19 June, 2019
Alternative Wonders for Troubles Down Under
This post goes out to anyone who has to deal with the woes of having a uterus, because regardless of how you present, periods don’t discriminate. Today, in lieu of a traditional recipe, I’m going to delve into the unusual world of period-taming teas.
Before we get started, let me be completely transparent about the topics presented here today:
None of this information is meant to be used as medical advice or to treat any ailments. As always, I’ll present my findings with as much factual backing as I can, but if you ever encounter any problems or have concerns, please don’t self-medicate and please see a qualified medical professional. I don’t have a medical license. I’m just a journalist who likes to do research on things, and that does not make me anywhere near as qualified as someone who has sold their soul to the education system in order to obtain proper medical schooling.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way to absolve me of responsibility if anyone reads this and decides to act irresponsibly (please don’t do that, seriously). I’m here to talk about some of my favorite secret tools I use to get through everyday life. The research is fairly sparse, but I’ll present all the facts I can find so that this can be as much (or as little) of a learning experience as you’d like.
I’ve been on birth control for years to control wildly fluctuating hormones. As a result, I generally bleed on a pretty fixed schedule. Roughly every five weeks, good ol Aunt Flo comes into town for a few days and she makes a right mess of the place. Acne, cramps, headaches, mood swings, bloating — you name it. The regular symptoms have changed as I’ve aged, but there are some tried and true methods for dealing with them that’s rarely failed.
Midol, Aleve, Tylenol, and the likes don’t seem to do much to help me in times of duress, so I’ve had to find other methods to deal with the symptoms of PMS and the early days of my period. Most notably, though, I’ve found success with a couple of teas that help immensely when it comes to controlling when Aunt Flo can come a-knocking. I’ll share some suggestions for how you can try to tackle your monthly visit if you also find yourself in a bit of a pharmaceutical pickle.
Right off the bat, I’m going to say that if you’re having headache troubles at any time of the month, the first thing you should try is drinking more water. Especially in the summer, it’s super easy to get dehydrated, and the headaches that come from not drinking enough water can be vicious. Also, when I say water, I don’t mean soda, juice, or wine coolers, I mean water.
If you know you’re hydrated, sometimes a little peppermint oil on the temples can help. It’s a remedy my mom swears by, as it helps relax muscles and open up blood vessels, which can aid in relieving headaches. Something else that might help is a nap.
Now for the fun solution: Sex.
Believe it or not, there have been studies exploring the therapeutic effects of sex on headaches. According to researchers, having sex when you’ve got a headache can be more effective than taking painkillers, and, while every body is different, statistics show that there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll feel better after a little romp in the bedroom. Research shows that migraine sufferers seem to get the most relief from this particular treatment, and while scientists aren’t entirely sure why it works, the running theory is that endorphins released during the act contribute to the effect.
If you’re one of the unfortunate souls who has to deal with nausea and appetite issues during Shark Week (no, not the Discovery Channel feature), first of all, I’m very sorry. I’ve had stomach issues for years, and, believe me, I empathize with you. There are a few things you can try to help calm that stomach, and I’ll start with my favorite: Ginger.
After some long-term complications from prolonged use of certain medications, I like to explore my options when it comes to handling chronic or recurring issues that my doctors have deemed benign. In the case of stomach issues, I deal with a lot of nausea. Everything’s checked out fine with the doc, so it’s really just a periodic nuisance brought on by anything from stress to slightly disagreeable takeout. Whatever the case, I’ve found that ginger is one of the best treatments for nausea, and there’s science to back it. It’s an old remedy that’s withstood the test of the ages incredibly well. The purer and fresher your source, the more effective it’ll be. Fresh ginger root or extract (you can find a nice portable option in the form of ginger candies) makes for the best digestive aid, I’ve found.
Another helpful dietary inclusion to help maintain a healthy GI tract are probiotics. Yogurt, kombucha, and other foods that include live cultures can help keep the bacteria in your gut happy and healthy, which in turn keep the rest of you running in tip-top shape. Research has found that including probiotics in your diet can help reduce inflammation and improve your overall health if properly incorporated. So, consider including a cup of yogurt as part of your morning routine (and stay tuned for next week’s post for some tasty yogurt recipes that will keep your rotation fresh and interesting). The one thing to be sure of is that your yogurt isn’t packed with sugar. I suggest getting plain Greek yogurt and adding your own flavor by mixing in jam. You’ll get better quality yogurt, less sugar, and maybe even some fresh fruit depending on what you make with it!
They suck. Seriously, cramps are my least favorite part of having a period. They hurt, I sound like I’m dying, and half the time, they make me nauseous. Cramps are actually the worst. To top it all off, medication does n-o-t-h-i-n-g for me when it comes to easing my pain. While I have yet to find a works-every-time fix for cramps, heat is the best I’ve found. Usually, I reach for a heat pack, but if you can take a hot bath, that’s even better. Getting some exercise can also help, and, according to Planned Parenthood, so can having an orgasm. I don’t know about you, but when my lower abdomen feels like it’s about to collapse into a black hole, the last thing on my mind is sex (or any other means of reaching a climax). If I had to guess, the reasoning behind that suggestion is probably pretty similar to the suggested headache cure above.
