Updated: Oct 17
In our private practice Spiced Life Conversation, LLC patients are often referred to us by obstetrician-gynecologists and cosmetic plastic and reconstructive surgery specialists. Most times they need support with their wellness goals and they ask the physician whether they should work with a nutritionist or health coach, and if so what can they offer them, and what results to expect as well as who would they refer?
Since the rebranding of my private practice in 2016 I've been a preferred nutritionist and recovery coach in Atlanta, Georgia. One reason for this success is that I reach out to healthcare providers within my community and let them know I'm here to educate their patients. Most doctors can't spend an hour or ninety-minute sessions with their patients explaining the diagnosis in full detail and what to expect or even creating a recovery plan to help them succeed. Some healthcare providers don't mind running 15 to 30 minutes behind schedule to take time with patients to make sure they have all the information they need. Living in busy Atlanta, the reality of this is very limited just as their knowledge of nutrition. That's where I come in to fill the gap with my empathy, Panama City, Florida small-town girl down-to-earth nature, and desire to support in the healing journey of others no matter how long it takes.
Therefore, to jumpstart our new blog we will discuss womb health for the entire month of January. This post discusses the wellness education we give our partners to help support healthcare providers we provide wellness consultations. I am a firm believer that less is more. I'm straight to the point and very direct. I created a short simple direct-to-the-point guide to help explain how nutrition can positively impact mental and emotional well-being as well as women's health. This simple short tool is a big resource for clients seeking support with their wellness goals. I decided to make it public so others can have clarity about what is needed to obtain their wellness goals. I always tell my clients, that you have to be your own advocate. If there's no one to speak for you, you’ve got to learn how to speak for yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it in person, use the online patient portal to send a question. Schedule a telehealth appointment. Call and ask to speak to the nurse if you have other questions. Research information online so you know what to ask your provider. You have to find your most comfortable way to communicate. I'm always pointing people in the direction of
practicing self-care, self-advocacy, and self-love.
This resource was created to support you in your quest. I pray it is eye-opening and informative but that it's also supportive and strength-giving. If you have been diagnosed with vaginal atrophy or other women's health issues this short guide can give you clarity and hope to what's needed to begin your healing journey. Let's Begin!
Enhancing Vaginal Health through Nutrition, Herbs, and Emotional Well-being
What is Vaginal Atrophy
Vaginal atrophy, also known as atrophic vaginitis, and now the term vaginal atrophy was changed to GSM genitourinary syndrome of menopause because it can affect the whole pelvic area, including the vulva, clitoris, vagina, bladder, and urethra, is a medical condition characterized by the thinning, drying, inflammation, and overall weakening of the vaginal walls. It typically occurs due to a decrease in estrogen levels, commonly associated with menopause, although it can also affect women during perimenopause or those who have undergone certain cancer treatments. In my case which is rarely discussed, I was twenty-eight years old when I was diagnosed with vaginal atrophy, as a postpartum mom who experienced four cesareans and a truckers wife living a long distance marriage having sex maybe once a month or every six weeks. I was not using my vaginal and struggled with hormone imbalance, a binge eating disorder, sugar addiction, codependent people pleasing, and childhood trauma of abandonment and emotional neglect and was under a lot of stress due to mom-shaming and my inability to cope with being a trucker wife and finding out my unresolved emotional pain from my past was causing chaos in my adult life. So, you can say I was going through a lot of mental and emotional distress that was affecting my hormones, mood, and mental state.
Estrogen supports our sexual and vaginal health.
Estrogen is a hormone that plays a crucial role in maintaining the health and function of the female reproductive system. It helps to keep the vaginal lining healthy, elastic and well-lubricated. When estrogen levels decline, as is common during menopause, the vaginal tissues can become thinner, less flexible, and more prone to irritation and inflammation.
Symptoms of Vaginal Atrophy may include:
Vaginal Dryness: Reduced vaginal lubrication, leading to discomfort during sexual intercourse and potential pain.
Vaginal Itching and Burning: Irritation or itching in the vaginal area due to thinning and dryness of the vaginal tissues.
Painful Intercourse: Pain or discomfort during sexual activity, often due to the thinning of the vaginal walls and reduced lubrication.
Vaginal Discharge Changes: Changes in the color, consistency, or odor of vaginal discharge.
Urinary Symptoms: Increased frequency or urgency of urination, urinary incontinence, or recurrent urinary tract infections due to changes in the urethra and bladder.
Vaginal Bleeding: Spotting or light bleeding, particularly after sexual intercourse or pelvic exams.
What is the cause of GSM/Vaginal Atrophy?
GSM is caused by the loss of estrogen at menopause. The drop in estrogen causes vaginal tissue to become thinner and vaginal dryness to occur. Lack of estrogen also changes the vaginal pH, causing a decrease in good bacteria (lactobacilli) and an overgrowth of bacteria that can increase the risk of urinary tract infections. Estrogen also affects a wide range of other pelvic functions.
What are the symptoms of GSM/Vaginal Atrophy?
