Healing Guide: Vaginal Atrophy
Estrogen levels dropping or spiking can be the root cause of many disorders and conditions due to the numerous roles it possesses. Along with having an important role in reproduction, estrogen serves as a regulator of blood flow in the urinary and genital organs. This impacts transudation and gland secretion. If estrogen levels are balanced, this role will ensure proper lubrication of the vagina.If imbalanced, and estrogen is too low, lubrication will decrease as a result.
Estrogen also induces epithelial proliferation and maintains adequate elastic/collagen in the urinary and genital organ tissues. If estrogen declines, these functions become less effective, causing epithelial (inner lining of the vagina) thinning, decreased lubrication, inflammation and decreased tissue support. If these effects sound familiar, it is because they are the symptoms of vaginal atrophy.
The most common time in a woman’s life when estrogen dramatically decreases is during and after menopause. Vaginal atrophy (or genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) is most common during this period, however, can be experienced during any age. For many women, vaginal atrophy not only makes intercourse painful, it also leads to distressing urinary symptoms, pain when sitting, pain when wearing tight pants, riding a bicycle, or wiping after urinating.
Symptoms of Vaginal Atrophy
Symptoms can vary from person to person and the severity can also be very different from someone else.
Vaginal dryness, burning, discharge
Burning with urination and urgency to urinate
Intercourse: light bleeding after, discomfort during, decreased vaginal lubrication during sexual activity, and the shortening and tightening of the vaginal canal
Smoking: directly reduces your blood circulation, resulting in oxygen depletion to your tissues and decreased lubrication. Additionally, smoking reduces the function of estrogen in the body.
Not having vaginal birth(s): women are more likely to develop vaginal atrophy if they have never given vaginal, natural births than those who have had the experience of natural childbirth
Lack of sexual activity. Sexual activity, with or without a partner, increases blood flow and makes your vaginal tissues more elastic.
Vaginal atrophy is often underdiagnosed. A common perception of this condition is that it is a natural part of aging and menopause and is therefore untreatable. When a woman becomes curious if it is normal or not, she might be uncomfortable bringing up sex and vaginal dryness to her healthcare provider, furthering the confusion and distress. The emotional impact of vaginal atrophy should not be underestimated. The symptoms can and usually do impact a woman’s quality of life, including their sexual lives.
Supportive Supplements & Herbs
DHEA supplement - Dehydroepiandrosterone is a natural steroid produced by the adrenal glands. It is converted into estrogen and progesterone. As women age, the levels of DHEA decline. Supplementation as a vaginal insert can help to reverse vaginal atrophy and balance vaginal pH without increasing levels of circulating estrogen.
Vitamin D - alleviate symptoms of atrophy, improves vaginal dryness and vaginal pH
Vitamin E - just as effective as topical estrogen creams but takes a little longer to see results
Black cohosh - Used as a herbal supplement, it can relieve menopausal symptoms, including atrophic vaginitis and hot flashes. Can improve vaginal blood flow and increase interest in sexual activity in early stages of menopause
Buckthorn Oil (taken orally) - fatty acids in the oil decreases genital and uterine inflammation, increases lubrication
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs: taken orally) - same use as the fatty acids in buckthorn oil, may benefit more using both.
Stay hydrated - Proper hydration is needed for the endocrine system and will keep the entire body properly lubricated. Remember that coffee depletes water in the body, therefore, one cup of coffee requires two glasses of water to keep hydration in check.
Regular exercise - Engaging in an regular exercise routine promotes blood flow and balanced hormone levels. This can be as simple as walking for half an hour, five days a week.
Engage in frequent sexual activity - Regular, painless sexual activity helps maintain vaginal health. A partner is not needed, as a vibrator can be used to stimulate blood flow and maintain vaginal function. Additionally, a lubricated vibrator or vaginal dilator can be used therapeutically to gently stretch the vaginal tissues.
Avoid chemically perfumed products - These include soaps, deodorants, powders body wash and any other product you would put on your vagina. These irritate the vagina, cause dryness, and can act as endocrine disruptors, lowering estrogen in your body. Find products that say ‘pH balanced’ on the label.
Avoid douching - It will irritate and dry out the vagina, worsening your symptoms
Use natural lubricants - These can help relieve symptoms of vaginal atrophy while helping you restore your ability engage in sexual activities. Natural and safe lubricants include jojoba oil, coconut oil, aloe vera, and vitamin E mixed with hyaluronic acid, which supports the vaginal mucosal lining.