Menopausal Vaginal Dryness and Irritation
Are you menopausal or approaching the menopause and experiencing more incidents of urinary tract infections or symptoms such as urinary burning, vaginal dryness or feelings of wanting to go to the toilet all the time?
Does this sometimes feel like daggers or hot chillies? Is it stopping you from enjoying life, affecting your desire to do exercise or affecting your sex life?
Some women I work with find it can be so debilitating that it stops them from even wanting to meet up with friends or leave the house.
As we move into our menopause oestrogen levels diminish. This drop in oestrogen levels age the skin quicker and are associated with changes of the mucus membranes and the tissues of the vagina, vulva and urethra.
The tissues in these areas become thinner and more irritated and can impact on sexual enjoyment and cause everyday discomfort and make the urinary tract areas more susceptible to infections or inflammation.
However if we prepare for these changes we can support the body through these changes. One important focus you can have is on your diet and the intake of more phytooestrogens.
Phytooestrogens interact with oestrogen receptors which can counter some of the effects of diminishing oestrogen levels in a pre menopausal and menopausal woman. Studies have found that an increase in eating foods and herbs containing phyto-oestrogens can reduce menopausal symptoms including vaginal dryness and irritation.
It is preferable to take phytoestrogens in dietary sources rather than as a supplement of isoflavones. However if menopausal symptoms do not diminish with diet and herbs then a supplement may be appropriate. However it is advisable to speak to a herbalist or medical practitioner first. (Please see precautions below).
Black cohosh is a phytooestrogenic herb and is commonly used for hot flushes. There is also some evidence to show that taking black cohosh internally can reduce the dryness and changes of vaginal tissue during menopause. (1)
Dietary Sources of Phyto-oestrogens
Soy products: Soy beans, tofu, tempeh
Nuts and seeds: Linseed (flax), sesame seeds
Pulses: Dried beans, lentils, mung beans,
Grains: Wheat germ, wheat, oats, barley, rice bran,
Vegetables: Yams, apples, carrots, pomegranates
Black Cohosh, Alfalfa, Licorice, Red clover, Ginseng, Fennel, Hops.
It is extremely important to cut out inflammatory foods such as sugar in all forms. Wheat, especially refined white flour products, may exacerbate symptoms. Also cut out all processed foods.
Pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises daily, can greatly reduce symptoms, improving blood supply to the area and strengthening tissues that are becoming weaker due to oestrogen levels dropping.
Relaxation and Breathing exercises
Try to sit every day and focus in on your breathing.
Breath deeply & ‘Let things be as they are’.
Sit for 10 minutes each day and try to go deeper into the sensations, allowing them to release.
It is also really important to keep the vaginal area lubricated, especially during sexual intercourse. You can buy products off the shelf such as ‘YES’ ointment but I would recommend you make your own. You can use phytoestrogenic herbs with a base cream and also healing herbs for such as Calendula. Here is a recipe to try.
Vaginal Ease Ointment
Calendula oil 30ml
Comfrey oil 20ml
Evening Primrose oil 10ml
Lavender essential oil 4 drops
Mix the oils together and add the beeswax. Melt the beeswax over a water bath with the lid on and when completely melted take off the head and leave to cool. Add the lavender essential oil, mix and leave to set in the fridge.
Apply daily inside the vagina
You can also make pesseries out of this ointment in order to be able to insert them slightly higher up.
Levels of isoflavones in the extracted forms are much higher than in food based sources and there is no evidence of the long term impact these can have on the body. Although there is some evidence that dietary phytooestrogens may reduce the incidence of cancer in premenopausal women, taking a supplement of Isolated flavones is not recommended for those with a history of cancer or if cancer runs in the family in particular if you are post menopausal. Hops should not be taken if you are on any medication to reduce the risk of recurrence of breast cancers (selective oestrogen receptor modulating medication) (For more information about taking an isoflavone extract please see a qualified herbalist or health practitioner.)
1. Stoll, W. 1987. ‘Phytopharmacon influences atrophic vaginal epithelium. Double blind study – cimicifuga vs oestrogenic substances,’ Therapeutikon 1. P23.