Natural Support for Vaginal Atrophy
Vaginal Atrophy, so what is it? In this blog you’ll learn about a condition affecting as many as 50% of all post-menopausal women, yet one you’ll rarely hear spoken about.
As well as being widespread, vaginal atrophy can be debilitating, with over a quarter of sufferers surveyed saying their symptoms interfered with their quality of life. Almost one-third of women said the condition interfered with their sleep, while over 50% said it interfered with their ability to be intimate. Shockingly, as of 2020, no comprehensive research study had been undertaken to assess the effectiveness of various therapies for vaginal atrophy.
It’s time to change this and bring vaginal issues out into the open. Don’t suffer in silence – read on to discover why vaginal atrophy develops and what you can do to help yourself.
More Than Dryness
Although it’s sometimes referred to as vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy, also called atrophic vaginitis or genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), encompasses much more than just dryness. It’s a collection of symptoms due to changes in the vagina, the external vulva and the urinary tract, usually happening after menopause.
Your vagina may become dry and uncomfortable, and its walls can be fragile and liable to tear. You may have sore or itchy skin around your vaginal opening. Some women experience a vaginal discharge and spotting after intercourse, and you may suffer from vaginal infections more frequently. Over time many women find their vaginal canal contracts and shortens, making sex uncomfortable.
You may also experience symptoms of vulvodynia, pain in your vulva when sitting or wearing tight clothing, as well as recurrent UTIs, urinary urgency and incontinence and burning upon urination.
Menopause and Your Hormones
Once you stop having periods, you no longer produce female hormones in a monthly pattern. Initially hormones fluctuate giving rise to the familiar symptoms of menopause like night sweats and headaches. Once these settle down, you’ll enter the postmenopausal phase and hormone levels naturally fall. Your ovaries no longer produce oestrogen to prepare you for pregnancy, but it’s still needed by your body, for example to protect your bones, so your fat cells produce a little oestrogen after menopause.
Oestrogen’s role during your fertile years is to build up your womb lining in preparation for conception, but it’s also extremely important for the health of your vagina, keeping the cells in its wall lubricated and healthy. If oestrogen levels decline, over time the vaginal lining becomes thinner, dryer and you may experience inflammation and burning in your vagina and vulva. Collagen in the cells of your vagina can decline, and because this provides strength and structure, your vagina becomes less elastic than it was in your reproductive years, just as a lack of collagen in the skin of your face causes wrinkles.
Your Vaginal Microbiome
Your vagina has a microbiome of its own, like the one in your gut. Any imbalance in the naturally occurring bacteria living there will cause inflammation in your vagina.
After menopause, the pH in the vagina often rises because a drop in oestrogen levels causes a reduced secretion of mucus. The naturally-occurring lactobacillus bacteria decline in this less acidic environment, leading to increased inflammation, while opportunistic yeasts such as candida take the opportunity to multiply. All this means you’re more likely to suffer from infections and UTIs.
Replacing Lost Oestrogen
If you’re low in oestrogen, restoring healthy levels can support collagen production and re-establish a healthy vaginal pH.
A natural aloe vera or coconut-based vaginal moisturiser can be useful, although these won’t address any underlying hormone imbalance. Many women find vitamin E oil applied topically, or vitamin E pessaries to be very soothing. It’s a good idea to avoid bath and shower products containing artificial chemicals able to irritate sensitive tissues. Natural undyed cotton underwear can help, as can avoiding tight-fitting trousers.
Fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha can help encourage a healthy bacterial balance in your microbiome, while avoiding sugar denies the inflammation-causing bacteria their food source.
Many women find applying topical oestrogen to the vagina helpful, and experts believe applying oestrogen in this way means it remains in the area rather than travelling around your body. Including naturally-occurring plant oestrogens in your diet can help by gently boosting your oestrogen levels, so eat plenty of legumes, nuts, seeds and fermented soya such as tempeh and miso.
Regular sexual activity increases blood flow to your vaginal area, keeping tissues healthy and retaining elasticity. Physical exercise can boost blood flow, too.
Don’t Suffer Alone
Do talk to your partner about your concerns, because it can affect intimate relationships. If you feel you would benefit from some one-to-one support to naturally overcome vaginal atrophy, I’m here to help. A simple urine test can evaluate your hormone levels, and you’ll be provided with dietary, nutritional and lifestyle strategies, personalised to you, to restore your vaginal microbiome and balance your hormones. Contact me today to start your journey to optimal vaginal health.
I worked with Embracing Nutrition after I was diagnosed with depression by the GP when I went with a myriad of hormonal symptoms. I knew I wasn’t depressed but that’s all they had to offer.
We did a DUTCH test and found out that my hormones were all over the place and that I was peri-menopausal. I made all the dietary and lifestyle changes I was advised and used some herbs to balance my hormones and my mood has never felt so good. I fell like I now have a new lease of life