Sound familiar? Your day is moving along without a hitch — and suddenly your body betrays you with an unexpected noise, odor, leak or other mortifying health hiccup. The good news is that you’re not alone. We have all experienced — and overcome — an embarrassing symptom or two in public. Still, it’s nothing we want to repeat any time soon. So we tracked down simple strategies proven to help you avoid or prevent 13 common embarrassing health bothers. Read on for the remedies!
Prevent ‘queefing’ by breathing this way
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you’ve probably had a moment of vaginal flatulence or queefing. Indeed, it is surprisingly common. What causes these ‘vaginal farts’? Think of the area created by your pelvic floor muscles, abdominal wall, lower back and respiratory diaphragm as an air-pressure system with only one opening — the vagina. Unlike the anus, which has a sphincter to control the release of gas, if any air is trapped inside the vagina it will find its way out through this opening.
Normally the vagina is “collapsed” and air doesn’t find an easy entrance. But if air is pulled in, say while doing certain stretches or during sex, the air-pressure system pushes it back out, leading to a loud sound of passing gas, explains Barbara DePree, MD, a gynecologist in private practice and director of Women’s Midlife Services at Michigan’s Holland Hospital. A Certified Menopause Practitioner, she is the founder of MiddlesexMD.com, an educational resource for women’s sexual health in menopause and beyond
Queefing often occurs during exercise, so to help keep the air from getting trapped in the first place, Dr. DePree suggests making sure you aren’t holding your breath when you stretch or do yoga — doing so puts more pressure on your pelvic floor, raising the risk of trapped air. As you transition between moves, try to focus on breathing deeply so you fill your belly with air. Relax your body as you exhale, and before inhaling again, do a Kegel (squeeze the muscles normally used to stop urine flow). You can even practice this in the privacy of your own home until you’re able to do the moves noise-free.
Lighten heavy periods with this vitamin
Most women know the embarrassment of a tampon or pad that has overflowed. To keep it from happening again, reach for vitamin A. In one study, 92% of women with heavy menstrual flow who took vitamin A for 15 days experienced significantly lighter periods. The reason: When the body’s vitamin A stores are depleted, the uterine lining quickly grows and sheds, causing heavy bleeding. The researchers believe boosting vitamin A levels switches on genes that slow this process, reducing blood flow. USDA experts say enjoying a 5-oz. serving of fresh carrot juice daily for 15 days will deliver the study-proven dose.
And to protect tampon overflow from ruining clothes, consider period panties, like Modibodi (buy for $31.50 at Amazon). These panties boast multiple layers that trap two tampons’ worth of blood and create a barrier between blood, skin and pants to outsmart odor and leaks.
Erase foot odor with Juniper essential oil
It’s tough to hide foot odor — especially when it’s warm outside and the germs that release pungent odors (brevibacterium) become more active. But research in the journal Planta Medica suggests that soaking your feet in juniper essential oil (a powerful natural antimicrobial agent) destroys the odor-causing bacteria on contact. This erases funky odors within minutes and prevents flare-ups if you do it three times weekly.
To do: Fill a small basin with 8 cups of hot water, add 1 ⁄ 2 cup of Epsom salts and 15 drops of juniper essential oil and soak your feet for 15 minutes. Dry well, then don lightweight socks.
Calm ‘down-there’ itching with zinc oxide
Humid weather and clothing that doesn’t breathe leads to a buildup of natural acids on the skin that can trigger vaginal itching and irritation. And if you’re in the throes of menopause, the lack of estrogen can also play a role, as the hormone plays a key role in the production of oils and collagen that keep skin hydrated and elastic. So when estrogen levels drop, dryness and itching on delicate skin of the vulva are common.
Whatever the cause of this embarrassing itch, you can get quick relief by washing your vulva twice daily with a gentle cleanser, patting dry, then dabbing with a zinc oxide cream like Desitin. Eastern Virginia Medical School scientists say the diaper rash remedy reduces vaginal irritation by 66% and blocks itching.
