Vaginal Health & Flora

Probiotics for Vaginal Health

Let’s talk about the thing no one wants to talk about: vaginas, odours, and abnormal discharge. As unappealing as this topic is to most, it is an important conversation to have because every vagina owner out there needs the knowledge and tools to keep their vagina healthy. There are a wide variety of things one should and should not do to keep everything in check. One of the less talked about ways to maintain a healthy vagina is the use of probiotics.

First and foremost, it is important to note that one should always consult a doctor on vaginal health concerns. The Internet is an endless (cess)pool of information, but it cannot get up close and personal with your parts to figure out what is actually going on in there. However, there are many options out there for maintaining vaginal health from the get go: avoid using tampons, use unscented detergents without harsh chemicals, wear only cotton underwear, use safe and clean sex practices, and  look into probiotics as a preventative and/or treatment method.

What, you might ask, do probiotics have to do with my vagina? 

Well, because your vagina houses millions of bacteria and because probiotics are bacteria that are good for your health, it becomes understandable that ensuring you have healthy bacteria supporting your vaginal activities is an important part of maintaining a happy, healthy vagina. One of the most important roles bacteria play in the vagina is that of a balancing act: maintaining the correct pH and acid levels your vagina needs to function properly.

Probiotics also play an important part in protecting the vagina from any overgrowth of bad bacteria. Too much bad bacteria can lead to vaginal infections, with the three most commonly occurring infections being: yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and trichomoniasis. A majority of women will experience at least once of these infections, and many women will experience more than just one. The acid and pH levels of the vagina can be turbulent – it’s how it is for many. However, with the use of preventative methods like probiotics, women are better able to fight off bad bacteria before an infection can take hold.

One culprit of vaginal infections? Antibiotics! Antibiotics can be understood as a sort of opposite to probiotics. While probiotics increase levels of (good) bacteria in the body, antibiotics deplete the levels of bacteria in the body, indiscriminately. Antibiotics are typically used to treat bacterial vaginosis, even though this treatment will likely throw off the fragile pH balance of the vagina, possibly resulting in the development of even more vaginal infections. Therefore, it might be wise to look into your options when it comes to taking antibiotics over probiotics. However, as always, it remains imperative to consult a physician before making any medical-related decisions.

You should take extra care in making decisions about your vagina, because according to microbiologist Gregor Reid, the bacteria found within the vagina is crucial to humanity’s survival. This is because the microbes (bacteria) found in your vagina have been passed down from generations of vaginas that came before you. The microbes of your parents, and their parents, and their parents, and so on live inside your gut…and your vagina (to name a few places)! Apparently, you owe your life to the bacteria in your ancestors’ reproductive systems! Successful reproduction hinges on the health of the reproductive microbial community.

What is a healthy (vaginal) microbial community?

A healthy vagina has a microbiome that produces hydrogen peroxide and lactic acid in order to maintain the proper levels of pH and acid. Balanced pH and acid levels allow your vagina to fight of bad microbes from taking control and throwing your vagina’s pH levels out of whack. If your pH levels become unbalanced, which means the acid levels dip below adequate levels, then unwanted, bad bacteria is able to survive in your vagina, and, given the right circumstances, thrive in your vagina, wreaking havoc and infection. The less serious infections, such as vaginosis, often go undetected, allowing for your vaginal microbiome to weaken even further. If this happens, more serious infections are able to take up residency in your vagina in addition to a multitude of unpleasant complications.

These consequences can manifest in anything from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to infertility. The health status (or lack thereof) of a woman’s vagina has innumerable implications on her life, including that of pregnancy, if that is a part of her life’s choices. Vaginal bacteria has been linked to the outcomes of birth, with some studies pointing to vaginosis being correlated to pre-term birth. Mothers are able to promote the health of their children in more than just the traditional ways – even before their children are born, mothers promote the well-being of their children through the microbial makeup of their reproductive systems.

The Vagina contains an invisible ecosystem, made up of a variety of microbes, both good and bad!

