Researchers from Dartmouth, Yale and Connecticut Healthcare Symptoms found that 51 per cent of post-menopausal women deal with vaginal and vulvar problems. But despite the severity of these problems, 33 per cent of women with these symptoms had not seen a gynecologist in the last two years. Because… they considered these symptoms being embarrassing…
And one of the medical conditions, which has been included in the research statistics, was related to the appearance of the strong vulvar odor during menopause, the issue we are going to discuss in this post.
Hormonal changes and vaginal odor
Several researches confirmed that the potential cause of unusually strong and unpleasant smell is related to the hormonal changes on women, associated with normal menopause, during which reduced estrogen levels cause vaginal tissue to thin and become less acidic. Many women undergoing menopause notice a smelly, watery discharge.
Falling estrogen can affect the production of mucus in the vagina and this in turn can cause dryness, irritation and even infection. The lack of mucus, which is slightly acidic to help prevent infection, can also affect the balance of friendly bacteria in the vagina; and both these factors can result in a different smell.
But, there is something else you should consider. Falling estrogen can actually affect your sense of smell and taste during the menopause – a bit like hormonal changes in pregnancy causing a liking for foods you once didn’t like or vice versa, or that your favorite perfume now makes you feel sick. This hormonal change can cause a heightened sense of smell too; so although you think you are ‘a bit smelly’, no one else actually notices it!
What normally causes odor in the perineal and vaginal area?
Perineal odor is caused by oils in sweat gland secretions, vaginal secretions and urine if a woman is having urine leakage. All sweat gland secretions are basically the same components as urine so it is not uncommon to have a urine "smell" in the vulvar area which is really from sweating rather than from losing urine. Some people would describe urine odor as somewhat like ammonia.
Many of the foods we eat have odorous oils that end up being secreted in sweat. The more fat we ingest, the more oils are secreted. Vegetarians will have less "sweat odor" than meat eaters unless they are consuming a lot of pungent, spicy foods.
Skin bacteria can also react with sweat and produce noxious odors although some scientists question that this occurs to any major degree. It is very likely that some women have different genetic metabolism than others so that they produce different acids in sweat that give distinctive smells.
Finally, sweat glands can be depleted of their oils (temporarily) after they are excreted during sweating. After a vigorous workout, most women and men will tell you that subsequent sweating does not produce as heavy a body odor as when they first broke sweat.
You have probably noticed that yourself if you have been outside working on a hot day and then go shower, subsequent sweating produces less "smell" than it did before the shower. In this case you not only depleted the sweat oils but also reduced the skin bacteria that convert some of the sweat substances to acids and compounds that are odorous.
What about a fishy odor from the perineal area? What causes that?
The most common cause of bad odor coming from the vagina is a condition called bacterial vaginosis, also called gardnerella. The odor stems from an overgrowth of certain bacteria in the vagina that causes a strong fishy odor. The odor is worse after intercourse because the pH of the semen causes more of the odor to be released. Prescription pills or cream can usually eliminate the bacterial imbalance. In premenopausal women, a not uncommon cause of bad odor is a forgotten tampon. Removal of the tampon will correct the problem. Gentle cleansing of the vulva with clean water is usually sufficient for hygiene. Any soap can be irritating to the vulva and in some cases can cause dermatitis, skin irritation, or rash. In most cases, douching is not recommended.
There is also a metabolic syndrome called fish odor syndrome (trimethylaminuria) which is caused by abnormal excretion of trimethylamine in the breath, urine, sweat, saliva and vaginal secretions. The trimethylamine is produced by bowel bacteria that break down certain amino acids, carnitine and choline that occur in high concentrations in marine fish, egg yolks, soy beans and liver.
While this is a rare condition, it goes to show that bowel bacteria, skin bacteria and your own genetic metabolism interplay with ingested food to produce body odors beyond normal sweat gland oils and acids.
If you at all think that the perineal odor smells fishy, be sure to see you doctor for a vaginal exam to rule out bacterial vaginosis as well as eliminating liver, fish, soy beans, egg yolks and any nutritional supplements that may contain choline and carnitine.
What about sex odors?
We still do not know very much about pheromones which are compounds that give a "sexual smell" in both males and females. In women these substances are thought to originate from the vagina but it is more likely that they come from vulvar sweat glands.
Vaginal Odors after Sex
Many people have a problem with a foul odor in the vagina after intercourse. This is especially true if your partner ejaculates inside of you. The pH of the semen, along with the extra secretions during sex can create a cocktail of odorous proportions. In a report by LiveStrong Organization, it was determined that some women are actually ‘allergic’ to their partner’s semen, which can eventually cause bacteria to build up, yeast infections and urinary tract infections.
One reason that the problem is pronounced after sex is because the natural movement of intercourse tends to push the bacteria higher into the reproductive organs. If you have this problem, you should ask your partner to ejaculate outside or use a condom. However, many women also have a bad reaction to the latex and chemicals on condoms as well.
If the odor primarily comes after sex, then simply wash the vagina with warm water and mild soap afterwards. You might also want to start taking a pro-biotic or eating yogurt on a daily basis to build up your beneficial flora.
What can I do practically about the odor?
It is best to try to control body odors by natural means rather than deodorant and antiperspirant cover ups because many women can get an irritant vulvitis from chemicals placed on the vulvar region. This does not happen with all women but does with some. If you think the odor is originating from vaginal secretions, be sure to see your doctor to be checked for bacterial vaginosis rather than using douche solutions. Chronic douching can actually cause a vaginitis.
Other things to do to help:
* Have a daily aerobic workout before going to work - this can help dissipate sweat gland compounds.
* Change your lifestyle to lose some weight if you have few extra pounds. That will lower the amount of sweat generated due to the regular physical activities.
* Bath or shower before work to remove as much skin bacteria as possible - this will help daytime odors.
avoid seafood, liver and egg yolks as well as pungent vegetables such as onions, garlic asparagus etc., for a while to see if this makes any difference.
* Minimize stress and any sweating at work if possible - if you feel you have excessive sweating, ask your doctor about medications to help this.
* Dehydration may be a factor, so remember to drink plenty of plain water every day.
* Choose a good quality cotton fabric that absorbs moisture and dries quickly. It is better to avoid wearing underwear and pants during the night, it is more appropriate to use pajamas or even sleep naked. Underwear’s and cloths should be changed immediately when they get wet after exercise or swimming.
* For women complaining of persistent wet vulva, the best prevention is by wearing cotton underwear that dry quickly and also using natural moisturizers and oils.
* Tampons are safe to use but their frequent use or when the amount of bleeding is not much, tampons become harmful, causing irritation of the vulva, increase in vaginal secretions and thereby releasing an unpleasant odor.
* It is advisable not to wear daily use pads, but if you are suing them, it is recommended to change every 6-8 hours.
* Always wipe front to back after bowel movements to avoid spread of rectal bacteria.
* As long as you are not on any hormonal contraception or HRT you could try a fermented soya supplement. This is traditionally used to gently raise and balance estrogen, so may help increase the vaginal mucus. You could also add in a daily Sea Buckthorn Oil supplement to counter dryness.
* Some doctors recommend Acidophilus as the magical remedy to remove the odor. Several human trials report benefits of acidophilus for bacterial vaginosis. There are no documented side effects, and it can be purchased over-the-counter, but talk to your doctor first.
Keep the reasonable expectations. There is no way to have a "nice floral scent" in the perineal area by altering diet and skin bacteria. You will have to use some type of covering deodorant. Be very careful that you do not develop an irritant vulvitis.
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