Here is what I believe about vulvodynia and vestibulitis. I think it is an autoimmune disorder. Something makes the body attack the body. And here is why I think it is an autoimmune disorder. These things run in groups. Have you ever known a woman who just had vulvodynia? We also have interstitial cystitis, or depression, or irritable bowel syndrome, to name a few. Once a female contracts one autoimmune disorder she is 3 times more likely to get another.
Here is the great news: the research coming out on treating autoimmune disorders is incredible. Stories of healing are popping up all over the place. I spent a year tracking down women who have healed from vulvodynia and finding out their stories. The summary of what I found was compiled in my book Rethinking Women's Health (Sartoris, 2016).
Here is how I stumbled on my own healing from vulvodynia.
I went to over fifteen doctors looking for cures or even just relief from the time I was eighteen until I finally healed at the age of thirty-five. I tried everything from lidocaine to antidepressants, to asking to have my labia removed just to keep from wanting to claw out my private parts.
After my third child, I was willing to try anything to get relief. For reasons unrelated, my husband and I began to clean up our lifestyle overall. Then, I met a woman, Nancy Woodruff, who saved me. She said, “It sounds like you have a chronic yeast overload in your body.”
I tried not to scream at her, “Believe me, I’ve taken the probiotic pills and eaten enough yogurt to last a lifetime. It doesn’t touch it!” In fact, I thought Nancy was a bit “out there.” I knew my problems were physical and expected a medical solution.
“I don’t mean vaginal yeast, I mean systemic yeast.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was willing to try anything. Nancy was into fermented foods. In fact, she was crazy about the benefits of fermented foods for human health. She talked on and on about how all cultures preserved foods with methods of fermentation and how those protective bacteria are missing from our diets in modern culture. She was WAY ahead of all the information that is coming out now on the microbiome.
She taught me how to make cultured cabbage. Please understand that if you have serious vulvo-vaginal problems, I know you are rolling your eyes. I did too. Just wait. I started eating fermented cabbage that smelled so bad my kids would run out of the room screaming when I opened a jar. I ate a few bites on blue corn chips every day. After about a week, I started craving it in the afternoons. I probably ate a dozen quart jars worth of cabbage in the first few months.
Then, Nancy taught me how to make kefir. Kefir is a fermented milk product that tastes like buttermilk if you don’t add fruit or honey. I thought it tasted horrible, but I drank a little every day. You have to understand that after actively seeking out boric acid supplements and trying to have my labia removed, drinking an unpleasant drink was a cakewalk. You can buy keifer at the store, but they add lots of sugar into it. There are recipes for all sorts of fermented foods online. My favorite books are Wild Fermentation by Salvador Katz and Nourished Kitchen, by Sally Fallon.
Adding fermented foods came after we had significantly cleaned up our lifestyle as a whole. I also stumbled on Dr. Terry Wahls' work on autoimmune disorders and changed my diet even more and began doing guided meditation daily.
In six months, my vagina/vulva was healed.
I do not mean that it was less afflicted. I mean it was healed.
Here is the best part. Five years later, it still is. I have gotten two yeast infections in four years. I consider that normal. As soon as I felt them coming on, I upped my fermented food intake and put plain kefir directly all over my vulva and let it dry. If I feel any hint of vaginal discomfort I do the same thing. Gone in several hours. No drugs. No waiting three days. Gone. The vulvodynia, or generalized discomfort from sex, or just irritation from no cause at all also disappeared..
Here is what I think is important. A microbiome is the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space. There are way more protective bacteria in our bodies than harmful ones, or there are supposed to be. Our microbiome is damaged by three main culprits: chemical exposure, food, and infection. Some people have genes that can handle that assault. Others, like myself do not. I was not breastfed, then I had one ear infection after another as a child and was treated with untold amounts of antibiotics. Any positive microflora I might have had left were certainly wiped out. Add into that an assault from chemically produced food and an undiagnosed wheat allergy, and wham! Once I removed a lot of the chemical load by changing to a natural diet during pregnancies and added back tons of good microbes to my body through fermented foods, the balance tipped back to normal. It makes sense.
Since then I have done hours of research on autoimmunity. I suggest another author to begin your journey, Donna Jackson Nakazawa. Her books on getting to the root and integrative process of healing are paramount to healing vulvodynia. I have written a book on women’s health based on these experiences that is helping women everywhere: Rethinking Women's Health: A Guide to Wellness that will get you started right away on your path to feeling good! I would also be happy to talk with any of you privately. Please email me at email@example.com You can heal!
I’ve learned so much about how women heal from writing Rethinking Women’s Health. The key is that healing happens through several pathways for women.