Summoning Your Period and Banishing Hormonal Issues with Castor Oil Packs
Here's what you should know about me: I internalize stress.
Which doesn't make me so different than about 99% of the population. Forty-three percent of adults report suffering adverse effects of stress on their health, like heart disease, headaches, and anxiety. And those are just the symptoms that have a direct causation by stress — there are countless unknown ailments that stress could be correlated to stress for that we just haven't found the scientific proof for (yet!).
Think about all the times you get a pimple the day you're supposed to see your ex for a "friendly" coffee. Or when you got that unexplainable eczema rash during finals in college, or the crazy back spasm right around the time of the election in 2016. Perhaps, for you, severe adrenal fatigue and hormonal disruption were the results of too many crazy, anxiety-filled months of overwork.
Let’s talk about stress
Stress manifests in our bodies in a plethora of ways (delightful!), and sometimes in forms that we're not even cognizant to. It's funny — like most people, I'm pretty good at intellectually handling my stress levels. The amount of pressure in my life seems adequate most of the time, and I have so many tools in my toolkit to help me deal. So when my body gives me a physical reminder that I'm *kind of doing a lot* , like when I miss my period because I've had a crazy month, it sort of forces me to pump the brakes and realize how much I've been missing.
Periods. Not the punctuation marks. I suggest, if you are squeamish about menstruation you a) stop reading, or b) perhaps find a way to get more comfortable about a bodily function that 49.55% of humans need to deal with on a monthly basis for a third of their lives. IDK, you do what's good for you today.
Anyway, periods. They're kind of magical, right? I remember a hormone specialist explaining to me that women with less than 12% body fat typically lose their periods because their body recognizes that they're not getting enough nutrition to support another human life, aka a viable pregnancy. What a fascinating thing, to consider that menstruation is sort of a pat on the back from our bodies, saying, "You are doing OK enough to bring another person into the world if you want. But not this month, ha. Onwards!"
So, maybe it won't surprise you to learn that stress can have a big impact on the timing of a woman's cycle. After all, if we're too stressed to take care of ourselves, how could we reasonably support another life?
I'm one of those unfortunate females who biffs her Crimson Wave when she's stressed. I paddle for it hard, really I do, but I inevitably miss it. It's uncanny — even the most slight of stress speed bumps throw off my ovaries so much you'd think I was in constant mortal peril, my physical body expecting me to keel over and expire at any moment due to overwhelm. And it missing my period is a big sign for me that my hormones are whack, and the most likely culprit is stress. This is annoying for many reasons.
It makes it difficult to track my periods on Natural Cycles, my birth control of choice. Also, as you can imagine, it makes wearing white pants feel like a real dance with the devil. Do I dare!?!
And it seems that when stress throws off my cycle, my hormonal symptoms like pain, fatigue, acne, and bloat all become magnified. There's nothing worse than not feeling like yourself in your body.
Enter: The Castor Oil Pack
After years of knowing that stress acted as a grain of sand in my little microchip of a body and trying every adaptogen, hormone balancing diet, and stress reliever under the sun, castor oil packs are the silver bullet for getting my period back. It's like clockwork — once I'm a few days late, I do castor oil packs for a few hours, and boom, blood everywhere. Just kidding. But yes, more normal periods, fewer PMS / PMDD symptoms, and more general ease. I have A/B tested this system, adding other stress-busting variables like lavender oil and no caffeine and low-stress exercise, and the only thing that really seems to move the needle is the castor oil pack.
How castor oil works
Castor oil comes from castor seeds, and there's evidence it was used in beauty and health rituals as far back as ancient Egypt. It's a very viscous, sticky oil that feels a little like corn syrup. When used internally, it'll cause major gastrointestinal distress (it's sometimes used to kickstart the bowels during severe constipation). But externally castor oil is anecdotally used for oil cleansing, to stimulate eyebrow or eyelash growth, and for castor oil packs.
When applied topically, castor oil helps with lymphatic drainage and has an anti-inflammatory effect. The lymphatic system is our body's natural detoxifier, working to move hormones, toxins, and fluid through the body. Sometimes the lymph needs stimulation in order to do their job well — I think of them kind of like a drain that gets clogged by too much gunk. Castor oil has been scientifically proven to reduce inflammation in the body and to stimulate the lymphatic system. As a result, the practice helps to detoxify the liver (where lots of our excess hormones like estrogen get stored) and supports uterine and ovarian health.
A small double-blind study published in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine found that when women used castor oil packs for two hours, their lymphocyte count increased significantly. This finding suggests that castor oil packs stimulate the lymph system, which then pops out more disease-fighting lymphocytes. Very cool.
Also, doing a castor oil pack forces you to be horizontal for about 45 minutes, which is an added bonus.
How to do a castor oil pack
You will need the following things:
a heating pad or water bottle
1. This will get messy, so make sure you're lying on one of those towels you keep in your house for cleaning up messes or washing the dog.
2. Lay on your back and slather castor oil on your stomach and lower belly. More than you think. Like, a lot. OK, that's enough!
3. Place the wool flannel on top of the castor oil, and then place the saran wrap on top of that. This is to seal in the heat but also to protect your heating pad — castor oil stains pretty easily.
4. Lay the heating pad or hot water bottle on top of the wool flannel. Recline for 45-60 minutes.
5. When you're done, store the castor oil-soaked wool flannel in a mason jar. It can be used about 30 times before you toss it.
It's not recommended to do castor oil packs while you're actually menstruating (brag about it) or if you're pregnant, and of course, check in with your doctor before starting any sort of regimen.
I usually do two or three castor oil packs a day when I'm trying to tempt Aunt Flo into making a pit stop, typically with my laptop lying on top of my heating pad while I work. Listen, I realize that there are EMFs and I might be frying my ovaries, rendering this entire exercise pointless. Trust me, my anxiety is WELL AWARE of the possibilities. Whenever possible, I try not to work while doing the castor oil pack and just read or enjoy lying down — but for the sake of transparency, sometimes a girl just has to multitask.
How do you support your body during times of stress?
That’s it — you guys know my secret weapon against internalized stress. It’s cheap, boring, and a little messy, but it works. I’m curious — how do you support yourself during stressful times? Let us know in the comments below.