What Do You Know About Your Vaginal Microbiome?


We know you’ve all been thinking it, so we’ll just come right out and say it: bacteria are awesome! They help do everything from supporting immunity and heart health to promoting a healthy weight and reducing anxiety. Believe it or not, though, bacteria haven’t always been the health heroes they are today.

Before all of the interest in gut health and probiotics, bacteria were known for little other than causing harmful conditions like food poisoning, pneumonia and sinus infections. But the tide has turned—which is great news considering our bodies are literally filled with trillions (yes, trillions) of bacteria.

And while the idea of flourishing gut bacteria is something we can all get behind, a thriving vaginal microbiome—not so much. We get it, vaginal bacteria just doesn’t have the same ring to it as gut bacteria does.

So even though the thought of bacteria thriving down there may give you the heebie-jeebies, your vaginal microbiome may be more important than you thought. Here are 5 things Sheila Warren, RN, GMC's Wellness Navigator, wants you to know.

1.    Bacteria are vital for a healthy environment. You may prefer not to think of your vaginal area as an ecosystem, but with numerous bacteria coexisting in perfect harmony, that’s actually the perfect way to describe it.

"When the bacteria are balanced, everything runs smoothly and your vagina can go about its business, maintaining a low pH (ideally 3.8 to 4.5), performing its self-cleaning and preventing infection," explains Warren. 

2.    But not all bacteria are created equal. While good bacteria—like lactobacilli and corynebacterium—typically rule the roost, they aren’t always successful at keeping out harmful bacteria. "This is because good bacteria thrive in low, acidic pH levels (below 4.5), but when pH levels rise—like during your monthly cycle—this can allow harmful bacteria to grow unchecked," says Warren.

3.    So don’t mess with a good thing. While you may be tempted to go out and get some fancy antibacterial wash, or cleaning product to help maintain vaginal health, you may be doing more harm than good. "It isn’t just harsh soaps that can impact pH," adds Warren, "other things like unprotected sex, antibiotics, your period, stress, even eating carbs and sugar, can all rock the boat and cause a higher-than-normal pH."

4.    Higher pH levels = higher risk of infection. It’d be great if vaginal pH levels could rise and fall without anyone being the wiser, but that’s often not the case. Unfortunately, with an imbalanced pH, your risk of getting an accompanying infection is much higher.

"If you suspect your pH is out of whack, brace yourself for the potential bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis or yeast infection to follow," notes Warren. "Also, it’s important to note that if you’ve had one of these conditions in the past, you’re more likely to have it again in the future."

5.    Don’t overlook minor changes. Whether it’s a change in vaginal odor, slight discomfort, abnormal discharge or something just feels off, it’s important to listen to your body.

"As convenient as it may sound to try and treat conditions—like a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis—at home, you may not be able to effectively distinguish between common symptoms, or it could be something else entirely," emphasizes Warren. "To get the relief you need and to ensure lasting vaginal and reproductive health, make sure to see your health care provider."

Restoring balance. By now you know that one of the best ways to keep your vagina happy and healthy is to ensure that you are supporting a balanced pH. But this means more than just avoiding common factors that can cause an imbalance. For instance, did you know that some women—25%—naturally have no lactobacillus (one of the key vaginal bacteria)? Or that vaginal bacterium can be passed down from mother to daughter?

That’s why, with so many factors to consider, 
GMC’s Health NavigatorSheila Warren, RN, is here to help you find the health information, expert care and personal support you need. No matter your stage of life, Sheila would love to help ensure your lasting health and wellbeing.

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