Although vaginal dryness is most common among women during and after menopause, the condition can affect women of any age. Often accompanied by itching and/or a burning sensation, vaginal dryness can contribute to pain during sex or an increase in urinary frequency.
Causes of Vaginal Dryness
In most cases, vaginal dryness is the result of a decrease in estrogen levels. As you age, a fall in estrogen levels can reduce the amount of moisture lining your vaginal walls. Age-related hormonal changes can also alter the consistency of this moisture.
For some women, hormonal changes resulting from pregnancy or breast-feeding can also lead to a decrease in vaginal lubrication. Estrogen levels may also drop due to:
- use of radiation, chemotherapy, and/or hormone therapy in treatment of cancer
- immune disorders
- cigarette smoking
- surgical removal of the ovaries
In other cases, vaginal dryness may result from use of medications that reduce moisture levels throughout the body (such as allergy and cold medicines). Douching is also known to cause vaginal dryness.
Treatment for Vaginal Dryness
Since vaginal dryness can sometimes signal an underlying health problem (such as infection), it's important to consult your physician if you experience any symptoms of this condition. Standard treatments include the use of vaginal estrogen-based creams, as well as water-based lubricants.
Vaginal Dryness Remedies
Here's a look at several substances often touted as natural remedies for vaginal dryness:
Applied topically, creams made with wild yam are often marketed as a natural source of estrogen. However, there's no evidence that wild yam can increase estrogen levels or have any effect on vaginal dryness.
Similarly, there's no scientific support for the claim that dietary supplements containing the herb black cohosh can help relieve vaginal dryness.
In a study published in 2007 of 71 healthy postmenopausal women, researchers found taking the herb kudzu in capsule form daily for 24 weeks helped alleviate vaginal dryness and restore the health of the participants' vaginal tissue.
Containing estrogen-like substances called "isoflavones," soy is thought to help improve symptoms of vaginal dryness. Although researchers are looking into the vaginal-health effects of a diet rich in soy foods (such as tofu), the ideal source and dose of soy are currently unknown.
Should You Use Natural Remedies to Treat Vaginal Dryness?
Given the lack of science behind any natural remedy's effect on vaginal dryness, it's important to consult your physician before attempting to self-treat this condition with alternative medicine.
Komesaroff PA, Black CV, Cable V, Sudhir K. "Effects of wild yam extract on menopausal symptoms, lipids and sex hormones in healthy menopausal women." Climacteric. 2001 4(2):144-50.
Manonai J, Chittacharoen A, Theppisai U, Theppisai H. "Effect of Pueraria mirifica on vaginal health." Menopause. 2007 14(5):919-24.
MayoClinic.com. "Vaginal dryness". April 2010.
Reed SD, Newton KM, LaCroix AZ, Grothaus LC, Grieco VS, Ehrlich K. "Vaginal endometrial, and reproductive hormone findings: randomized, placebo-controlled trial of black cohosh, multibotanical herbs, and dietary soy for vasomotor symptoms: the Herbal Alternatives for Menopause (HALT) Study." Menopause. 2008 15(1):51-8.
The National Institutes of Health. "Vaginal dryness alternative treatments: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia". March 2010.