The term “intestinal microbiome” is already well known, researched and discussed in the integrative and functional medical field, but less known is the vaginal microbiome and its essential role in the health of the female genital system.
A large number of women have symptoms of vaginal infections or dysbiosis in the vaginal microbiome, which often become chronic. Unfortunately, for some women, the symptoms become part of their daily lives for such a long time that they are not even sure what is normal anymore. They have learned to live with these symptoms and manage them by stopping the behaviors and factors that exacerbate them. However, this greatly affects both physiological and emotional health and relationships.
Why Is It Essential to Maintain a Healthy Vaginal Microbiome?
- It decreases the risk of developing a sexually transmitted infection.
- It decreases the risk of urinary, fungal or bacterial infections.
- The risk of HPV infections, the risk of cervical cancer and genital warts decreases.
- It provides protection against the development of pelvic inflammatory diseases.
- It reduces the risk of infertility.
- It reduces the risk of pregnancy complications, including premature birth and postpartum endometritis.
- It has an important impact on the baby’s health during vaginal birth, as it is one of the most important ways in which the baby’s intestinal microbiome develops and can provide protection against allergies, autoimmune diseases and asthma.
- It increases the quality of sex life and the relationship between partners.
Vaginal Bacterial Species and Their Influence on Infections.
The cervicovaginal ecosystem is made up of diverse microorganisms that coexist in a dynamic equilibrium and establish complex connections between them and the host. The vaginal microbiome, in general, has a predominance of the genus Lactobacillus, especially the strains L. crispatus, L. iners, L. jensenii and L. gasseri. Lactobacilli contribute to maintaining vaginal homeostasis and prevent the colonization and development of adverse microorganisms, including those responsible for sexually transmitted infections. The composition of the vaginal microbiome can vary throughout a woman’s life in response to endogenous and exogenous factors, such as age, pregnancy, pharmaceutical treatments, and urogenital infections. The pH balance in the vagina is meant to be acidic, to provide protection against these potential pathogenic factors.
The most common vaginal dysbiosis worldwide is bacterial vaginosis, which is characterized by a mutation of the microbial composition from normal, dominated by Lactobacilli, to a highly complex polymicrobial community. It has been established that bacterial vaginosis is characterized by the presence of anaerobic bacteria, such as Gardnerella vaginalis and Prevotella. Chlamydia trachomatis is the most common bacterial infection worldwide. It is a gram-negative bacterial pathogen that can lead to several complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility.
Vulvovaginal candidiasis affects about 75% of women of childbearing age at least once in their lifetime, and more and more suffer from recurrences. Candidaosis is caused by Candida albicans which, instead of being part of the normal vaginal microflora, becomes an opportunistic fungal pathogen, with an overgrowth tendency. Candida albicans is responsible for 80-92% of candidiasis cases. You can read more about how to solve fungal infections in my article, How To Cure Candida Overgrowth For Good?
Causes of an Unbalanced Vaginal Microbiome.
There are a number of factors that can determine or affect the health of the vaginal ecosystem:
- Antibiotics. They kill the beneficial bacteria in the vagina and increase the chance of fungal infections. It is not just the over-the-counter and unnecessary prescription antibiotics, but also the meat containing antibiotics, which the animals raised industrially consume.
- Diet rich in sugars. Sugars are a preferred “fuel” for pathogenic fungi and bacteria.
- The genital microbiome of the partner. The partner’s microbiome is important too, not just women’s. At sexual contact, many pathogenic microorganisms can be inserted, which can proliferate if the vaginal pH is not low and there is already dysbiosis.
- Toxins that kill beneficial microorganisms. Over 80,000 human-produced chemicals have been added to our environment in the industrial age. Most are carcinogenic and alter the functions of the endocrine system. A very large number of toxins can affect both the intestinal and vaginal microbiome: food pesticides, drinking water pollutants, anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-contraceptives, anti-acids, antidepressants, intimate hygiene products that contain chemicals. Conventional (non-ecological) absorbents contain pesticide and dioxin residues, which are correlated with the incidence of endometriosis.
- Intestinal dysbiosis. If you suffer from intestinal disorders (colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, halitosis, etc.), it is very possible that the vaginal microbiome will be affected.
- Lack of estrogen. Menopause or any factor that causes a decrease in estrogen, can unbalance the vaginal pH and cause dysbiosis. Vaginal lactobacilli feed on glycogen, but the walls of the vagina are rich in glycogen only when a woman has a good amount of estrogen in her body. When glycogen is gone, lactobacilli die and vaginal pH increases.
- Exposure to semen that is alkaline and can upset the pH, especially when it is not low enough, or it can’t rebalance fast enough.
How Can You Restore the Health of the Vaginal Microbiome?
There are plenty of effective actions you can take that can help you break the endless cycle of symptoms and imbalance and achieve a higher quality of your life. Here is exactly what I recommend:
- Ideally, the vaginal pH should be in the range of 3.5 – 4.5. You can use special measuring strips to check your pH at any time. This way you can have an idea if you are at risk of infection.
- Consume a proper diet for your metabolic type, without processed foods and sugars and add a variety of fibers and polyphenols with prebiotic effect, as well as fermented foods. These will improve the amount and type of bacteria in your digestive system and will also have an effect on the vaginal microbiome. However, if you suffer from candidiasis, fermented foods are contraindicated during the acute period of infection.
- Probiotics and pre-biotics. These are essential for the digestive system and the intestinal microbiome, but some of them can also be used vaginally and this is very useful as well!
- DO NOT use vaginal irrigation except in cases of severe and short-term infections. Solutions should contain only natural ingredients such as apple cider vinegar diluted in water or diluted yogurt.
- Use only tampons made of organic cotton or tested for chemicals.
- Use only cotton underwear.
- DO NOT use perfumes, dyes and other synthetic chemicals in the genital area.
- DO NOT use synthetic detergents. You can find a wide variety of organic or natural detergents that do not contain toxins and perfumes of synthetic detergents, whose residues remain on clothing.
- In case of infections you can resort to natural alternatives that fight the infection: pessaries made with natural plant extracts with antimicrobial role, usually in a base of honey and propolis. They are just as effective in many cases, non-toxic and do not destroy beneficial bacteria.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle as much as possible on all levels!
To get a more complete and accurate picture of the status of the vaginal microbiome, both in terms of the pathogenic species, as well as the beneficial ones and the interaction between them, you can opt for the Female EcologiX test.
For specialized consultation for your health problems you can schedule an appointment here.
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