3 Natural Treatment Options for Vaginal Dryness

Vaginal dryness is a common complaint during peri-menopause and menopause but it can happen at any age.  As estrogen levels start to drop, vaginal moisture dries up which can result in vaginal atrophy, painful intercourse and an increased risk for vaginal infections. The hormonal changes following childbirth can also cause vaginal dryness and painful intercourse.

The good news is there are a variety of natural treatment options for vaginal dryness.

1. Hydrate your vagina from the inside out

Keeping your body hydrated and moist is crucial to combat vaginal dryness. Drink at least 2L of water each and every day. Increase your intake of healthy oils including cold-pressed olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, flax oil etc. Aim for at least 1 tsp with every meal. If you’re still experiencing vaginal dryness, consider adding a Sea Buckthorne supplement. Sea Buckthorne is an omega-7 fatty acid which specifically helps relieve vaginal dryness (and it makes your skin look great as an added bonus). I love NFH’s Sea Buckthorne SAP which is available at Docere Naturopathic Clinic + IV Lounge and through our online dispensary.

2. Try Dr. Sarah’s compounded vaginal cream

This non-hormonal option is great for younger women with vaginal dryness or women who can’t or prefer not to use hormones. It combines hyaluronic acid (which helps to attract and retain moisture) and vitamins A and E to help hydrate and heal the tissues. Apply it every night for 2 weeks then 2 times per week or as needed. Just ask for a prescription at your next appointment! Another option is the over-the-counter product Cala-Gel by St. Francis Herb Farm.

3. Ask about bio-identical estrogen cream

Estriol is the weakest of our 3 naturally made forms of estrogen. It can be applied as a cream vaginally which is extremely safe and poses minimal risk. Estriol is so safe that it’s actually being used in women who have a history of breast cancer. Ask Dr. Sarah if this product may be right for you. It’s also applied nightly for 2 weeks, then 2 times a week for 2 weeks then as needed.

Is Stress Shutting Down Your Sex Drive?

One of the most frequent complaints that I hear from women in my office is that they have no sex drive. Like zero. Nada. Nothing. It’s as if that part of their brain has turned off and doesn’t seem to want to turn back on anytime soon.

There are many reasons why women experience a low sex drive including side effects from birth control pills, low estrogen and low testosterone. But, in my experience, the number one cause of low libido is STRESS.

The reality is that our sex drive is turned down as a PROTECTIVE MECHANISM. What you need to understand is that stress shuts down our sex drive for good reason.

When the body is under stress, it activates the sympathetic nervous system which is also known as our “fight or flight” response. When this response is activated, our body engages in a variety of activities that help us to survive and cope with that stress. We send lots of blood to our brain (so we can respond quickly and appropriately) and lungs and muscles (so we can run away). We may not be fighting off saber tooth tigers anymore but our body still responds in the same way. And let’s face it ladies, between family, work, and social obligations, we’re under low-grade stress all the time.

Another side-effect of this stress response is a reduction of blood flow to your reproductive organs and putting a major damper on your sex drive. WHY? The last thing your body needs when it’s under stress is another human being to take care off (aka a baby). You see, when you are under stress, your body shuts down your sex drive to limit the chances you’ll become pregnant in an effort to try to help you.

Even if you’re post-menopausal or on birth control and technically can’t get pregnant, your body will still shut down your libido because it doesn’t know any better. It’s a automatic response that is hard wired into us that actually helped keep our ancestors alive.

So, if you want that part of your brain to wake up and re-activate, you need to practice getting out of that sympathetic “fight or flight” response and start hanging out in a more relaxed parasympathetic “rest and digest” state. This is when the body is relaxed, feels safe and can start to warm that fire in your loins. (PS. men also need to be in this state to achieve and maintain an erection).

My best strategies for tapping into “rest and digest”:

  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night (this is the ultimate relaxed state)
  • Take 10 deep abdominal breaths before each meal
  • Learn to say “no” (and not feel guilty about it!)
  • Start a daily meditation practice such as the HeadSpace App (and come try our new service: MUSE Biofeedback Meditation)
  • Cultivate mindfulness (try to enjoy the present moment.) Start with simple activities such as mindfully brushing your teeth. Keep your mind focused by paying attention to the smell and taste of your toothpaste, the feeling of the brush against your teeth, the sounds it’s making. It’s simple but it works!

