In February, 2018 it was the night before boarding my plane home from Japan when I was awoken by an incredible pain in my stomach. After having spent the last four days folded at the hips, convinced that I was just enduring ‘normal’ menstrual pain (something that I had become almost accustomed to as a way of life).. It finally became too much and we rushed to the hospital. It couldn’t have been an hour before I was visited at my bed - mid screams and howls - by a nurse who spoke broken English with a diagram of the female reproductive organs in front of me, pointing ‘we need to operate’.
This feels like a distant memory to me now, and yet I take myself back and can’t help but feel the tears swell in my eyes.. This experience was one of the hardest that I’ve had to endure, without a doubt. But even then, waking up in that hospital bed, connected to pipes through an adult diaper and unable to walk or unclear of what had just happened to me - I knew, this was only the beginning.
The haze wore off and I was finally introduced to a doctor, who explained that I had a 13cm tumour form in my stomach that had pressed on my right ovary, causing it to twist over twice. The operation (a laparoscopy) saw the untwisting and removal of the tumour and part of my ovary. When I was finally able to fly home, the real recovery began. The thing about surgery in such an intimate area is, to the public it looks as though you’re healed. As if you’ve been stitched up and now you’re better - and in a way, you want to believe that too. But something that I wish I knew and also knew how to communicate to those around me was - the internal healing takes a lot longer.
For someone who was so used to being independent and self-efficient, to be unable to drive due to the pain from the seatbelt on my stomach, away from family and out of work because I was still physically healing (let alone mentally)… Was an adjustment to say the least. But day by day, the anaesthetic worked its way out of my system, my wounds began to heal and I was able to bathe in the ocean and move and slowly dance and begin to enjoy my body again. Finally, all my practices were starting to pay off and I was beginning to feel myself again - perhaps even more than before.
It seems odd to say, but there are many things that I am grateful for about this experience. For one, I am now so much more appreciative of my body and all that it can do. I have learned so much about myself and what makes me work and what it feels like to be really well. To open up and make myself vulnerable to you all and have you return with open arms and like-experiences was all the support I needed and more. To not feel alone. To not feel broken. But once that all wore off and I was getting back to healthy, I began to realise - there was a lot that we don’t know about our own bodies. Whether it’s because we’ve never asked or that it’s been treated as a taboo topic.. And so the final thing I’m grateful for, is to be able to use this channel to share my knowledge and open the floor for encouragement and exploration of ourselves.
So, I had a bit of a think about the main questions I had at the start of this journey (and the ones that you girls have passed on to me), and I posed them to my Naturopath, Tia Miers. You can read more about Tia here, but what you mostly need to know is that she has held my hand through this recovery and I sincerely recommend her for her soft approach and intimate understanding of young women’s health. Without further adieu, find below my Q & A with Tia..
Q. How do you know when is best to go to a doctor or naturopath/what's the key difference in your opinion?
Naturopaths blend modern scientific knowledge with traditional and natural forms of medicine to help their patients achieve their health goals. Naturopathy treats the underlying cause of imbalance within the body and works on prevention. I would suggest seeing a doctor if you require a prescription, pathology, or in an emergency.
The key area of differences in my opinion are:
- Time- when you see a Naturopath for an appointment, you get the undivided attention of the practitioner for about one hour, rather than a 15 minute rushed time slot at the doctors. In this one hour visit you have the time to let them know how you are feeling, what you are going through emotionally and what is happening within your body.
- Options- Naturopathy offers herbal medicine, nutritional supplements, dietary and lifestyle advice. Rather than the use of anti-biotics that can have nasty side effects.
- Holistic approach- by treating the person as a whole Naturopathy identifies imbalances within the body and provides support for optimal health. It treats the underlying cause rather than the symptom itself. Medical doctors are educated to relieve symptoms rather than addressing why the symptoms are there.
Q. What’s one book you'd recommend on:
- Self love: Louise Hay “Loving yourself to good health”
- Spirituality: Don Miguel Ruiz “The four Agreements”
- Health/General wellbeing: Lara Briden “The period repair manual”
Q. What podcast are you listening to/ is there a particular that you would recommend?
The Melissa Ambrosini show- her podcasts are so real and informative
Q. One good habit everyone should start today:
- Loving the person you are and the body you are in- we so often play the comparison game and forget to give ourselves the love that we deserve.
- Adding apple cider vinegar too warm water first thing upon waking- this stimulates digestion (increasing HcL production) and improving your absorption of nutrients.
Q. Your favourite part of your morning routine?
My morning routine sets me up for a happy and motivating day- it puts my mind in such a beautiful space.
When I wake I listen to a 10-minute meditation on insight timer whilst I sip my warm water with apple cider vinegar then I head off too yoga for some ‘me’ time!
Q. What’s your opinion on hormonal contraception?
The oral contraceptive pill (OCP) has allowed women freedom, choice and control over their own fertility. However, it does have its downsides. It is often prescribed if you are experiencing hormonal conditions such as painful periods, an irregular menstrual cycle, acne, PCOS, endometriosis or ovarian cysts, Whilst the OCP may reduce (mask) symptoms of these conditions- it does not address the cause.
A common misconception is that hormonal contraceptives “regulate “or “balance” hormones, however- the hormones used are synthetic and do not provide the same benefits as our natural hormones, and in some cases produce harmful side effects.
