The Vulva, Part Two
by Susun Weed
We are the first guardians of the inner treasures. We hold the keys to your creative power. Proudly we show ourselves, fiercely we protect.
We look delicate, flowing and floating, waving and weaving — and so beautiful in our gowns of mauve and pink, pearl and coral. Like the blush of dawn, we blush. Like the glow of health, we glow. Like the dusky sky of evening, we are dusky. We are satiny. We are silken. We are velvety. We are smooth and strong. We are taffeta. We are suede. We are closely woven and tough. We are the ones who open and close the outer gates. We are the muses who sing to those who journey within.
We dance protection. We sparkle with joy. You call us lips, and like your lips, we have our moods. We mirror the health of what we enclose. When you feel abraded by life, we hurt. When you spread us without tender care, we cry. When you refuse to refuse on your own that which harms you, we scream in agony.
We will not be neglected. We will pin up our dresses and flash our red petticoats. We will scream. We will rage. We will burn with an unquenchable fire. We will wake you in the night. We will be heard. We will be respected. We will always, and ever, be here to remind you of your own worth, your own power, your own beauty.
“I endured a succession of unsuccessful treatments including electrocautery, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral medications, removal of my vestibular glands, and six treatments with laser surgery followed by two operations that involved cutting away the tissue in the painful area.”1
Step 0. Do Nothing
• If you hurt down there, avoid all potential irritants: Stop douching. Stop using “feminine hygiene” products. Stop wearing anything down there. Stop washing down there. If you must, choose loose cotton undies and wash them in hypoallergenic laundry detergent, without fabric softeners. Avoid tampons; use cotton menstrual pads. Avoid tight pants. Peel out of your bathing suit immediately. Give up bicycling and horseback riding until the pain is gone.
• Avoid chlorine. Don’t drink it, and stay out of chlorinated swimming pools and hot tubs. A filter that removes chlorine from your drinking water is a lot less expensive than bottled water and probably healthier for you and the planet.
Step 1. Collect Information
• For a long, long time in modern medicine, women who had pain down there were misdiagnosed, labeled as hysteric or frigid, and given ineffective medications. As the twenty-first century began, however, these women at last began to be recognized, and their discomfort given a name: vulvodynia or vulvar vestibulitis.
• Vulvodynia includes burning, stabbing, shooting, stinging pains in the vulva, vagina, urethra, and rectum. It may be present at all times, only on contact, or only during intercourse. For some the pain is so excruciating — “like a fire that won’t go out” — it prevents all normal activities including walking, driving, and sitting.
• At some time during their lives,16-20 percent of American women aged 18-64 have had vulvar pain lasting at least three months. 2, 3, 4 The University of Michigan Health System found 28 percent of women had experienced vulvar pain at some point in their lives.5 About six million women have chronic vulvar pain.6
• Women with vulvodynia are frequently quite sensitive to pain and may also be dealing with endometriosis, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel symdrome, and/or interstitial cystitis.
• Muscle spasms in the pelvis, and injury to, or irritation of, nerves serving the vulva seem to be major causes of vulvodynia.
• Thirty percent of young women with vulvar vestibulitis syndrome have a genetic defect that prevents them from blocking interleukin-1, an inflammatory substance (cytokine).6A In older, post-menopausal women, vulvar pain is usually linked to hormonal disturbances.
Step 2. Engage the Energy
* Homeopathic remedies for vulvar pain and inflammation:
* Aconitum relieves superficial inflammation.
* Apis relieves the most severe itching, burning, pain.
* Cimicfuga (Acatea) racemosa helps when pain radiates from the vulva to the back, loins, limbs; menstruation painful.
* Eryngium campestre helps when the bladder is involved. * Gossypium helps when there is also incontinence.
* Hamamelis helps when there is prolapse, fullness.
* Ignatia helps women who are chilled, feet and hands cold.
* Piper cubeba relieves irritation and burning pain.
* Pulsatilla helps when pain brings nervousness, depression.
* Rhus tox. relieves burning pain, raw sensations, itching and irritation especially after urinating; accompanied by pruritis, erythematous and erysipelatous lesions.
• Biofeedback is AMA-approved, and often paid for by insurance, as a way to relieve vulvodynia. With biofeedback, and a little practice, you can learn to use your mind to control your pain.
• According to Christiane Northrup, MD, “a woman sets the stage in her body for chronic vulvar problems when she lacks the courage to change the negative aspects of an unhealthy relation-ship.”6B
Step 3. Nourish andTonify
*A healthy diet and daily consumption of nourishing herbal infusions — red clover, oatstraw, chickweed, and linden, one at a time, in rotation — will supply you with all the nutrients you need to heal, including lavish amounts of B vitamins, magnesium, calcium (to counter acids), and vitamin E.
* Red clover infusion nourishes with minerals and phytoestrogens to strengthen the vulva, ease swelling and inflammation.
* Oatstraw infusion nourishes the nerves, making them less sensitive, and soothes the nerves and emotions.
* Chickweed infusion nourishes vulvar tissues, cools hot tissues from the inside out, and wipes out infections.
* Linden infusion soothes and heals the vulva and vagina and all the blood vessels serving them.
* Yogurt and quercitin (from oak bark) were suggested by many women as easy ways to relieve vulvodynia.
• Since vulvodynia may be triggered by chemicals, it seems wisest to eat organic foods and avoid all food-related chemicals especially phosphoric acid (carbonated drinks), artificial sweeteners, food dyes, preservatives, vegetable/soy protein isolates (energy bars and Bragg’s aminos) and nitrates (preserved meats).7
• Food acids, especially oxalic acid may trigger, and in some women cause, vulvar pain. If you also have interstitial cystitis or other urinary tract problems, you may benefit from limiting plant acids. Eliminating these acids makes it difficult to be well nourished, however, as all the mainstays of a healthy diet — beans, whole grains, greens, fruits and many vegetables — are high in plant acids. Vegetarians are more likely to be affected.8
• Sitting on a donut pillow offers some relief to many women.