Laura Corio, MD, author of The Change Before The Change, suggests adding 2 Tbs. of freshly ground flaxseeds to salads and smoothies daily, as well as supplementing with 1,000 mg. of borage oil. Researchers reporting in the British Journal of Nutrition found that fatty acids in flaxseed and borage oil boost skin hydration and reduce irritation. And since B vitamins are essential for the production of healthy skin cells and can help lock in moisture, consider taking a daily B-complex supplement.
And since drugstore lotions sometimes contain fragrances and preservatives that can aggravate sensitive skin to intensify pruritus, Dr. Corio advises skipping those and instead smoothing on natural options such as coconut, avocado or olive oil two to three times daily—especially after showering or bathing, which locks in moisture while skin is still damp.
Soothe razor burn with comfrey cream
Red, rashy, irritated skin caused by razor burn makes it tough to bare your legs. To the rescue: comfrey cream! Comfrey is a popular remedy for stiff joints. Now, a study in Phytotherapy Research found applying this cream to skin abrasions like razor burn or chafed thighs can quickly soothe itching and stinging, plus cut healing time in half if done twice daily. Comfrey compounds like allantoin, rosmarinic acid and polysaccharides curb the production of inflammatory skin proteins. The result? Skin cells are able to regenerate faster to speed repair. Try: Terry Naturally Comfrey Cream (buy for $21.95 at Amazon).
Say goodbye to the ‘other’ incontinence with a diet tweak
One in four women experience fecal incontinence at some point. Why? Childbirth and conditions like IBS and chronic constipation can affect tissues and nerves in the anal sphincter (which normally holds back bowel movements), making accidents more likely. And it gets worth with age, as menopausal drop-offs in estrogen can impede the ability to control when you “go.” In fact, a study at the University of California at San Francisco found that odds of fecal incontinence are higher for postmenopausal women.
Dr. Corio advises seeing your doctor, who will likely evaluate your sphincter and bowel function and advise treatments like bowel retraining (making an effort to empty your bowels at specific times of the day) or suggest seeing a specialist. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to help regulate bowel movements.
But a few lifestyle changes can also help. Dr. Corio suggests cutting back on alcohol and caffeine, as they can worsen fecal incontinence, and increasing your intake of whole grains, fruit and vegetables by two to three servings a day. The fiber in these foods absorbs water in the intestine to bulk up stools, which can reduce leaks.
And performing exercises similar to Kegels can tighten the anal sphincter, helping you avoid accidents: To do: Contract the anus (as though you’re holding in stool) for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat this 30 times three times a day.
Finally, wearing pads tailored for fecal incontinence, like Butterfly Body Liners for Women (buy for $16.98 at Amazon) can protect against any future embarrassing episodes that might occur.
Nix underarm odor with rubbing alcohol
Warm weather triples the risk of armpit odor since perspiration speeds the growth of underarm bacteria (corynebacterium and staphylococcus) that release smelly wastes. Thankfully, Canadian researchers say dabbing freshly washed and dried underarms with isopropyl rubbing alcohol before applying deodorant or antiperspirant destroys 85% of these troublemakers within 2 minutes. The alcohol breaks down cell membranes that surround and protect the bacteria. The result: You’ll smell fresh for up to 12 hours!
Outsmart gas with fennel seeds
Indulging in heavy or sweet foods can fuel the growth of gas-producing bacteria in the large intestine, leading to embarrassing gas. But a study in BioMed Research International suggests nibbling on 1 tsp. of fennel seeds after meals reduces your risk of gas by 67%. What’s more, it provides relief in 30 minutes if you’re already uncomfortable. The credit goes to 1,8-cineole, a fennel compound that halts the growth of gas-producing bacteria in the GI tract.
But there’s another possible culprit. When gas and bloat set in after eating, it’s usually a sign that the stomach isn’t producing enough digestive enzymes to break down the protein in the meal, say Mira Calton, CN, and Jayson Calton, PhD, leading authorities on micronutrient deficiencies and bestselling authors of The Micronutrient Miracle: The 28-Day Plan to Lose Weight, Increase Your Energy, and Reverse Disease. Fortunately, you can kick-start enzyme production by eating a piece of ginger soaked in lemon juice before each meal. Simply slice a knob of fresh ginger into thin strips, then place in a Mason jar with the juice of one lemon and 1⁄2 tsp. of salt; seal the jar and refrigerate. (Let sit overnight before consuming.)
