The human body experiences a lot of changes as we age. Vaginal atrophy is one of the most common problems that aged women have to face. It causes the thinning, drying, and inflammation of vaginal walls in older women. The condition results in difficulties in sexual activity and urination; which affects the overall emotional and mental health. Many of the women seem to ward off the condition themselves through natural remedies without consulting a doctor.
Women need to know ‘What is vaginal atrophy?’ to be able to pursue a remedy for it. The article explains the condition and natural remedies for vaginal atrophy, so read on for the know-hows of the matter.
What is Vaginal Atrophy?
Vaginal atrophy is better known as genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) because it occurs mostly after menopause and causes sexual and urinary problems. Vaginal walls get dried, thin, and inflamed in women experiencing GSM. Decreased estrogen level in the body is the prime reason for this condition. Women having vaginal atrophy are more prone to chronic vaginal infections and urinary function problems. Drying and thinning of vaginal walls also make sexual intercourse painful.
Vaginal atrophy is related to menopause but most of the women who develop this condition do so after menopause. Menopause means the end of the menstrual cycle and a drop of estrogen level also happens with it. A drop in estrogen level also leads to vaginal atrophy. When GSM happens a few years after menopause it is referred to as Postmenopausal Vaginal Atrophy. GSM which occurs during menopause or in the years leading to menopause is referred to as menopause vaginal atrophy.
According to the American Association of Family Physicians, up to 40 percent of postmenopausal women have symptoms of GSM. Despite it being common, only 20 to 25 percent of women seek medical attention from their doctor.
Symptoms of Vaginal Atrophy
Vaginal atrophy is mostly linked to postmenopausal women but in some cases, symptoms occur during perimenopause, or the years leading up to menopause. Other women tend to develop symptoms late in the years and a smaller percentage will not have it at all.
Women need to look out for the following vaginal atrophy symptoms to assess whether they have the condition or not:
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal inflammation
- Thinning of the vaginal walls
- Shortening and tightening of the vaginal canal
- Difficulty and pain during intercourse
- Burning and urgency with urination
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
- Urinary incontinence (involuntary leakage)
You may consider the natural remedies for vaginal atrophy farther down if you experience any of the above symptoms.
Possible Causes of Vaginal Atrophy
A decline in estrogen levels in the body is termed as the main reason for vaginal atrophy. Due to reduced or no estrogen, the vaginal tissue thins and dries out. It loses its elasticity, fragility, and becomes more susceptible to injury.
Menopause is diagnosed by the decrease of estrogen levels. Apart from that, a decline in estrogen can occur due to the following reasons as well:
- Due to surgical menopause
- During breastfeeding
- Due to Chemotherapy or pelvic radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer
- Due to hormonal therapy for the treatment of breast cancer
- Deprivation of regular sex activity
Preventing Vaginal Atrophy
Vaginal atrophy or GSM might be common but it’s not a disease. Though uncomfortable it is not very serious, so taking steps for preventing vaginal atrophy can be fairly easy. Simple yet effective treatments for women who have developed GSM are available but as they say ‘Prevention is better than cure.’, so it’d be wise on your behalf to follow few simple suggestions given below to keep away from it in the first place:
1. Maintain a Healthy Diet
Maintaining a healthy diet is vital for overall well-being. A healthy diet not only helps us in reaching and maintaining a healthy weight and body mass index but also helps keep diseases at bay. It also helps with GSM since a balanced diet helps in blood circulation around the body preventing the vaginal tissues from drying out.
Adding foods that contain plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens, such as soybeans, soy products, or flaxseed has shown promising results in such conditions. The use of plant estrogen shows a reduction in vaginal dryness. You should also drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and try to limit caffeine and alcohol. The purpose of the plant estrogens is to almost fake the body into believing it has estrogen stores since phytoestrogens produce similar benefits.
2. Do Regular Exercise
Remaining active is pertinent to your health. Following a regular exercise routine may promote blood flow and balance hormone levels. Doctors recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week to keep the body active. Maintaining a balance is also necessary since too much exercise can sometimes contribute to worsening vaginal dryness. Talk to your doctor about an exercise program that would be appropriate for you. Moderation is the key here.
3. Lead an Active Sex Life
Engaging in regular sexual activity may be one of the best defenses against GSM. Intercourse helps to increase blood flow to your vagina, keeping the tissues healthy. L-arginine has been found to help with libido due to the increase in blood flow for both men and women, just where they need it.