For example; natural progesterone is beneficial for the cardiovascular system, promotes healthy hair + nail growth, increases GABA production (which makes you feel calm and relaxed), and improves sleep quality. Progestin is the correct term for the ‘progesterone’ used in hormone contraceptives- increases the risk of blood clots and may cause anxiety, depression and premenstrual syndrome.
Herbal medicine is wonderful for regulating hormones and period tracking apps allow us to gain insight and awareness of our fertile windows and therefore avoid pregnancy.
Q. Best ways to support anyone coming off of hormonal contraception?
The body goes through a little bit of confusion when coming off the OCP- be patient with your body, give it time to adjust to the hormonal shifts that have taken place. Expect that you may feel upset or simply “off”. Be gentle with yourself and how you are feeling. Please consult a qualified practitioner about particular supplements, dosages and protocol.
- Diet- ensure you are consuming a wholefoods diet (eat less from a packet and more from the earth)
- Liver + detox support (hormones are metabolised via the liver- so it is important to support the liver whilst coming off the OCP)
- Herbal medicine (I highly recommend visiting your local Naturopath as everyone is unique and therefore requires individualised treatment)
- Exercise: Sweat + move your body: Exercise daily- ensure you partake in an activity that you look forward too + brings you joy!
- Self-love: Having a kind loving relationship with yourself is imperative for good health
- Sleep quality: Getting high quality sleep is the key to lowering inflammation, controlling cortisol levels and balancing hormones.
Q. One herb you'd recommend for hormonal health and why:
Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) one of my favourite herbs for female hormone balance- it is wonderful for reducing the emotional symptoms of PMS such as irritability and moodiness as well as the physical symptoms which as changing appetite levels, premenstrual acne and tender breasts.
Q. How do we know if we're eating the right foods for our body type/what's your opinion on this?
I think we feel it intuitively- energy is a good example of this. If our body is rewarding us with energy than we are fueling it correctly.
Q. Three foods we should introduce for hormonal balance today:
A nutritious wholefoods diet that includes proteins, ‘good’ fats and fresh fruits + vegetables.
Eating in this ways means that you don’t need to be obsessive over food or count calories, but allow your body to regulate its own need for food. When we are filled up with nutritious foods we are less likely too overeat.
- Vegetables- you can’t get enough fresh vegetables! Aim to eat an abundance of vegetables every day and a wide variety. Ideally we should consume seven different types of vegetables daily, of all colours. The easiest way to boost your daily vegetable intake is to double the quantity when preparing your dinner portion and have the leftovers for lunch the next day.
- Good fats
- Avocados: avocados are nutritional powerhouses, hosting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. High in omega-3-essential fatty acids, which can help to fight inflammation and reduce pain due to menstrual cramping.
- Wild caught Salmon: Salmon contains the fatty acids EPA and DHA, which can help to regulate hormones within the body and reduce inflammation.
- Eggs: are an excellent source of protein, good fats, antioxidants and vitamins. They help to keep you satisfied and are an easy way to add good-quality protein to your daily diet (ensure you are consuming organic free range eggs).
- Legumes and pulses: contain protein and are a good source of slowly digested carbs helping to regulate energy. The high fibre content in lentils promote complete bowel motions and assist in detoxification of hormones.
Q. Three foods we should avoid:
- Alcohol- as much as we love to relax with a glass of wine after work or a beer with dinner, I suggest no more than 1-2x glasses of organic red wine/week when regulating hormones.
- Inflammatory foods- this includes sugar, gluten, processed, deep fried foods. Increased levels of inflammation in the body and drives hormonal imbalances.
- Salty processed foods - the foods we tend to crave most during our periods- salty chips, sugary treats and fast food parade, unfortunately cause more harm than good when it comes to relieving cramps and bloat. – we already retain excess water during our periods and eating a diet high in salt can exasperate this.
Q. Best ways to relieve period pain:
- Castor oil abdominal massage; castor oil massages reduces inflammation + cramping, sheds stagnant tissue + enhances circulation of fresh oxygenated blood and promotes a complete bowel motion.
- Heat pack; hot water bottles or heat packs applied to the abdomen is amazing at reducing acute pain and bloating.
- Herbal teas; chamomile with calm the body and peppermint will ease bloating- water consumption will help to stabilise fluid retention.
- Relax with magnesium- You may also like to increase your magnesium around period time, to help relax your muscles and reduce pain. Good sources of magnesium include legumes, nuts, seeds, dark leafy green vegetables and cacoa.
Q. What are some things that relate to hormonal health that would surprise us?
A major component of balancing your hormones naturally is addressing any emotional imbalances that you are experiencing. You can do this by reducing stress levels, engaging in personal reflection like journaling and taking time for yourself. Practicing meditation can be so beneficial (my favourite app is insight timer). Our physical and emotional state are intrinsically linked, it is so important to give yourself love and promote positivity towards yourself.
Q. Do you have any advice you would give to a partner/male friends supporting us with hormonal imbalances?
Be kind and have patience - maybe surprise your partner by booking than an acupuncture appointment- acupuncture is incredible for hormonal balance and makes you feel so loved and cared for.
If you have any further questions regarding hormonal imbalances or Naturopathic medicine, please don’t hesitate to get into contact with me.
Love, Tia x