Although the average woman goes through menopause at around age 51, symptoms can start years before – this is perimenopause. A woman is considered postmenopausal when she has not had a menstrual period for 12 months.
Many physical symptoms which can be mild or severe happen during peri-menopause and can often include hot flushes, night sweats, aching joints, low mood and fatigue. Other symptoms are due to the drying of the mucous membranes; these include itchy, dry eyes and vaginal dryness.
One traditionally-used remedy for dryness is sea buckthorn. Its botanical name, Hippophae rhamnoides, means ‘shining horse’ which refers to its ability to improve shine and smoothness of horse’s hair.
Tiny orange berries are harvested from a hardy bush that grows in Europe, India, China and the Americas (not in or near the sea as the name suggests). Sea buckthorn has been used for traditional culinary and medicinal applications for many years – it is even mentioned in ancient Greek and Egyptian texts. Today it is still used for medicinal and culinary purposes.
Part of its enduring popularity may be its rich nutritional profile. Sea buckthorn berry is nutrient rich; it contains twelve times more vitamin C than oranges (vitamin C containing values of approximately 400 mg/100g orange), a similar vitamin E profile as wheat germ and three times more vitamin A (as beta carotene) than carrots. All of these nutrients are vital for eye health and also for the skin including mucous membranes. Also present are trace minerals and amino acids. Plus, unusually, this natural, vegetarian source of fatty acids also provides omega-7 (palmitoleic acid), omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid), omega-6 (linoleic acid) and omega-9 (oleic acid).
Because of its rich lipid profile, sea buckthorn has traditionally been used to replenish oils in the skin, reduce triglyceride levels and mitigate liver and pulmonary fibrosis, as well as to relieve inflamed epithelial tissues, including dry eyes and vaginal dryness. It is also used to treat symptoms of Sjögren’s Syndrome, one symptom of which can be vaginal dryness.
Essential fatty acids have a number of vital body functions including skin health benefits. They may enhance the body’s mucous membranes in areas such as the urinary, respiratory and digestive tracts, the inner linings of the eye and the genitals.
One study tested the mucous membrane moisturising properties of sea buckthorn oil in women post-menopause with vaginal dryness, itching or burning.
Vaginal health index was calculated from vaginal pH and moisture, and symptoms of atrophy and menopause were evaluated via study visits and by the daily completion of logbooks. The safety of the intervention was determined via serum lipids, liver enzymes and C-reactive protein measurements. These showed that sea buckthorn did not affect vaginal pH or maturation of epithelial cells. Since sea buckthorn did not affect vaginal oestrogen-receptors, it appears that its use is safe in both oestrogen-deficient or oestrogen-dependant disorders.
Results found that taking sea buckthorn oil daily for three months significantly improved symptoms of dryness. Individuals taking sea buckthorn oil daily saw three times greater improvement in the integrity of the vaginal walls as evaluated by gynaecologists than the placebo group.
- Gutzeit D, Baleanue G, Winterhalter P, et al. Vitamin C content in sea buckthorn berries (Hippophaë rhamnoides L. ssp. rhamnoides) and related products: a kinetic study on storage stability and the determination of processing effects. J Food Sci 2008;73(9):C615-620. [Abstract]
- Larmo P, Yang B, Hyssala H, et al. 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. [Abstract]