What your Vaginal Microbiome Does & How to Keep it Happy & Healthy
We are hearing more and more about the microbiome in our gut and how important it is to our overall health in just about every area… but did you know that the vagina has its own microbiome?
Yep! Unique to us women, we have whole colonies of bacteria that help keep us and our reproductive system healthy.
Our vaginal bacteria are related to the bacteria we have in our gut (like everything, am I right?) but has its own dynamics as well.
It makes sense that the vagina would have a bacterial presence too, because amongst a heap of other things that it does, it protects us against the outside environment.
Just like your gut, you will find both “good” and “bad” strains of bacteria… but a healthy environment/microbiome is one where there the “good” bacteria are the most dominant and this healthy balance is maintained.
The dominant species that has been identified to be associated with a healthy vaginal microbiome is the Lactobaccilli species.
If the species of bacteria are not balanced then this is called dysbiosis and we can experience a range of symptoms due to this, which are listed below.
Our vaginas actually need quite an acidic environment (like our stomach) to ensure that the bad bacteria stay in small numbers and, just like our gut, the bacteria can be influenced by all of the food and lifestyle habits that we have.
Here is a whole list of things that the vaginal microbiome can have an effect on;
· Vaginal dysbiosis can increase the risk the risk of preterm labour rupture (which can be further exacerbated by antibiotic use). Read that study here.
· The bacteria in the vagina can influence the success of fertility and assisted reproduction techniques. Read that study here.
· Lower counts of Lactobacilli in the vagina were associated with higher risk of HPV. (HPV is associated with a higher cervical cancer risk). Read that study here.
· Treating the vagina through changing the microbiome may assist reoccurring urinary tract infections (UTIs). Read that study here.
· Vaginal microbiome has been shown to be disrupted in endometriosis patients. This study does not go so far as to discuss treatments but this could also present a novel treatment option especially for those seeking options to increase fertility. Read that study here. You can also read our recent blog about this here.
· Disrupted vaginal bacteria is found in women with bacterial vaginosis. (On a side note, having bacterial vaginosis increases the risk of susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and is associated with decreased fertility rates). Read that study here.
So, how do we keep our vaginal microbiome healthy?
Here are eight things you can do right now!
· Don’t douche unless you have been advised (after an consultation longer than 10 minutes!) by your health care professional to do so. It changes the bacterial landscape and not for the better. Avoid soaps and washes, water only is enough.
· Use natural cotton sanitary items, preferably organic.
· If you use lubricants ensure they are pH neutral. (Check the bottle, it will say!).
· If you use condoms make sure they do not have a spermicide gel in it, as this will reduce the acidity of your vagina and potentially change the bacterial landscape.
· Eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Might be boring, but it’s one of the most effective ways to provide the level of antioxidants and nutrients that your “good” bacteria need to thrive!
· Eat some good fermented food sources, like natural yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi. These are rich in Lactobacilli species.
· Avoid sugary foods. Just like the gut, the “bad” bacteria in the vagina feed on sugar and processed foods. Feeding them gives them the opportunity to overpopulate!
· If you smoke, give it up. Amongst the countless other issues, it can also change the vaginal bacteria landscape. It is hard to shift vaginal infections if you’re constantly feeding the “bad” bacteria!
Lastly – if you think there is something wrong SEEK ASSISTANCE from a health professional who understands the complexity of women’s health and the vaginal microbiome.
If this is something you need more support with, Wendy is our in-house vaginal health professional.
Not everything that goes “wrong“ in the vagina comes back to Candida/Thrush or Bacterial Vaginosis… although sometimes it seems these are the only two infections people are aware of.
Understanding the vaginal microbiome highlights how important it is to make sure we are keeping healthy balance in the amazing and complex world of the vagina.
Your vaginal health is just as important as any other part of your body.