For most of your adult life, your hormones have functioned in the background. You become aware of them every month, of course, but only to the extent that they caused your periods. Menopause is like a window looking in on the full picture of the role your hormones play in how your entire body functions. As estrogen and progesterone levels retreat, not only do your periods stop, but a series of other physical changes also take place. Body fat distribution patterns change — what once settled on your hips and thighs now takes up residence across your middle, wanting to form a belly paunch. Your hair thins, loses color, and becomes brittle. The natural lubrication keeping your vaginal tissues moist diminishes, and the tissues become thinner. But it’s not as bad as it might sound. There are a number of actions you can take to reduce the effects that these changes have.

What Your Hairdresser Won’t Tell You

Those first few gray hairs didn’t seem like such a big deal. You could pluck them out or bury them under the rest of your hair, and no one else was the wiser. (Contrary to the old wives’ tale, you don’t grow three new gray hairs to replace every one you pluck out!) But now gray is your predominant color, and your once silken locks have developed a texture better suited to rope. What gives? Well, your hair, actually. Your hair follicles lose their ability to regenerate lost hair and to produce pigmentation.

“I have everything now I had 20 years agoexcept now it’s all lower.”

— Gypsy Rose Lee

Gradual hair loss does continue as you grow older, although for most women this does not become a problem. Many products on the market today enhance your hair’s body and fullness. If you’ve colored your hair when its pigmentation was normal, you’ll notice the changes in pigmentation. Your hairdresser can help you select colors and products specially designed to cover gray.

Those hairs you perceive as gray are actually devoid of any pigmentation, making them white. They appear gray, however, when mixed with your normally colored hair.

Vaginal Dryness and Itching

Dropping estrogen levels alter the elasticity and lubrication in vaginal tissues. This can result in dryness, itching, and discomfort during sexual intercourse. For most women, these signs, like hot flashes and mood swings, disappear once menopause is complete. Prescription vaginal creams containing estrogen are often helpful in the interim (but don’t apply such a product just before sex, as it can affect the man). Some women also get relief from vaginal vitamin E or aloe vera products that are available without a prescription. Water-based lubricants can significantly reduce any discomfort during sexual intercourse. The old adage “use it or lose it” gains new meaning at menopause. Regular sex is one of the most effective ways to improve vaginal lubrication and tissue vitality, not just during intercourse, but overall as well.

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