Not all women will develop symptoms of GSM, but if they do, the symptoms usually appear a few years after menopause. The condition can have a big effect on sexual activity. Many women first notice vaginal dryness. This can cause pain or even bleeding during sexual activity. Some women experience changes in sexual enjoyment and trouble having an orgasm. These symptoms are caused by:
Loss of elasticity (the ability of the skin to go back to its original shape after being stretched) in the vagina
Narrowing or shortening of the vagina
Lack of blood flow to the vagina and clitoris during sex
Can I prevent GSM/Vaginal Atrophy?
Yes, you can prevent GSM with local hormone therapy (which can be prescribed based on age or early symptoms) and regular stretching of the vulvovaginal tissue through regular sexual activity or by using a dilator. If you have symptoms of GSM like I did and are not yet postmenopausal, you can discuss these treatment options with your healthcare provider).
What are some treatment options for GSM/Vaginal Atrophy?
It's essential for women experiencing symptoms of vaginal atrophy to seek medical attention. A healthcare provider can conduct a thorough evaluation, which may include a physical examination and possibly a pelvic exam, to diagnose the condition and determine an appropriate treatment plan.
Treatment for vaginal atrophy often involves:
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Estrogen therapy, either in the form of vaginal creams, rings, tablets, or patches, can help restore estrogen levels and alleviate symptoms.
Vaginal Moisturizers and Lubricants: Over-the-counter or prescription-based vaginal moisturizers and lubricants can help manage dryness and discomfort during sexual activity.
Vaginal Estrogen Creams or Tablets: These localized estrogen treatments are applied directly to the vagina and are effective in relieving symptoms with minimal absorption into the bloodstream.
Regular Sexual Activity: Engaging in sexual activity can help maintain vaginal elasticity and blood flow, contributing to vaginal health.
Pelvic Floor Exercises (Kegels): Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles through exercises may help manage symptoms like urinary incontinence.
At the beginning of my healing journey, I booked a session with a pelvic floor physical therapist who specializes in providing specialized physical therapy when there is pelvic floor dysfunction. My personal GSM/Vaginal Atrophy caused pain during sex and consequently, vaginismus—the involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor muscles due to anticipatory anxiety and fear of penetration. In my experience each time my husband entered my vaginal I would split due to fear of penetration, my vaginal muscle tighten and would close shut. Vaginismus is a common condition for women to experience. Having a pelvic floor physical therapist on your wellness team can assist in improving vaginismus and help increase awareness of pelvic muscles, learning relaxation techniques, increasing vaginal elasticity and tone, and providing ways to stretch the vaginal opening. Pelvic floor physical therapy may be combined with the use of vaginal dilators. Vaginal dilators can help reduce the fear and anxiety of penetration by gradually stretching the vaginal tissue and promoting pelvic floor muscle relaxation. Both helped a lot. When my husband was over-the-road I used the vaginal dilators and this helped my vaginal to stay open and prevented the splitting I was experiencing during sex.
Nutrition and Nourish your womb using clean foods, eat 100% clean foods if you lack access to clean options due to you living in a community known as a “food desert” which is known as the racial demographics of the areas described by this term are most often Black and Latino. When comparing communities with similar poverty rates, Black and Latino neighborhoods tend to have fewer supermarkets that offer a variety of produce and healthy foods, and have more small retail (i.e. convenience and liquor) stores that have fewer produce options than in predominantly white neighborhoods. You can live by the 80/20 rule by eating 80% clean and 20% everything else due to lack of access just try your best to eat clean foods that help detoxify and nourish the body, eat red berries for womb health, and avoid sugar and processed foods that are mucus-forming foods and destroy the life of the womb debilitating you and putting you to sleep, mucus can accumulate in the brain leading to headaches and poor memory. The goal is to eat more fibrous vegetables 80% of the time, you should have a bowel movement after each meal you eat (thus 3 a day). If you don't, you will have an unhealthy colon, you should: not eat late, and eat proper food combinations (for example option1:Protein/Vegetable/ 1-2 tablespoons of healthy fats, option 2: Healthy Fat/Protein/ half of cup of green vegetables), drink enough water to flush toxin out of the body and exercise. The goal is to learn to cook clean and eat more (raw) fruits and vegetables. Not just steamed, but raw in their natural clean state.
Management of vaginal atrophy is crucial not only for physical comfort but also for the preservation of sexual function and quality of life. Women should consult their healthcare providers to discuss symptoms, obtain an accurate diagnosis, and determine the most suitable treatment plan based on their individual health circumstances.
Womb Wellness Using Nutrition
Vaginal health is a crucial aspect of a woman's overall well-being, impacting both physical comfort and emotional stability. Vaginal atrophy, thinning vaginal walls, vaginal dryness, and discomfort during sex are common issues, particularly during menopause or as a result of hormonal changes. The emotional effects of these conditions on a woman's self-esteem and self-worth cannot be underestimated. This short guide explores the use of nutrition, herbs, and emotional well-being to support and enhance vaginal health, aiming to alleviate physical discomfort and improve overall quality of life.
