Vaginal health is one of the most important parts of a woman’s health. It affects the overall health of a female. Apart from your sex life and sex drive, a lot of things depend on your vaginal health. It affects things such as self-confidence, your relationship with your partner, and fertility. It is as important as any other part of your body and yet somehow it is neglected most times.
Although there is still a social stigma around speaking up about vaginal health, we have made some progress by addressing certain problems and seeking help. We still have a long way to go. In this article, we are covering a crucial aspect of vaginal health – the connection between probiotics and vaginal health.
There is a lot of confusion around the vagina. Many people get confused with the vulva and vagina. Most times, the vulva is referred to as the vagina. But let’s get this right. The outer part of a female’s genitals is called the vulva, whereas, the part that extends from the vulva to the neck of the cervix is called the vagina.
Did you know your vag hosts a lot of bacteria? Just like your gut, there are a number of good bacteria, also known as the vaginal flora or vaginal microbiome which is local to your vag. The microbiome differs from woman to woman, no two women have the same vaginal flora composition. Your vag is home to around 50 species of bacteria, but 95% of the vaginal flora belongs to the Lactobacillus species.
The species of Lactobacillus found in your vag are
● Lactobacillus reuteri
● Lactobacillus iners
● Lactobacillus rhamnosus
● Lactobacillus jensenii
● Lactobacillus gasseri
● Lactobacillus crispatus
As the name suggests, Lactobacillus are bacteria that are found in fermented dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk, etc. these bacteria produce lactic acid. It depends on each strain of the bacteria where they colonize in your body. Some live in the gut while some in the vagina.
Lactobacillus serves 2 crucial functions in vaginal health. Let us take a look at those
1. Maintaining pH
Harmful bacteria, yeast, and other pathogenic organisms thrive in alkaline pH conditions. Therefore, vaginal pH is always on a slightly acidic side to protect you from infections. The pH of the vagina should be <4.5.
2. Protection against pathogens
Lactobacillus bacteria are responsible to protect the vagina from other pathogenic microorganisms because they also produce hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide inhibits the growth of unfavorable pathogenic microorganisms thus protecting the vagina from infections.
Every vagina has a different microbiome. The composition changes with age and differs in every stage of life – from birth, puberty, adulthood, pregnancy, and menopause as a result of hormonal shifts.
● Birth and early childhood – After birth, the child starts receiving the bacteria from the mother. In this early stage of life, the pH of the vagina is also more to the alkaline side or mostly neutral.
● Puberty – At puberty, the vaginal microbiome undergoes major changes as does the girl’s body. At this time, the most important change in the girl’s body is the hormonal shift. By this time, the lactobacillus bacteria colonize the vagina and increase their population. Estrogen levels increase and result in high glycogen levels in the vagina. The lactobacillus bacteria ferments the glycogen and produces lactic acid making the pH acidic and protecting the vagina from harmful pathogenic microorganisms.
● Adulthood and pregnancy – During adulthood and pregnancy, a woman’s body gets ready to host another life and tries to make the environment as safe as it can. It becomes lactobacillus dominant. This means that the lactobacillus number goes up and is maintained that way to be on the safer side and prevent any infections during this time.
● Menopause – Menopause is marked by the cessation of periods. During this time, again your body has to bear a hormonal shift, wherein the sex hormones drop, especially the estrogen. As estrogen levels go down, glycogen levels in the vagina also go down. Meaning, the fermentation of glycogen by lactobacillus decreases. Thus increasing the pH of the vagina, making it alkaline and more susceptible to infections such as UTI.
There are certain factors that trigger the imbalance of vaginal flora leading a disrupted pH and infections. It has to be taken care of, more because the adhesion of lactobacillus to the vaginal wall can be affected by factors such as
● Hormonal imbalance
● Unprotected sex
● Neglected genital hygiene
● Overuse of antibiotics
In the case of an imbalance in the vaginal bacteria, you may experience the following symptoms-
● Fishy odor
● Vaginal discharge
● Pain or discomfort
● Itching or burning
This imbalance in the vaginal flora leads to either Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), Yeast infections, or Trichomoniasis. All three can be treated with a course of antibiotics, in some cases depending on the individual, doctors might also prescribe probiotics orally or insert them in your vagina.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that have a variety of health benefits. The human body depends on these ‘good bacteria’ for a wide range of functions from digestion to immunity.
Studies show that probiotics through fermented dairy products or probiotic supplements have a positive effect on vaginal flora balance. Antibiotics might relieve you of the symptoms for the time being, but these infections can be recurrent if not taken care of the root cause. The root cause is mostly imbalance in vaginal microbiota due to dietary deficiency of probiotics or physical conditions stated above.
Include food options such as yogurt and buttermilk in your daily diet. There are multiple options of probiotics available in the market. You want to look out for options that provide the lactobacillus strains. Go for options such as
● Billion cheers women’s probiotics
● Ecoflora probiotics
Make sure you consult a doctor or health expert before you start with any supplements.
Check out andMe’s newly launched Probiotic + Prebiotic Drink! It is specifically designed for abnormal discharge, yeast\ bacterial infection, itching & burning! It helps to build healthy gut flora to balance vaginal pH, helps build immunity and also helps fight bacterial or yeast infection.