Vaginal dryness is one of the most troubling symptoms of perimenopause and menopause that affects almost every woman. Yet, it is also one of the symptoms that many women feel uncomfortable discussing with even their most trusted medical providers. This means that many women needlessly suffer in silence.
Below we explore why many women experience vaginal dryness as they transition to menopause and the problems that this can cause them physically and emotionally. We’ll also explore ways to treat vaginal dryness and how supplements may be able to help increase female lubrication.
Why is Female Dryness a Common Symptom?
Vaginal dryness actually goes by several other names. We used to refer to it as vaginal atrophy - more often now you will hear doctors talk about genitourinary syndrome of menopause, or GSM. These terms all refer to the physical changes that happen to the vagina, vulva and bladder area during and after menopause because of a fall in estrogen levels.
As estrogen levels fall during the transition into perimenopause and menopause, the vagina loses the mechanisms that help it to naturally lubricate. The blood supply to the area reduces, and the tissues begin to dry out or become irritated. Estrogen actually plays an essential role in keeping the vaginal biome healthy, and in our skin elasticity. Without it, we are prone to more infections, and the skin will become thinner, drier, and significantly less flexible.
The Symptoms of Female Dryness
As the name would suggest, vaginal dryness leaves the women who deal with it with a feeling of extreme dryness in their vagina. But, the feeling often goes beyond dryness. The skin can become so irritated that any friction or sensation in this area can cause extreme pain. That is why one of the most frequently reported symptoms of vaginal dryness is painful sexual intercourse. For some women, sex can be so painful that they avoid it all together. And, this can be damaging for both their psyche and the health of their partner relationships. The pain, however, does not happen only with sex. Women may also experience intense pain with urination. Some get it just sitting down, or with the friction of trousers or underwear.
Intense itching is also often experienced by women around this time. It is important to get any intense itching that doesn’t quickly settle checked out by your doctor: there is a condition called lichen sclerosus that affects postmenopausal women and the itch associated with this can be similar to the itch from normal postmenopausal GSM. Lichen sclerosus caused thickened, white patches of skin which can be pre-cancerous. Licchen sclerosus is treated with strong steroid creams and needs regular checking by your doctor. That’s why it is so important to feel comfortable talking about itch and pain with your doctor.
Ways to Address Vaginal Dryness
The good news is that despite the troubling symptoms associated with vaginal dryness, there are numerous ways to mitigate these symptoms. We’ll describe some of these options in greater detail below.
#1 Lubricants and Moisturizers
Many people prefer natural options to address their vaginal dryness and to help make their lives more pleasant, both inside and outside the bedroom. For these women, vaginal moisturizers and lubricants may help alleviate symptoms, such as painful urination. They may also make sex more pleasurable. A variety of companies produce these products. This allows you to experiment and determine which product works best for your own body.
You’re probably wondering, what exactly is the difference between moisturizers and lubricants? Well, both types of products work on the same concept, which is introducing more moisture into the vagina. The difference is that moisturizers are used regularly, almost as long-term skin maintenance, whereas the lubricants are often used immediately before sexual activity. Some common vaginal moisturizers include: coconut oil, jojoba oil, sunflower oil, and aloe vera.
Make sure you carefully review moisturizers and lubricants before purchasing to check for anything you are allergic to. Also, remember that some lubricants can interfere with birth control efficacy (especially with condoms). For many women, natural or water-based choices are far preferable to synthetic alternatives. Oil based lubricants can be highly soothing but will damage condoms. Some women layer oil and water based lube which can really help with sex. It is worth realising that synthetic options like silicone based lubricants, can often be drying, if used for extended periods of time, worsening vaginal dryness for some women.
The best way for many women to tackle their vaginal dryness is to go back to the root cause and replace the missing estrogen. There are a number of products available, in the form of creams and pessaries or rings, for example. The estrogen works locally and there is almost no systemic absorption, making it a safe option for most women, even those who can’t have systemic HRT. It is worth seeing your doctor to discuss the pro’s and con’s of this approach when you start experiencing dryness for the first time.
Drug manufacturers are looking for new ways to produce potential solutions. One of these options is DHEA, an abbreviation for dehydroepiandrosterone. This nightly suppository has been shown to improve symptoms related to painful intercourse, as it ideally works by stimulating the body’s adrenal system to produce more estrogen.
Another potential medical option is osphena. This drug boosts the ability of receptors in the vagina to uptake more estrogen, ideally aiding with lubrication. But, this drug also carries with it some risks. It may not be a safe option for women at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
#3 Supplements to Increase Female Lubrication and Lifestyle Changes
Other women want to consider and embrace a more holistic approach to addressing vaginal dryness. Whilst there isn’t a lot of research in this area, some women like to tackle this issue by incorporating healthy foods and supplements that might increase female lubrication. Here are some of the ones that are often suggested:
Omega-3s and Sea Buckthorn Oil
One of the best types of supplements to consider is Omega-3 fatty acids. These fats can boost lubrication and blood flow and help minimize many of the most troubling symptoms of vaginal dryness. Another great fatty acid is Sea buckthorn oil. This oil has been shown to boost hydration while simultaneously reducing inflammation.
Eat Avocados for Vitamin B-6 and Potassium
You probably didn’t know this, but avocados could give a dry vagina a much-needed boost too. The fats in avocados are very good for vaginal health. Vitamins and minerals in these avocados, such as Vitamin B-6 and potassium, can promote estrogen production. If avocados aren’t your thing, look for supplements that contain Vitamin B-6 and potassium so you can get what you need.
Soy, But Be Careful
You’re probably surprised that soy ended up on this list, but it turns out that it may be able to with vaginal dryness. Soy contains phytoestrogens, which can mimic what normal estrogen does in your body. And, thus, soy can boost lubrication. However, there is a caveat here. Soy and its phytoestrogens may not be a healthy alternative for women with hormone-mediated breast cancer.
An Apple A Day
We’ve all heard the expression that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but could an apple a day also keep your vagina lubricated? The answer is probably yes. PhloridZin, a phytoestrogen found in apples, could help with increased lubrication.
Also, Be Sure To Eat Your Greens
Lastly, while you’re making these additions to your diets, make sure to continue eating healthy, rich greens. Nitrate-rich greens can boost lubrication, and the other vitamins and minerals that they contain can also help build a healthier and happier vagina. Some nitrate-rich greens to consider are:
- Chinese cabbage
Vaginal dryness can be one of the most frustrating symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause, leading to a wide range of troubling physical and emotional symptoms. The good news is that there are ways to counteract these problems related to a dip in natural estrogen levels. An increasing number of safe and effective medicines exist on the market. You can also try over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers and lubricants. And a healthy diet, rich in fatty acids and fruits and vegetables, can also dramatically boost vaginal health.