As health costs soar, women turn to social media for alternative medicine

All Woman

JUST a quick search on Instagram using #remedy will awaken you to a cure for everything — from herbs that claim to cure depression, to 'detox' teas that will supposedly rid your body of all ailments. Many women buy into these remedies, and subscribe to some questionable diets and practices in the name of medical self-help.

While some women choose the herbal route because they believe it is more effective than conventional medicine, there are other women who use the herbs as a last resort because they feel the cost of health care for gynaecological issues is too high.

“I visited a gynaecologist just for a check-up to make sure that everything was OK down there, and I ended up paying $7,000 just for the visit, because I didn't have a health card at the time,” Jenell, a 24-year-old woman with no children told All Woman. “They also charged an extra $1,500 for a Pap smear, and recommended that I have an ultrasound of my reproductive system done, which cost another $5,000.”

Another woman shared that she visited her gynaecologist earlier this year for a yeast infection, and ended up paying close to $7,000 out of pocket, even though she had health insurance.

Surprisingly, even at some public health facilities where it is expected that all services would be free, women are still expected to pay for Pap smears.

“When I went to clinic for the six-week check-up after having a baby, they said they needed to do a Pap smear to check that everything was OK after delivery and that it would cost me about $1,200,” a mother shared.

Though some women don't mind the costs of these services, others find it off-putting, and have turned to alternative medicine.

The 'herbal man' who operates from a van close to the Oasis Plaza in Spanish Town, St Catherine, has made a business out of concocting various mixtures in used rum bottles and selling them to passers-by as cures for whatever illness they suffer from.

When asked what treatment he recommends to his pedestrian patients who suffer from gynaecological symptoms, he pointed to a mixture he calls the 'colon cleanser'.

“Because you have to clean the whole colon,” he explained. “You have to alkaline the body, clean the blood, and clean the uterus. It's made from 21 different herbs because is not just one herb do it — it's a lot of herbs do it together.”

When asked about the price range for his products, he said, “A quart can go for about $2,000, some are for $1,500, and some for $1,200, depending on what is in the bottle.”

He said that the number of bottles that a woman may need would depend on the state of her body, and whether she had a 'soft nature' which would make her body easier to clean.

While consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist (ObGyn) Dr Mandi Elliot agreed that herbal remedies can be very beneficial, she cautioned that women should seek advice from their gynaecologists first.

“The study of herbal medications is relatively new, and there is a lack of regulation and incorrect information regarding dosages, that is, how much should be given in each circumstance. There is also the potential for herbal medications to react with other drugs being taken and other herbal medications,” she said.

Dr Elliot added that it is best to seek medical advice especially to avoid potential unwanted side effects such as infertility.

Other doctors have warned about the practice of vaginal steaming, a trend that has taken off on social media locally, and which involves a woman sitting over a container of water with herbs that are being boiled, as well as the insertion of potions and rocks more popularly termed “yoni eggs”, which promise even greater wonders.

These promise a range of benefits to include reduced discomfort and bloating associated with menstrual cycles; regulating absent or irregular menstrual cycles; increasing fertility; treating uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, uterine weakness and uterine prolapse; healing haemorrhoids; treating chronic vaginal/yeast infections; maintaining healthy odour; and relieving symptoms of menopause.

ObGyn Dr Jordan Hardie said vaginal steaming may be more harmful than beneficial — it may lead to burns to the vagina if a woman is sitting too close or in the water being boiled, and instead of curing, it can increase the risk of vaginal infections by changing the natural flora (good bacteria) in the vagina. He said some women may also develop an allergic reaction to the chemicals or herbs being used in the steam treatment.

Additionally, Dr Anna-Kay Taylor Christmas, another ObGyn, said vaginal steaming, as advertised, only directs a jet of steam towards the vulva, but the many healing claims are not backed by any evidence. She said, based on female biology, it is also unlikely that they can do the things they purport to do.

In relation to the inserts, she labelled them “an expensive waste of money, preying on women's ignorance about their bodies”.

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