Why you need to be your own advocate.

"The thing with all those herbs," he told me, "is that you just can't be sure what's in them. You don't know what you're getting. With pharmaceuticals, they are approved and closely monitored, and you always know what you're getting."

I'd heard it before, I heard it this morning, and I will hear it again. You know, the dangers of taking herbal medicines. All those risky, unregulated, little bombs of pure danger that naturopaths and homeopaths and acupuncturists give to their patients. These herbs are also known as the supplements that I take everyday. They are medicines that have helped me heal.

I had my first visit today with a reproductive endocrinologist in an attempt to uncover why my menstrual cycle is totally missing in action. It has been in hiding since February of 2008, and damn, is it ever good at hiding. I used to be like clockwork - no matter what kind of stress, lifestyle changes, new exercise programs, or emotional issues, my cycle was steadfast. I never had yeast infections. Things were good down there. Then in October of 2007 I got the first round of the Gardasil vaccination. This vaccine is supposed to protect against the Human Papilloma Virus, which if contracted, can lead to cervical cancer. My general practitioner at that time had convinced me to get the vaccine, and after some soul searching, I went for it. I am generally suspicious of vaccines, but thought it seemed like an good decision.

I got my period a few days later, and it was irregular and uncomfortable. By the end of the week, I felt like I was getting the flu and was suffering from what felt like the worst yeast infection in history. I went to the emergency room it was so painful, and it turned out to be Bacterial Vaginosis. I was totally confused at this turn of events, but made no association to the vaccine. For the next five months, my cycle became more irratic and the BV returned, but I made no association to the vaccine. In February 2008, I got the second vaccine. Within hours I felt hot, woozy, and got hivies. Within one week, I felt like I had the flu and my BV flared up. I got my period a few days later, and it was very irregular and uncomfortable. And that was the last time I menstruated. My digestive issues got worse. My energy levels hit rock bottom, and I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster. My whole body felt like it was freaking out. Sound weird? I agree. But I am not alone in my negative reaction to this vaccine - just try googling "gardasil negative side effects" and you'll be shocked at how many young women have been hurt.

I want my period to come back almost more than anything on earth. The only thing I want more is the ability to travel back in time, and respond "no" instead of "yes" to the question "So, do you want to go ahead with the HPV vaccine?" But since I can't do anything about the latter situation, all I can do is try to fulfill the former.

And that brings me to today's visit to the reproductive endocrinologist. My new general practitioner referred me to see him, because she was totally puzzled. Incidentally, so is he. He said my situation was totally ideopathic. Both doctors seem to agree that my reaction is tied to the vaccine, but neither claim to have ever heard anything like that before. All my test results are totally normal and healthy, with the exception of the fact that I just don't produce adequate amounts of estrogen, progesterone, or FSH. And he has no idea why I'm not producing those. So, I'm getting an MRI to make sure my pituatary gland is in working order, and we took a second round of bloodwork to see if anything has changed in the last two months. And we'll see what happens.

He also prescribed me Prometrium, a progesterone replacement, and wanted me to take it for a month. I told him I don't like taking pharmaceuticals, and he told me this was the most natural one available. I was told it would make me drowsy, and that I shoudl take it before bed so I don't fall asleep at work. I took the script with me when I left the office, but before popping any of those pills in my mouth, I planned on doing my own research and talking to my naturopath.

My mom beat me to the research and shared this piece of information with me:
"Prometrium contains peanut oil, so you should also avoid this medication if you are allergic to peanuts."

As a person with a peanut allergy (which was included on my records at the doctor's office, by the way), I'm awfully glad my mom and I thought to do the research. It pays to be an advocate for yourself; in this case, I saved myself a bad, bad reaction. I plan on calling the doctor's office tomorrow and letting them know.

And one other thing. The Gardasil vaccine, as it turns out, is not recommended for people with yeast allergies or hypersensitivities. I am allergic to yeast. I should not have been given that vaccine, and I think one reason my body responded so severely because I had an allergic reaction.

I'd like to return to my doctor's comment to me this morning:
"The thing with all those herbs," he told me, "is that you just can't be sure what's in them. You don't know what you're getting. With pharmaceuticals, they are approved and closely monitored, and you always know what you're getting."

Did I know what I was getting when I got the Gardasil vaccine, or was prescribed the peanut allergen-laden progesterone this morning? Nope.

Did I know what I was getting when I am given herbal supplements by the naturopath? You bet. The ingredients are listed on the outside of the bottle, and each time, we talk about every single one. For example, a couple months ago, just before I got my last labwork done, we added Chaste Tree Berry, a supplement that should help with hormone production. Ingredients: chaste tree berry extract, vegetable cellulose, and water. Simple. No hidden peanuts. No hidden yeast. Just the active herb and a capsule to hold it in.

My reproductive endocrinologist also told me that homeopathy and naturopathy is a bunch of hooey, and has no data to show that it works.

Apparently, my feeling better isn't enough data for him.

I'm hoping that the lab results from the blood draw today show an increase in hormone production, and can prove that this perportedly dangerous, risky herbal supplement is doing its job.  My naturopath told me it can take 3-4 months to make a big difference, and we're only at about 2 1/2.  But I trust her, and I trust this herb; I am not having side effects, I know I feel better with each week that passes, and I know I'm doing it naturally.  This isn't to say that natural is always better - herbs are very powerful. When used incorrectly or if you are allergic/sensitive to the herb being used, the reactions and complications can be just as severe as those to pharmaceuticals.  So, herbal medicines should be handled and taken with care, just like any medicine, and should be purchased from reputable brands and manufacturers.  

The bottom line?

Trust your gut. Do your research. Ask all the questions you want to ask. If you don't get the answers you want, find them yourself. Each approach to medicine has its benefits and disadvantages, and you need to work to figure out the proper balance for your condition and health situation. Because at the end of the day, you need to be your biggest health advocate.