We're going to have a private conversation with women "of a certain age."
For many of us, this is a time of life when we may experience some embarrassing personal issues: vaginal dryness and urinary incontinence.
Because decreased estrogen levels are associated with dryness and thinning of vaginal and bladder tissues, physicians often prescribe topical estrogen cream to relieve vaginal atrophy.
For incontinence, bladder retraining programs or biofeedback techniques may be helpful. There are also safe and effective natural alternatives for both of these conditions.
Non-prescription help for lubrication includes vitamin E, taken internally or applied topically or by suppository, as well as personal lubricants with aloe and calendula.
Many women find relief using traditional female herbal supplements of black cohosh, wild yam, dong quai or chaste berry.
Another all natural alternative formula for men and women with overactive bladders contains butterbur, an herb used in Germany for many years. It is believed to help relax smooth muscle tissue, reducing bladder pressure.
Before adding herbs to your regimen, consult with your health care practitioner if you have a medical condition.
Stress, garigue ? and emotional upset can interfere with vaginal lubrication. Stress depletes the body's water-soluble B and C vitamins. The body' s need for vitamin C increases up to 75 percent during menopause, explains nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, author of "Superstition and Menopause."
When the ovaries produce less estrogen, adrenal glands increase production of a hormone that converts to estrogen. The adrenals are stress-sensitive, and vitamins B and C support this important backup system.
People who smoke or those with constipation are more likely to become incontinent. Straining, heavy lifting and high impact exercises create stress on pelvic muscles.
Abdominal "crunches" weaken the muscles of the pelvic floor and increase the risk for incontinence in women. Therapist Peggy Brill demonstrates proper exercises for women of all ages in her book, "The Core Program."
The most important exercises are kegels, which are known to improve both incontinence and vaginal dryness. These controlled contractions increase blood supply to tissues, improve lubrication and increase vaginal wall thickness. Studies report that up to 75 percent of women overcome stress incontinence with kegel exercises alone, but many women do them incorrectly or give up too soon.
All body tissues are affected by water intake. Limiting water consumption actually weakens the overactive bladder, while drinking large amounts of water all at once may flush more water out of the body than remains in. Frequent high doses will hydrate the body most efficiently.
Dehydrating substances in your diet include coffee, tea, sodas and alcohol.
Certain medications (antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, diuretics) are dehydrating, as are laxatives and anti-histamines. Artificial sweeteners, especially NutraSweet, irritate the urogenital tract.
Experts also caution about overuse of acidic cranberry juice when the bladder is overactive and easily irritated.
In addition to water, all of your tissues need fats. A fat-free diet is dangerous anytime, but especially during menopause, cautions Ms. Gittleman.
Certain good fats are vital for female health and are directly related to drying of vaginal tissue.
Recent research shows that increased intake of vitamin D (which is fat-soluble) can reverse vaginal atrophy in many women. To obtain adequate amounts of essential fatty acids (Omega 3, 6 and 9), use olive oil, sesame oil and canola oils for cooking or in salads, and consider taking supplements of fish oil, flax and evening primrose oil. The skin and mucous membranes of the digestive and urogenital tracts have a great affinity for another fatty acid, Omega7.
Found in sea buckthorn, Omega 7 fatty acids are known to provide relief for vaginal dryness.
Christine Horner, plastic surgeon, calls sea buckthorn "Europe's anti-aging secret," because its' constituents provide protective benefits and nourishment for damaged and aging skin.
Finally, take to heart these encouraging words from Christine Northrup, author of "Wisdom of Menopause," who describes menopause as "a time of wholeness, creativity and vision."
Margot Bennett is a licensed nutritionist at Mother Nature's Pantry, located in the Garden Square Shoppes, 4513 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. Call her at (561) 626-4461.
The information in this article is for educational purposes. Consult your physician, if you have a medical condition.