How-to: Feminine Care and the {Vaginal} Microbiome

by Gianne Rayandayan, Herbalist

Sometimes all is not well in paradise.

The vagina has gained a notorious reputation in popular culture-- moody, mysterious, even ‘difficult’. In truth, a healthy set of lady parts is a beautiful thing! Let’s shed some light on where the sun doesn’t shine-- our vaginal microbiome, and how easy it is to care for.

In this post we dive into what comprises a healthy vaginal microbiome, where things can go wrong, and holistic approaches for addressing the root-causes of non-specific vaginal infections. 

What is a microbiome?  

Most folks associate the word ‘microbiome’ with gut-health. In fact, a microbiome refers to any sort of balanced ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The term ‘flora’ refers to good bacteria that protect the body from infection. 

We find microbiomes wherever our bodies come in direct contact with the external environment. Our skin, our mouths, our gut,-- and for us ladies, our vaginal area-- are all first-line defenses for immunity. Therefore, our overall health largely depends on the balance of these bacterial ecosystems. 

Vaginal Acidity, and Why it Matters

To stay healthy, the vaginal microbiome relies on a very specific acidity-level. For women of childbearing age, the ideal pH is around 4 to 4.5 (about the same as a tomato). This level shifts naturally during menopause. Even a slight imbalance in normal vaginal acidity opens the door to yeast overgrowth, bacterial infection, and may increase the risk of STI’s. We rely on the bacteria Lactobacillus to not only control the growth of other bacteria, but to keep vaginal acidity in check.

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) and Yeast infections are actually two sides of the same coin-- they both stem from imbalanced vaginal pH levels! The good news: most of what disrupts vaginal acidity is diet and lifestyle-- this makes prevention straightforward and accessible! 

Lifestyle Tips for Healthy Vaginal Microbiome:

Look to your diet - This is crucial, as bacteria and yeasts overgrowths feed on excess sugars. Though not super fun, limiting sugar, alcohol and simple carbs really does go a long way to curbing bacterial overgrowths. Moderation is a great rule of thumb-- this even applies to things like fruit, which can easily be overconsumed and feed non-beneficial bacteria. 

Balance your body’s overall pH levels - Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar recommends a daily tonic of lemon water, apple cider vinegar, and honey to support healthy body acidity and alkalinity. For this we have some awesome local honey! Chlorophyll is another option. It is known to soothe tissue-inflammation in a variety of cases, while also rebalancing the body’s pH levels. Eating more greens is ideal, but you can also grab a liquid Chlorophyll extract or capsules in-store. 

For a more direct intervention, we often recommend suppositories like Vitanica’s V-Fresh ™, which are specifically designed to promote healthy vaginal pH levels. These are great to take in tandem with vaginal probiotics (more on that below). 

Good housekeeping - This means looking at lifestyle habits that might be contributing to an imbalance state of your vaginal microbiome. Though hygiene is important, harsh soaps can easily disrupt your vaginal pH levels! (Try this body cleansing bar for a gentler option.) Moreover, bacteria thrives in moist conditions. It is recommended to wear breathable clothing and use menstrual products made of natural materials. We love BLUM pads and tampons- they are made of 100% organic cotton. 

Probiotics - We would be remiss if we forgot to mention our favorite probiotics for vaginal health! If you’re working through a round of antibiotics, we highly recommend starting a probiotic to restore major vaginal Lactobacillus strains. Two in particular-- L. rhamnosus and L. reuteri-- are shown to restore overall vaginal pH levels and improve cure rates of BV (9). We have probiotics that can be taken orally like Jarro Dophilus ® Women as well as ones that can be inserted vaginally, like Jarrow Women’s Femdophilus . Stop by in-store to chat with us on the nuances of each and see which method is best for your needs!

A Note on Antibiotics

Antibiotics are powerful medicine and have their place in the realms of healing. The catch: antibiotics do not restore vaginal flora or rebalance pH levels! This becomes a problem when they are overused.

This can easily lead to a vicious cycle of infection, treatment, and antibiotic resistance. We see many women coming in to remedy who have gone back and forth between antibiotics and infection for months after one instance of bacterial or fungal overgrowth. If an issue is chronic or long-standing, it can become very difficult to correct on one’s own. In such cases, we suggest working with one of our Clinical Herbalists to get back on track. 

Knowledge is Empowerment

Now more than ever, women are building the confidence to talk openly about their most intimate parts. Having these open discussions is so important for this simple reason: spreading knowledge empowers women to care for themselves! And we are here for it 🔥 💃

 

Sources: 

 

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/vaginal-yeast-infection#symptoms
  2. https://www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/better-me/should-you-be-worried-about-your-vaginal-ph
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27161352/
  4. https://www.optibacprobiotics.com/professionals/probiotics-database/lactobacillus
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4378521/
  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/bacterial-vaginosis-vs-yeast-infection
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1941801/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18701205/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19295645/
  10. Gladstar, Rosemary. (2008). Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health