Guest Columnist #68: Sisters of the Road

     Constant movement and constant chaos take up much of the rebel girl's time. From the backwoods to the trainyard to the urban jungle camp, it's had for a gal to keep clean and healthy. Stress and poor nutrition (or near-starvation) combined with the lack of showers bring on a variety of problems. Add in the unhealthy aspects of a healthy sex drive and the problems increase... Luckily, the solutions can be just as low-tech and cheap as the weeds around you.
     Here are some common ailments of the Sisters of the Road, and some of the better treatments. I don’t have experience with all of them (thank goddess) but I'll list what I've heard works:

CYSTITIS:  This one I do know firsthand. Having to Pee, not being able to Pee, dreading even trying to pee because every droplet bums... you probably know the feeling too. Infections of the urinary tract (Fancy name: cystitis) are easy to get. They are caused by bacteria squatting in the "pipeline" that brings Pee out of your bladder (tract is the fancy name for pipeline.) If you don't treat it, the infection can move up to your bladder or kidneys and become life-threatening.
     To avoid infections, try to keep clean. Swim naked every chance you get. Wear cotton underwear or don't wear any. Wipe from front to back. If you're an active gal try to make sure you and your partner have clean hands, and ALWAYS ALWAYS pee after sex. This helps force any bacteria that may have found their way up there right back out. Diet is important, too. Pee is usually acidic enough to kill off most bacteria. Any big change in diet, especially bingeing on white flour, sugar, coffee, or even healthy greens can change the pH balance of your pea and give bacteria a chance to grow.
     If you've already got an infection, don't just suffer through it. Take care of it soon. Drinking cranberry juice, as much as you can hold, is a good cure. I've heard that it doesn't really make a difference, cure-wise, if it's sweetened or not. Unsweetened is much healthier but if you can't get it down, sweetened is ok. For an even more natural cure try tea made from Manzanita or Madrone leaves (a cup of tea up to four times a day). Manzanita is harsher and shouldn't be used for more than four days, and not at all if you're pregnant Madrone can be used for up to six days and still should be avoided by women in the last trimester of pregnancy.
     Both the juice and the herbs work in pretty much the same way. They acidify your Pee, making it harder for bacteria to live there, and also contain a plant chemical called arbutin that turns into an antimicrobial when your body processes it. You excrete the entire antimicrobial, called hydroquinone, into your pee, so it directly attacks the infection. Pretty cool, huh?
    All this happens within a couple days of starting to take the tea or juice, so if you aren’t helped within four days, you don’t have the kind of infection that can be helped by making things more acidic.  Try taking immune system stimulants like echinacea, red cedar, yerba mansa, etc.  and soothing hers like Marshmallow and bidens.  This other approach is better for guys, too.  They have different metabolisms, and when they get UT infections, the bacteria tend to be more adapted to acidic environments.
    If you start to feel pain in your back, or get a fever, chills, or nausea, the infection may have moved up and you should go see a “real” (medical system) doctor immediately.

YEAST INFECTIONS / CANDIDA:  The yeasty itch comes when Candida albicans, a fungus that is normally present in our bodies gets out of control.  Symptoms are the infamous itching, irritation, burning and usually a white discharge.
    Diet is very important9 in avoiding and treating yeast infections.  Avoid sugar, including natural sweeteners like fruit sugar and honey.  Try to cut back on carbohydrates (like bread and ramen noodles) and balance them out with protein (beans, beans and more beans!).  Avoid products that contain yeast - like most breads and beer.  Alcohol turns into sugar in your body, so there’s two reasons for avoiding beer, at least while you’re treating an infection.
    Birth control pills make you very susceptible to the yeasties.  They upset the acidity of your vagina, helping bacteria grow.  They make your body store sugar.  And they raise your estrogen levels, which causes the cells of the uterine lining to make glycogen (sugar).  Yet another reason to get off of them.  Lots of women get yeast infections when they on antibiotics, which makes sense because they totally throw off your natural balance.  Pregnancy, diabetes, even harsh soaps can bring on the itching.
    Looking at the underlying cause is really important - otherwise whatever else you do will just be a temporary fix. Once you’ve got that down you can work on fighting the infection. Again, start drinking cranberry juice - unsweetened if you can. Take some form of lactobacillus acidophilus. Either in soy yogurt or as pills or liquid. Put lots of it into your vagina for quick relief. The idea here is to get back a balance of the tiny creatures that live in you, and it really works.
     Antifungal herbs are very helpful. Garlic is one of the best. You can use it directly by dipping a piece in olive oil, wrapping it in cheesecloth, and sticking it up there like a tampon. Replace it every 12 hours. Make SURE that she clove has NOT been nicked or cut. If it's whole, the olive oil should keep it from burning. Stop using it if it does irritate things. You can wash or douche with tea made from White Sage, Red Cedar, Oregon Grape, or cultivated Goldenseal (not wildcrafted - it's getting rare). Drink the tea too. Don’t worry if the discharge increases after using the herbs. Your body needs to cleanse out the infection. If it increases and doesn't get better, try something else.
    Male sexual partners can carry a yeast infection without symptoms and keep passing it back to you. it's important to treat them too. They should drink cranberry juice and wash their penises with the antifungal tea, or with a solution of vinegar and water. if they can, they should wash just before having sex.
    It's possible to get a yeast infection in your mouth and throat, called Oral Thrush. It can be triggered by oral sex with an infected partner but it’s pretty common anyway, especially in children and babies.  The same treatment information applies, except of course you should eat the garlic and not stick it up your cooch, etc....
    If you are having constant reinfections along with a general feeling of tiredness, you might have a bitter problem.  Long term lifestyle imbalance (living off of dumpstered bread, or drinking lots of beer) can make the fungus go out of whack all through your body, giving you basically a huge yeast infection throughout your whole system.  This condition is called Candidiosis or just Candida.  It took you a long time to get out of balance, and it takes a long time to get back - at least two years of careful attention to diet. Women with serious candida avoid all wheat and most sweeteners and try to cut back on the stress in their lives. If you suspect this may be your problem, see a trusted herbalist/women's health specialist  and they can give you better information.

