Problems with vaginal dryness?
As you approach menopause, the withdrawal of estrogen causes changes to the vaginal wall. The result can be vaginal dryness, making intimacy quite uncomfortable. There are many over-the-counter lubricants available which can ease your discomfort. You may also want to consider an intravaginal low-dose estrogen and testosterone cream. Available by prescription, these products are routinely used to keep the vagina healthy.
Other vaginal conditions
Beyond dryness, there are other vaginal conditions you should be aware of. Chemical imbalances can also lead to chronic yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis (BV). Antibiotics can wipe out the normal flora of the vagina, making you more susceptible to a yeast infection. As a precautionary measure, it’s often recommended that women use over-the-counter Monistat while taking an antibiotic, or take probiotics a supplement of the beneficial bacteria that help ward off yeast. You can find probiotics at compounding pharmacies or many health food stores.
Bacterial vaginosis, sometimes mistaken for a yeast infection, is characterized by a gray discharge with a fish-like odor. If you suspect you have BV, see your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment.
A relatively common vulvar skin condition, called lichen sclerosis, can cause significant itching, and sometimes bleeds. Often it is diagnosed by a simple skin biopsy in the area, and is treated with topical creams of corticosteroids and/or testosterone on the labia.
Solutions: What you can do to ease your midlife symptoms
For help with problems related to vaginal dryness, schedule an exam with your health care provider. Your discomfort may be caused by a hormone imbalance. Here are some self-help steps you can take to get back in balance and improve your overall health. We’ve also included some health options to talk over with your provider.
- Try an over-the-counter lubricant.
- Talk to your doctor about prescription intravaginal low-dose estrogen and testosterone creams.
• Aim for a diet free of processed foods. Choose organic whenever possible to avoid preservatives, pesticides, hormones and other substances that disrupt hormone balance.
• Whole foods are healthiest, so pick the orange instead of the orange juice. You’ll receive more hormone rebalancing nutrients and fiber to keep you healthy and well.
• Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where the most nutritious foods are found. Check labels: and avoid foods loaded with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), refined carbohydrates and sodium (salt) as these can contribute to more imbalance symptoms.
• Be aware of portion sizes. Honor your cravings with gratitude for yourself, but do so in moderation.
• Aim to eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit each day. The more colorful ones are packed with valuable nutrients to help your body achieve stellar function. Dark green and leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and collards have been shown to help in memory recall and other mental functions.
Drinks to sip on
• Drink more filtered water and green tea. General recommendations for water intake are half your body weight in ounces, every single day. You can work your way up to this amount, of course!
• Limit your caffeine intake; drink less coffee and soda.
The importance of movement
• Go for a walk, take the stairs and park farther away. Exercise gets your endorphins moving and helps alleviate symptoms associated with menopause.
• Your health care provider may choose to prescribe a short course of anti-anxiety medication while you establish a long term management plan.
• They may also choose to assess your neurotransmitter balance. Neurotransmitters are hormones in the nervous system (such as serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, GABA and dopamine) that regulate mood and sleep.
• Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist about adrenal support vitamins and herbs. Increasing your intake of B & C vitamins, particularly vitamins B5, B6 and B12 can be very helpful. Health food stores and compounding pharmacies are also good places to look for adrenal support vitamins specially formulated for your needs. Don’t be tempted to buy cheap products, invest in yourself.
• Make time to do the things you love, whether it’s relaxing with a good book or pursuing a favorite hobby. These activities will help you tackle the stressors of life with more resiliency and perspective.
• Get your life in order; getting rid of clutter can reduce your overall stress and help you manage midlife challenges.
• Reduce your stress with massage therapy, join a yoga class or practice meditation.
• Get more rest and a better night’s sleep. For tips, see the Trouble Sleeping symptom page
Vitamins, minerals, herbs
• Ask about black cohosh, an herb that has helped some women with hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. To learn more, see the Vitamins, supplements and herbs page.
• Load up on berries that packed with anti-oxidants, like blueberries, blackberries, cranberries and strawberries. Fresh or frozen, they reduce oxidative stress which assaults the cells of the body. So, “berry up” to reduce inflammation and improve your brain cell signaling.
• Avoid saturated and trans fats and choose olive oil and canola oil instead.
• Choose foods high in Vitamin C, like red peppers, oranges, pine nuts, and roasted sunflower seeds. These foods are great for skin protection, leading to fewer wrinkles and less skin dryness overall.
• Boost your omega-3s: a beneficial fatty acid found in fish oil, walnuts, canola and flaxseed oils.
• Spice up your diet with herbs that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, like turmeric (also known as curcumin), garlic, rosemary and cayenne.
• If you’re a smoker, seek the support you need to quit. On average, women who smoke experience menopause symptoms two years earlier than non-smokers, and smokers’ symptoms are often stronger and more troublesome. It’s never too late to quit smoking, so get started today.
• Chemical disruptors can also throw off your balance, so avoid perfumes and go fragrance-free. Many natural alternatives to perfumes can be purchased or made, often lasting longer and delivering therapeutic effects as well as delicious fragrance!
Hormones, hormones, hormones
• If hormone therapy is recommended, consider bioidentical therapy which matches your body’s hormone structure.
• Discuss over-the-counter progesterone options with your health care provider.
• Try an over-the-counter lubricant. Talk to your doctor about prescription intravaginal low-dose estrogen and testosterone creams.
• See a licensed health care provider for a comprehensive exam and full assessment of your overall physical, mental and emotional health. The type, timing and dosage of your therapy will be tailor-made so that you may attain the wellness you’ve been waiting for!
• Talk to a Chinese medical practitioner about herbal therapy and acupuncture.
• The naturopathic medical approach also has much to offer women struggling with hormonal transitions. By stimulating your body’s innate ability to heal- a force also known as the vis- naturopathic physicians can create a powerful individualized plan and adjust it whenever necessary.