Natural Remedies for Vaginal Atrophy
When you get a diagnosis of a chronic condition like vaginal atrophy (or VA, also known as genitourinary syndrome of menopause), you might be wondering if your only treatment option is estrogen therapy, in all its various forms like rings, creams, or tablets. And while up to 90% of women with moderate to severe VA show improvement with this treatment type, there are “natural” options that can help lessen (or even stop!) VA symptoms if estrogen therapy isn’t working for you—or you just want to explore other treatments. Read what our experts have to say on natural remedies for VA.
Have Sex on the Regular
When you think “natural” solutions for VA, you might not be thinking of sex—but that’s exactly where your mind should go. “The old adage, ‘Use it or lose it,’ really applies here,” says Sheryl Kingsberg, Ph.D., chief of the division of behavioral medicine in the department of OB/GYN at MacDonald Women’s Hospital in Cleveland. “Exercising the vaginal tissues is important to treat and/or prevent VA/GSM.” VA not only includes thinning and drying of the vagina, but narrowing and shortening of the vaginal canal, which is stretched when you have sex. To make sure it’s comfortable, read on.
Embrace All-Natural Lubes on the Market...
Using lubrication when having sex is vital to maintaining comfort, Kingsberg says, because VA hinders our ability to lubricate. Making sure those lubes are all-natural isn’t as tricky as it might have once been—you just need to get savvy at reading labels. Steer clear of anything petroleum-based. Look for all-natural, water-based products without glycerin or parabens. It’s best to find a product that has a similar pH to vaginal secretions (usually 3.8-4.5). Warming agents can also cause irritation and should be skipped.
...Or Use Oils from Your Kitchen
If you want the optimal natural lubrication, try extra-virgin coconut oil, says Sheryl A. Ross, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist (OB-GYN) in Santa Monica, CA. “It’s a cleaner, hydrator, and moisturizer all in one,” she says. Just know that if you need to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), oils can damage condoms, and shouldn’t be used as lube. Some people might be allergic to certain oils in their vagina, so watch out for any irritation. Other natural oils to try include olive and sea buckthorn oil (a study of this oil found promising results for VA).
Don’t Discount All-Natural Moisturizers
While lubricants play an important role during sex, moisturizers can help reduce vaginal dryness not only when you’re getting it on but throughout the day too, Kingsberg says. Just like lubricants, it’s important to read the ingredient label for moisturizers, avoiding any products with parabens, glycerin, or propylene glycol. Look for products that are certified organic (like the YES VM vaginal moisturizer or the Good Clean Love product line). Most women’s go-to pick? Hyaluronic acid. You can get it in different forms over the counter or with a prescription, including applicators and inserts. Aloe vera is another natural choice.
CBD Oil Can Help, Too
If you’re experiencing pain, CBD oil may offer some relief, Dr. Ross says. “It’s a great anti-inflammatory medicine when you’re thinking about natural options,” she says. If you’ve ever browsed in a CBD dispensary, you might be overwhelmed by the number and variety of products. In this case, look for a lubricant that contains the ingredient, she suggests.
Talk About Vitamin E Suppositories with Your Doctor
If you’re not able to use estrogen therapy (like if you’ve had breast cancer or have coronary artery disease), or have experienced troublesome side effects from it (which can include hot flashes, vaginal discharge, or blood clots), using vitamin E suppositories might be a possibility, a 2016 study found. It looked at surveyed results of 52 postmenopausal women divided into two groups, receiving either 100 IU of vitamin E suppositories or 0.5 g of conjugated estrogen cream. Researchers found that vitamin E suppositories relieved VA symptoms—but always talk about any new treatment option with your doctor before trying!
Take Advantage of a Good Diet and Daily Exercise
Like so many things in life, a plant-based diet and regular exercise routine is important for overall vaginal health, Kingsberg says. Diet can provide invaluable nutrients and vitamins. Exercise can improve blood flow. A probiotic might help VA, too, according to one study. Beginning healthy habits early in life is also extra helpful, Dr. Ross says. “Starting at an earlier age gives your tissue a fighting chance,” she says. “We’re always trying to fix things at the last minute, but a good offense is the best defense.”
Get Physical (With Physical Therapy)
A lesser-known symptom of VA is pelvic floor dysfunction, Kingsberg explains. Sometimes, pain in the vaginal area actually stems from this condition. Talk to your OB-GYN about getting a referral to a physical therapist who specializes in the pelvic floor for a natural way of addressing this, she suggests. “Everybody tends to know about Kegel exercises, but sometimes they can be unhelpful depending on the problem,” Kingsberg says. If you’re experiencing shortening of muscles because of tension, for example, you wouldn’t want to tense those muscles more with Kegels. A physical therapist can give you appropriate, personalized exercises.
Dilators for the Win
Ever heard of a vaginal dilator? These cone-shaped devices are easy to find online. There are also types you can wear while sitting or standing, so explore which option is best for you, suggests Dr. Ross. Unless you’re engaging in penetrative sexual activity daily, adding a dilator to your sexy-time routine can be helpful, Kingsberg says. A couple of minutes of insertion a few times a week should keep things stretched. Then, she says, when you do have intercourse, it shouldn’t be painful.
Be Aware of Which ‘Natural’ Remedies for VA You Should Avoid
Keep in mind that not all natural products are created equal. “Vaginal pH is very sensitive,” Dr. Ross says. “So different types of gels and other products that are plain as far as no additives, fragrances, and parabens will be more accommodating.” Sometimes those additives, which also include sodium sulfates and other chemicals designed to make products smell pretty, can trigger a rash or yeast imbalance. Be on the lookout for “for anything that would cause irritation, like douching,” Kingsberg adds. As with trying anything new, even “natural,” be sure to discuss use with your doctor first.