If there is anything I've learned during the almost two years I've spent writing for The/Thirty, it's that you, dear readers, are the best. We talk a lot of realness in this space—something that's both cathartic for us as writers and something that's appreciated (based on the amazing feedback we regularly receive) from you, our community. In fact, there are some topics and experiences I've discussed at length here, that, quite honestly, I've never felt comfortable broaching with friends, family members, or significant others.
It's Sexual Wellness Month here at The/Thirty HQ, and while up until this February, I've largely kept the details of my sex life to myself, my partners, and okay, maybe my BFF-roomie-co-worker, Amanda Montell, I've already managed to admit I was a virgin up until somewhat recently, revealed the questions you should most definitely ask your gyno, and will even embark on a blind date set up by a matchmaker—stay tuned. So why not keep the blatantly honest conversation going in the spirit of blasting away taboos, or as managing editor Victoria Hoff puts it, "unnecessary mystique" within the sexual health space?
As someone who's struggled with both an eating disorder and PCOS, I've faced some frustrating challenges in regard to getting my reproductive and sexual well-being in tip-top shape. Up until somewhat recently, I wasn't really getting my period, and then after visiting my gynecologist before the holidays about a different scary-ish issue that had come up, some blood and hormone testing revealed my immune system was shockingly weak and many of my vitamin and hormone levels were plummet-level low. Eek. This, obviously, wasn't great news, and I'd be lying if I said that the holiday season didn't feel a little dark.
After taking some time to wallow (because that can be healthy, too), I re-grouped with my gynecologist who I love and trust very much to develop a sexual and reproductive health game plan for 2019. Through working with her, doing a lot of research on my own time, and talking to a few other health professionals as well, I came up with a 2019 sexual health overhaul specifically designed to improve my down-there well-being.
Of course, as a necessary disclaimer, some of these changes are very specific to me, and this definitely isn't meant to be a one-size-fits-all prescription for sexual health improvement. (Please, please don't start taking a specific supplement just because I am—consulting with your own trusted health professional is paramount!) But I thought it might be helpful to share some of the changes I'm making since they've already started to have a positive impact. Ahead, seven unexpected ways I'm taking charge of my sexual health this year via natural and alternative means. Keep scrolling!
Prior to this January, I'd received acupuncture treatments twice before. I'm not a fan of needles, and honestly, the mental image I have of myself laying on a table with needles sticking every which way out of my body kind of makes me want to vomit. However, as various acupuncturists and health professionals have explained to me, acupuncture isn't a one-stop shop for feeling better. The positive benefits are reaped gradually over time, so just going in for one or two shot-in-the-dark treatments won't make a difference (much to my chagrin).
Since I was struggling with a variety of symptoms like low progesterone and estrogen, anxiety (surrounding an ongoing health issue), and a depressed immune system, my gynecologist recommended regular acupuncture treatments—we're talking weekly—to help boost my overall health but which would specifically target my sexual and reproductive health woes as well.
She recommended I see L.A.-based Kumiko Yamamoto, LAc, at Art of Chinese Healing, and I've been going strong with my appointments for about a month now. I haven't noticed any major improvements, but I do feel like my energy is better, and I always feel relaxed and more clear-headed after my treatment. My period has also become more regular—a blessing in and of itself.
During my appointment with my gynecologist, and after discussing all of my symptoms, she recommended evening primrose oil and a sexual-health geared supplement called Vitex to help support my hormonal and sexual health. However, after taking both for a few weeks during the holidays, I didn't feel like my body was reacting well, and I discontinued my use. (This just proves how individual supplements are and to pay attention to different cues from your body whenever you start a new regimen.)
However, one thing my body has seemed to really take to are the Chinese herbs in capsule-form my acupuncturist makes for me. A mix of herbs and other ancient Chinese healing antidotes, the 14 pills per day dosage is nothing to scoff at, but after getting over my intimidation and being super diligent about popping them back each day, I've gotten into the swing of things. Kumiko says that even more so than the acupuncture treatment, the herbs are meant to help improve the health and balance of my hormones, specifically regarding my sexual and reproductive health. (For more on the reproductive benefits of Chinese herbs, click here!)
As I mentioned, based on a health scare I've been dealing with, some icky symptoms, and bloodwork, my immune system, apparently, had decided to tank. Simply put, my body just wasn't in its tip-top fighting form, and after losing lots of sleep to tons of after-hours research, I discovered AHCC, aka active hexose correlated compound. A concentrated mushroom extract (I realize that sounds very L.A. and trippy, but just hear me out), it's been proven as one of the best alternative and natural forms of immediate and sustained immune improvement on the market. Funny enough, no one seems to know about it.
