The tissue lining the vaginal walls normally stays lubricated with a thin layer of clear fluid. However, some women experience vaginal dryness, especially as they age and go through the natural process of menopause. With some natural remedies, you may be able to reduce vaginal dryness to support your comfort and maintain your overall vagina health. Read on to learn more.
Understanding Vaginal Dryness
Glands at the neck of the cervix produce fluids that naturally lubricate the vagina to keep it moist and supple. The fluids move slowly down through the vagina, allowing for even distribution while removing dead skin cells and generally keeping the vaginal tissues clean. These fluids are also naturally slightly acidic, which supports the vaginal microflora, prevents infections, and maintains vaginal health. When sexually aroused, most women will also produce extra moisture via the Bartholin’s glands, found at the entrance of the vagina, to aid in intercourse.1
However, some women may experience a deficiency in these natural lubricating fluids, resulting in vaginal dryness. This can be characterized by:
- Pain during sex
- Pain outside of sex, including discomfort when sitting, standing, exercising, or urinating
- General burning, itchiness, or irritation in the vagina
- More pain or difficulty when getting a cervical smear
- Possible change in appearance of the vulva and vagina, often in the form of thinner lips
- Vaginal discharge that may be watery, discolored, or slightly smelly
- Increased risk of infection
Vaginal dryness also comes with an emotional impact as it can strain relationships and hurt self-confidence.
What Causes Vaginal Dryness?
While vaginal dryness is most common among women going through menopause, it can potentially happen to women of any age. About 17 percent of women aged 18 to 50 experience vaginal dryness during sex, which is usually caused by a lack of foreplay or mental reasons that prevent proper arousal.1
1. Low Estrogen Levels
However, the most common cause of vaginal dryness is a decrease in estrogen. Estrogen is a hormone that plays important roles in physical development, menstrual cycle regulation, and pregnancy. Estrogen also maintains the vagina’s natural fluid levels, elasticity, and acidity while generally keeping the vaginal tissues healthy. As estrogen levels decline, vaginal tissues become thinner, less elastic, and drier. These changes are referred to as vaginal atrophy.2
Menopause is the most common reason for a decline in estrogen. Menopause is marked by the end of a woman’s menstrual periods, signifying the end of a woman’s ability to become pregnant. Occurring usually in a woman’s 40s or 50s, menopause is characterized by a reduction in estrogen and progesterone, thus contributing to vaginal dryness.3
Other common symptoms of menopause include:
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes
- Sleep issues
- Sudden mood changes
- Slowed down metabolism
- Thinning hair
Outside of menopause, low estrogen levels can result from:
- Certain cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Surgical removal of ovaries
- Anti-estrogen medication prescribed for endometrioses or breast cancer2
Antihistamines are commonly used as over-the-counter treatments for allergies and cold symptoms. However, some antihistamines work by drying up bodily secretions, which can cause side effects like trouble urinating and vaginal dryness.2
While antidepressants can help to regulate serotonin fluctuations, some may also come with sexual side effects, including a reduced libido and vaginal dryness.2
4. Sjögren’s Syndrome
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that is characterized by inflammation in salivary and tear glands, resulting in dry eyes and dry mouth. Some patients with this disease may also experience inflammation in their vaginal lining, resulting in dryness.2
5. Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal contraceptives, including pills, patches, and rings, work by introducing a small amount of estrogen and progestin into the body to inhibit pregnancy. While it’s not common, hormonal birth control can potential cause vaginal dryness by mimicking the latter half of the menstrual cycle, which tends to be high in progesterone but low in estrogen. That can potentially be enough to cause vaginal dryness.4
Without water, your body can dry out. Dehydration can potentially result in vaginal dryness among other serious symptoms.5
Natural Remedies for Vaginal Dryness
Hormone therapy tends to be the main treatment for vaginal dryness. It aims at rebalancing hormones and returning estrogen levels to normal. However, hormone therapy can come with side effects, and it may not be the right treatment for you. There are some natural remedies that you can try.
Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen. They are commonly found in soy and soy-based products like tofu. A meta-study evaluating data from 62 different studies found that supplementation with phytoestrogens resulted in a reduction in menopause symptoms. This included modest decreases in hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Individual interventions with phytoestrogens, including dietary and supplemental soy isoflavones, was associated with improvements in daily hot flashes and vaginal dryness.6 Further research is necessary to determine the effectiveness and general association between phytoestrogens and menopausal health, as well as the optimum dosage and intake method, but these initial studies are promising.