4. Quit Smoking
Smoking reduces estrogen levels and increases the risk of developing vaginal atrophy. So if you’re thinking about how to prevent vaginal atrophy and you’ve always wanted to quit smoking, there is no better time. Do it right away.
5. Avoid Synthetic Personal Care Products
Avoid using perfumes or other hygiene products that contain fragrances or other chemicals. These products may irritate or dry out the vagina and make your symptoms worse. Try to choose personal care items that are pH-balanced. While you are shopping, pick up a personal lubricant that is all natural, as well.
Natural Remedies for Vaginal Atrophy
Vaginal atrophy or GSM develops in almost 40% of women in their later years. This produces a need for a remedy that keeps the condition from worsening. Home remedies for vaginal atrophy have shown great results. It has been observed that GSM or vaginal atrophy generally responds well to relatively simple protocols. Several natural aka home-based remedies are available to ease your discomfort and bring you back to feeling like your normal self.
Herbs and Supplements
Natural supplements are safe and deemed quite effective in countering such conditions. Studies in 2014 examined sea buckthorn oil as a possible alternative to traditional estrogen therapy. This oil is rich in essential fatty acids. Participants who took the sea buckthorn oil saw improvement in vaginal elasticity and tissue integrity.
Natural Lubricants and Vitamins
Natural lubricants are recommended to help soothe and lubricate the genital area. Avoid artificial lubricants as much as possible.
- Coconut oil
- Aloe Vera
- Vitamin E suppositories, which stimulate the vaginal mucosa responsible for lubricating the vagina, as well as helping to ward off infections
Supplements like vitamin A, Vitamin B, Beta carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids known to be very useful as well.
Treating Vaginal Atrophy
Women want to know what the best vaginal atrophy treatment is but really, countering the cause of this condition i.e. to normalize the reduced estrogen levels is the best answer. It’s possible to improve your vaginal health and your quality of life. Over-the-counter (OTC) moisturizers or water-based lubricants can help the dryness but severe symptoms ask for extended therapy. The treatment is done by focusing on symptoms or the underlying cause.
In case of severe symptoms, your doctor may recommend estrogen replacement therapy. Estrogen improves vaginal elasticity and natural moisture. It usually works in just a few weeks. Estrogen can be taken either topically or orally.
Topical Natural Estrogen
Topical estrogen application on skin limits how much estrogen gets into the bloodstream. It does not pass through the liver or digestive tract but goes into the bloodstream by way of the skin.
Topical estrogens also can help with systemic symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, flushing etc. Using a naturally converted estrogen such as bioidentical estriol oil or cream has been identified as without risk when used according to directions. Estriol only lasts several hours at a time in the body; i.e. no residual fall out.
So, these types of estrogen treatments have NOT been shown to increase the risk of endometrial cancer as with conjugated estrogens.
- The Estring: Estring is a vaginal estrogen ring. It’s a flexible, soft ring inserted into the upper part of the vagina by you or your doctor. It releases a constant dose of NON-bioidentical (conjugated) estrogen and only needs to be replaced every three months. Estrogen rings may increase a woman’s risk for endometrial cancer because of high estrogen dosage. Consult your doctor about the risk and possible need for progestin (and safer forms such natural, bioidentical progesterone cream as opposed to chemical progestins).
- Vaginal Estrogen Creams: These are applied/inserted into the vagina at bedtime via an applicator. At the start, the doctor might advise to use the estrogen cream daily for a couple of weeks, then step down to two or three times per week as symptoms subside and improvement is experienced.
- A Vaginal Estrogen Tablet: The tablet is inserted into the vagina using a disposable applicator. Starting with a dose per day, it’s later stepped down to one or two times per week; also as improvement is realized.
Oral estrogen is often used during menopause to alleviate hot flashes and vaginal dryness. It works very well in vaginal atrophy prevention. However, its prolonged use increases the risk of certain cancers. Oral estrogen usually isn’t prescribed to people who have had cancer or show any risk factors of cancer. Medical experts are clear on the fact that estrogens should not be used without balancing with progesterone; example progesterone cream.
Balancing Estrogen Choices with Progesterone
Even if you don’t have a history with cancer, progesterone may be prescribed in addition to estrogen in a cream, oil, pill or patch form. Consult with your doctor regularly to choose the best choice for you.
Some of the women taking progesterone and estrogen complain of bleeding after menopause from the shedding of “left over” blood. Be safe and sure. Although cancer risk for women taking both progesterone and estrogen is minimal, you should still see your doctor to have any episodes of postmenopausal bleeding evaluated, as this can be an early sign of endometrial cancer that may have been present or undetected.