Nutrition for Vaginal Health
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids play a significant role in reducing inflammation and maintaining healthy vaginal tissues. Foods such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts should be incorporated into the diet to support vaginal health.
Soy Products: Soy contains phytoestrogens, compounds that mimic estrogen in the body. Consuming soy products like tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and edamame may alleviate vaginal dryness and support hormonal balance.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is essential for skin health, including the vaginal area. Almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, and other leafy greens are good sources of vitamin E that can aid in maintaining vaginal health.
Herbs and Supplements for Vaginal Health
Black Cohosh: Black cohosh is known for its potential to relieve menopausal symptoms, including vaginal dryness and discomfort. Its estrogen-like effects can help improve vaginal health.
Evening Primrose Oil: Evening primrose oil contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which supports vaginal moisture and may reduce symptoms of vaginal atrophy.
Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis): Dong quai is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote hormonal balance and alleviate menopausal symptoms, including vaginal dryness and thinning vaginal walls.
Emotional Effects of Vaginal Atrophy
Vaginal atrophy and associated conditions can have profound emotional effects on a woman's self-esteem and self-worth. The discomfort, pain, and altered sexual function often result in anxiety, depression, and a diminished sense of femininity and desirability. These emotional effects can significantly impact a woman's overall quality of life, intimate relationships, and mental well-being.
Loss of Femininity and Desirability: Vaginal atrophy and its symptoms may make women feel less feminine and desirable, affecting their body image and self-esteem. The physical changes can lead to a sense of loss and inadequacy.
Impact on Intimate Relationships: Pain and discomfort during intercourse can strain intimate relationships, leading to communication gaps and reduced sexual intimacy. This can cause emotional distance and affect the bond between partners. For women who have a male partner, it's very important to invite your spouse to your appointments so that they become educated about what vaginal atrophy is and how it's making you feel. The more education on vaginal atrophy the better your spouse understands the transition and how it affects your mood, life, as well as your sex life.
Anxiety and Depression: Chronic discomfort and distress associated with vaginal atrophy can trigger anxiety and depression. The fear of pain during intercourse or embarrassment due to symptoms can exacerbate these mental health challenges.
Promoting vaginal health is crucial for a woman's overall well-being and quality of life. Nutrition and herbal remedies play a significant role in supporting vaginal health by addressing symptoms such as vaginal atrophy, thinning vaginal walls, vaginal dryness, and discomfort during sex. Incorporating a balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, soy products, and vitamin E, along with herbal supplements like black cohosh and evening primrose oil, can help manage these conditions effectively. Additionally, addressing the emotional effects of vaginal atrophy is vital, and a holistic approach encompassing both physical and emotional well-being is essential to enhance a woman's self-esteem and self-worth, ultimately improving her overall quality of life.
Additional Tips for Vaginal Health:
Hydration: Drink plenty of water to maintain overall hydration and support vaginal moisture.
Kegel Exercises: Regularly perform Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles and improve blood flow to the vaginal area.
Personal Lubricants: Use water-based or silicone-based lubricants during sexual activity to reduce friction and discomfort.
Regular Sexual Activity: Engage in regular sexual activity to promote vaginal elasticity and blood flow.
It's important to consult a healthcare professional before using any herbs or supplements, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are on medications. They can provide personalized recommendations based on your specific situation and needs.
Do you need help with making your self-care a top priority?
I Can Help You Develop A Plan For Self Care
Do you want help developing a self-care plan that works for your own busy schedule? Do you want accountability in implementing a self-care plan? If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain optimal mental and emotional health, consider reaching out to Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. We are a Metro Atlanta, Conyers Georgia area. We are a coaching and counseling practice with empathetic, skilled counselors and recovery coaches who can help you set goals, develop a self-care routine, and move forward to build a more fulfilling life. Our team would be happy to work with you either just for a couple of sessions to develop and implement a Self-care plan or longer term to work toward overall better mental health within our membership site or other programs.
About The Author:
Dr. Nikki LeToya White MSEd-TL, Ph.D. RHN is the founder, director, and full-time board-certified trauma-informed nutritionist, folk herbalist, and wellness consultant at Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. She created Spiced Life Conversation, LLC
Art Wellness Studio and Botanica provide the Metro Atlanta area with counseling and coaching services where clients are carefully matched with the right program for healing abandonment and childhood emotional neglect trauma that cause codependency, emotional eating, financial stress, and imposter syndrome as it relates to fear of success and being abandon. We help you begin your emotional healing journey with ease. Recently, we have expanded to include an online membership site so we now provide support to people living all over the world. All of our recovery coaches provide at least one evidence-based treatment to assist in your recovery. Dr. White is a big proponent of self-care and helping people live a fulfilling life! She has been in full remission with both codependency and emotional binge eating disorder since 2016. In living a life in recovery from sugar addiction. Loving her low-sugar balance lifestyle.
Dr. Nikki LeToya White