• Electromyography with physical therapy.
• Keep a spray bottle of water by the toilet and spray your vulva after urinating. Then pat dry with a very soft cloth. No rubbing, no wiping.
Step 4. Stimulate/Sedate
*Homeopaths and herbalists agree, St. John’s/Joan’s wort is the best remedy for anyone with nerve pain. The infused oil topically and the tincture internally (a dropperful 2-12 times a day, depending on the severity of the pain) not only quickly relieves pain — often in a few days — but also restores healthy nerve functioning, counters depression, and helps counter any hidden viral infections, such as herpes. Homeopathic Hypericum changes the energy pattern, breaking the cycle of chronic pain.
*Oatstraw baths soothe the vulva and normalize nerves. Cook a handful of oatmeal in a gallon/4 liters of water for thirty minutes, then strain into a hot, hip-level bath and soak your pain away. Or buy Aveeno, powdered oatmeal, at your drugstore, dissolve some in warm water and sitz in it.
• Your doctor may suggest electrical stimulation of the pelvic floor to help free up spastic muscles. Be sure you have tried other remedies first.
Common Foods High in Acids11
Berries: Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.
Citrus fruits/juices: oranges, lemons, tangerines, grapefruits, etc.
Fruits of all kinds contain acids; they are less irritating when cooked.
Greens, raw or cooked: Highest — spinach, beet greens, chard, lamb’s quarters, sheep sorrel (Essiac). Lowest — collards, dandelion, escarole, kale, mustard greens, nettle, parsley, watercress.
||Beer, wine, grapes
||Chocolate and cocoa
||Tea: black, green, white, iced
Note: Calcium citrate neutralizes food acids.
Step 5a. Use Supplements
• Supplements of 200-250 mg calcium citrate, three tablets taken 3-4 times a day, turned the tide for some women. But it may take 4-5 months of use, and a low-acid diet, before pain is relieved. And, to prevent recurrence, you will need to continue taking calcium citrate. For best results, and fewest side effects, take one calcium citrate on an empty stomach immediately upon waking for three days.9 Then add a tablet before dinner for three days, and continue gradually building toward the full dose. A dropperful of yellow dock root tincture can be used to counter the tendency of calcium citrate to constipate.
Step 5b. Use Drugs
• High acid drugs — such as aspirin and ascorbic acid — may trigger vulvar pain.
• Regular or repeated use of birth control pills, immune-suppressing drugs, and/or antibiotics may trigger vulvodynia.10
*Topical drugs deliver more relief, with fewer side effects, than oral medicines. Women with vulvar pain say estrogen creams and topical anesthetics (lidocaine) are most helpful.
• Unlike many other diseases, vulvodynia has no specific drug designed to treat it. You may wish to experiment with these drugs that some women and some practitioners have found helpful:
* Tricyclic antidepressants, such as Elavil or Prozac, in very, very small doses, to reduce neurotransmitter sensitivity.
* Antihistamines, to relieve swelling.
* Muscles relaxants, such as Flexeril, to ease pain.
* Anticonvulsant, anti-epilectic drugs, such as Neurontin.
* Interferon treatments.
Step 6. Break and Enter
• In extremity, some women have sought surgical removal of the offending nerves.
• The Vulvodynia Survival Guide, Dr. Howard Glazer, Harbringer Press, 2002.
• The University of Michigan Center for Vulvar Diseases
• The National Vulvodynia Association offers regional networks of women, two newsletters, conferences, a content-rich website (www.nva.org), and a CD-ROM for doctors covering diagnosis and treatment of chronic vulvar pain disorders.
1A. Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Tori Hudson ND, Keats, 1999.
1. “A painful women’s problem isn’t in the mind,” Jane E. Brody, New York Times, October 27, 1993.
2. “News from the society for women’s health research,” Women’s Health Advisor, Oct. 2004.
3. “From obscurity to Oprah,” Leah Thayer, Nat’l Women’s Health Network News, May/June 2003.
4. “Genital problems and natural solutions,” Bonnie C. Minsky, Conscious Choice Magazine, Jan. 2004
5. “Genital pain more common than previously thought,” Women’s Health Advisor, March 2004
6.“No sex in the city,” Constantine Von Hoffman, Health, Nov. 2001
6A. “Conquering vulvar pain,” The Center for Women’s Healthcare, April 2002
6B. Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Christiane Northrup MD, Bantam, 1994
7. “Genital problems. . ., ” Minsky, Jan. 2004
8. Treatment of Vulvodynia with Calcium Cirtrate, C. Solomons, 1994
10. “Antibiotic use increases symptomatic vulvovaginal candidiasis,” American J Obstet Gynecol, 180:14-7, Jan. 1999
11. “A painful. . . ,” Jane E. Brody, NY Times, Oct. 1993
“Chronic Vulvar Pain,” The Network News, Nov./Dec. 1993
Prescriber and Clinical Repertory of Medicinal Herbs, Lt. Col. F. Harper- Shove, Health Science Press, 1938, 1972
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Vibrant, passionate, and involved, Susun Weed has garnered an international reputation for her groundbreaking lectures, teachings, and writings on health and nutrition. She challenges conventional medical approaches with humor, insight, and her vast encyclopedic knowledge of herbal medicine. Unabashedly pro-woman, her animated and enthusiastic lectures are engaging and often profoundly provocative.
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Herbal Pharmacy, part 2
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Seaweed, Come Dance with Me
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Violet Leaf: Properties and Uses
Violet Flowers and Fruit
Herbal Pharmacy, part 1
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