What’s Good for the Vagina
With so much talk about the gut microbiome, vaginal microbiome in contrast appears to be relatively left out. Diversity is the mark of a healthy gut but a healthy vagina is marked by a low diversity, dominated by lactobacillus bacteria, especially lactobacillus crispatus. These types of bacteria are able to produce lactic acid and this keeps the vaginal pH low.
Reduced numbers of these beneficial bacteria in the vagina allow the growth of other types of bacteria, yeast and viruses. Many of the common infections in the vagina are not actual infections but rather a decline in acid-producing lactobacillus, which allows for an increase in growth of common pathogens such as candida (also known as yeast), group B streptococcus and other bacteria such as Gardnerella which causes bacterial vaginosis (a bacterial imbalance that commonly presents with a fishy discharge).
What’s Bad about an Unhealthy Vagina
An unhealthy vaginal bacteria population not only increases the incidence and recurrence of yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, but also increases the risks for acquiring sexually transmitted infections such as HIV and HPV (human papilloma virus). Pregnancy success and outcomes may also be affected by your vaginal microbes. Just as gut dysbiosis can result in inflammatory disease such as heart disease, diabetes and depression, it is thought that vaginal dysbiosis can result in a “leaky vagina” and increase inflammatory conditions such as endometriosis.
Symptomatic treatment for yeast infections, group B streptococcus infections and bacterial vaginosis are often associated with a high risk of recurrence. Repeated antibiotic treatments can also have a negative impact on your gut microbiome as well as possible negative consequences if treatment occurs in pregnancy. Common practices such as vaginal douching may actually perpetuate vaginal dysbiosis.
How You Can Improve Your Vaginal Health
Strain-specific probiotics are important in re-establishing a healthy vaginal microbiome. Probiotics for the gut often do not do the trick. Prebiotic treatment, dietary changes and quitting smoking can also help improve vaginal bacterial populations.