relevant. When we’re looking at women, when we’re talking about whether women are still at peak fertility, maybe they’re perimenopause, menopause, the kind of standard medical doctrine is really on controlling our hormones. It’s an emphasis on synthetic hormone utilization or devices to control symptoms without really thinking beyond what these symptoms are really identifying for us. I found it particularly interesting that you spent time in the book talking about the role of synthetic hormones, not just the ones that we may take for contraception, but our exposure to synthetic hormones that influence our hormones in very negative ways. So, let’s first really touch on oral contraceptives, because I think most women listening, myself included. I was on oral contraceptives for a long period of time. Never fully recognizing how much better I felt when I was no longer taking them realizing I really didn’t have bad PMS. It was a byproduct of the synthetic hormones I was taking.
So, let’s talk a little bit about what happens in our bodies when we take these synthetic hormones, whether it’s for contraception, or it’s to lessen the severity of bleeding, or because someone has, for example, PCOS, what are some of the things that happen in the body? Because I think the more women understand this, it might give them a bit of pause about determining whether or not this is an appropriate avenue to take. There’s no judgement because again, for many years, I was on oral contraceptives because that was just my western medicine mindset, controlling a symptom, making it better, but let’s unpack that. Because I think in particular, there are a lot of women listening that are at different stages of their lives that would be particularly interested in hearing more about this.
Dr. Sonya: Yeah, for sure. I think the first thing to also understand is that, the moment a woman has her first period, it takes up to 12 years for the brain to actually regulate her ovulation. Now, if we come in at age 14 or 15, and we start taking contraceptives, it’s changing that communication. That’s essentially what it’s doing. It is changing communication between your brain and the rest of your body like your ovaries, and your adrenals, and all the reproductive organs. When we change communication, just like in any relationship, when communication isn’t working, then there’s going to be consequences. I think what needs to happen is, women need to understand the consequences, so then they can make the decision that’s suitable for them. In my book, I mentioned another book called Your Brain on Birth Control by Dr. Sarah Hill. Brilliant book that every woman needs to read. She really goes over each type of birth control and what it’s doing and studies. As we know, there are not a lot of studies done on women, unfortunately, when it comes to our health. So, she does unpack that and she also unpacks some of very specifics when it comes to birth control and understanding what it’s doing.
Often what birth control is doing, it’s stopping ovulation. When you stop LH, when you stop ovulation, you’re stopping your hormones like progesterone. What you’re doing is you’re stopping the rhythm that is connecting you not only to yourself, but also to the earth, to the moon, to all of us, women, it’s basically disconnecting you. In that disconnect, what happens often is, women come and go into state of numbness. So, now, we’re making life decisions from that space. They did do a study where there’re certain parts of our brain that will get activated when we see a picture of our partner or somebody that we’re attracted to. In this simple study that they did, they saw the women that were on birth control that actually didn’t change. They were also choosing different types of men. They were choosing men that had more feminine yin qualities than men that had more yang qualities.
So, if you think about the years that we do birth control, I was also on birth control for five years, and I talk about that in the book, and how I went through a divorce after I got off of birth control, and not that something drastic like that’s going to happen for everybody, but it really does show us how quickly our life, and our perception, and our lens can change with this little pill. What also happens is, it creates this different relationship with our reproductive system. So, for so long in our psyche, the whole focus is not to get pregnant, can’t get pregnant, don’t want to get pregnant if that’s the goal with your birth control. Then all of a sudden, you find a partner, and you want to start a family, now you’re trying to switch that dialogue, and that becomes a challenge. So, it’s creating a shift in that relationship.
The other thing that we know birth control does, it depletes us of our minerals like magnesium, B vitamins, zinc, all the little cofactors that are working really hard for us every single day. It’s creating dysbiosis. So, more women are going to have yeast infections. The unfortunate thing is it’s the only thing in the allopathic doctor’s toolkit when it comes to your hormones. So, if you show up with PCOS, which is a whole other podcast, it’s very over diagnosed. If that’s what’s going on, there’s irregular periods, okay, let’s regulate in “your period,” basically by stopping it. You’re not having a real bleed at the end of the month, you’re having a letdown bleed. Your lining is then not really getting that chance to detoxify. How amazing is it that every month we get to detox physically, emotionally, mentally?
