Maintaining Good Vaginal HealthMaintaining good vaginal health is important for a woman’s general confidence, sexual satisfaction and physical health. Just like the intestinal tract, a healthy vagina carries a rich variety of beneficial bacteria to protect against infections and maintain a normal PH level.
When these beneficial bacteria are disrupted – for example by use of antibiotics which kill internal flora, or when immunity is low, yeast infections like candida (thrush) flourish, causing itchiness and discharge.
Modern lifestyles have created an ideal environment for thrush infections, with the:
- Rise in refined foods and sugar in our diet
- Popularity of synthetic underwear
- Increased prescription of antibiotics
In her book Candida, A Twentieth Century Disease, Shirley S. Lorenzani, Ph.D. says before antibiotics were introduced in 1947, “only 1 out of 4 vaginal infections was due to candida. Today candida is the cause of 9 out of 10 infections."
Top Tips for Good Vaginal Health
1) Keep Good PH Balance
Itchiness and discharge can result when the PH balance on the vagina is disturbed, so don’t use harsh soaps or cleansers, and avoid douching. If you notice a strong or unpleasant odour you may be tempted to use strong soaps or douche to mask it: doing so will only upset the naturally mild acid levels that are a sign of good vaginal health. Instead, consult a health practitioner to identify the cause of the symptoms and take sensible lifestyle steps yourself – for example cut down on refined sugars.
2) Eat a Healthy Diet
If your vagina health is out of balance, take a good look at what you are eating and drinking. Introduce plenty of fluids (preferably not a lot of coffee or alcohol – nutritionist John Appleton says one cup of coffee can kill off 75 per cent of beneficial bacterial in the gut – and that will impact on the genital tract as well.
Some foods are recognised as helpful for vaginal infections, including cranberry juice and yoghurt. Vaginal dryness can lead to infections as well, so eat more soy which is full of phytoestrogens which can aid natural lubrication. Include plenty of green vegetables and fruit in your diet. And remember factory farmed meats can contain traces of antibiotics.
3) Practice Safe SexUsing condoms during sex helps to protect against HIV, genital herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, genital warts, and chlamydia. Some of these diseases, like HIV and genital herpes, have no cure. Others, like the human papillomavirus that causes genital warts, are known to cause cancer or lead to other diseases. You also should change condoms when switching from oral or anal sex to vaginal sex, to prevent the introduction of harmful bacteria into the vagina.
Good vaginal health depends on regular health checks. Have Pap smears with the recommended frequency for your age group (usually every couple of years if you’ve had no problematic results) to ensure you are keeping track of any changes in vaginal cells that could indicate a pre-cancerous condition.
4) Get Regular Health Checks
Every woman should have a vaginal health check at age 21, or within three years of becoming sexually active. Get anything unusual – like painful sex – checked out.
Pain experienced during sex may spread to the labia and pelvic areas during or after intercourse, and may be caused by a range of disorders from menopausal or pre-menopausal vaginal dryness to ovarian cysts, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) caused by chlamydia, or spasms of the vaginal muscles, caused by a fear of being hurt.
5) Treat Infections When They AriseThe most common vaginal infections are yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and trichomoniasis.
Yeast infections: Most commonly candida - non-sexually transmitted, may be caused by uncontrolled diabetes, (leading to high sugar levels) pregnancy (which changes hormone levels) or recent antibiotic treatment.
Yeast infections are most often treated with over the counter pharmacy creams or suppositories you insert into the vagina. If yeast infections are recurring make changes in diet, avoid tight clothing and synthetic fabrics, limit the use of vaginal deodorants and change out of wet clothing like bathing suits as soon as possible.
Bacterial vaginosis: is not sexually transmitted but is more common in sexually active women. It is also caused by an over growth of bacteria, and is at least as common as yeast infections in women of reproductive age.
Up to 50% of the women who have bacterial vaginosis do not have any symptoms. Bacterial vaginosis can only be treated with prescription drugs taken as a pill or used as a vaginal cream or gel.
Some medications for bacterial vaginosis should not be taken during the first three months of pregnancy.
Trichomoniasis and Chlamydia: are the most common sexually transmitted vaginal diseases. Both may have few symptoms and can best be diagnosed by your doctor. If you suspect you have one of these get it checked out to avoid serious reproductive health problems in the future.