Yes, that’s right, vulva. It’s high time women were empowered to take control of the dialogue around their intimate health and discuss their vaginas without awkwardness. Jane Wolfe finds out that natural self-care brands are taking on the challenge to educate and change attitudes
Reproductive and gynaecological health problems aren’t just ‘women’s issues’ – a fact highlighted by a report by The Work Foundation – they affect a massive chunk of the UK labour force, so their effective management is vital for the whole country. Yet there’s still huge social stigma around discussing women’s intimate health and it’s an area where embarrassment continues to reign.
“Open conversations normalize taboos and, if nothing else, this will pave the way for life to be easier for our daughters”
The More Than “Women’s Issues”: Women’s Reproductive and Gynaecological Health and Work report calls for a change in attitude towards women’s health issues and looks into the less recognized factors of female reproductive and gynaecological health that present challenges to working. “Indeed, despite affecting half of the population, these issues are rarely discussed out loud – women’s reproductive and gynaecological health is replete with whispered conversations and euphemisms,” says the report. “It’s time this changed.”
“Every woman of working age will experience some health related, physical and/or psychological, implications of being a woman,” it states. “This occurs across the life cycle from periods to menopause, and includes common conditions such as fibroids, endometriosis and premenstrual syndrome … Many of these conditions manifest in emotional stress, poorer psychological health (often depression), fatigue and pain, all of which are known to have considerable negative implications for work.”
Medical herbalist Kathie Bishop, who specializes in helping women transform their vaginal health, believes that women’s intimate health is still largely considered a ‘taboo’ subject because it’s not part of everyday conversations. “It’s still discussed in hushed tones and, in many circles, considered disgusting,” she says. “Traditionally, the female body has been seen as ‘dirty’ or ‘sinful’ and we are still living with the hangover from that. Just think of how menstrual products are consigned to the ‘feminine hygiene’ section – it gives the subtle message that women are naturally ‘unhygienic’.
“However, at least 50% of humans have vaginas, vulvas, clitorises, uteruses, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Why should we not name and talk about those parts as we would any other part of the human anatomy? Open conversations normalize taboos and, if nothing else, this will pave the way for life to be easier for our daughters. To name and talk about body parts is to imbue them, and ourselves, with power and understanding.”
Bishop founded her brand Into The Wylde after she kept seeing young women come to her practice with intimate irritations after sex, making them feel awkward with their partners and ‘out of touch with their bodies’.
Vaginal infections are incredibly common and it’s important women – and men – understand that the symptoms are not something women need to stay silent about or put up with
“I wanted to create something completely natural with top-notch ingredients that would make sex more enjoyable and less likely to cause irritation, whilst allowing them to feel that they were looking after themselves and their bodies’ needs,” says Bishop, explaining how the brand’s first product Wylde One – an organic natural intimate lubricant designed to provide ‘clean, toxin-free, vulva-loving care’ – was born.
She says most women seek her help when they’ve had a problem for a while. “It’s become entrenched and they’ve tried various things – whether it’s over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, GP prescriptions, things from the Internet, other natural health practitioners – but things are still persisting. It can be recurrent or chronic thrush, bacterial vaginosis (BV), alternating between the two, or some of the more uncommon conditions, such a cytolytic vaginosis. These can be mixed in with things like UTIs, endometriosis, fibroids or other symptoms. As a medical herbalist I treat the person not a condition or collection of symptoms. It’s just that vaginal health is normally the thing that’s brought them to me.
“Solutions will be as varied as the individuals in front of me and may involve tincture, teas, gels, pessaries, irrigations as well as dietary and lifestyle changes. One of my most used herbs is Calendula officinalis (marigold), but I have a wide and varied dispensary to make up individual preparations.”
According to a survey by OptiBac, over 50% of women feel embarrassed when talking about intimate health. “In order to destigmatize vaginal health and start positive and ongoing conversations, there first needs to be more emphasis on education so women feel empowered to take control,” says Kerry Beeson, nutritional therapist at OptiBac Probiotics. “Vaginal infections are incredibly common and it’s important women – and men – understand that the symptoms are not something women need to stay silent about or put up with. Breaking the taboo with education from trusted sources is an essential first step, to reassure women that it’s okay to address issues of vaginal health directly.”
Beeson stresses that OptiBac is committed to educating women about vaginal health and offers educational website content, an all-you-need-to-know guide on the vaginal microbiome, as well a team of experts who can offer confidential 1:1 support.
