Natural Remedies For Menopause Dryness
When it comes to peri-menopause, we all know about the hot flushes, mood swings and weight gain, but there’s a secret symptom which we tend not to discuss so much: menopause dryness. Before peri-menopause, oestrogen keeps tissues throughout the body well lubricated and in good condition. As levels drop in the later stages of peri-menopause, some women start to suffer with vaginal dryness, and/or vaginal atrophy. Not only is it really uncomfortable, it can be linked to increased urine infections, and inevitably play havoc with your sex life!
What is Menopause?
But before we move on to that, let’s take a quick look at menopause and peri-menopause. Peri-menopause is the lead up to menopause, which marks the first anniversary of the last period. There are over 60 symptoms associated with peri-menopause, ranging from the more common ones like fatigue, hot flushes and mood swings, to the weirder ones like anxiety in certain situations, poor night vision, or burning mouth syndrome. We all experience peri-menopause in our own unique way, but we do often see patterns in different symptoms showing up at different points along the journey. For example, anxiety might be one of the very early symptoms, whereas hot flushes tend to come along in the later stages.
It’s quite easy to talk openly about these symptoms, but less so for the more embarrassing ones like heavy periods, loss of libido or menopause dryness. Behind the scenes, there are wild fluctuations going on not just with hormone levels, but in other body chemistry as well. Neurotransmitters like serotonin can drop, leading to increased anxiety and/or depression. This obviously doesn’t help us to cope with a body that’s already starting to feel out of control in other ways!
What is Menopause Dryness?
In the later stages of peri-menopause when oestrogen levels are dropping significantly, the vagina can lose its ability to self lubricate. In some cultures this is mistakenly thought to be a sign that a woman is having an affair or no longer interested in her partner, and it can cause a lot relationship problems!
Because the vaginal tissues lose their natural lubrication, they soon become dry and can start to shrink. Needless to say, this is painful and really uncomfortable! It doesn’t stop with the vagina either, as it can affect the rest of the vulva, and the urethra, leading to more urinary tract infections.
Occasionally, there’s more to it than simply peri-menopause. Auto-immune conditions like Sjorgens Syndrome can manifest at around the same time, and Sjorgens in particular can cause dryness in other parts of the body, including the mouth, eyes and joints. It’s always worth getting menopause dryness checked out by your GP.
What Are The Natural Remedies For Menopause Dryness?
Luckily, there are lots of treatments available for menopause dryness. We need to treat the dry tissues themselves, and ideally the underlying hormone imbalances that cause the drying in the first place.
Some women find it helpful to supplement Sea Buckthorn oil as a source of omega 7 essential fatty acids. Omega 7 really helps to keep all the mucous membranes well lubricated throughout the body.
Herbally, I’d recommend using a gentle herbal lubricant like this one, formulated by my friend and fellow medical herbalist using only plant based ingredients. There is some research backing the use of Aloe vera gel in treating vaginal dryness, and this brand uses Aloe vera as a base.
I also make herbal pessaries to order for my patients with menopause dryness. That’s because some women also become prone to bacterial vaginosis or thrush as the ecology changes, and we can use specific herbs or tiny doses of essential oil to restore the balance.
Internally, I work on taming the wild fluctuations in hormones using different kinds of herbs. A typical herbal prescription for menopause dryness would include:
- Nervines and adaptogens to help the body out of its stress response and support adrenal function.
- Herbs containing phyto-oestrogens to have a weak oestrogenic activity and help to restore balance.
- Herbs specifically for vaginal dryness, and any other troublesome symptoms.
Complications of Menopause Dryness
You might have heard of the gut microbiome, but you actually have microbiomes in every orifice, including the vagina. It’s a very delicate balance of microbes, and keeping them all in balance is far easier when the mucous membranes are kept well lubricated.
So if those membranes begin to dry out, the balance starts to get lost and we can end up with fungal infections in the form of thrush, and/or bacterial infections we call bacterial vaginosis. It can be quite hard to tell the difference between them, but it’s important to try because they require different treatments. You may also need to rule out sexually transmitted infections which can have similar symptoms and potentially lead to more complex problems later on.
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria, whereas thrush is from an overgrowth of the fungus, Candida albicans. Both happen when the vaginal microbiome, the ecology of viruses, bacteria and fungi in the vagina, go out of balance. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.
If you have itching and soreness, it can be quite hard to tell which kind of infection you have. Vaginosis gives you a smelly discharge, and a discharge which is different to usual in colour or consistency. It’s less likely to cause pain or itching than thrush, but still needs treating.
You may have seen the adverts for Canasten on the TV to help relieve the itching from thrush, but they don’t tell you it can be really painful too! With thrush you’d get a thick white discharge but it doesn’t usually smell. There’s also the pain and itching and if you have a bad case, it can be really hard to keep functioning normally.
Needless to say, both infections will make you feel considerably less sexy than usual, and if you’re continuing to have unprotected sex during infection, your partner would also benefit from being treated as otherwise you could keep passing it back and forth between you.
Self Care For Menopause Dryness
If you’re suffering with menopause dryness, it’s important to take extra care of your vagina whilst you redress the balance and get better. Here are some ways you can keep your microbiome healthy:
- Only use natural lubricants, like this one.
- Avoid washing between your legs with synthetic soaps or shower gels.
- Use washable sanitary towels rather than tampons.
- Take a probiotic formulated for vaginal health, like this one.
More Help With Menopause Dryness
For guidance on self care for vaginal dryness, go to module 5 of my ‘Rejuven8’ programme.
If you’ve had ongoing problems with vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy, thrush or bacterial vaginosis for a long time, take a look at my Rescue Programme to find out how herbal remedies could help you.