Lets Talk About Vaginal Tissue Health

By Leigh Lewis, ND, L.Ac.

Many women experience changes to their libido and sexual function due to changes in hormones that occur throughout life. Post-partum and perimenopause are frequent times when hormones plummet and this can causes lower desire and changes to the vaginal tissue that can cause discomfort with intercourse.  Other hormonal, like thyroid, or nutritional, like iron, deficiencies can contribute to this issue as well and should be screened for.

Medications can be a cause of sexual function issues, notably birth control and antidepressants, and there may be alternatives that have less impact. Alcohol and marijuana use can have negative impacts as well. Finally, it is important to consider relationship factors that may be playing a role; a couple of sessions with a qualified therapist can greatly help investigate & address this area. If discomfort is deep in the pelvic area, a specialized physical therapist may be able to assist you.

There are several ways you can address these issues on your own before consulting a physician:
For vaginal dryness or pain with intercourse: RepHresh or Replens, both available OTC at many pharmacies. These products are not lubricants, but actually restore vaginal tissue health without hormones. Try for twice a week for one month and see if the improvements decrease your symptoms.
For low libido: Maca (Femenessence) is a Peruvian herb that has been used traditionally to improve libido. Try 1000mg per day for a month to see if you notice an effect.

If these do not help, consider making an appointment here at ilumina to discuss pharmaceutical options. After ruling out any contributing factors, we can discuss possible hormonal therapies like bio-identical estrogen, testosterone or DHEA. These hormones have all been shown to be helpful for improving libido, orgasm and/or decreasing vaginal discomfort by improving tissue integrity. There are topical and oral forms available and some options are covered by insurance.  If vaginal tissue atrophy is the main concern, I have been very successful using both hormonal & non-hormonal compounded combinations.  Finally, a brief word about safety: most low dose topical hormone formulations used to treat local vaginal issues are not absorbed systemically and therefore are not considered to carry the same risks as menopausal hormone replacement therapy, even for breast cancer survivors.

Another pharmaceutical option is Addyi (flibanserin), a daily medication that has been shown to improve sexual desire. The side effects are generally minimal and it should not be taken with alcohol, but it may be good options for those women for whom none of the above has been helpful.

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Most importantly, seek help:

though this is a sensitive topic, we are here to help you with all facets of your health and that includes sexual health & wellbeing.

 

 

Parabens: It is important to know what they are.

Our skin is the largest organ in the body, and what we put on our skin is important to our health.  Everyday we use products such as; sun screen, body lotions, shampoo, body wash, deodorant, and so on. These body products have ingredients that can cause harm to our immune and endocrine system.

A commonly used synthetic ingredient to help preserve body products, food, and pharmaceuticals is paraben. The parabens most commonly used in cosmetics are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. It’s important to check your products for these parabens, and buy products that are paraben free.

Parabens acts like estrogen, which may increase the risk of women developing estrogen-positive breast cancer. Researchers conducted tests on 20 different samples of human breast tumors, which revealed parabens to be present in each sample.

Parabens also affects men’s endocrine system; findings from several studies have reported low sperm counts as well as decreased levels of testosterone in men. It was concluded that these results were related to the absorption of parabens in commercial products.

It is important to check the labels of your cosmetics, and buy paraben free products. Many companies are realizing the dangers of paraben products, and switching their formulas to paraben-free. Keep healthy this summer and check your body products and sunscreens for these hidden ingredients.  Make informed choices in regards to what you put on your skin.  If you aren't sure, ask one of us at ilumina and we can help make recommendations.

 

 

Is It Me or Is It Hot In Here: Symptoms Associated with Perimenopausal Hormal Changes

By Leigh Lewis ND, L.Ac.

There is a lot of confusion both among women and their health care practitioners regarding perimenopause. Literally, perimenopause is “around menopause”; menopause being defined as the spontaneous, permanent ending of menstruation, literally one day, typically the day that is one year after the last menstrual period, usually around age 50, but can be anywhere between age 40-60.  Clinically then, perimenopausal symptoms can be described as any symptom that happens around a woman’s last menstrual period. Unfortunately, menopause is not like a light switch, where one moment you are pre-menopausal and the next you are post-menopausal. It is in fact quite the opposite: erratic hormone production fluctuates from day to day and month to month causing changeable and varied symptoms.  

Several studies have documented that symptoms may begin up to 17 years before cessation of menses and may last for several years after.  As such, if the average age of menopause is 50, some women may start to experience these symptoms as early as 33. Many factors may impact this transition, from genetics, to thyroid function to lifestyle habits and some women enter into menopause through surgery or medication and, for the latter population of women, the symptoms may be more severe and dramatic.

