The last time I saw a midwife, I was once again forced to defend my decision not to be on birth control. I was told that it was my decision, but by declining, I was going against medical advice. She also threw out the word "cancer" to try to scare me into it, when really, while hormonal birth control may help to prevent ovarian cancer, it is not enough to warrant being on it simply for that reason, especially if you are not at high risk in the first place. Luckily, I know better than to give in to that kind of guilt or pressure, but far too many women don't realize that they have the choice. What's more, birth control is not the only answer. What happens when you want to have a baby? Are you just out of luck? That doesn't seem right at all. I have spoken to several women lately who are confused and feel like they have no options. The truth is that you do have options. You DO NOT have to be on hormonal birth control pills to deal with ovarian cysts. Whether you want to have a baby, or just prefer not to be on birth control pills because of the harm they cause to your body (that's a whole other blog post), there are plenty of options out there if you know where to look.
First of all, lets talk about what ovarian cysts are. Ovarian cysts are fluid filled sacs that grow in or on a woman's ovaries. Cysts can present with a number of symptoms including but not limited to pelvic pain, irregular periods, back pain, spotting, pain during intercourse, painful menstrual cramps, gas, and irregular bowel movements. Some cysts present with several symptoms, while others have none at all. Most cysts go away on their own after a month or two, while others grow until they burst, which is extremely painful. There are several kinds of ovarian cysts, and many different causes. The majority of women who get cysts do so after menstruation has begun and before menopause.
Most doctors, and even many midwives, will tell you that the only ways to treat ovarian cysts are through hormonal birth control pills or surgery. In most cases, this is not true. I am not saying that your doctors are lying to you, rather that they may not be informed about "alternative" methods of treating and preventing ovarian cysts. Many doctors may also tell you that you may never be able to conceive a baby if you have ovarian cysts. While it is true that certain types of cysts may affect fertility, in most cases they do not. Women with ovarian cysts have babies all the time. What's more, a lot of them have more than one child after having ovarian cysts. If you have cysts, don't jump to the conclusion that you can't have babies. Some women are told this and think that they can't get pregnant so there is no need to use any form of contraception, and then they get quite a surprise when it turns out not to be true. Alternatively, if you are trying to have a baby, try not to worry about it and just go for it. If it winds up taking longer than you think it should, see a fertility specialist to rule out cysts as a cause.
Contrary to what you may have been told, birth control and surgery are not the only solutions. Surgery can cause more scar tissue on your ovaries which can lead to trouble long afterward. Birth control pills can not only inhibit your ability to have a baby, but may have adverse side effects including but not limited to extra weight gain, mood disorders, headaches, dizziness, nausea, lower sex drive, spotting, chest pain, abdominal pain, and vision problems. So what can we do instead? Below are some suggestions for treating and preventing cysts more naturally. Remember that because there are so many different causes of ovarian cysts, the remedy that works for one person may not work for you. Try different treatments until you find one that works for you.
Heat can be a very effective way to reduce the pain from ovarian cysts. You can try heating pads, hot packs, or hot water bottles. I prefer hot packs because they produce a moist heat which is better for your tissue. You can easily make your own hot packs by making a pillow and stuffing it with rice. If you do not sew, you can pour rice into a tube sock and tie off the end. If you are going the sock route, make sure that the sock is free of holes, or you will have a huge mess on your hands. You can also use clean kitty litter, flax seed, or buckwheat instead of the rice if you prefer. Heat your hot pack in the microwave for about a minute and then apply to your lower abdomen.
*Do not use heat if you are pregnant.
Herbal teas can be a wonderful remedy for ovarian cysts in that they help to calm you and are very comforting, and many herbs found in teas have healing properties. You can also try taking herbs in the form of dietary supplements. Some good herbs to try for ovarian cysts include vitex, yarrow, dong quai, maca root, black cohosh, wild yam, milk thistle, red clover, ginger, and dandelion. You can also try some relaxing blends with chamomile or lavender. Before using herbal supplements, you may want to check with your doctor or midwife, particularly if you are pregnant. Not all of these herbs are safe for use while pregnant.
Apple Cider Vinegar and Black Strap Molasses
Many women swear by apple cider vinegar and black strap molasses for shrinking their ovarian cysts. Try adding 1 tablespoon of each to a glass of warm water. Mix well and drink once or twice a day until symptoms are gone. This remedy is believed to help because of it's high potassium content. If your cysts are due to a potassium deficiency, this can do wonders.
