Vaginal pain, itching or dryness can soon drive you to despair, especially when they make having sex difficult or even impossible, as this can place a huge strain on your relationship. There are three common types of vaginal irritation. Vaginal dryness often occurs during the menopause when oestrogen production decreases – this has the effect of reducing lubricating secretions, causing soreness or itching and pain during intercourse.
Vestibulitis is extreme sensitivity or inflammation around the entrance of the vagina. Although its cause is unknown it can sometimes be triggered by a reaction to chemicals in soaps, talcum powder or deodorant – so make sure you avoid these if you’re diagnosed with the condition.
The third type of vaginal infection is vaginitis – a burning or itching sensation that occurs deeper inside the vagina, which is normally accompanied by a heavy or abnormal discharge. This normally results from an infection with the yeast Candida (also a cause of vaginal dryness and vestibulitis); or a single-celled (protozoan) organism called Trichomonas.
Fortunately, following a low carb diet and taking certain nutritional supplements can offer effective relief and bring an end to these distressing symptoms.
Conventional treatments can cause everything from blurred vision to candida
First, it is important that you see your doctor if you experience any form of vaginal discomfort, in order to identify the problem.
Vaginal irritation is normally treated with one of the following: an anaesthetic gel (blocks the transmission of pain signals from surface nerves to the brain); steroid cream (inhibits the production of histamine, a chemical that causes pain and inflammation); antibiotics, antifungal or anti-protozoal drugs (all three kill the harmful organisms directly). You may also be prescribed the antidepressant amitryptiline, a sedative that has a mild analgesic (painkilling) effect which can help relieve pain at night.
However, all of these medications can cause a wide range of side effects. Anaesthetic gels can cause increased irritation and steroid creams permanent thinning of the vaginal walls. Antibiotics suppress the immune system, anti-fungals can produce a burning and stinging sensation, and anti-protozoal drugs are linked to causing nausea and loss of appetite. Amitryptiline’s side effects include drowsiness, sweating, dry mouth, blurred vision and dizziness or fainting (BMA New Guide to Medicines and Drugs, 2001).
Worse still, antibiotics and steroids will only make things worse if a candida infection is at the root of your problem, since they encourage its growth.
Candida: Up to one third of women who experience painful intercourse have a candida infection
A common cause of vaginal irritation is candida. One study showed that almost one third of women complaining of pain during intercourse were suffering from this infection (J. Reprod. Med., 1998; 43: 952-8).
It is likely to be present if you have a thick, whitish discharge, if you have previously suffered from thrush or digestive problems, if you have fatigue, muscle or joint pains, or if you have been taking antibiotics, steroids or the contraceptive pill.
Diagnosing and treating candida successfully can be a complex and sometimes lengthy process, which is best done under the supervision of an experienced complementary practitioner.
Candida: A low carb diet produces a hostile environment in which candida is unable to survive
The most important part of candida treatment is to ‘starve’ this yeast of the sugars and other carbohydrates it needs to multiply, by adhering to a strict low carb diet. Completely avoid all sweetened foods, honey, fruit juices, dried and fresh fruit. Also avoid milk and dairy products, because of their high content of the sugar lactose and antibiotic residues.
You’ll need to cut all yeast-containing foods from your diet too – these include yeast extract, stock cubes, bread, alcoholic drinks, cheese, black tea, and vinegar – as they all encourage the growth of candida. Instead, eat plenty of fresh green vegetables, salads, fish, poultry and meat. When preparing meals include liberal amounts of garlic, ginger, extra-virgin olive oil, and herbs such as rosemary, thyme, marjoram and lemon balm – they all possess powerful anti-fungal properties.
Drink at least two litres of pure water every day, to help eliminate the toxins produced as the candida dies off. Replenish your beneficial bacteria by using a supplement of Acidophilus that guarantees at least 2 billion viable organisms per capsule. Take one capsule by mouth and, if not too painful, insert another capsule into the vagina every night before you go to sleep.
Candida: Vitamins that help you fight the infection and combat the effects of the menopause
With any infection, including candida, it’s important to boost your body’s own immune defences. Vitamin C increases the bacteria-destroying activity of your white blood cells and improves the integrity of your connective tissue, which helps prevent the infection from spreading (Inf. Immun., 1975; 12: 252-6).
It also supports your adrenal glands, which continue to produce small amounts of oestrogen after the menopause. Take 1,000mg of vitamin C every four hours for three days. Then reduce the dose to 1,000mg twice a day for one month. However, do not take more than 5,000mg in 24 hours as it can cause diarrhoea.
Zinc is another nutrient that supports immune function and high levels have been found to be toxic to the organism Trichomonas (one cause of vaginitis), even when antibiotics have failed (Lancet, 1983; i: 1053). Take 15mg of zinc citrate twice a day for one month.
Vitamin E has been found to increase resistance to organisms that cause vaginitis. In addition, it helps balance hormone levels and prevents vaginal dryness (Am. J. Ob. Gyn., 1954; 67: 407-10). Take 400IU a day of the d-alpha tocopherol form. Other supplements that can help with menopause-related vaginal dryness are the B vitamins, which either have oestrogen-like effects or increase the action of your body’s own oestrogen supplies (J. Endo., 1974; 62: 241-4). Take a vitamin B complex supplement each day.
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