When we start to change that relationship and that understanding, then women can actually look at their life. Because the other side of birth control, it may give you more motivation. Maybe you’re on university and your whole goal is to be that CEO, and that’s what your dream is, and that’s what you want to do, and maybe this is getting in the way, and maybe that’s the thing that’s going to help give you that tool to thrive in that area, but know what that’s going to do. Know what impact that’s going to have on your body so you can support yourself during that time and afterwards, too. So, there isn’t this expectation that, “I’ll just get off my birth control and I get pregnant in a couple of months.” So, I think just awareness that there is real biochemical, physiological changes that these little pills, and injections, and IUDs also have on the body, then you can choose which one is going to be most suited for you.
Cynthia: Well, I think it really speaks to the concept of informed consent. Obviously, I want to believe wholeheartedly that many of these synthetic hormones are designed to help us. But I think for many of us if we had known at young ages, what we are giving up in order to have– not whether it’s “regulating your hormones”, helping with contraception, etc. There’s no judgment and obviously as I’ve disclosed, I was on oral contraceptives for a long time, but I think it’s also important for us to understand that there isn’t this in truly informed consent when we start these medications, and yet they can have a profound long-term effect.
I’ll give you an example. My best friend from high school called me the other day and she said, “I don’t know if I’m getting close to menopause.” So, I asked her, “Are you taking any medications?” That woman has been on oral contraceptives forever and her physician’s discussion with her was, “We’ll just keep you on these because why bother getting a period.” So, she’s gotten into that mindset of, “I have a very demanding job, it just makes things easier not to have a period, I don’t have to worry about this or that.” I actually said to her, I was like, “We wouldn’t actually know, you’d have to go off and then you’d have to do blood testing.” I said, really, I think at this point, you’re probably pretty close, the average age of menopause is 51. You’re close to that and you’re probably closer in many instances, because I seem to see more and more women that are thinner, that are going through earlier than their obese, overweight peers. So, she had said to me, “No one’s ever told me that before. I’ve never had that conversation.” I said, “How many years have you been on the pill?” She said, “This is a long time.” So, I would imagine there are many people listening, who didn’t have that degree of informed consent weren’t really made aware.
Again, I want to believe it’s well-meaning healthcare professionals, they’re trying to find a solution to a problem, heavy periods, irregular periods, contraception, etc. So, how do we honor our bodies, how do we stay connected to our bodies? Because I think that in many ways, that has not been part of the social construct unless you are living in an environment where perhaps your mom was particularly [unintelligible [00:36:49] mine was not. In fact, I recall probably had one conversation about menstruation, maybe one conversation about contraception and that was it. Beyond that, there are no conversations about these things in my household. So, I would imagine the average person didn’t have that experience. But what are some of the things that you talk to your patients about when they’re trying to make decisions about contraception? Because that’s actually a question that came up several times when I mentioned to my monthly groups that we were connecting was, what are some of the options you like for women who still or whether they’re done having children, they’re not ready to have children yet? What are some of the contraceptive options that you personally will suggest to your patients?
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. I think the key is to understand what the goal is first, and what stage in life you’re at, and what you feel comfortable with. For me, the best rhythm is or– the best method is the rhythm method, and I understand it’s not foolproof, and you want to be in a committed relationship, and you want to really have an understanding of your body and how it works. So, if you have an understanding of how your cycle works, so that education I feel has to begin from day one. For example, one of my best friends, her daughter just had her first period. She’s nine years old, really young. I’m like, “Okay, so what are we going to do with this?” Many cultures have ceremonies and have this day where you honor her. So, I made sure that I spent time with her and telling her that how powerful she is now, and how amazing this gift is that her body is giving her just to plant that seed, whether she believes that for the rest of her life or not, and things change for her as the years go by, but she’s always going to remember that initial time, whereas somebody told her that she’s powerful because of this.