A further finding by the brand’s survey showed that 42% of women have never been taught how to look after their intimate health. “This lack of education contributes to practises that disturb the vagina’s natural balance, resulting in conditions such as thrush, UTIs or bacterial vaginosis,” says Beeson. “Today, women still ‘douche’ their vagina with harsh soaps because they are conditioned to think of the intimate area as ‘dirty’. This is just not true! The vagina is self-cleaning, so doesn’t require any internal cleansing, and only gentle cleansing of the outer areas with mild soap, or just plain water. The idea that women’s genitals should look or smell a certain way not only has harmful consequences on the vaginal flora, it also has a needlessly negative effect on women’s self confidence.”
Bishop adds that as well as learning how to wash your intimate area correctly – which she says isn’t something people talk about ‘in any accurate and specific way’ – anyone prone to vaginal issues should check what material their underwear is made from (organic cotton or bamboo are best), how tight their clothes are and what washing detergents they are using.
“Just like the gut, the vagina is home to billions of bacteria and other microorganisms – known as the vaginal microbiome or vaginal flora – that help keep the vagina healthy,” explains Beeson. “Probiotics can be one of the tools in your arsenal to help keep your vaginal flora balanced. They work to replenish good bacteria in a safe, natural and effective way, crowding out harmful yeasts and bacteria.
“The vaginal flora can be easily disrupted by everyday factors such as using scented bath products, having sex, taking antibiotics, or even your menstrual period. Life changes such as pregnancy or the menopause can also affect the vaginal microbiome.”
Beeson recommends two probiotic strains: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14, which are specifically recommended for maintaining vaginal health. OptiBac Probiotics’ For Women product contains 2.3 billion live cultures of these strains, which are clinically proven to reach the intimate area alive and survive. “These strains were originally isolated from a healthy vagina so are natural residents of the vaginal microbiome. They can be used daily just to keep things nicely in balance or in cases of thrush, BV or UTIs.”
The 30-plus symptoms menopause can bring with it affect women with varying degrees of severity – from making life seem almost impossible to being barely noticeable – and a change in vaginal microbiome is one such change not often spoken about.
“Vaginal ecology is very dependent on oestrogen levels,” explains Bishop. “Oestrogen not only gives plumpness to tissues, such as the vagina, but causes the vaginal mucosa to produce glycogen-rich mucous which feeds the good bacteria we have there. This bacteria produces lactic acid which causes the vagina to have an acidic pH and helps keep things in balance and the bad guys at bay.
“Today, women still ‘douche’ their vagina with harsh soaps because they are conditioned to think of the intimate area as ‘dirty’. This is just not true!”
“During menopause oestrogen levels naturally decline. The overall effect is that vaginal tissue thins, loses its plumpness and a lot of its elasticity and is drier. This results in the vaginal environment becoming more alkaline.
“A common problem is vaginal atrophy and vaginal dryness. This can feel like a burning discomfort, a sensitization of nerves, and in some cases great difficulty in penetration. Using a good natural, pH balanced lubricant can be useful here. Look at the ingredients and avoid those containing things such as glycerine as this can dry the tissues further.
“Another not uncommon problem can be bacterial vaginosis, because the menopausal vaginal pH allows some less ideal bacteria to thrive. Also something that isn’t spoken about much is that due to a sense of sexual freedom post-menopause can bring, unprotected sex with a fluid-bonded partner can encourage the vaginal pH to become a lot more alkaline (the pH of sperm is a lot more alkaline than the vagina).”
Bishop stresses it is important not just for the woman herself to be aware of these changes, but also her partner(s). “It’s not just a female domain – it can be a challenging time for any woman, not only with hormonal fluctuations, but with the changing of her identity. Every woman needs her support system primed as she navigates this time, learns her new normal, and adjusts to and accepts who her body now is. Acceptance is the key to navigate any change in life.”
Let’s talk. Period.
Washable period pad start-up ETHIXX began when founder June Bradbury was approached by a local mother to make some organic washable period pads for her 11-year-old daughter.
After this first commission she made hundreds of organic cotton pads, gathering and taking on board feedback from friends and family, culminating in the current ‘comfortable, secure, absorbent and reliable’ designs – available in Light/Med, Heavy and Night.
It wasn’t only the ‘astronomical’ waste, plastic pollution and chemicals surrounding single-use pads that inspired Bradbury in her mission, but also the problematic narrative that still persists around periods.