- Vaginitis is a general term for all that burns, leaks, and itches. Some forms are sexually transmitted, others happen when your lifestyle's out of balance. Most are caused by different kinds of unidentified bacteria, but the same treatment applies for all of them. Try the garlic "tampon" from the Yeast section. Drink and wash with Echinacca, Oregon Grape, White Sage, cultivated Goldenseal, Red Cedar, and/or Yerbe Manse tea (or tincture diluted in water). Watch your diet, try not to stress out for a while, swim or bathe or shower often, and don't wear tight or synthetic-fiber underwear.
     If you don't see any improvement within a week, go to a clinic or doctor to get a sure diagnosis. Sexually transmitted forms of vaginitis (like trichomoniasis, which often travels along with gonorrhea) can be dangerous, and then low-tech remedies don't always cure than. These herbs will work within two weeks, if they're gonna work at all. Continuing to use the same herbs any longer than that without seeing results is futile and could even damage your health.

HERPES - I'm not really gonna go into the STDS, since most of them really do require the heavy-duty warfare of industrial medicine. But herpes (caused by a virus, Herpes Simplex II) has no cure yet, and can be treated pretty effectively ourselves.
     The virus is sexually transmitted, and once you have it you pretty much have it for life. The symptoms - sores in or around your vagina, or your partner's penis - come and go, and with certain lifestyle changes you can keep them mostly gone. The sores usually appear when you're really stressed out, malnourished, drinking a lot of coffee, etc. Try to relax. Eat well or take vitamins. Avoid caffeine, chocolate, nuts, sugar, and alcohol. Potatoes contain lysine which is supposed to suppress outbreaks so fry ‘em up! Or take a lysine supplement.
     When you're having an outbreak you can pass the virus on to your partner. Don't have any contact between the sores and any part of him/her that is not covered in latex. Wash the sores with tea made From Oregon Grape root or cultivated Goldenseal. Put clay on the sores and let it dry out. Stay naked as much as you can. If you are having a lot of outbreaks, your immune System needs support. Take Echinacea, Red Cedar, etc.. Eat garlic. Look for things that trigger outbreaks, and try to avoid them.

     OK, this article is already way longer than I meant it to be, but I'm still gonna rant. There're a lot of other problems that come and of a imbalanced lifestyle. The best thing you
can do is to get back in balance somehow. A diet with lots of whole grains (millet is good, it cooks faster than rice and is pretty cheap) beans, veggies, and fruit will keep you healthy and help you avoid big health problems later on. Realistically, I know, it's hard to eat well on the road.  Traveling also takes a lot out of you emotionally. Make sure you're taking care of yourself even if it's just in small ways - vitamins (lots of homeless outreach places give them out free) and the support of friends, for example. Seriously consider what smoking / drinking / shooting up is doing to you and what you should do about it.
    There's this element to our culture that bothers me, this sort of doomed irresponsible
attitude that makes health a low priority. We laugh at our addictions,  ignore our infections, and pretty much pile on trauma after trauma until we inevitably collapse.  I’ve just started to realize how totally counter productive that attitude is.  How can we create a better society when we’re killing ourselves?  It’s not selfish or weak or whatever to care about your own health (physical and emotional). It should be the first step towards healing the world.
reprinted from Girl ~ Boy #2 (available from Rob & Shyla for $3/ PO box 743/ Mankato MN 56002) (please note contact info from 2001)