Kudzu, a type of perennial vine, may also help with vaginal dryness. This may be a result of the estrogenic components found in kudzu. Studies show that kudzu root has high estrogenic activity and high isoflavone content, making it an interesting potential alternative to hormone replacement therapy.7
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 71 postmenopausal women were given either a placebo or up to 50 mg of kudzu root in the form of an oral capsule taken daily for 24 weeks. The results of this study found that the mean vaginal dryness scores decreased in the kudzu group after just 12 weeks of treatment without any adverse effects. This suggests that kudzu root may improve the health of vaginal tissue while reducing vaginal dryness and improving signs of vaginal atrophy.8
3. Tribulus terrestris
Tribulus terristris is a well known herb known for its aphrodisiac properties in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Not just one but two studies in humans found that taking Tribulus terrestris extract improved lubrication when compared to placebos.16-17
Tribulus terrestris was thought to increase testosterone levels but studies have been inconclusive. Newer studies have revealed that it has pro-erectile activities via nitric oxide dependent mechanisms.18 Both men and women have erectile tissue in their sexual organs which explains why Tribulus terrestris has been found to be beneficial for both sexes.
4. Black Cohosh
A perennial herb belonging to the buttercup family, black cohosh has been suggested as a natural remedy for symptoms related to menopause and perimenopause. A meta-analysis of nine clinical trials found that black cohosh was effective in reducing the frequency of vasomotor symptoms common to menopause, like night sweats and hot flashes.9 Another study found that black cohosh was effective in helping to regulate body temperature in rats that had their ovaries removed.10
Existing studies are limited, and further research is necessary to understand the mechanisms involved and if black cohosh could help with all menopausal symptoms, including vaginal dryness. Black cohosh is most often taken as a ground powder, extract, or liquid mixture, though the most optimal serving size is not known.11
5. Wild Yam
Wild yam is one of the most popularly touted natural remedies for menstrual symptoms. Its main active component is diosgenin, a phytosteroid that mimics natural steroids produced in the body. Some believe that wild yam may influence hormonal balance that may help to reduce certain symptoms of menopause, including vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, and a low libido. Although some evidence points to wild yam as an anti-inflammatory that can reduce arthritis, there is very little evidence to suggest that wild yam has any effect on estrogen levels. However, as a steroid, it can potentially interact with hormones, which may be a problem if you are taking hormone replacement therapy or any form of hormonal birth control.12
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that mostly populate the human gut. However, a smaller population exists within the vagina. Maintaining a thriving and balanced vaginal microflora may help to prevent infections and support overall vaginal health. Studies found that a relatively low abundance of Lactobacillus bacteria within the vaginal microbiome was associated with vaginal atrophy. Researchers found that by orally administering probiotics increased these populations.13 This suggests that supplementing with probiotics, may potentially prevent or reduce vaginal dryness and other signs of vaginal atrophy.
7. Moisturizers and Personal Lubricants
Applying moisturizers with natural ingredients can help to lubricate and soothe vaginal dryness. Most personal lubricants are made of water because using oils can lead to the failure of condoms and other rubber-based contraceptive devices.
Some natural lubricants with oil to watch out for include:
- Coconut oil
Moisturizers are not designed to cure the condition, so you may still want to consult your doctor to address any underlying hormonal issues.
Along with the above, you can make some simple changes to your lifestyle to reduce vaginal dryness and maintain your comfort. This includes:
- Avoiding perfumed products – Soaps, deodorants, and other products often contain fragrances from harsh chemicals. These chemicals can irritate the vaginal tissue, which can result in further dryness along with pain and burning. Always opts for non-scented, natural ingredients.
- Stay hydrated – Drink plenty of water to keep your entire system hydrated.
- Exercise – Maintaining a regular exercise regimen may help to maintain hormonal balance.
- Quit smoking – Studies show that cigarettes can actually contribute to vaginal atrophy and even potentially bring on an early menopause (on top of all the other problems that come with smoking).15
- Use lube during sex – Use a water-based, glycerin-free lubricant during sex to reduce irritation and ensure comfort for you and your partner. However, avoid lubricants that contain fragrances or spermicidal chemicals, both of which can irritate the vaginal lining and cause pH imbalances.
Vaginal dryness can cause increased discomfort in all aspects of your life, but with some natural remedies, you can reduce the dryness and support your vaginal health. If you’re still experiencing vaginal dryness after using products like DrFormulas® Libido Support with Tribulus terrestris, consult your doctor.