Your Vaginal Microbiome

By now, you (hopefully) are well acquainted with the importance of your gut microbiome. The tide has slowly yet surely been shifting in the past decade or so in public consciousness learning about the gut microbiome, the important critters that reside in it and how it is an integral part of our health, and that maybe we shouldn’t be popping antibiotics like lollies. 

 

Whilst the gut microbiome is absolutely essential, did you know that there is also a specific vaginal microbiome? In fact, the whole reproductive system has separate and distinct microbiomes. 

 

There is a microbiome for the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries! And the men don’t miss out, they also have important reproductive microbiomes (including seminal microbiome!). 

 

Let’s (figuratively) dive into the vaginal microbiome 

 

The vaginal microbiome is made up of a cohesive community of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes that help to support and maintain and protect the healthy ecology of the vaginal environment. 

 

What does the vaginal microbiome do? 

 

Many things! The vaginal microbiome helps to maintain the vaginal pH to be acidic. The acidic environment of the vagina works as a defence mechanism against potential pathogenic microbes (certain bacteria, fungi, viruses etc) that could lead to things like infections, inflammation and even reproductive health issues. 

 

When things go wrong… 

 

Like the gut microbiome, the vaginal microbiome can also experience dysbiosis, where the microbes become imbalanced, leading to symptoms arising. 

 

Signs your vaginal microbiome may need some support: 

  • You experience recurrent thrush symptoms (increased thick/white/cottage cheese type discharge, itching, irritation, burning, painful intercourse) 
  • You experience recurrent bacterial vaginosis (BV) symptoms (profuse watery discharge, irritation, itching, burning, fishy odour) 
  • You notice profuse white/yellow/green/red/orange/grey vaginal discharge 
  • Abnormal bleeding eg. After intercourse or bleeding outside of your period 
  • You notice a persistent foul odour 
  • You have PCOS 
  • You have endometriosis or adenomyosis 
  • You have uterine fibroids 
  • You have pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • You have a history of cervical infections, cervical cancer or abnormal Pap smears 
  • You have experienced recurrent miscarriage 
  • You are experiencing fertility challenges 
  • You have experienced preterm labour 
  • You have experienced postpartum endometritis 



What can we do to support the vaginal microbiome? 

 

Luckily, lots of things! Repeated courses of antibiotic and anti-fungal treatments are not your only line of defence in keeping your vaginal ecology healthy and symptom-free. 

It’s important to note that if you are experiencing signs of imbalances with your vaginal microbiome, testing and knowing exactly what you’re dealing with can be extremely helpful, as treatment strategies will vary vastly depending on what is specifically going on for you. 

 

That being said, there are many things most women can do to support a healthy vaginal ecology: 

  • Opt for natural, breathable fibres for underwear (organic cotton, cotton and bamboo) and preferably also for tight-fitting leggings 
  • Pay attention to your gut health. Whilst the vaginal microbiome is separate from the gut microbiome and can become dysbiotic even with premium gut health, there is always going to be cross-communication between these two microbiome sites. Supporting your gut microbiome will help to lower systemic inflammatory processes and support beneficial bacteria. 
  • Eat nutrient-dense foods to help support the immune system and mucosal tissue of the vagina. Protein, vit C, vit A, vit E and zinc (plus so much more!) all help to create a healthy vaginal environment. 
  • Make blood sugar regulation throughout the day a priority. High blood sugar can feed infections, plus the rollercoaster of blood sugar highs and lows can contribute to systemic inflammation, chronic activation of the immune system and hormonal dysregulation. 
  • Avoid unnecessary antibiotic usage, as this can impact the beneficial flora within the vaginal microbiome, leaving vulnerability to infections.
  • Don’t forget your partner. The health of our sexual partners ’ microbiomes can influence our own. Ever noticed a change in your vaginal ecology (like increased thrush symptoms) after getting into a new relationship or having a new sexual partner? Whilst you may not always be able to change their microbial health, it’s an important factor to remember that the dysbiosis may not be coming from you, even if they are asymptomatic.
  • Remember to use condoms and if using lube, a vaginal pH-friendly lube! If you are currently trying to conceive, you may wish to use a sperm-friendly lube during your fertile window and use a vaginal pH-friendly lube during your non-fertile times. 
  • Use organic menstrual products like pads and tampons and avoid products that have fragrance.
  • If using a menstrual cup, ensure to boil and sterilize regularly during your period, not just at the start and end of a period. 
  • Consider herbal medicine. Herbal medicine has a long history of use for female reproductive health, and that includes supporting a healthy vaginal environment. If you feel yourself caught in a loop of recurrent infections and medications. It may be time to seek out a holistic women’s health-focused practitioner to help get to the root of why you are experiencing these symptoms. 

 

Vaginal microbiome test

 

If you fall into the category above of “signs your vaginal microbiome may need some support” and you are seeking more answers, getting a vaginal microbiome profile test may be a good next step. These tests are more thorough and comprehensive than standard swabs done at your GP and generally require a practitioner to order them for you depending on where you are located in the world, or have a practitioner interpret the results for you and create a plan! 

Types of practitioners that can order these tests are functional medicine Doctors, naturopaths, naturopathic doctors, Chinese medicine practitioners and certain women’s health coaches – best to enquire with a specific practitioner you have in mind to see if they are able to run this test for you. 

 

At Femtek we love to encourage women not to put up with less-than-optimal reproductive and menstrual health, explore deeply, and ask questions, there is always a cause for symptoms and often a bit of thorough detective work is required to get to the bottom of health challenges. 

 

It absolutely is possible and thriving health is waiting for you!

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