I think the education first needs to start there and understanding how the hormones are working throughout the month, like, how estrogen and testosterone are more dominant in the beginning, and then estrogen goes down. Progesterone is more dominant at the end and what those hormones do, I think, is important. Then if you know what stage you’re in, so, for example, if it’s a young woman that’s just becoming sexually active, and she’s having questions about contraception, and it’s purely for contraception, periods are fine, everything is okay, but really just wants to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant. Then we’re going to look at the different options. So, often I will go for a combo pill, so that it is giving her both of those hormones, the estrogen and progesterone, because one thing that a lot of women don’t know is that the progesterone only pills actually come from testosterone. So, often what happens is, it blocks the testosterone receptors and actually lowers your libido. So, now, we’re thinking, “Okay, what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I have any of those feelings for my partner when I should?” So, that’s something that’s important to understand when you’re choosing your contraceptive.
If that’s that case there and then I’m going to educate her, “Well, you’re going to take this, you may feel bloated, your mood may change. These things may happen, recognize it’s the pill, not you. If it’s becoming overwhelming, we need to change what’s going on.” Because you won’t know until you actually try one. You have to have permission or give yourself permission to have that conversation with your doctor that this doesn’t suit me, what’s something else that I can do. Because maybe that many pills or that progesterone only pill will be the best thing for her. We don’t know yet. Then you want to step into maybe later in life, maybe you’ve had children, and now you’re done. A lot of women will opt into getting the IUD, like, a copper IUD because they don’t want excess hormones. So, now, we’re looking at what is in that copper IUD. There’s copper. So, we look at our zinc, we want to make sure we’re testing our zinc to see and that’s a red blood cell and white blood cell, and intracellular and extracellular to make sure that we’re not skewing that ratio between zinc and copper, which will then suppress our immune system, our progesterone, and therefore up our stress state. So, you want to look at those things. There’s also plastic in the copper IUD. So, you want to look at that, you want to understand that it’s creating inflammation in your uterus, and that’s how it’s working.
Knowing those things, again, gives us more of an idea of what’s going to be best for us then maybe have a woman in perimenopause. She may actually thrive with the Mirena, because it’s got that local progesterone, progestin for her. That is the time in our life where estrogen is a little bit more dominant naturally and progesterone has been coming down. So, there’s a gap. So, often when women will feel a little bit better being on the Mirena, but understanding that if your hormone in your body looks like a circle, the Mirena hormone looks like a square. So, understanding that it’s not the exact thing that it may bring up more emotion, you may be weepier, you may be more reactive in certain ways. So, there are again going to be consequences but there are certain ones that you can play with and know that you need to be taking B vitamins, you need to be doing the zinc, and you need to be doing the things for your gut, so that your microbiome is being supported and your vaginal microbiome is being supported. So, that’s the way I would speak to a woman to understand first her goal, and then lay out what the options are, and then if she can do the rhythm method, and that’s the one I’m going to teach her.
Cynthia: I think it’s important to give women options and I love the kind of illusion to the infradian rhythm, which is this typical 28 to 30-day cycle that women that are still cycling, still getting their menstrual cycle will go through and you acknowledge that, yeah, there are many types of cycles in our bodies. There’s their circadian rhythm, there’s infradian and rhythm, there are lots of different cycles. But how critically important it is to us as individuals that we get fully informed in terms of what our options are. I always use the example that when I was in probably the early stages of perimenopause and I was having a conversation with my GYN at the time, and I said my periods are really heavy. The joke was, I never wanted to have my period start when I was rounding in the hospital, because it was a disaster. So, I mentioned this to her and then ironically, my annual exam was on the first day of my period. So, she did a physical exam and she said, “Oh, my gosh, your period is so heavy.” I said, “I told you that.” She said, “We can fix this. We’ve got oral contraceptives, we have an IUD. If you don’t want to do that, we can ablate your uterus or if you really don’t want to deal with any of this, we can just take your uterus out.” I was like, “Timeout.” [laughs]
Dr. Sonya: Yeah.