Essential oils can be used to treat almost anything, including ovarian cysts. Some oils help to dissolve and get rid of the cysts, while others help to ease the pain related to the cysts, and some of them will even do both. Some good essential oils to try are clary sage, frankincense, geranium, and cypress. You can try rubbing these oils directly over your lower abdomen where you are feeling the pain. If you have sensitive skin, make sure to do a small spot test before rubbing it over your abdomen. You can try just one, or blend them together. Make sure to exercise moderation when working with essential oils. A little goes a long way. Some sources recommend soaking a tampon in the oils and inserting it overnight. I am always hesitant with things like this. Your vagina and cervix are very sensitive areas. Please exercise caution when inserting anything into your vagina.
*Do not use clary sage oil if you are pregnant, as it can promote uterine contractions.
Taking a nice warm/hot bath can be a great way to soothe the pain from ovarian cysts. It can also help to ease the discomfort of some of the other symptoms such as back pain and gas. For added benefits, try adding epsom salts and essential oils into your bath water. You can try some of the essential oils listed in the section above. Epsom salts are helpful because of their high magnesium content, which helps to reduce the pain from the cysts.
*If you are pregnant, make sure the bath water is warm instead of hot.
Balance Your Estrogen and Progesterone
One of the main causes of ovarian cysts is a hormone imbalance. The main culprits are too much estrogen and too little progesterone. There are many things that you can do to improve the balance of your estrogen and progesterone. One of these is flax seeds. Try mixing ground flax seeds in warm water, yogurt, smoothies, salads, or other snacks and beverages to help bring balance to your hormones. You can also try to limit soy. Cutting out soy altogether is difficult because it is used as a cheap filler in so many of the foods we eat, but limiting it can help. You can also avoid drinking out of plastic bottles, use natural detergents, avoid cosmetics and skin care products with parabens and minerals, and try using a progesterone cream.
Like epsom salts, almonds are high in magnesium, and can therefore help to reduce the pain from ovarian cysts. Try eating almonds as a snack, drinking almond milk, or massaging your low abdomen with sweet almond oil.
One cause of ovarian cysts is a hypoactive or under-active thyroid. If this is the cause of your cysts, you may have an iodine deficiency. To test whether or not you have an iodine deficiency, you can see a doctor or purchase a bottle of iodine solution or tincture and test yourself. If you choose to test yourself, put a small circle of iodine on your inner thigh and see how long it takes to absorb. Allow the patch to dry before putting anything over it, because iodine can stain. The iodine will make an orange patch on your skin. When the orange patch is gone, the iodine has absorbed into your body. If the iodine has completely absorbed in 18-24 hours, you may have an iodine deficiency. If it is still there after 24 hours, you likely don't have a deficiency. If you feel you have a deficiency, you can go to a doctor to confirm your findings or begin taking iodine supplements.
Many people swear by castor oil packs. I highly recommend checking with your doctor before trying castor oil, as it can cause some very nasty side effects. There doesn't really seem to be a lot of middle ground. Everything that I have read about castor oil is either a glowing review of how wonderful it is, or a horror story generally due to its tendency to cause extreme diarrhea. If you choose to try castor oil, I recommend using it externally in a castor oil pack. To make a castor oil pack, you will need to start with some good castor oil, a piece of flannel (preferably unbleached and dye free), some old clothes and towels, plastic wrap, and a hot pack or hot water bottle.
- Cut a large piece of flannel (about 20x10) and soak, but don't saturate it with castor oil. You can do this by folding it until it is 2-3 layers thick, and drizzling a couple of tablespoons of castor oil onto it. Fold it in half to saturate all layers with oil, and then unfold it. You can also place the flannel in a bowl or jar, and adding about a tablespoon of oil at a time and letting the flannel soak it up.
- Once your flannel is soaked with castor oil, wrap it in plastic and then an old towel.
- Next, lie down on an old towel. Castor oil packs are very messy, so feel free to use a few towels if you need to and wear some old clothes.
- Place the wrapped, oil soaked flannel over your lower abdomen and place a hot pack on top.
- Rest like this for 30-60 minutes. If you need to, grab a book, or put on some music, or find something else to pass the time.
- After the 30-60 minutes is up, remove the hot pack and unwrap the flannel. You can save the flannel in a mason jar or ziplock bag and reuse it another time.
* Do not use castor oil if you are pregnant, trying to conceive, or on your period. Some sources say that using it while menstruating is safe but may increase your flow. Please use with discretion.
As a reminder, I am not a doctor, and this advice is not meant to replace medical care. If you are unhappy with the answers or care that you are getting from your doctor, I recommend seeking a second opinion before committing to any type of medication or procedure that you are not completely comfortable with. If after using any of these methods, symptoms become worse, please discontinue use and speak to a medical care provider.