Wondering if stress is really affecting your sex drive and overall health?

Get your stress hormone levels test with our Adrenal Function Panel. It’s a simple at home saliva test that maps out your cortisol and DHEAS. You can learn more about it here. Test Cost = $220.

Is Estrogen Dominance causing your weight gain, heavy periods, and breast tenderness?

digestive-upsetWhat is estrogen dominance?

Estrogen is one of the primary female sex hormones. In women, estrogen helps initiate sexual development, regulates menstruation, and effects the entire reproductive system. Normally, estrogen is in delicate balance with another primary sex hormone, progesterone. This balance is necessary for both to function efficiently, and can be susceptible to disruption if levels in either shift.

There are two ways that estrogen dominance can present itself in the body. When the body has either too much estrogen from overproduction, or a lack of progesterone, it enters a state referred to as “estrogen dominance.” That is, too much estrogen relative to progesterone.

The body produces three main types of estrogen: estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Many women’s ailments, including breast cancer, uterine fibroids and cancer, ovarian cysts and cancer, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and hypothyroidism are caused or promoted by excesses of estradiol, estrone, environmental estrogens, and synthetic estrogens.

Estrogen in our bodies comes from five possible sources:

  • FROM INSIDE THE BODY: estrogen is made in the ovaries, placenta, adrenal glands, and fat cells.
  • FROM OUTSIDE THE BODY:
    • Estrogen-like foods and herbs (e.g. soy, legumes, pumpkin seeds, licorice root, etc.)
    • Animal products that has been raised using hormones (e.g. meat, poultry, fish, dairy.)
    • Environmental chemicals or xenoestrogens (e.g. pesticides, plastics, parabens, cleaning products, personal care products, etc.)
    • Synthetic estrogens (e.g. birth control, fertility drugs, hormone replacement therapy.)

What Causes Estrogen Dominance?

During the course of a normal menstrual cycle, estrogen is the dominant hormone for the first two weeks leading up to ovulation. Estrogen is balanced by progesterone during the last two weeks. However, as a woman approaches perimenopause and begins to experience anovulatory cycles (i.e. cycles where no ovulation occurs), estrogen can often go unopposed, thus causing symptoms. Skipping ovulation, however, is only one potential factor in estrogen dominance. Other causes may include:

  • Being overweight (i.e. body fat greater than 28%) since fat cells produce estrogen
  • Having a burdened liver, which leads to estrogen not being broken down and eliminated from the body efficiently. The result is estrogen recirculating and accumulating.
  • Being overstressed. This results in excess amounts of cortisol, insulin, and norepinephrine, which can lead to adrenal exhaustion and adversely affect your overall hormonal balance.
  • A low-fibre diet containing too many refined carbohydrates, and not enough nutrients and high quality fats. Fibre helps eliminate estrogen through bowel movements.
  • Environmental exposure to estrogen-like compounds such as phthalates and BPA.

Estrogen dominance has also been linked to allergies, autoimmune disorders, breast cancer, uterine cancer, infertility, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and increased blood clotting, and is also associated with acceleration of the aging process.

Signs and Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance:

Estrogen dominance can result in serious long-term complications, as well as other signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Weight gain (especially in the hips and thighs)
  • Irregular/abnormal menstruation (heavy bleeding, large clots)
  • Insomnia (especially waking up in the middle of the night)
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Fibrocystic breasts, breast swelling and tenderness
  • Low libido
  • Sluggish metabolism
  • Foggy thinking, memory loss
  • Acne
  • Mood swings
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Headaches

Ways to Decrease Estrogen Dominance:

  • Follow a hormone-balancing diet (i.e. eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, enough protein, and healthy fats.)
  • Increase your fibre intake to help the excretion of estrogen, which can also prevent its reabsorption through the bowel
  • Consume cruciferous veggies (such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts) daily to help with estrogen metabolism and clearance
  • Choose organic meat and dairy to reduce your exposure to environmental hormones used in farming
  • Reduce excess body fat and exercise regularly to promote detoxification and circulation
  • Manage daily stress
  • Reduce your exposure to hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics in your environment and diet
  • Avoid synthetic estrogens (e.g. birth control pills, synthetic hormone replacement therapy)
  • Switch your personal care products to those that are free of phthalates, fragrances, parabens and other hormone disrupting chemicals
  • Get rid of plastic water bottles and food storage containers. Replace them with ceraminc, glass or stainless steel.