“The taboos surrounding menstruation and the historic and misogynistic narrative continues to oppress us all,” she says. “Blood is blood, whether it comes out of a cut thumb or a vagina. Period blood is deemed so distasteful that TV advertisers use blue liquid to demonstrate absorption of disposable pads. We’ve been conditioned over centuries to think of periods as dirty, shameful, embarrassing, smelly, and yet also so magical that menstruating women could turn fruit rotten just by looking at it.
“We don’t consider periods as something that needs to be hidden. ETHIXX pads are beautiful pieces of underwear which coincidentally do a very important job, just like a pair of designer knickers.”
AQUA Carpatica Natural Sparkling Mineral Water
All women should be well aware of the power of two mighty minerals: Calcium and Magnesium!
One of the six essential minerals, Calcium is a naturally occurring mineral necessary for overall health. Meanwhile Magnesium, truly women’s best friend, plays a central role in healthy metabolic, muscular, and cardiovascular performance. It is also fundamental in regulating neuronal function and effective in relieving PMS-related anxiety and menstrual migraines.
AQUA Carpatica Natural Sparkling Mineral Water provides 26% of the NHS’s recommended daily amount of magnesium for adults per litre and almost 40% of the daily amount of Calcium.
Get your sparkle of health from AQUA Carpatica!
Tel: 01460 243230
E-mail: [email protected]
Bio-Kult Pro-Cyan is a scientifically developed multi-action formulation that works with the body to help maintain normal levels of bacteria in the gut designed to target the urinary tract.
Bio-Kult Pro-Cyan contains cranberry extract (36mg PACs) two specifically selected live bacteria strains, proven to survive the acidity of the stomach and vitamin A which contributes to the normal function of the immune system and maintenance of healthy mucous membranes found lining the gut, mouth and urinary tract. Bio-Kult Pro-Cyan can be taken alongside antibiotics, on a daily basis, does not need to be refrigerated and is suitable for vegetarians.
FSC Gentle Iron
FSC Gentle Iron 20mg capsules are formulated to deliver the benefits of iron whilst being gentle on the stomach. Iron contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue, whilst also supporting the normal formation of red blood cells and haemoglobin. FSC Gentle Iron is made in the UK with the finest ingredients and based on widely recognised scientific evidence of their health qualities.
Available in 120 capsules and recommended to swallow one capsule daily with food.
At BioCare, we’re always leading the way with our research and development alongside nutritional experts. That’s why our new and improved multinutrient range has been redesigned to meet even more specific health needs and offer greater personalised support for men and women. More effective with no additives. With more specific botanicals and effective nutrients that are easily absorbed and used by the body like methylfolate, methyl B12, vitamin K2 and D3. So whoever the person, we have the multinutrient for them.
Our new Female Multinutrient is the first of these improved multinutrients.
• Advanced, high potency multinutrient for women’s health and hormone balance during childbearing years.
• Clinically effective – supports female hormone balance, energy, mental health and wellbeing, skin, hair, nail, bone structure and fertility.
• Comprehensive – includes all key nutrients, in particular optimum levels of magnesium, vitamin B6, iron, zinc, rosemary, and green tea.
• Optimum support – optimally absorbed, high potency nutrients using the best and easiest nutrient forms for the body to absorb and use, such as methylfolate and
• No unnecessary additives.
• Flexible – no large tablets. Dose is split between three vegetable capsules for easy swallowing and so you can use only what you need.
• All-vegan ingredients, including 1000iu vegan vitamin D3 from lichen. Supports vegetarian and vegan health perfectly with optimal levels of iron, zinc, B12, iodine etc.
• Recyclable packaging using natural materials.
• The trusted professional choice – formulated by our nutritionists and used by practitioners.
Take the misery out of menopause – One the most challenging stages of a woman’s life is the menopause, levels of female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone begin to fall during this time. This can cause unpleasant symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, irritability, mood swings and depression. MenoVital® is one of the most comprehensive Menopause products on the market. It consists of: 16 essential ingredients including: Soy Isoflavones, Flaxseed, Siberian Ginseng extract and Starflower to help the body maintain overall health and well being during the mid life change. MenoVital from HealthAid retails at £11.99 for 60 tablets. Contact HealthAid Ltd on 020 8426 3400 for purchase and stockist information or visit www.healthaid.co.uk
NutraFlow Herbal Remedy Tea
NutraFlow® by NutraTea® is 1 in a range of 19 herbal remedy teas that has been thoroughly formulated to support the excretory function of the kidney and provide soothing and spasm reducing properties. This complete blend contains 100% active botanicals that have been sustainably sourced including Parsley, Horsetail and Goldenseal to offer defence against bacterial pathogens in the lower urinary tract. Each highly effective, entirely natural herbal tea bag contains no artificial flavours or oils allowing for it to be reused throughout the day, offering a delicious way to support normal bladder function.