Cynthia: [crosstalk] Any of the above and so I really dove down the rabbit hole of what are ways I can support my body naturally because I’m not interested in taking hormones in any capacity. I don’t want anything implanted. I don’t want surgery if I can avoid it. So, I think in many ways, when women are entering perimenopause, the five to 10 years preceding menopause and then into menopause, let’s talk a little bit about the changes that start to happen. Because I think that there’s little to no information, I certainly felt like as a traditionally trained NP, the word perimenopause, I’d never heard before ever. No one had talked to me about it. My OB/GYN had never had a discussion. Oh, by the way, when you get north of 35, you start having this waning progesterone, you may not ovulate every month, never had a discussion. So, I feel it has become my personal passion to make sure that women better understand what’s happening physiologically to them as they’re aging. Because we don’t miss the narrative about aging.
We started off the conversation talking about the pressure women feel, everyone focuses on contraception, menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, and then women become invisible. That’s a term that a lot of my patients have started using. They feel invisible, and they feel in many ways no longer acknowledged because they’re in the state where they’re less fertile or they’re becoming infertile. The more women understand about their bodies, the better choices they can make for themselves. So, when you are speaking to your women in middle age, how does that narrative change for you as a clinician?
Dr. Sonya: Yeah, it’s so important that you brought this up because I do feel that, that is the common theme that women do feel very invisible and are often told it’s all in your head, and that makes us feel very unheard, and almost validate some of the old beliefs and the things that we’ve been carrying in our backpacks for so long. The first thing that I have women acknowledge is that there’s grief happening right now, too. There’s a lot of grief that happens when the body is shifting out of those reproductive years and letting go of that part of our life and more into our wisdom years. In that transition, it’s for those women that have given birth when you’re in transition, there’s a huge challenge. It’s painful, you’re out of control, all these things are happening, and yet, this other being gets birthed out a few minutes later. That’s what’s happening in perimenopause. You’re in that rocky transition, because hormones and everything, what’s happening is mirror to you is all that happened in the past. So, all the decisions that we made, everything is coming to the head in those moments so that you can reflect, you can shift, you can pivot, you can have gratitude, and then invite in what you want for the years to come.
I think it’s important to recognize how amazing that period can actually be because it’s such a beautiful opportunity to heal some of the things that we’ve been carrying with us, so that we can invite in those wisdom years. Unfortunately, our culture here, the elderly are not revered. Aging is not revered. If anything, everything’s anti-aging. So, there’s this whole other pressure that we put on ourselves during perimenopause, so, still have that body that we had when we were 25, and yet starting age 25, our hormones like progesterone and testosterone, they start to decline. So, estrogen is still pretty dominant there but then depending on how we ate, how we moved, our environment with our cosmetics and all the various things that can disrupt our hormones, our emotional life, our stresses, and all the things, all of that is coming with us into those years. So, then, often what’s happening is, when we’re transitioning around 35 to 40, the body’s giving us a few signals like maybe there’s a little bit of weight gain on our abdomen that never used to be there, or maybe our skin all of a sudden, we have acne that wasn’t there before, or maybe we had it when we were in our teens, or maybe now the PMS with the irritability after we ovulate is present. These signals are starting to show up.