Resources:

Common Causes of Hair Loss

hair lossBackground: Hair’s Natural Growth Cycle

Hair grows in three different cycles: anagen, catagen, and telogen. About 90% of the hair on the head is in the anagen, or growth phase, which lasts anywhere from 2 to 8 years. The catagen, or transition phase, typically lasts 2 to 3 weeks, during which the hair follicle shrinks. During the telogen cycle, which lasts around 2 to 4 months, the hair rests.

Most people normally shed 50 to 100 hairs a day. This usually doesn’t cause noticeable thinning of scalp hair because new hair is growing in at the same time. Hair loss occurs when this cycle of hair growth and shedding is disrupted or when the hair follicle is destroyed and replaced with scar tissue.

The exact cause of hair loss may not be fully understood, but it is usually related to one or more of the following factors:

  • Genetics (e.g. family history)
  • Hormonal changes or imbalances (e.g. pregnancy, menopause, birth control pills)
  • Medical conditions
  • Medications
  • Stress (including after surgery)
  • Improper nutrition (vitamin and/or mineral deficiency)

Although hair loss may seem like a more prominent problem in men, women are nearly as likely to lose or have thinning hair.

Common Causes of Hair Loss in Women

1. High Cortisol:

Hair loss is often caused by an imbalance in hormone levels. One of the hormones closely connected with hair loss is cortisol.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is normally released in response to events and circumstances such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and acute stress. In its normal function, cortisol regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body including metabolism and immune response. It also has an important role in helping the body respond to stress (i.e. the body’s fight-or-flight response).

However, at sustained high levels, cortisol can be damaging over time. Extended stress leads to extended periods of high cortisol levels. While the adrenal glands are busy making extra cortisol, they make less of the hormones that support healthy hair growth.

2. Low Protein Intake:

Hair loss may occasionally be caused by lack of protein in the diet. When this happens, the body will help save protein by shifting growing hairs into the resting phase. Increased hair shedding can occur two to three months later.

3Elevated Male Hormones:

  • Testosterone: High levels of testosterone has been commonly associated with hair loss. Although women have much lower levels of testosterone than men do, there is enough to potentially cause hair loss, particularly during periods of hormonal change.  However, researchers now believe that it is not only amount of circulating testosterone that leads to hair loss, but more significantly the level of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) binding to receptors in scalp follicles.
  • Dihydrotestosterone (DHT): Testosterone converts to DHT with the aid of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, which is held in a hair follicle’s oil glands. In high levels, DHT shrinks hair follicles, decreasing hair’s natural growth cycle and ability to replace itself.

4. Thyroid Issues:

Hair loss may be a sign that thyroid hormones are out of balance. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause hair to shed. Because hair growth depends on the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, abnormal levels of thyroid hormones can result in hair changes if left untreated. When the thyroid gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism), the hair on your head can become fine, with thinning hair all over the scalp. When the thyroid gland is underactive (hypothyroidism), there can be hair loss, not just on the scalp, but also anywhere on the body. In most cases, the hair will grow back once the thyroid disorder is treated.

5. Low Progesterone:

From the time menses begins until menopause, levels of estrogen and progesterone in women ebb and flow to promote reproduction. At about age 35 to 40, women reach the time of perimenopause. This is when their levels of progesterone and estrogen begin to reduce. Progesterone helps to counterbalance the negative effects of estrogen. When there is not enough progesterone to counterbalance estrogen, one may begin to have symptoms of estrogen dominance, such as hair loss.

6. Iron Deficiency:

Iron deficiency hair loss is caused when the body lacks enough iron to produce hemoglobin in the blood. Hemoglobin carries oxygen for the growth and repair of all body cells including the cells that make up hair follicles.

Temporary hair loss such as iron deficiency hair loss is called telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium is an abnormality of the hair growth cycle that causes hair that would normally be in the anagen (growth) phase of the hair growth cycle to be prematurely pushed into the telogen (rest) phase, causing hair to shed. Because hair is non-essential, hair growth is one of the first processes to be affected when iron or other nutrient deficiencies occur.