Healthy Vaginal Flora

Just as there are good and bad bacteria found inside the intestinal tract, there are good and bad bacteria found inside the vagina flora.  The good bacteria are bacteria that keep the tissues healthy and do not cause any type of disease. The bad bacteria are bacteria that can cause disease if their numbers increase.

A Healthy Vagina

The normal flora of the vagina includes the following bacteria:

  • Lactobacillus species
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Staphylococcus mitis
  • Enterococcus faecalis
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Streptococcus pyogenes
  • Neisseria species
  • Neisseria meningitides
  • E. coliProteus species
  • CorynebacteriaMycoplasmas

From this list, you can see that many of them can potentially cause disease. For example, Staphylococcus aureus can cause infections that may become antibiotic-resistant. E. coli can cause infections as well.  The good and bad bacteria depend on each other for their survival while they live in the normal flora. When the numbers of good bacteria dwindle, the bad bacteria take over and cause disease.

In the vagina, symptoms such as discharge, smell, pain, burning and itching indicate that the bad bacteria have taken over.Healthy vaginal flora protects the body from infection. It also keeps the tissues healthy.

Daily Habits and Ideas to Keep the Vagina Healthy

  1. Eat plain, unflavored yogurt with live active cultures at least three times a week. Make sure that it is sheep or goat yogurt and NOT from dairy.  Check with your DBM Physician if this is permitted on your program.
  2. Wear cotton underwear that fits you well and doesn’t rub against the skin in the wrong way
  3. After going to the bathroom, wipe front to back. This prevents the introduction of bacteria from the rectum into the vagina
  4. If you wear tampons, change them frequently. The longer that you leave them in, the faster the bacteria on them will breed, causing potential infections
  5. Make sure that your tampons are ORGANIC and unbleached
  6. Change tampons after you urinate to prevent urine from traveling up the tampon into the vagina
  7. If your vagina feels dry during intercourse, use a lubricant. When your vagina is dry, you risk minor tears in the wall that occur during intercourse.  Visit this page for a natural vaginal lubricant you can make at home
  8. Don’t douche to "clean" the vagina.  We use douching only in extreme circumstances such as cancer.  Douching with yogurt or kefir however is permitted.  Follow this link for information on how to douche with kefir.
  9. Don’t use feminine hygiene products such as powders, sanitary pads that are scented, or sprayed with deodorant
  10. Don’t wear tight-fitting pants–they rub against the vagina causing irritation that can contribute to infections
  11. Eat a healthy diet that contains very little processed foods and sugar. These foods change the pH of your vagina.  For tips and ideas on the most healthful diet, follow this link.
  12. DO NOT have multiple sex partners. Studies show a correlation of multiple sex partners with recurring infections of bacterial vaginosis even though it isn’t a sexually transmitted disease
  13. Never re-use a condom
  14. Once you find out you have bacterial vaginosis, clear it up as soon as possible. If you choose to use natural methods, make sure that you go back to the gynecologist for another test that shows it has cleared up.
  15. Give serious consideration to the type of sanitary products you use. Pads or tampons that contain deodorant are an ‘insult’ to the delicate vaginal tissues. Most sanitary pads and tampons are not sanitary at all! Instead they contain bleaches, plastics, and dioxins from recycled materials. These chemicals are absorbed by the reproductive system. It’s no wonder that women suffer from cramps, PMS, fibroids, and reproductive cancers at such high rates. Teenagers are now being diagnosed with ovarian cancer! Switch to a brand that keeps you dry, has no chemicals at all, is biodegradable, and prevents infections with unique technology and that is organic and unbleached.
  16. Often, sanitary pads are stored underneath the sink in the bathroom where it’s really not that sanitary. Moreover, many sanitary pads or tampons may not be wrapped to keep out infectious bacteria. Store your box of pads or tampons in the bedroom, not the bathroom where germs become airborne every time you flush the toilet.
  17. Sanitary pads have an expiration date on them. Beyond this expiration date, the pads will have accumulated too much bacterial contamination, even though they are in a ‘wrapped’ package. Throw them out if they’re past the expiration date.