To cut to the quick, AHCC essentially boosts the activity of a specific type of white blood cell (our NK—natural killer—cells) which, in turn, boosts immune activity and better equips our system with ample ammunition to destroy disease and infection. The research is actually pretty amazing, and after getting approval from both my gynecologist and my acupuncturist, I've been taking their recommended AHCC dosage daily.
Okay, so this one is pretty basic. The blood tests my gynecologist ran revealed my vitamin D levels were too low—something that hadn't actually been an issue for me since back when I lived in Minnesota. (Arctic temperatures and no sun.) So, in addition to making myself get back in the habit of taking my fave multivitamins daily (I love these from Ritual!), I'm doing some extra supplementation with two capsules of these guys from Hum Nutrition to get a total of 4000 IU per day to restore my levels. (Note: This is the highest dosage experts recommend, and after my levels improve, I'll back off to 2000 IU per day.)
Unfortunately, struggling with sleep issues was pretty much written in the stars for me. My mom has problems with sleep, my dad has sleep apnea, and throughout my adult life, I have struggled with insomnia off an on as well. Surprise, surprise. Even though I had actually been doing pretty well for the past few years, amid the worry and anxiety I was experiencing at the end of last year, I just could not fall asleep. Literally, I would go a week running on a collective total of 12 to 15 hours—torturous! No matter how fatigued or mentally exhausted and drained I felt at the end of the day, the second I got into bed I was restless and my brain would race a million miles per minute. Though I know it's not necessarily recommended, I've had to resort to using sleeping pills in the past (just because they're the only thing that truly knocks me out, and sometimes you just have to sleep), but I wasn't a fan of feeling somewhat reliant on something so unnatural and which has been correlated to some not-so-great side effects.
Even though I had tried melatonin in the past with not too much luck, I decided to throw away my bottle of Unisom and replace it with Hum's navy bottle of melatonin tablets. I prioritized taking them at the same time every night, and low and behold, my sleep has improved, which in turn, has made me feel better and healthier all around. Sleep is the spice of life, guys.
But not just any honey. After being sent some superfood goodies from Beekeeper's Naturals and having the opportunity to meet the CEO and founder, Carly Stein, in person, I've learned a lot about the amazing health benefits—especially regarding immunity—super-high quality bee products can have on our health. Per day, I've been taking four sprays of the brand's propolis spray, which is coined as "the immune system of the hive." The brand explains on its website that propolis has fantastic germ-fighting benefits, contains 300+ vitamins, minerals, and compounds, and also helps fight free radical damage during times of stress.
To supplement, I have major love for pretty much every other product from the brand, but have taken to taking a teaspoon of the B. Powered Honey each morning on an empty stomach (à la Carly), which contains a super-impressive lineup of bee-derived superfoods like the aforementioned propolis, royal jelly, bee pollen, and the brand's signature raw, enzyme-rich honey.
Being an 80/20 Vegan
Before the holidays, I did the previously unthinkable (in my book) and went entirely plant-based for two weeks in light of Sakara Life's Plant-Based Challenge. I had low expectations, but to my great and what I realize sounds a tad dramatic delight, the experience completely changed my life. I felt happier, lighter, and healthier, I got my period back, my sleep improved, and my skin cleared. Nope, I'm not making this up! However, even though I did my best to eat mostly vegan after the challenge, it coincided quite tragically with the holidays, and thus I came back to L.A. post–New Year's feeling a bit derailed and discouraged.
Immediately, I hopped back on the plant-based train and again and was feeling better until both my gynecologist and acupuncturist told me that, sorry, 100% vegan diets don't always play nicely in regard to sexual and reproductive health. They both told me that in order to get my hormone and vitamin and mineral levels back to healthy and acceptable levels, they'd recommend eating at least a little bit of high-quality animal-based protein per day. Initially, I was taken aback, but after realizing that many of my icky feeling symptoms were largely due to gluten, dairy, and sugar, I decided to have plant-based breakfasts, lunches, and snacks each day, and add in a clean, sustainable-from of animal protein at night for dinners. Most nights, I reach for organic, pasture-raised eggs, wild-caught salmon, or organic chicken breast—that's what has felt good for my body.
Oh, and for my morning smoothie, I've been loving organic, plant-based protein powders from Tone It Up and Trader Joe's. Vanilla, please!