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Maintaining Vaginal Health at Menopause

December 30, 2010

By: Dr. Deborah Moskowitz

Many menopausal women experience some form of vaginal dryness or irritation due to the thinning of the vaginal mucosa that typically occurs as hormone levels decline. Severity of symptoms may vary from woman to woman, even if their vaginal mucosa appear similarly affected. Some women experience only occasional discomfort while for others, symptoms are near constant. Fortunately for many, this thorn in the side of intimacy eventually works its way out. For those experiencing symptoms of vaginal tissue thinning, like itching, irritation, burning, or pain that may be constant, or perhaps only during intercourse, there are many options for reducing or resolving the discomfort. 

Conventional therapy typically comprises of estrogen replacement therapy (ERT). Supplementation with estrogens orally or topically has been shown to reverse menopausal changes in the vaginal mucosa. It is hypothesized that local application of estrogen creams or gels does not carry the same risks as oral estrogen, yet has an effective local action at the vaginal tissue. Often women find they can use vaginal estrogen products sparingly and still have adequate response.

Options are plentiful for those who want a non-hormonal approach to vaginal health, or who are looking for complementary therapies to use in conjunction with ERT. Natural solutions may be in the form of lifestyle changes, herbal remedies, or nutritional supplements. A successful approach strives to increase circulation to the pelvic area, re-hydrate tissues, soothe and support damaged tissue, strengthen cell walls and thicken cellular layers.

Increasing water intake is an easy first step to increasing vaginal moisture. A minimum of two quarts a day should be a part of every woman’s daily intake. Increasing circulation to the pelvic area can provide tissues with much needed nutrients and can be easily accomplished through the practice of Kegel exercises. Kegel exercises contract and tone the pubococcygeus muscle, which also improves urinary continence and provides structural support for the bladder and uterus. The pubococcygeus is the muscle that can be contracted to stop the flow of urine. Toning it involves contracting it throughout the day, holding for three seconds, and then releasing. Start with 25 contractions morning and night and work your way up to 50. Circulation is further improved by aerobic physical exercise.

Vitamins and herbs can have a profound effect on vaginal health as well. Vaginal tissue health relies on nutrients such as vitamin E, a versatile supplement that can be taken orally, or applied directly to the vaginal tissue in the form of an oil, or as a part of a vaginal moisturizer or lubricant. Other antioxidant vitamins, like vitamins A and C, have protective effects, reducing cell damage and promoting tissue health. Many herbs are also beneficial and have been used traditionally for tissue health. Herbs that help soothe and protect vaginal tissues include chamomile, calendula, ginseng, and black cohosh. These herbs can address inflammation, irritation, and cellular immunity. Ginseng and black cohosh have also been shown to exert an estrogen-like action on vaginal tissue, significantly enhancing vaginal health. Other ways to reduce irritation include the use of oatmeal baths and minimizing the use of soaps and douches, which tend to be drying.

For women who need extra moistening and lubrication during lovemaking, a personal lubricant can reduce friction and irritation. One that includes herbs and nutrients can nourish tissues as well.

Finally, another often-neglected method to maintain vaginal tissue health is frequent sexual stimulation, which promotes the thickening of the vaginal tissue as well as stimulates blood flow and the secretion of moisture and disease fighting enzymes. Start slowly, extending intimacy with increased cuddling, massage, and touch, as this sends messages to the brain to increase pelvic blood flow and vaginal secretions. Dr. Christiane Northrup, in her book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom recommends “visualizing the vaginal mucosa as healthy, pink, and desirable” as another way to mentally stimulate physical changes.

Source: Power-Surge
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