World Foods Brand Management Ltd
Tel: 01782 366080
Bladapure is a unique food supplement which combines the effectiveness of D-Mannose with Organic prebiotic inulin, Organic cranberry and key nutrients to create an inhospitable environment for bacteria which can cause Cystitis and bladder discomfort. Sexual contact can increase the likelihood of Cystitis as intercourse can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract.
Available in 100% active clean fill capsules or a delicious pure powder, Bladapure provides 100% active ingredients with no fillers, flavours, binding agents and including organic ingredients where available to provide a pure and natural solution to help maintain a healthy urinary tract
Silica Complete For Optimal Skin, Hair and Nail Health
One tablet provides 200mg of silica. We use naturally derived silica from bamboo gum which contains 75% organic silica and is one of the richest, most bioavailable forms. MSM (Methylsulphonylmethane), a natural sulphur containing compound, has been included as it’s an essential nutrient required for the body’s production of proteins, many of which are found in hair, skin and nails. We’ve also added:
• Biotin as it contributes to the maintenance of normal hair and skin
• Zinc as it contributes to the maintenance of normal skin, hair and nails
• Vitamin C as it contributes to the maintenance of normal collagen production.
One of our most popular and highly rated products, Menopause Complete, is back! This one a day tablet is formulated with a unique blend of vitamins, minerals and botanicals for women approaching and going through menopause. It contains vitamin B6 which helps with the regulation of hormonal activity and normal function of the nervous system. Magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K and zinc contribute to the maintenance of normal bones, important for menopausal women. Biotin and zinc contribute to the maintenance of normal hair and skin. The addition of sage can contribute to menopausal comfort for those women experiencing excessive sweating.
Natracare Plastic-free Curved Panty Liners
The same trusted organic and natural period products, with a brand-new look! Natracare has been the number one choice for plastic-free panty liners, pads, and organic cotton tampons for thirty years. Using only the best natural materials like soft organic cotton and naturally absorbent plant cellulose, their products make you feel comfortably protected without the unnecessary plastic, chlorine bleaching and harsh chemicals. Their compostable curved panty liners are breathable and gentle on intimate skin, shaped to fit the curves of the body for everyday comfort. Natracare’s brand new packaging will be available from winter 2020.
Cran Berry™ is a tablet based on a special cranberry extract with a concentrated and standardised content of Proanthocyanidin (PAC) in combination with lingonberries, black pepper and vitamins. A Cran Berry™ tablet provides 36mg of PAC equivalent to a quarter to half a litre of cranberry juice. Vitamin C and B6 contribute to the normal functioning of the immune system and niacin to maintain normal mucous membranes.
Organ(y)c Sanitary Pads Night Heavy Flow
Organ(y)c Night Heavy flow pads are the world’s first clinically proven pads to reduce intimate skin irritations. Created with a certified organic cotton top sheet and highly absorbent cotton core for heavier periods, making them hypoallergenic and ensuring maximum breathability to reduce intimate skin irritations including itching and burning. They are plastic free with protective wings and back sheet created from mater-bi a biopolymer derived from corn-starch and a secure adhesive strip to give maximum security throughout the day. Containing no SAP’s, rayon, polypropylene, added aromas or bleach. Biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable packaging. RRP £4.29.
Available from Pravera Ltd., [email protected]
The award-winning Prescript Biotics™ delivers a unique “Bio-Identical” SBO Probiotics Consortia™ comprising 8x beneficial SBOs (Soil Based Organisms) proven to help renew the gut and create a healthy balance amongst gut bacteria for stronger digestion and immune health. Supporting the gut microbiome with a good probiotic product can have a beneficial impact on women’s hormonal balance. Research indicates that the gut microbiome plays an important role in the regulation of estrogen in the body, which may influence conditions such as PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) and endometriosis. Prescript Biotics™ is free from dairy, making it 100% vegan and vegetarian-friendly.