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|Article: Natural Solutions to Vaginal Dryness - by Dr. Machelle M. Seibel|
If you are experiencing vaginal dryness, you are not alone. Nearly every woman experiences vaginal dryness at some time in her life, and – in addition to being one of the most common complaints among menopause sufferers -- vaginal dryness lowers the quality of life for countless women at all stages of sexual development.
Menopause certainly isn’t the only reason a woman may be suffering from vaginal dryness. Usually, it is a symptom of changes in the body’s hormonal cycle. This can occur as a result of menopause, during breastfeeding, or while taking oral contraceptives. It can also occur in response to douching, pelvic radiation, prolonged use of tampons, advanced endometriosis, and as a side effect of a variety of medications, including aromatase inhibitors such as Tamoxifen and Arimidex, used to treat breast cancer.
Excessive exercise can cause chronic vaginal dryness, as can persistent emotional stress or past traumatic sexual experiences. Diuretics such as alcohol and caffeine can exacerbate an existing condition. Cigarettes smoking, certain allergy medications, and antihistamines are another cause of vaginal dryness.
In fact, vaginal dryness is SUCH a common problem that many women simply choose to ignore it, despite its potentially devastating consequences and its extremely uncomfortable symptoms of chronic irritation, itching, burning, and soreness. However, if ignored, vaginal dryness can increase the risk of vaginitis, or lead to vaginal chafing bleeding, urinary discomfort, bladder infections, or painful intercourse.
Talk to your doctor. Those who do choose to treat their vaginal dryness have options. They can get a prescription for estrogen therapy (HRT). Estrogen generally will work for this problem but many women are concerned about the risk and side effects. Lower dosages can be tried but there is always some absorption into the bloodstream. Alternatively, women can go the more natural route and regularly use a vaginal moisturizer, the same way somebody with chronic dry skin might use a skin moisturizer.
According to the Gallup report, women age 45 and older who are on HRT reported that prior to HRT 30% experienced vaginal dryness and after HRT this dropped only 4% with 26% of women experiencing vaginal dryness.
And for many the problem is chronic. Among those women on HRT who experience vaginal dryness, a full 50% report that they experience it on a daily basis.
So, whether or not you choose to use HRT, vaginal dryness can still be a problem.
There is a significant difference between a vaginal moisturizer and lubricant. A lubricant is usually applied just prior to sex and may feel unnatural. A good vaginal moisturizer will last for up to three days and provide comfort and relief without being greasy or interfering with the body’s natural moisture cycle. Instead, it will replenish and heal for up to 3 days, keeping the vagina feeling natural while repairing dry and damaged cells.
An effective vaginal moisturizer will last much longer than a traditional lubricant and use as much of the body’s natural replenishing process as possible. The bioadhesive polymer polycarbophil, an active ingredient in over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers, is a powerful way to get fast, natural-feeling results.
Polycarbophil can carry up to 60 times its weight in water and adheres to the epithelial cells lining the vaginal walls to deliver both water and electrolytes. The polymer is detached only upon the shedding of the outer layer of cells, a normal and healthy process which occurs every 2 or 3 days. The polycarbophil is negatively charged and this causes the water and electrolytes to be driven into the underlying cells. The electrolytes and water moisturize and lubricate the vaginal tissue and thus relieve the discomfort caused by vaginal dryness. The increased blood flow can lead to enhanced secretion as vaginal fluids diffuse from blood.
Vaginal moisturizers like Replens are safe, odor-free, and do not contain any hormones so they are therefore completely safe for pregnant women and nursing mothers or women with cancer. While they should not be used as contraceptives, they are perfectly fine along with condoms, and a long-lasting vaginal moisturizer is a sure-fire way to keep sex spontaneous and interesting.
Research has also shown that a diet high in soybeans can help alleviate vaginal dryness. Soybeans contain isoflavones, which are plant estrogens that produce effects comparable to estrogen therapy, except in a milder, less invasive form. I discuss this and many other points about alternatives to estrogen in my book, the Soy Solution for Menopause. Another dietary supplement, black cohosh (also called black snakeroot and bugbane) may also help reduce vaginal dryness, although the jury is still out on that one. Don't use black cohosh if you're pregnant, nursing, or taking a medication that can harm your liver.
More good news is that regular intercourse can help maintain vaginal elasticity and lubrication. With a vaginal moisturizer and a plan that works for you, there’s no reason that vaginal dryness has to affect your sex life at all, and staying sexually active has a whole host of positive physical and psychological health benefits.
While vaginal dryness is a very serious problem that requires attention and care, it is a problem that doesn’t have to slow you down or make you give up the things you enjoy in life. With an intelligent and focused plan for dealing with it, you can eliminate its impact altogether, and stay as active and healthy as you deserve to be.
Feeling young is more than just looking young. While you are taking care of your body as you age, it is important not to forget about the entire body.
Dr. Machelle M. Seibel is a leading expert in women's health. He is a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Massachusetts, and Editor in Chief of Sexuality, Reproduction and Menopause, a journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. He has also authored Babies Journal and A Women's Book of Yoga as well as many other titles dealing with women's health. Dr. Seibel has written or edited 10 books and authored or co-authored more than 200 scientific articles. He has won national awards including the Searle-Donald F. Richardson Award for research from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Contemporary Ob-Gyn Annual Award for the best gynecologic paper of the year; and the Mead-Johnson Award from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology for development of an interactive video system for patient information.
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