I said I hated cramps, but mood swings also really suck. They used to hit me hard before I started taking progesterone tablets, but nowadays they don’t usually affect me. That’s not to say I’m immune. I have my weeks where I become a sobbing, chocolate-craving, emotionally unpredictable mess. There are a few ways to approach this one, but primarily:
Meditation. Taking the time to center yourself, breathe, and practice being present is a good way to handle emotions in general. One of the tricks I learned in therapy for handling extreme anxiety that’s great for on the go mood swing management is sensory grounding. Take a minute or two and go through your senses. Find five things for each: What do you see? What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you hear? What do you feel (physically and emotionally if you’d like)? It doesn’t take long but it can work wonders for getting your head back on straight (and this is an exercise for anyone, not just those who bear uteri.)
While it’s not a cure and it’s become more of a running joke than anything, dark chocolate and red wine can also help with mood swings thanks to a feel-good chemical called resveratrol. That’s not to say you should self-medicate with wine, because that is 100% not the answer, but there may, in fact, be something to the PMS chocolate cravings so many people talk about.
Don’t you love feeling like a massive, lethargic bag of water for the week or two leading up to your period? No? What a shocker. Neither do I. As someone who’s had body image issues for the past forever, it’s another one of my most hated symptoms of having-a-uterus-itis. The good news is that all bloating is is water retention. Seems pretty stupid, right? All that self-loathing because you’re a bit spongier than normal. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to lessen the effects.
Once again, our top answer here is drink more water. Counter-intuitively, drinking more water can help you to retain less water. The reasoning behind that has to do with bodily sodium levels. By drinking more water, you dilute the elevated levels of sodium in your body, which helps you keep the water flowing. That also means you should probably lay off the pretzels for a week or two. Sorry. :/ Other things that can help reduce your fluid retention include eating leafy greens, stocking up on potassium, and steering clear of refined carbohydrates.
This one is going to differ greatly from person to person. As a teenager, I had horrible acne along my jawline, and I still have a bit of scarring from it. Now, I only break out occasionally, and it’s usually because I’ve waited too long to wash my pillowcase (life happens, don’t judge). It’s caused by clogged pores, which can get pretty nasty if they become infected (so don’t pick your pimples if you can help it), but at the root of everything is hormones. If yours is particularly bad, I’d suggest seeing a dermatologist, but generally, there are a few things you can do to make sure your face is the best it can be without medical intervention.
- Wash your face morning and night with a gentle soap.
- Don’t scrub! It damages your skin and makes acne worse.
- Keep your hands off of your face (this was the key point for me when I was growing up).
- Keep your hair, pillowcase, and anything else that’s in regular contact with your face clean.
- Don’t pick or pop.
- Use a light moisturizer if you have dry skin.
Those are some best practices, but if you have severe acne, painful pimples, or concerns about your skin, talk to your doctor. For spot treatment, I’ve found decent success with using tea tree oil. After washing your face, dab a drop on the end of a cotton swab and apply it directly to each breakout. It’ll dry out the pimple and kill the bacteria inside of it, helping your face to clear up faster. If you’re going to use tea tree oil, do not rub it all over your face. That is a guaranteed one-way ticket to Regret Town. It’ll dry your skin out and probably hurt in the process.
There are two teas I use to regulate my period’s arrival when the need arises. One of them holds it off so I can start it on a Sunday like my pill pack tells me to, and the other summons it from the depths of my abdomen (or hell, depending on the week; it’s a tossup, really). The first one is raspberry leaf tea.
Why does raspberry leaf tea have anything to do with periods? It all comes down to tannins. Tannins are chemicals found in plants. They tend to be bitter-tasting and yellowish-brown in color. Tannins have also been found to relax uterine muscles and relieve cramping, as well as pain during childbirth. Uterine contractions are responsible for pushing the blood out of our bodies during our periods, as well as for causing cramping. For people with heavy bleeding or irregular periods, raspberry leaf tea can help make things a little easier. If you have a light flow like me, you might even be able to use those tannins to push your start date back a few days.
Where is it?
Sometimes you might want things to happen on a bit of a schedule. Say you’re getting married and you really don’t want to risk dyeing your white dress or nice suit red. If you’ve ovulated and are coming up on your usual date, you might be able to help things along by drinking some mugwort tea. Back in ye olden days, mugwort was used for a variety of medicinal purposes from abortions to a depression aid. Across cultures, the pungent herb was used to combat myriad issues, though one of its most effective uses was prompting menstruation.
If you’re going to use mugwort to prompt a period, make sure you buy food-grade stuff. Some people use it for non-edible purposes, but if it’s going in your body, make sure that’s where it was meant to go. It’s one of my favorite tools of the trade, and it’s saved me more than once when I’ve had reluctant periods, poor scheduling, or (once) a little pregnancy scare (if you’re curious, it was nothing; my nonstop birth control was just doing its job for once).
There you go! A whole slew of period-positive information to (hopefully) better prepare you for your next blood sacrifice to the deities of uterine fertility! May the protection of hygiene products be ever in your favor.