In each spicy-sweet slice, you’ll get a dose of gingerols and d-limonene. These plant compounds work synergistically to stimulate the release of enzymes that break down protein and calm the intestinal spasms that can cause gas. All told, these effects can help flatten your belly and eliminate GI issues in as little 24 hours.
Freshen bad breath with thyme
When your mouth is dry, sulfur-forming bacteria grow and multiply. A breath-freshening Rx: thyme essential oil. The plant extract brims with antimicrobial compounds (thymol and carvacrol) that block the growth of smelly oral bacteria, say German researchers. To do: Combine 10 drops of thyme oil with 1⁄ 2 cup of water and swish twice daily. Refrigerate between uses (the rinse stays fresh in the fridge for one week).
And Heather Moday, MD, director of the Moday Center in Philadelphia, recommends swapping out your toothpaste for an herbal one that contains neem extract, like Dabur Herbal (buy for $10.99 at Amazon). The natural plant extract boasts antibacterial and breath-freshening properties and reduces plaque buildup and the risk of gingivitis.
Finally, Dr. Moday recommends drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water daily. Staying hydrated can help you avoid dry mouth, a condition that disrupts the oral microbiome, allowing for bacteria that can worsen bad breath.
End embarrassing leaks with a simple assist
If you’ve ever leaked urine after laughing, coughing or jumping, you’re certainly not alone! Indeed, 68% of women ages 42 to 64 experience leaks, which occur when muscles supporting the bladder weaken, allowing urine to escape.
To put an end to leaks, doctors usually recommend Kegel exercises, which definitely work, but it takes a few months to get results. The faster fix? incontinence underwear. “Just look at the incontinence aisle in stores—it’s loaded with products because the need is so pressing,” says Alyssa Dweck, MD, an assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn at New York City’s Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Kegel exercises ease symptoms for most women, but it takes a few months to get results. Until then, Depend Incontinence Underwear (buy at Amazon) can help. Their quick-dry antibacterial fabric eliminates odor and absorbs liquid, keeping even heavy leaks from seeping through.
Heal athlete’s foot with a tea soak
It’s no fun baring your feet when you’ve got a bad case of athlete’s foot thanks its main symptom: an itchy, scaly rash. But it’s a common problem — especially in warmer weather since fungi grow like wildfire on sweaty feet. The pampering way to prevent the problem: Simmer 2 lemongrass tea bags in 2 cups of water for 20 minutes, then add the liquid to 4 cups of warm water and 1⁄2 cup of Epsom salts. Soak feet for 15 minutes; dry thoroughly. Repeat twice a week. British scientists say the active ingredient in lemongrass (citral) destroys foot fungus on contact.
Rinse away dandruff with lavender oil
Summer heat revs oil production on the scalp, leading to the flake-causing fungus that’s tough to hide. The easy remedy: Add 15 drops of lavender essential oil to a dollop of shampoo and rub into your scalp for 2 minutes; rinse. This treatment reduces itching and flaking, say scientists in the Journal of Medical Microbiology. Notes study author Monica Zuzarte, PhD, “Lavender oil is a powerful antifungal and it can quickly kill off the yeast that cause dandruff.”
Soothe chafed skin with a calming cream
If chafing threatens to sap your fun, reach for calendula. Research shows that dabbing the flower extract on irritated skin twice a day quickly soothes the sting. “Calendula is rich in compounds that reduce inflammation, improve blood flow to damaged skin and rev the production of healing proteins,” says herbalist James Christian, dean of phytotherapy at Canada’s Pacific Rim College. Try: Boiron Calendula Gel (buy for $9.82 at Amazon).
Genius trick to bounce back from ANY embarrassing moment:
The next time an embarrassing health symptom leaves you feeling awkward and uncomfortable, head to the bathroom to touch up your foundation or concealer. In a study in the journal Psychological Science, subjects who recalled an embarrassing memory experienced less self-consciousness after applying a face cream meant to disguise imperfections than those who opted to hide their faces with large tinted sunglasses. The reason? Restorative makeup products allow women to symbolically “save face,” which in turn eases self-consciousness.