7. Zinc Deficiency:

Zinc is a trace mineral that is needed for many important bodily functions in the body such as building healthy cells, regulating hormones, and aiding in the absorption of other nutrients.

Zinc is available through foods such as beef, pork, shellfish, peanuts, and legumes. Zinc deficiency (or hypozincemia) is a nutrient deficiency precipitated by malnutrition or malabsorption of the element. Deficiency may cause weak, brittle nails, diarrhea, slow healing, and hair loss.

Resources:

  • Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hair-loss/basics/definition/con-20027666
  • http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/zinc/background/hrb-20060638
  • You & Your Hormones: http://www.yourhormones.info/Hormones/Cortisol.aspx
  • Today’s Dietician: http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111609p38.shtml
  • WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/hair-loss/hair-loss-causes-women

The Super Secret Weapon to Surviving Menopause? Your adrenal glands!

Women are all too familiar with the symptoms that signal the impending doom of menopause- hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue and mood changes! These symptoms occur because the ovaries start producing less estrogen as they prepare for retirement. Rapidly declining estrogen levels can cause intense and severe symptoms that can really affect a woman’s quality of life. But menopause need not be a dreaded time in a woman’s life- for our bodies have a secret weapon that can help make the transition through menopause much smoother….our ADRENAL GLANDS!

What are Adrenal Glands?
The adrenals are two small glands that sit above the kidney (hence their name!). These glands are well known for making stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, but what most of us don’t know is that our adrenal glands also produce sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone!

Why are they important?
During the menopausal years, as our ovaries start producing less female hormones, our adrenals are called into action to be our main producers of these hormones. The problem is that most of us enter menopause with adrenal glands that are already tired and overworked due to years of living in our stress-filled modern world. When the adrenal glands are already exhausted when a woman enters menopause, they have a harder time producing these much needed female hormones.

It is therefore imperative that all women support their adrenal glands during the menopausal years (and ideally before!) so that they can produce estrogen and progesterone which will help to make the transition much smoother.

Here are my top 5 tips for supporting your adrenal glands:

1. Make sleep a priority

Our adrenal glands need a good night’s sleep in order to regenerate and recover from daily stresses. Aim to get 8-10 hours of quality sleep each night and be in bed no later than 11 pm.

2. Increase your intake of foods rich in magnesium and vitamins B5 and C.

Magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin B5 are most concentrated in the adrenal glands where they provide the nutrient needed for healthy adrenal function.  Increase foods that are rich in these nutrients.

Magnesium: pumpkin seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, soybeans, sesame seeds, halibut, black beans, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds

Vitamin C: Papaya, Bell Peppers, Strawberries, Broccoli, Pineapple, Brussel Sprouts, Kiwifruit, Oranges, Cantaloupe, Kale

Vitamin B5: Cremini and shiitake mushrooms, avocado, yogurt, corn sweet potato, cauliflower, broccoli, grapefruit, bell peppers, and asparagus.

3. Indulge in a cup of licorice tea

Licorice is one of my favorite herbs for supporting the adrenal glands. It helps to nourish and relax the body…and it’s caffeine-free so you can have it anytime! Caution: do not use if you have high blood pressure.

4. Relax….you deserve it!

Our adrenal glands get fired up every time we perceive stress. Did you know that on average, we experience 50 brief stress response episodes per day? This means that for many of us, our adrenal glands are constantly being drawn on to help us adapt and resist life’s daily stresses. Counteract these effects by making relaxation a priority every day…whether it’s a yoga class, a hot bath, or 5 minutes of deep breathing.

5. Limit your caffeine intake

Caffeine not only gives your mind a jolt – but your adrenals too. Limit this daily assault by eliminating caffeine if possible or limiting your intake of caffeinated beverages to no more than 2 per day. In fact, caffeine itself can trigger hot flashes.

I hope you find these tips helpful and they can make your menopausal years more enjoyable. If you are interested in receiving additional support for your menopausal symptoms, book your free consultation to learn how I can help create a personalized plan for you including salivary hormone testing, nutrition guidelines, herbal support, and acupuncture.