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Vaginal dryness: causes, effects, treatment and prevention

Post by on Sunday, November 28, 2021

First slide

A thin layer of moisture coats the walls of the vagina. This moisture provides an alkaline environment that sperm can survive in and travel in for sexual reproduction. These vaginal secretions also lubricate the vaginal wall, reducing friction during sexual intercourse.

As a woman ages, changes in hormone production can cause the vaginal walls to thin. Thinner walls mean fewer cells that secrete moisture. This can lead to vaginal dryness. Hormonal changes are the most common cause of vaginal dryness, but they aren't the only cause.

Vaginal dryness is a common problem that can affect women at any age. However, it's especially prevalent during menopause and is often caused by decreased estrogen levels.

Stress, anxiety, decreased blood flow, and dehydration are a few other factors that may contribute to decreased lubrication.

Fortunately, several supplements have been shown to help prevent vaginal dryness and enhance lubrication. Here are some vitamins and supplements that may help increase vaginal lubrication.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that doubles as a disease-fighting antioxidant. Some research suggests that it could also be beneficial for increasing lubrication and reducing vaginal dryness.

According to one study in 52 women, using a vitamin E suppository for 12 weeks was found to improve symptoms of vaginal atrophy, which is a condition characterized by the thinning and dryness of the vaginal walls.

Other studies have found that suppositories containing vitamin E, along with other ingredients like hyaluronic acid, vitamin A, and vitamin D, could improve symptoms of vaginal atrophy in women undergoing cancer treatments.

Despite these promising results, more research is needed to evaluate how vitamin E taken as an oral supplement rather than a suppository may affect female lubrication.

Vitamin D

Sometimes referred to as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is produced in the skin cells as a result of sun exposure. Although vitamin D is most well-known for its role in bone health, studies show that it could also help increase vaginal lubrication.

In fact, one review of six studies concluded that both oral vitamin D supplements and suppositories could decrease dryness and improve vaginal health during menopause.

Another study in 44 postmenopausal women found that using a vitamin D suppository daily for 8 weeks significantly decreased vaginal dryness, compared with a control group.

Another study in 200 older women also showed that increased vitamin D levels in the blood were associated with improvements in vaginal moisture and consistency.

Sea buckthorn oil

Sea buckthorn oil is a natural supplement derived from the leaves, seeds, and berries of the sea buckthorn plant. It's rich in essential fatty acids like linoleic acid, which can strengthen the barrier of the skin and protect against water loss.

In one study in 116 post-menopausal women with vaginal dryness, consuming 3 grams of sea buckthorn oil daily for 3 months was linked to significant improvements in vaginal tissue integrity.

Women who used sea buckthorn oil also experienced improvements in vaginal elasticity and moisture than those who used a placebo. Sea buckthorn oil also plays a key role in other aspects of skin health. It may help enhance wound healing, stimulate tissue regeneration, and increase the making of collagen — a structural protein that gives skin strength and elasticity.

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is a molecule produced by the body and is known for its role in skin health and ageing.

Although it's most commonly used in cosmetics, hyaluronic acid is also available over the counter in supplement form. According to one older study, taking 5 mg of hyaluronic acid sodium salt for 8 weeks improved symptoms in 42 postmenopausal women with vaginal atrophy.

Another 2-month study in 28 young women showed a supplement containing a combination of hyaluronic acid and other ingredients like glucosamine sulfate, alpha-lipoic acid, and vitamins A, C, and E improved vaginal dryness.

Topical gels and suppositories containing hyaluronic acid have also been shown to increase vaginal lubrication when used alone or combined with other ingredients like vitamin A and vitamin E.

However, more research is needed to determine how oral supplementation with hyaluronic acid alone may affect vaginal lubrication.

Fish oil

Fish oil is a supplement often used to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids; a type of heart-healthy fat found primarily in fatty fish.

Some research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids could be beneficial for increasing vaginal lubrication, especially during menopause. One older study among 52 postmenopausal breast cancer survivors showed that taking 3.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acid daily for 6 months improved self-reported vaginal dryness.

Other studies have found that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may increase estrogen levels, which may also help prevent vaginal dryness.

Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to increase skin hydration and reduce dryness in human and animal studies. Still, further studies are needed to determine how fish oil may affect vaginal lubrication specifically.

DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a type of steroid hormone involved in estrogen production. Because DHEA production naturally declines as you get older, it’s sometimes used as a supplement to help balance hormone levels and alleviate symptoms associated with menopause.

Multiple studies have also found that vaginal administration of DHEA could significantly improve vaginal lubrication, reduce dryness, and increase levels of estrogen in postmenopausal women.

While research on the effectiveness of oral DHEA supplements is still minimal, some older studies have found that it could increase estrogen levels and enhance sexual function.

The bottom line

Vaginal dryness can affect women at any age, but it is especially common during menopause.

Studies suggest that supplements like vitamin E, vitamin D, sea buckthorn oil, hyaluronic acid, fish oil, and DHEA could help increase vaginal lubrication.

That said, be sure to talk with your healthcare professional before adding any supplements to your routine, especially if you have any other underlying conditions or are taking medications.

What are the effects of vaginal dryness?

Vaginal dryness can cause discomfort in the vaginal and pelvic regions. Vaginal dryness can also cause:

·        Burning.

·        Loss of interest in sex.

·        Pain with sexual intercourse.

·        Light bleeding following intercourse.

·        Soreness.

·        Urinary tract infections (UTIs) that don’t go away or that reoccur.

·        Vaginal itching or stinging.

Vaginal dryness can be a source of embarrassment. This may prevent women from discussing symptoms with their physician or partner; however, the condition is a common occurrence that affects many women.

Causes of vaginal dryness

Falling estrogen levels are the chief cause of vaginal dryness. Women begin to produce less estrogen as they age. This leads to the end of menstruation during a time called perimenopause.

However, menopause isn’t the only condition that causes a decrease in estrogen production. Other causes include:

·        Breastfeeding.

·        Cigarette smoking.

·        Depression.

·        Excessive stress.

·        Immune system disorders, such as Sjogren syndrome.

·        Childbirth.

·        Rigorous exercise.

·        Some cancer treatments, such as radiation to the pelvis, hormone therapy, or chemotherapy.

·        Surgical removal of the ovaries.

·        Some medications can also reduce secretions in the body. 

·        Douching may also cause dryness and irritation, as well as some creams and lotions that are applied to the vaginal area.

When to seek medical help

Vaginal dryness rarely indicates a serious medical condition. But seek help if the discomfort lasts beyond a few days or if you experience discomfort during sexual intercourse. If left untreated, vaginal dryness can cause sores or cracking in the vagina's tissues.

If the condition is accompanied by severe vaginal bleeding, seek immediate medical attention. During an exam, your doctor may examine the vaginal walls to look for lacerations or feel for thinning skin. They may also take a sample of vaginal discharge to test for the presence of harmful bacteria.

Additionally, hormone tests can determine if you are in perimenopause or menopause.

How is vaginal dryness treated?

There are many over-the-counter lubricants that can be applied to the vaginal area to reduce dryness and discomfort. These lubricants and moisturizing creams can also change the vagina's ph, reducing the likelihood of getting a UTI.

Women should choose a lubricant specifically intended for vaginal use. The lubricant should be water-based. They shouldn’t contain perfumes, herbal extracts, or artificial colors. These can cause irritation.

"Lubricants such as petroleum jelly and mineral oil can damage latex condoms and diaphragms used for birth control"

In some instances, a healthcare provider will prescribe estrogen therapy in the form of a pill, cream, or ring, which releases estrogen. Creams and rings release estrogen directly to the tissues. Pills are more likely to be used when you have other uncomfortable menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes.

Because many products can irritate delicate vaginal skin, it’s important to seek evaluation and treatment advice at a physician's office if the condition persists.

How can you prevent vaginal dryness?

Refrain from using irritating products, such as douches. Avoid condoms that contain nonoxynol-9, or N-9. They have a chemical that can cause vaginal dryness. It’s important to know that age- or reproductive-related changes to the vagina can't be prevented.

Takeaway

Vaginal dryness can cause discomfort in the vaginal and pelvic regions. There are several causes for this condition. Vaginal dryness is rarely a serious condition, and there are several treatments that can help treat it. There are also ways that can help prevent it. "You may consider adding foods that contain plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens, such as soybeans, soy products, or flaxseed. A recent study shows a reduction in vaginal dryness with the use of plant estrogens"

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