Over the last few years, there has been a lot of talk about the importance of gut health, and it’s influence on our overall health. As women, our vaginal health is just as important! Without a healthy vagina ecosystem, all kinds of imbalances and unwanted symptoms can occur. Having a healthy vaginal microbiome can also have a huge impact on our fertility and pregnancy outcomes.
Here at Mungbean Health, we support women with their vaginal health each and every day. You might think you are suffering alone with these issues, but you would be surprised how common they can actually be. Today we are here to explain what vaginal health is and the ways you can promote optimal balance.
Vaginal Health 101
The vagina contains its own unique microbiome, which is a balance of bacteria, viruses and fungi. The balance of microbes in the vagina is important for vaginal health. Typically, a healthy vagina should be slightly acidic with a PH between 3.8 and 4.5. It should be predominantly dominated by Lactobacillus species of bacteria which create this acidic environment and help to protect the environment from unwanted bacteria.
Certain factors can shift the Lactobacillus-dominated microbiome, causing a pH shift and leading to dysbiosis. When this happens, an infection is likely to happen. Changes in the vagina microbiome can happen because of fluctuations in hormones, diet, hormonal contraceptives, sex, hygiene and what we put into our vaginas such as tampons, soaps, lubricants and condoms. Antibiotic use can also lead to dysbiosis of the vagina microbiome.
Many of the common vaginal conditions experienced by women can be improved by working to balance the vaginal microbiome. These are the most common conditions we see and support in our clinic:
- Urinary tract infections
- Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
- Candida (thrush)
- Genital herpes
- HPV and other sexually transmitted infections
So, what’s normal?
Vaginal discharge is totally normal, natural and unique to everyone. Discharge is a mix of vaginal secretions and cervical mucous and is necessary to help lubricate and clean the vaginal canal. Discharge is naturally odourless, and clear or milky. However, it can be stickier and creamier at certain times of the cycle.
- Around ovulation (at the midpoint in our cycle) discharge becomes more copious and has a clear 'egg-white' or sticky consistency (this is to help sperm reach the uterus more easily and key indicator that ovulation has or will occur).
- During the second half of the cycle, it becomes thicker and whiter.
If you notice a change in the colour, amount, texture or odour in your discharge, it is always important to check in with your health practitioner.
- A yellow, green or grey colour could be a sign of infection or STI such as bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia, gonorrhoea or Trichomoniasis.
- A very thick or cottage-cheese consistency is typically a sign of a yeast infection and may be accompanied by itchiness and redness.
Diet, fabrics and the balance of natural bacteria can all effect vaginal odour. As long as a smell is not new for you or unpleasant, it is usually completely normal. If you experience a change in smell, specifically a fishy odour, this could be a sign of an infection (such as Bacterial Vaginosis) or imbalance in bacterial flora (which could lead to a Yeast Infection).
If you notice any of the following symptoms it could be a sign of an underlying infection or imbalance in your vagina microbiome:
- Vaginal redness, itching or burning.
- Virginal spotting or bleeding between periods
- Pain during intercourse
- A mass in or outside of your vagina
- Vaginal dryness
How to treat your lady garden well!Restore & replenish your vaginal microbiome with the right probiotics
Probiotics can help to restore and maintain the balance of good bacteria in the vagina, which can be particularly beneficial for women who are prone to recurrent vaginal infections or other issues. Different microbes require different modes of treatment to eradicate, however all vaginal through supplementing with Lactobacillus specific probiotic strains. Clinically, we have found the strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri to be particularly effective.Support your immune system
If you are getting regular symptoms or just can’t beat a certain infection, supporting your immune system should be a huge focus. Having a strong immune function can help you overcome the infection and help prevent future infections/imbalances.Optimise your diet
Eating whole foods with a variety of colour is the best way to support your immune system and to provide the nutrients you need to stay healthy. To support a healthy vagina microbiome, focus on reducing processed foods and limiting sugar intake as these foods can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut and potentially impact the vaginal microbiome.Consuming foods that are rich in probiotics can help improve the balance of bacteria in the vagina. Examples of probiotic-rich foods include long-fermented sourdough bread, brine cured olives, yoghurt, kefir, pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, natto and miso.Speak with a Naturoapth
If you’re experiencing ongoing infections and symptoms, speaking to a Naturopath is absolutely essential! As naturopaths we will work with you to identify your underlying drivers to help you overcome the imbalance. We have access to some really great comprehensive testing that will help guide us with your treatment plan. We will focus on all aspects of your health that may be impacting your vaginal health including hormonal balance, bacteria balance, diet, medications, immune function and more. Book here!Let it breathe!
Always opt for breathable cotton or bamboo underwear, preferably organic cotton. This is important as these fibres are breathable and don’t trap heat or moisture the way that synthetic fibres can, leading to a less chance of infection.
It is also important to wash your underwear and clothes in natural gentle laundry powders without synthetic fragrances. Avoid wearing sports leggings all day, especially those made from synthetic materials. There are some great cotton & bamboo leggings available so consider these instead.Avoid Harsh Soaps
Maintain your naturally acidic pH by avoiding soap or body washes on the vulva, just clean with warm water. Most soaps have an alkaline pH (not to mention fragrances and other undesirables) which is not supportive to your more acidic pH or microbial balance.