Vaginal Dryness & Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Declining oestrogen levels and resultant long-term hormonal fluctuations will create noticeable changes as a woman approaches midlife and menopause. A decline in the hormones which sustain the female sex characteristics as well as the reproductive, cardiovascular, skeletal and endocrine systems will all result in parallel alterations to a woman’s health.
Oestrogen specifically supports the health of the vaginal tissue (secretions, elasticity and tissue thickness) so a decrease in this hormone can result in irritation and thinning of the lining. This thinning and drying of the vaginal tissues also create an environment that is susceptible to infections and cause problems associated with difficult sexual intercourse.
The following are symptoms relating to oestrogen depletion:
- Vaginal dryness, itching, bleeding (due to increased tissue fragility), alkaline pH (increases the incidence of vaginal infections), dyspareunia
- Tissue atrophy of the urinary system which is linked to urinary frequency, incontinence, post-voiding dribble, and non-bacterial urethritis
General recommendations to relieve vaginal dryness:
- Herbs in the forms of oils or salves can be applied directly to the vaginal tissues to soothe and heal irritation. Choose herbs such as Calendula and Comfrey combined with pure Vitamin E oil.
- Some women find that a Vitamin E capsule inserted into the vagina at night helps to relieve itching and irritation of the vaginal lining. The capsule will dissolve with the heat of the body and the oil will lubricate the lining.
- Avoid wearing synthetic underwear; instead, choose natural fibres such as cotton and silk – they absorb sweat and moisture better to reduce irritation in the genital area.
- Avoid anything that irritates the vaginal mucous membranes such as harsh soaps (including laundry detergent), bubble baths, douches and feminine hygiene sprays.
- Avoid using antihistamines and diuretics as these further deplete the body and tissues of fluids.
- Ensure that you are adequately hydrated to flush wastes and keep the tissues moisturised.
- If you require extra lubrication during sexual intercourse, you can purchase a natural lubrication fluid from health food stores.
URINARY TRACT INFECTIONS (CYSTITIS)
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is the second most common type of bacterial infection diagnosed by healthcare professionals. The manifestations of a UTI depend on whether the infection involves the lower (bladder) or the upper (kidney) urinary tract and whether the infection is acute or chronic. Infections can range from asymptomatic bacteriuria to severe kidney infections which may cause kidney damage.
A reduction of body defences creates a change in the body’s ability to resist infiltration from pathogens (viruses and bacteria). A decrease in immune strength can lead to:
- the washout phenomenon associated with voiding
- defects in the protective mucin lining of the bladder
- other local immune deficiencies (immunity, elimination, pH)
In an acute episode of cystitis, the symptoms disappear within 48 hours and are generally caused by the presence of Chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhoea, Herpes simplex virus or vaginitis (Candida or Trichomonas). Urinary tract infections are typically characterised by:
- frequent urination or a frequent urge to urinate
- lower abdominal or back discomfort
- burning pain during urination
- cloudy and foul-smelling urination
- painful urination (dysuria)
Tissue thinning that occurs during menopause affects not only the vaginal tissue but also the urinary tract. The lining of the urethra also becomes thinner and less elastic, increasing the likelihood of urinary tract infections and incontinence. Loss of bladder control especially when laughing, sneezing or coughing is quite a distressing problem many women face as they enter the menopausal phase.
General recommendations to prevent urinary tract infections:
- “The solution to pollution is dilution.” Ensure that you are adequately hydrated as the body holds onto more metabolic toxins when fluid is insufficient. Lack of hydration also alters pH levels and causes opportunistic bacteria overgrowth.
- Drink herbal teas such as dandelion leaf, marshmallow root, and cranberry.
- Avoid sugar as it encourages the proliferation of detrimental bacteria.
- Drink pure, unsweetened cranberry juice.
- Follow an alkalising diet.
- Avoid foods containing yeast and treat any underlying Candida infections present.
- Supplement with a quality probiotic powder to encourage better resistance in the healthy bacteria present in the urinary tract. We also recommend drinking coconut kefir water every day.
- High doses of Vitamin C (1-2g every 2 hours) will have a local antibacterial effect. Choose a low-acid Vitamin C powder (calcium ascorbate combined with bioflavonoids) to avoid stomach upsets.
- Practice Kegel/ Plyometric exercises to reinforce pelvic floor strength. You can perform Kegel exercises even while you are cooking dinner, driving or working at your desk! Just follow these easy steps:
- Contract the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle, the same muscle that you would use to stop urination mid-stream. Hold each contraction for 3 seconds, then relax for 3 seconds between contractions. Repeat this contraction process 10 times.
- Now squeeze the PC muscle but this time release it as quickly as possible. Repeat this fluttering contraction 10 times.
- Repeat the entire sequence 3 times each day and increase the number of repetitions as you are able to.