Then usually at 40, something else shifts. Because now, even our progesterone like you were saying, it’s waning and we’re having an ovulatory cycle. So, now, our libido was shifting. For some it actually spikes for a little while and then it starts to go down. So, all these bumpy changes are happening at that time really to tell you what your story has been. So, if you start to acknowledge that story, if you start to heal that story, understand that my body has been whispering things to me, and now it’s just speaking a little bit louder because it’s time for me to get louder, I remember when I turned 40, I was like, “Yes, I’m finally in my FU 40s.” Finally going to say what I need to say. [laughs] Finally going to push those boundaries and say the word no. So, I do feel it’s such a beautiful opportunity for all of that to happen, unless if we don’t become aware of that. I think that’s when we get stuck in that cycle and that’s when we’re still continuously giving our power away. So, somebody’s telling us, “Oh, you’re done having kids, let’s just take it out. It’s a hindrance.” But if we start to understand the gift that we actually receive from our uterus and from the ovaries that are now starting to slowly retire, if we have gratitude for them that transition from the ovaries to the adrenals is going to be way more smooth. Because our adrenals as many people probably know are the ones that were giving us that stress hormone throughout our lives. But they have to take over now. So, if we haven’t been nurturing them, that is going to be a challenge. But now we are aware, so, now we can start to nurture them, we can start to understand that how we respond to life and our stresses is going to have a direct impact on how we transition in perimenopause.
Cynthia: I think that’s such a beautiful reframing and I think for many women, it’s the acknowledgement that this reverse puberty, which is an oversimplification. But the acknowledgement that we’re transitioning into a different time in our lives, it’s not less important, it’s not less fun or less loving, it’s just almost as if when we were making our way into puberty and we had to acknowledge there were changes in our bodies, in our emotions, in our sleep, in our cravings, all of these different factors, we probably weren’t even cognizant of are coming back to remind us, “Okay, we’re transitioning.” I think of perimenopause as a barometer of how well we’re taking care of ourselves. Because the women that do the best in my clinical experience are the women that are doing the work. They are sleeping, they’re prioritizing the right type of exercise, they are removing inflammatory foods, they are connecting with their significant others or their children or their loved ones really making an effort to take care of themselves.
I think in many ways we are conditioned to minimize our own means to take care of everyone else and I was telling someone earlier this morning that I have a very defined morning because it allows me to get my kids on the bus when we don’t have snow, and then I can invest in myself whether it’s exercise or reading, like, I set a time every day to read for pleasure, and I set a time every day whether to listen to an Audible book, or listen to a podcast for my own intellectual curiosity. But I’ve learned that I have to honor myself in a way that brings me joy. So, I laugh. I’m like, “I love to learn.” So, other than when I was on vacation at Christmas, I’m always learning but that’s something that brings me joy. So, acknowledging for each of us that might look a little bit differently. But the women who struggle the most, oftentimes, become that statistic. The woman that is becoming increasingly more insulin resistant because she has waxing and waning estrogen towards the tail end of perimenopause, and that’s when we see women really getting stuck. They fall into that metabolic flexibility bucket and in many ways, they feel like they’re stuck in the bucket. That’s the kind of reframe, I always say.
There’s nothing that’s not fixable. It just requires a bit of effort and it’s generally the lifestyle piece that a lot of people struggle with because it’s harder. It’s much harder to change the way that you are living your lifestyle than it is to take a pill. Unfortunately, the kind of traditional allopathic mindset is a pill solves all symptoms but it’s not addressing the root cause. So, one of my favorite strategies for harnessing metabolic flexibility, I know it’s one that you embrace as well is talking to your patients about fasting. So, I would love to get your perspective and I know with your background, there’s probably a beautiful explanation behind how you talk about the way that fasting honors our bodies, and supports our hormones, and allows us to be much more aligned on many, many levels.
Dr. Sonya: Yeah. Fasting for me is reconnection. When we start to understand the type of fasting that works for us, so my background is also a little bit more an Ayurveda just because of my heritage. Knowing my constitution is more about that. I’ve now discovered when I can fast and when I can’t. I’ve also discovered throughout my cycle when I can fast and when I can’t. And then, I have my daily ritual, which is always with intermittent fasting, that’s just part of life. When we think back to our ancestry and I know you know all this, and when we look at how the women before us would have eaten, so I look to my grandmother. I will look at a day in her life and when she was in India, she would wake up and everything there was prepared fresh because they didn’t have refrigerators at that time. So, everything was about that day. She would get up, she would go milk the cows or the buffalo, and she would go grind the things, she would go make all this, and that would take her several hours, and then they would sit down and have their first meal. Then again, goes on to like the next. They weren’t eating in between because they were preparing for the feast that they were going to have together as a family.
