The female reproductive system is an amazing thing, capable of creating, sheltering, and nurturing an entire, tiny human being. Self-regulating and self-cleansing, if left alone to get on with it, a woman’s body will pretty much tick along like a good soldier, and for that, privates, we salute you!
However, there are times when even the most dependable of systems needs a little maintenance to keep running smoothly. Hormonal fluctuations due to perimenopause, menopause, pregnancy, etc. can affect you both above and below the waistline, impacting your quality of life. There are many tests for menopause that let's you see just how much your hormones are changing. It’s important to understand what’s happening and why, what you can expect, and how you can alleviate the symptoms and get back to your life.
Estrogen is the female hormone that regulates a whole lot of the female reproductive system. Produced by the ovaries, estrogen prompts the development of breasts and body hair, regulates the menstrual cycle, builds bones, rounds hips, and concentrates body fat in the hips and thighs, among many other things. It also helps trigger the female body to produce the slightly acidic, natural lubrication that keeps the vagina clean and healthy.
Estrogen fluctuates throughout a woman’s life, most notably during menstruation, pregnancy, and perimenopause. Subtle (and screamingly obvious) physical and emotional changes are the completely normal result of hormonal fluctuations.
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Pregnancy, as you might expect, causes pretty significant changes in hormone levels, including an estrogen drop off when baby is born to allow lactation to happen. Estrogen is also suppressed while mom is breastfeeding.
Later in life, estrogen levels decline permanently, which can bring about some interesting developments. Because ovaries no longer need to produce eggs, they also stop producing estrogen, causing the stuff we all know about (like hot flashes, that most public of symptoms) but also other effects you may not know to expect.
Different women experience different symptoms and to varying degrees, but there are some typical signals of hormonal changes. The Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University offers a very comprehensive discussion on the effects of estrogen depletion. Breastfeeding, perimenopause and menopause can result in:
• Emotional changes such as mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and depression.
• Cognitive changes including memory loss.
• Physical changes like hot flashes, fatigue, bone loss, reduced skin elasticity, incontinence, and vaginal dryness (the last of which is easily remediable through picking a suitable lubricant).
The good news is, you’ll save a fortune on tampons! Seriously, while this list may seem long and not particularly positive, think of menopause as your body’s invitation to take the best possible care of yourself to reduce the number and severity of menopausal symptoms.
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You have choices. There are ways to alleviate many of the symptoms, including our specialty: vaginal dryness.
Some women report discomfort not only during intercourse but even sitting, walking, exercising, or urinating. For younger women, vaginal dryness may only be temporary, and use of a lubricant for sex will get you over, uh, “the hump,” so to speak; for older women, long-term solutions may need to come from outside your body.
While vaginal dryness is usually a normal—if not particularly welcome—part of aging or reproducing, suffering in silence isn’t necessary.
If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness and don’t fit any of these categories, you may be able to solve your problem by discontinuing use of harsh soaps, douches, bubble baths, feminine sprays, certain cold or allergy medications, even your laundry detergent. You can use a lubricant or moisturizer like Gennev Intimate Moisture or Gennev Personal Lubricant to replace your body’s natural moisture until your body returns to normal. If symptoms persist, definitely see your doctor to rule out more serious causes.