There are estrogen receptors throughout a woman’s body which helps to explain the varied symptoms a woman may have as estrogen levels start to decline as evidenced by this graphic:

Since hormone fluctuations can start in the 30’s for many women and others may experience unintended pregnancy in their 40’s, special consideration should be given to issues related to fertility. Some women may have difficulty achieving or maintaining pregnancy in the absence of these symptoms at any age, but age-related hormonal changes are a common cause. As such, contraception and/or fertility-preserving strategies should be a part of every woman’s assessment and plan during the perimenopausal transition.  Regardless of the cause, be it endometriosis, irregular menses or hormonal issues, acupuncture and select supplements and herbs may be helpful in improving fertility outcomes, either when used alone or in combination with conventional reproductive medicine.

When a woman suspects she is having perimenopausal-related symptoms, it is an excellent time to have a complete medical examination by a qualified health professional. The diagnosis of perimenopause can usually be made by reviewing a woman’s medical and menstrual history in addition to her specific set of symptoms and treatment recommendations can be made accordingly. Unfortunately for most women, hormone tests are usually not helpful in giving definitive information as to whether symptoms are related to perimenopause because levels change throughout the menstrual cycle. A single hormone level can be misleading since production does not fall at a steady rate, but varies greatly and therefore cannot predict or confirm menopause. Furthermore, normal hormone levels in the presence of hormone-related symptoms does not eliminate the likelihood that the women is perimenopausal. Some testing may be helpful with complaints of sexual dysfunction, fertility problems or when periods stop at an early age and some lab tests can identify other causes of symptoms that mimic or worsen the symptoms of perimenopause, such as thyroid disease or vitamin deficiencies, and diseases that can increase during perimenopause, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Treatments should never be prescribed to “treat” hormone levels, but solely to alleviate symptoms and therefore hormone levels are unnecessary to determine or adjust dosing.

There are several treatment options available to women and there is no “one-size-fits-all” plan that will take care of all of the symptoms that may be associated with hormonal fluctuations. It is also important to remember that not all women will require treatment; perimenopause is not a disease and as such therapies should be directed at controlling symptoms. Therapies with less associated risk, like diet and lifestyle, should be tried first. There are several studies confirming the positive impact of diet, exercise, acupuncture, stress management and lifestyle changes for women with mild perimenopausal symptoms and should be first-line therapy. Vitamin and herbal supplements may be helpful in some women, but research is mixed and appropriate dosing and use of high-quality products is necessary to know if these may be effective. Finally, there are non-hormonal prescription medications that may do double-duty in decreasing perimenopausal symptoms while treating other conditions, such as depression and anxiety. The goal should be to help patient’s manage menopausal symptoms without needing a grocery bag full of medications or supplements by utilizing targeted therapies that are supported by research.

If hormones are being considered, a thorough assessment of a woman’s potential benefits vs. risks should be conducted. While risks are possible with any use of hormones, symptoms can negatively impact a woman’s day-to-day quality of life, affecting relationships with family and friends and performance at work and the degree to which this happens may outweigh these potential risks. Medical organizations devoted to the care of women agree that there is no question that hormone therapy has an important role in managing symptoms for many healthy women during the transition. There are several benefits to using hormones including decreasing the typical symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, mood issues, “brain fog”, urinary symptoms, vaginal dryness and painful intercourse, preventing bone fractures later in life and lowering the risk of heart disease & diabetes if hormones are started early. However, despite some claims, there is no such thing as “risk-free” hormone treatment for menopause when used systemically to achieve these benefits. The potential risks include stroke, blood clots, and uterine and breast cancer. What we’ve learned so far about the benefits and risks comes from large groups of women, but each woman is unique. New studies are frequently published, so this topic is constantly in flux.

The question is whether it is the right choice for you. These decisions are nuanced and only after you and your doctor have a thorough discussion about your individual risks, benefits, and preferences can you make a decision that’s right for you.

The North American Menopause Society is an excellent resource for high quality information: http://www.menopause.org/for-women.

 

Ten Reasons to Meditate and Practice Mindfulness (and how to do it)

Ten Reasons to Meditate and practice Mindfulness (and how to do it)

1) Increases blood flow, lowers respiration rate, slows heart rate 2) Decreases heart rate 3) Reduces stress, anxiety and aggression 4) Enhances the immune system 5) Harmonizes the endocrine (hormonal) system 6) Relaxes the nervous system 7) Improves brain function and electrical activity 8) Reduces stress and balances hormones to stimulate ovulation 9) Improves learning ability and memory and increases productivity 10) Improves relationships with others