Now, I know when we bring that into modern day life, it’s not a reality. We have different jobs, we go to school, there’s all these other things, but what we do have that similar is that genetic makeup that’s been passed down and also that human, the natural part of us that requires food for nourishment and not for comfort and distraction. So, when we start to relate to food in a different way, we start to understand that fasting and those gaps that we have in between our meals or that gap that we have between our evening and late morning is really where all of our healing is happening. It’s where the potential in our energy is actually awakening and being utilized and use the way it needs to for detoxification for the healing, for activation of certain receptors, so that the nervous system can actually activate itself into that parasympathetic state, so we can sleep better.
For me personally, I intermittent fast almost every day and that could be a 12-hour window depending on where I’m in my cycle. I think that’s where people get really confused. They think they can only eat for six hours, and really for me, when I started to adjust, I’m like, “Okay, after my cycle up until ovulation.” I have a lot of room to play with here. I can do a six-hour window. I can even do a four-hour window. I can do my 24-hour fasts that I bring in once, sometimes, twice a week. After ovulation things change for me, I can now do maybe an eight to 10-hour window. The closer I get to my period, that may change to 10 to 12. So, I acknowledge that there’s a rhythm to my life and that I don’t have to be so rigid with this. Then I bring in block fasting. For me, now, I’ve realized once a year is enough with my Vata nature and that’s in the spring. So, every spring, I do a three-day partial fast, and then a two-to-three-day water fast. What that does for me, it’s a very different intention. It’s a spiritual intention, it’s an energetic intention, it’s an intention to heal and connect with a different source.
I had immediate experience with when I had my first block fast. I did a water fast for five days and it was the first time I grieved all the losses that I had up to that point. I’ve lost a best friend, I’ve lost close cousins, and at that year I lost my grandfather who I was very close to. We spend so much time in distraction with food that the body doesn’t even get an opportunity to unveil some of the stuff that we’re carrying. So, I find fasting as an opportunity to unveil all that we’ve been covering, and they can bring that to the surface, and it can actually heal it without us even having to do much. It just uses its own innate intelligence to do what it needs to do to mulch. I like using the word ‘mulch.’ It’s mulching things like autophagy or mulching all the old cells, and all the old habits, and all the old things, so that we can have this a new slate to work with.
Cynthia: Oh, what a beautiful way to end this delightful conversation that we’ve had today. Dr. Sonya let listeners know how to connect with you on social media. Obviously, we’ll include all the links, but the easiest way to purchase your book which I would really encourage women to do because it’s unusual and that it really weaves in this kind of very gentle, spiritual overtone. We didn’t even get to talk about chakras, which is definitely one of the areas that I wanted to unpack. We’ll just have to have you back to speak more about that. How can listeners connect with you, how can they connect with you to purchase the book?
Dr. Sonya: Yeah, absolutely. On Instagram, I’m @drsonyajensen, and you can go to drsonyajensen.com, and for the book you can go to womanunleashedbook.com. It is available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Indigo, all the various places as well.
Cynthia: Oh, I’m so grateful for our time together today and I will definitely have to have you back because there were so many topics I didn’t get to touch on.
Dr. Sonya: Oh, thank you. Thank you for this opportunity and all the work that you do. You are such an inspiration. So, thank you for being you and bringing voice to so many things that need to be heard by the world.
Cynthia: Thank you, likewise.
Presenter: Thanks for listening to Everyday Wellness. If you loved this episode, please leave us a rating, and review, subscribe, and remember, tell a friend. And if you want to connect with us online, visit the link in the show notes.