As a result of the natural decline in oestrogen status, vaginal atrophy is commonly experienced by postmenopausal women and it can result in significant distress, affecting self-esteem and intimate relationships.
Symptoms of vaginal atrophy include dryness, itching and burning and may also be responsible for painful intercourse (dyspareunia). Medically, oestrogen creams are commonly prescribed which are effective, but may exacerbate incidences of vaginal candidiasis (thrush) and are not suitable for all women. With limited medical interventions available to them, women often seek natural alternatives, particularly because of perceived safety and less risk of undesirable side effects.
Sea buckthorn, a dense shrubby plant with orange-coloured berries, has been used both for culinary and medicinal purposes for millennia. It has been employed for numerous complaints including vaginal pruritus and has an excellent safety profile. Despite a long history of use for this purpose, only more recently has there been scientific investigation in to the use of sea buckthorn for postmenopausal vaginal dryness.
A recent trial published in Maturitas, showed that the oral administration at a dose of 3g/day of sea buckthorn seed and oil promoted improvements in vaginal dryness, itching and burning in the active group [0.8 (SD 2.8)] compared to placebo [-0.1 (SD 2.0)]. All women in the study were evaluated by the same gynaecologist and multiple parameters for efficacy and safety were conducted. At baseline and at the end of the trial, vaginal health index was calculated from vaginal pH and moisture, and symptoms of atrophy and menopause were evaluated at study visits and by daily logbooks. Furthermore, to measure the safety of the intervention, serum lipids, liver enzymes and C-reactive protein were also measured. Importantly, sea buckthorn did not affect vaginal pH or maturation of epithelial cells. This lack of effect on the activity of vaginal oestrogen-receptors lends support to the safety of sea buckthorn in both oestrogen-deficient or oestrogen-dependant disorders.
This study serves to reinforce the importance of using a clinically relevant dose of up to 3g sea buckthorn per day. In an integrative medicine approach, a treatment plan would likely consist of the concomitant use of other complementary agents including beta-carotene and vitamin A, vitamin D, black cohosh, calendula (cream) and probiotics for a more successful management strategy.
Sea buckthorn, with its concentrated polyphenolic and essential fatty acid profile including omega-7 palmitoleic acid, has been used to replenish natural skin oils, reduce triglyceride levels and mitigate liver and pulmonary fibrosis, as well as to relieve inflamed epithelial tissues, including dry eyes and vaginal dryness. Sea buckthorn has merit for application in Sjögren's Syndrome, of which one symptom may indeed be vaginal dryness.
- Larmo P, Yang B, Hyssala H. Effects of sea buckthorn oil intake on vaginal atrophy in postmenopausal women: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Maturitas 2014;79(3):316-321. [Full Text]