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A prickly subject: vaginal dryness

by Sonia Chartier, on 15 June 2016, Menopause, Women's Health
vaginal dryness

Many women suffer in silence: one of the many unexpected effects of menopause is the vaginal dryness it can cause. While this rather dry subject matter rarely makes headlines, it affects between 40% and 60% of menopausal women.

Your sex life doesn’t need to become a challenge: if you just scratch at the surface of the problem, you’ll find out that there are some all-natural solutions out there that will improve the situation…

Vaginal dryness or atrophy is a common menopausal symptom that causes discomfort, itching, a burning sensation, pain and even some minor bleeding during sex or urination. Whether or not you’re bothered by it, you still need to treat the symptoms, as they can lead to vaginal or urinary tract infections.

The causes

One of the roles of estrogen (yup, it’s ba-aack!) is to lubricate the vaginal walls and mucosa. The mucosa usually maintain an acidic pH that fosters a healthy vaginal flora. As menopause approaches, estrogen levels drop, taking lubrication along with it. The walls of the vagina thin out and become more sensitive and less elastic. The vaginal pH changes too, becoming more alkaline, which fosters bacterial growth.

But above and beyond hormones, a wide assortment of factors can cause or contribute to vaginal dryness:

  • An infection (sexually transmitted, viral or bacterial)
  • Medications, especially antihistamines, which dry out the mucosa (and not just in the nose)
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments
  • Smoking and drinking
  • Vaginal douches
  • Allergies to soap, fragrances, etc.
  • Emotional problems like anxiety or depression, and even marital troubles, all of which can put the brakes on desire and the lubrication that typically follows
  • Stress, which is an important contributing factor to vaginal dryness and may even be the cause
  • Insufficient foreplay: Remember the old saying, Slow and steady wins the race?

Unfortunately, when vaginal dryness occurs, some women prefer to simply avoid having sex because it has become difficult or painful. Without proper stimulation, lubrication becomes even more of a problem and eventually, the vagina can atrophy and the symptoms can get worse.

But don’t worry: in most cases, the situation can be reversed and a few simple steps can help increase lubrication. And if all else fails, your doctor could prescribe estrogen-based remedies or creams.

Diet? Really?

Yes indeed! The idea is to eat foods that will promote the activity of estrogen—yes, there’s still some of it in you after menopause! You should eat foods containing phyto-estrogens, like soy (soy milk, tofu, etc.), flax seed and pulses.

Omega-3 fatty acids also promote lubrication. You can find it in fatty fish, seaweed, flax seed oil, or in supplement form. A diet too low in fats (the good ones, of course) can make the situation worse.

Keeping hydrated is particularly important for the vaginal mucosa. Drink water instead of coffee and alcoholic beverages, because they’ll actually dry you out.

Get moving!

Regular physical activity increases libido, and subsequently, the secretion of your natural lubricant. Not only that, but because stress is a major aggravating factor, engaging in sports or an activity like yoga or tai chi can help stave off stress’s harmful effects.

Sexual activity, even without penetration, increases blood flow to the vaginal walls and boosts vaginal health.

Supplements

To support estrogenic activity, it’s important to put all the odds in favour of the glands that take over for the ovaries after menopause. A flowering oat- and rhodiola-based supplement is what you need: oats are known for boosting libido, while rhodiola helps the adrenal glands manage stress and estrogens.

The estrogenic action of the isoflavones contained in red clover extract can also complement a soy-rich diet. Acupuncture, homeopathy and massotherapy may also help.

Of course, you could also pick up an over-the-counter personal lubricant at your local pharmacy, or ask your doctor about prescription estrogen-based vaginal creams.

By combining a healthy diet, exercise and supplements, you should be able to reclaim a happy and comfortable sex life, not to mention some extended foreplay…

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