Written by Sharon Lee
Holistic medicine and natural wellness have gained major popularity over the last few years and it feels like everywhere you turn, someone is munching on a monstrous kale leaf. About 3 years ago I realized that I had to take my health into my own hands. Not just my general health, but specifically, my lady parts.
My Semi-TMI Story and Why you Should Always Follow your Instincts
Yup, that's right. My lady parts. When I was in college, my girlfriends began to experience irregular menstrual cycles. Some would get their periods once every few months and some wouldn't get them all. I had the opposite problem. I was getting my period twice a month, one heavier than the other. Strange, but we chocked it up to the change in environment and the stress of college. I also didn't have insurance at the time so I did what any sensible college kid would do - I ignored it. Fast forward to my senior year and by then my bi-monthly periods had become a regular visitor and I got the sense that something was off. I visited a nurse at my school clinic who didn't seem to think anything was wrong. The summer after college I sought out another doctor, a creepy man who basically told me that my symptoms were normal. But things still felt strange to me and so I sought out another doctor. At this point I was paying out of pocket for these doctor visits and really couldn't afford to keep seeking opinions, all to be told that my symptoms were normal for a woman my age. (22 years young). Once I was able to get insurance I went straightaway to another doctor because by then I was absolutely convinced that something was wrong.
Thank goodness for good and kind doctors. My new doctor explained to me that my symptoms could be connected to several irregularities: hormonal imbalance, thyroid issue, or a growth. He performed some blood work and took an ultrasound of my uterus and bingo. I had a uterine polyp, which is basically an overgrowth of my endometrial lining, which some say is caused by excess estrogen (including the man made kind that's found in certain food products and plastic). Instead of my lining fully shedding every month, my polyp was like a tree and had planted roots and refused to shed with the rest of its friends. Over the course of the years I have had two surgeries to remove my polyps. Both surgeries are pretty quick and easy, but definitely anxiety provoking. While the birth control pill prevented new growth, I didn't want the pill to be my only option. So I did some research and decided to self-remedy using natural herbs instead of prescribed medication. So far, no new growths and I'm happy to say that my most recent ultrasound came back squeaky clean.
Herbal tea: Raspberry leaf, dong quai and chaste berry
My go to herbal medicine has been a concoction of raspberry leaf, dong quai and chaste berry, tried and true. Every few days I brew a large batch of tea using this combination of herbs to help ease and maintain my menstrual cycle and my reproductive system. Herbal medicine is a fascinating subject to me and for a while I contemplated signing up for a certification on herbal remedies. I still may go for it at some point but for now I rely on the trusty internet and certain professionals at various herbal shops. Although there's no magic to the measurements, I generally use 2 large tablespoons of raspberry leaf, 1 tablespoon chaste berry/vitex and 1 tablespoon dong quai per large mason jar. I chill the tea in the fridge, but sometimes I brew a smaller batch and drink it hot. Each one of these herbs contain potent medicinal properties that keep your system in check but today I'll just focus on the raspberry leaf.
Raspberry Leaf's Uses and Nutritional Profile
Raspberry leaf is most commonly used for 2 purposes: (1) when you suffer from severe menstrual cramps (women who have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis find this tea to be pain relieving), and (2) when you are pregnant (please speak to your doctor as there are some conflicting testimonies). But raspberry leaf tea is fantastic for women in all stages of life, including those going thru menopause and post-menopause. In fact, the strong nutritional profile of raspberry leaf tea makes it ideal for both men and women!
Raspberry leaf is high in magnesium, potassium, iron and b-vitamins - all essential vitamins for the female reproductive system and uterine well-being. In fact, one of the amazing superpowers of this herb is that it contains an alkaloid called fagrine that tones the uterine muscle, which some say lead to shorter and "easier" labors, and the prevention of miscarriages in some instances. Think about it like this. If you haven't been working out your biceps, well then they'll be pretty weak and sore when suddenly you're moving big boxes and such. And if you had to hold up even something pretty light for a long period of time, you'd have a hard time. Same thing with your uterus - it's a muscle that needs to be strengthened and taken care of to do its job. You can read all about the benefits of raspberry leaf here and here. This herb is also high in vitamin C, which makes it a great tea for when you feel a cold coming on.
Taking Care of your Reproductive System and your Lady Parts Matters
More than keeping my polyps in check, I drink raspberry leaf tea to prepare for pregnancy and birth. I'm not pregnant, but I hope to be one day. At the age of 34, I know that I need to do my part to keep my reproductive health strong and healthy to avoid infertility and miscarriages later on. A gynecologist once told me that although we were born with set number of eggs, the quality of the eggs is what is most important, not just your age (unless you have other irregularities). So while she emphasized that I take my time, not stress about it, and try to conceive when I felt ready, she told me that I should take my own measures to preserve my fertility. I loved her for telling me this because everyone else in the world was telling me that I was getting old and why was I waiting? Sometimes, it's not your own choice. Sometimes, it is and you prefer to wait. But nobody knows your journey and having a child is too serious of a decision to leave it to peer pressure. I try to avoid using plastic containers to store foods (they contain fake estrogen which can lead to the overgrowth of your lining), I changed some of my beauty products to more natural products (although not for everything), and I try to eat organic foods. Also, very importantly, I try to not eat meats and dairy that have added hormones in them. Farmers are injecting who the heck knows what kind of hormones into the animals we eat and into the milk we drink and we are quite literally ingesting those same hormones, which is not doing my body good. I definitely have my vices and I'm not a strict or disciplined person, but I try to be aware and I try to eliminate the extra estrogen that's in SO many foods and products.
Where can you buy raspberry leaf tea?
I used to go to a really great herb shop in Brooklyn, NY called...the Herb Shoppe. But you can purchase pre-made tea bags that contain just raspberry leaf from Yogi tea or one that contains all of the ingredients from my own combination, and more. I also buy the herbs in bulk at Mountain Rose Herbs.
With so many toxins floating around in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink, it's important that you do what you can to reduce your exposure. I'm not one to go nuts on this stuff, but I do think it's something to be aware of because the toxins that are in our bodies can be traced to our great grand child's (we also retain toxins that our great grandmothers were exposed to). Speaking of grandparents, "We are exposed to more chemicals in 30 days than our grandparents were in their entire lifetimes!" - Alissa Vitti. Side note, I love Alissa Vitti of Flo Living. She writes some amazing articles on women's hormonal balance among other things and I'm excited to read her book, the WomanCode, soon! That's insane. But don't be scared, let's be proactive!
Please seek the advice and opinion of a professional before consuming any of the items in this article. Also, please use extra caution if you're pregnant or think you could be pregnant, or if you have any other condition that could be affected by consuming these herbs.