The more you know about your body or how your hormones move around as you transition toward the much wiser timer in your life, the healthier you'll be. At least that's true if you do something about it - especially when it comes to managing the menopause symptoms of vaginal dryness and urinary incontinence.
Vaginal Dryness & Urinary Incontinence Related to Menopause
The thing that always gets me is that we, as women, are much more open about what happens to our bodies through our reproductive life from puberty through child-bearing years versus what happens to our bodies after we begin transitioning through menopause.
And that's a shame.
I get it, though. I mean, it's usually easier to commiserate about cramps and PMS than it is to commiserate about vaginal dryness, painful sex and urinary incontinence.
Nonetheless, these are three common side effects of menopause. Wouldn't it be nice to know if there is something you can do to help yourself and feel more in control?
So let's discuss...or at least let me discuss the ways that you can help yourself if you experience vaginal dryness, painful sex or urinary incontinence.
First of all, if you experience any of these symptoms, whether you're still years before menopause or deep in the throes of transitioning, you are far from alone.
Here are few interesting statistics:
- 50% of menopausal women experience urinary incontinence (aka bladder leakage)
- between 20 - 30% of women of all childbearing ages experience urinary incontinence (so think loooong before menopause)
- approximately 17% of women 18 - 50 experience vaginal dryness
- 34% of women over 50 experience vaginal dryness
So you can see, it's not all related to menopause. We women go through so much more than most realize in very, very personal ways. While no one may need or want to overshare the details of personal discomforts related to menopause, it is important to know all women experience unsettling physical and emotional symptoms. You are hardly alone!
How Estrogen Affects Vaginal and Bladder Health
Estrogen is a great lubricator. This hormone helps to maintain a moisture balance for our body - on the inside and out. When estrogen drops, dryness happens. Estrogen promotes the production of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid, each respectively provide the structure, elasticity and moisture balance for all parts of our body.
When these three three important building blocks begin to diminish, the effects of aging appear superficially on the skin in the form of wrinkles, and internally affecting the strength of important muscles (including in the pelvic floor), ligaments and tendons.
Because your body's natural moisture balance shifts, and because the tissue around your vagina become weaker, vaginal dryness and painful sex can occur.
So what can you do about it?
First and foremost, talk to a health care provider that specializes in women's health or hormone therapy (i.e. a gynecologist). If you are a candidate for hormone therapy, there are different types that vary by age, menopausal status, and if you've had a hysterectomy - the type you've had. Topical estrogen-based therapies are often a go-to alternative.
One size of hormonal therapy does not fit all, however, so do just guess at what's right for you.
On the natural side, there are plenty of things you can do to feel in control, stronger, sexy and, of course, healthier.
Urinary Incontinence (leaky bladder):
According to research published on the subject, The International Continence Society (ICS), defines urinary incontinence "as involuntary uncontrolled leakage of urine due to bladder dysfunction of the locking mechanism."
Urinary Incontinence (UI) is a big deal because it has the potential to affect you not just physically, but socially, emotionally, and sexually, too. While there are many different type of UI (stress-related, overactive bladder, overflow, etc.), research has shown that a combination of treatments can be very beneficial.
Physical therapy offers promise in up to 80% of people dealing with UI. When estrogen levels drop, the muscles through the bladder and pelvic floor become weaker. Focusing on strengthening those muscles is not just important in a woman's life after she transitions through menopause, but all throughout her life.
Behavioral therapy is another way to "train" the body not to empty the bladder at the smallest urge (i.e. running to the toilet before you walk the dog for 10 minutes just in case). This helps to train your body and your mind to build mental and physical endurance of the bladder.
Weight loss has shown to be extremely helpful for women who are overweight or obese. Lose anywhere between 5% and 12% of total body weight has shown a 70% improvement in UI. If you are a 200 pound woman, this means a 10-pound weight loss could make a significant different.
Of course, there are pharmaceutical and surgical treatments that you should be discussed with your health care provider - especially if symptoms are ongoing or interfering with your daily life.
Vaginal Dryness and painful sex often go hand in hand with UI. As estrogen helps to maintain strength through the bladder and pelvic floor, it also helps to maintain a moisture balance internally and externally. When the tissue in your vagina is weakened and lacks moisture, the same is true for external genitalia, including the labia.
Certainly when it comes to enjoying sex and avoiding pain, using a pharmacy-recommended lubricant can help. Good Clean Love is a clean, non-toxic lubricant option.
Foods for Vaginal Health & Improved Sex Drive
There are a lot of foods that are touted for their libido-driving properties, and these 5 foods below are no exception. They're healthy and loaded with nutrients, specifically the nutrients that help improve your sex drive.
There is absolutely no harm in eating these foods often, so definitely find a way to enjoy them freely.
Avocados contain a vitamin called B6. B6 is a huge energy booster and especially potent for women. Vitamin B6 moves out of your body pretty fast, so you can eat foods containing this nutrient as often as you'd like. It's also worth noting that avocados also contain an amino acid called l-arginine that widens blood vessels/increases blood flow.
Chili peppers bring on the heat. Spicy foods, like chili pepper contain a nutrient called capsaicin that helps to increase both blood flow and feel-good endorphins. Keep in mind, if you're really sensitive to hot flashes, spicy foods can make them come on, or make them worse.
Contains lots of zinc that helps to boost testosterone (true for raspberries, too!). If berries aren't your favorite, then turn to cashews or green leafy vegetables for your fill of zin.
Like chili peppers, basil can help to increase blood flow. And basil is also an adaptogen, meaning it helps your body better manage stress and enjoy things easier.
The word of the day is phenylethylamine [FEE-no-la-THI-la-meen], a compound that has been shown to increase feelings of attraction. Chickpeas and tahini also contain phenylethylamine, so if you don't love chocolate as much as me, make some healthy hummus!
Foods That Improve Your Vaginal Health
In general, high fiber foods and a good probiotic with a strain called lactobacillus acidophilus are good places to start. High fiber foods contain prebiotics that help to feel the probiotics. Read more about how I select my probiotics and maintain gut health. While you get busy increasing the beneficial bacteria in your gut, make sure you pump the brakes on sugary foods that usually fan the flames on bad bacteria. It's all about balance.