Mindfulness Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh

This exercise is very simple, but the power, the result, can be very great. The exercise is simply to identify the in-breath as in-breath and the out-breath as the out-breath. When you breathe in, you know that this is your in-breath. When you breathe out, you are mindful that this is your out-breath. Just recognize: this is an in-breath, this is an out-breath. Very simple, very easy. In order to recognize your in-breath as in-breath, you have to bring your mind home to yourself. What is recognizing your in-breath is your mind, and the object of your mind—the object of your mindfulness—is the in-breath. Mindfulness is always mindful of something. When you drink your tea mindfully, it’s called mindfulness of drinking. When you walk mindfully, it’s called mindfulness of walking. And when you breathe mindfully, that is mindfulness of breathing. So the object of your mindfulness is your breath, and you just focus your attention on it. Breathing in, this is my in-breath. Breathing out, this is my out-breath. When you do that, the mental discourse will stop. You don’t think anymore. You don’t have to make an effort to stop your thinking; you bring your attention to your in-breath and the mental discourse just stops. That is the miracle of the practice. You don’t think of the past anymore. You don’t think of the future. You don’t think of your projects, because you are focusing your attention, your mindfulness, on your breath. It gets even better. You can enjoy your in-breath. The practice can be pleasant, joyful. Someone who is dead cannot take any more in-breaths. But you are alive. You are breathing in, and while breathing in, you know that you are alive. The in-breath can be a celebration of the fact that you are alive, so it can be very joyful. When you are joyful and happy, you don’t feel that you have to make any effort at all. I am alive; I am breathing in. To be still alive is a miracle. The greatest of all miracles is to be alive, and when you breathe in, you touch that miracle. Therefore, your breathing can be a celebration of life. An in-breath may take three, four, five seconds, it depends. That’s time to be alive, time to enjoy your breath. You don’t have to interfere with your breathing. If your in-breath is short, allow it to be short. If your out-breath is long, let it to be long. Don’t try to force it. The practice is simple recognition of the in-breath and the out-breath. That is good enough. It will have a powerful effect.

This meditation instruction excerpted from the Shambhala Sun website. http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=3490

Yoga for Fertility and Conception

Which type of yoga class has the best possible benefits to aid fertility and conception? By Jaki Nett

—Kelly, Long Beach, California

Jaki Nett's reply: The type of yoga class that I recommend to aid fertility and conception is a restorative class—a class where the body, mind, and spirit learn the art of relaxation. A woman's desire to conceive can be overpowering and can drive her to the point of obsession. If this happens, sometimes logic is overlooked and stress becomes the foundation for coitus.

Since it is the woman's body and mind that has to be healthy and free of stress, it is her responsibility--with the unwavering support of her partner--to create the most favorable conditions for conception. To start the process both partners should have a comprehensive physical and psychological examination to determine that they are both without physical and mental conditions that could block conception.

To further alleviate stress about trying to conceive, start mapping your cycle of fertility. When entering a fertile time, start practicing restorative poses. As you practice, soften the abdominal area and begin to consciously remove tension from around the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

My teacher, Geeta S. Iyengar, author of Yoga a Gem for Women (Allied, Publishers Limited, 1983), writes extensively on women's issues. She stresses the importance of practicing several asanas to aid in conception. Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand), Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) , and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose) are recommended because of their hypothesized effects on hormonal balance.

She also recommends the following poses:

Forward bends—To make the poses more restorative, place a chair in front of you and rest your head and arms on the seat for support, or use a bolster for support.

Reclining Poses—These poses are helpful because they open and elongate the abdominal area.

I also recommend Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose) after coitus (which will theoretically keep the sperm inside the body and close to the opening of the uterus) to encourage the opportunity for sperm penetration. Before coitus set up for Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose). As you move into and out of the pose, keep the abdominal area soft-your partner can assist you to make this possible. The amount of time you spend in Viparita Karani is up to you.

To set up for Viparita Karani: Fold a sticky mat into quarters and place it two inches from the wall. Place a round bolster or a firm folded blanket on top of the sticky mat with the back edge of the bolster or blanket in line with the back edge of the mat. Place the buttocks on top of the bolster with the sitting bones as close to the wall as possible and the legs up the wall. The tailbone should tilt toward the ceiling so that the vaginal area is pointing upward. The shoulders, arms, and head rest on the floor. Once in the correct pelvic position, allow the legs to soften and bend the knees to allow the abdominal and pelvic floor to relax.

Jaki Nett is a certified Iyengar Yoga instructor in St. Helena, California, and a faculty member of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco. She teaches public classes in the San Francisco Bay Area and leads workshops in the United States and Europe, including specialty workshops on female issues. Written by: Jaki Nett

www.yogajournal.com

Help with Menopause

Please join ilumina Healing Sanctuary's Marie Veverka L.Ac. for a free talk on acupuncture and Chinese herbs for the treatment of menopause.October 11th6pm-7pmilumina Healing Sanctuary7520 E. Camelback RoadScottsdale, Arizona 85251Please call (602)957-2602 to register as space is limited.