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The Vaginal Microbiome: Everything You Need to Know

Vaginal Microbiome

It seems like talking about vaginal health is becoming less taboo. Considering that half of the population has one, this is great news. While destigmatizing vaginal health talk is great, there’s still much to unpack about how it works and more importantly, how to take care of it. After all, keeping a healthy vagina is more than switching over to cotton underwear. 

This article explains what the vaginal microbiome is, how it works, answers whether or not it is self-cleaning, and provides tips on how to keep your vagina healthy.

What is the vaginal microbiome? 

The vaginal microbiome is a dynamic micro-ecosystem of billions of bacteria. Its living community of microbes fluctuates throughout the menstrual and life cycle. 

It’s one of several microbiome environments that live within the body. Some examples of other microbiomes include the gut and skin microbiomes. 

Most microbiomes rely on bacterial diversity for optimal health. For instance, diversity or a variety of different types of friendly bacteria are required for a healthy functioning gut microbiome.

But when it comes to the vaginal microbiome, research shows that diversity isn’t always best. In fact, too much diversity in the vaginal ecosystem is associated with increased risk for certain health conditions such as bacterial vaginosis, a condition that affects nearly 30% of women in the US. 

A healthy vaginal microbiome cares less about diversity and more about abundance of vaginal-friendly bacteria, like Lactobacillus spp., the bacteria that makes up about 95% of the vaginal microbiome. 

How the vaginal microbiome works

The purpose of the vaginal microbiome is to maintain vaginal health and protect its host (you) from disease. 

In fact, the friendly bacteria within the vaginal microbiome act as the first line of defense. It works by competing with unfriendly bacteria for nutrients and space within the microbiome. Some friendly bacteria can also directly eliminate pathogenic bacteria.

For these reasons, a healthy functioning vaginal microbiome requires having enough good bacteria. Additionally, the vagina has other measures in place to maintain balance and optimal health.

Vaginal Microbiome
The Vaginal Microbiome: Everything You Need to Know 3

TRUE OR FALSE: THE vagina IS self-cleaning 

It’s true, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ. The vagina self-cleans by ridding itself of old cells, bacteria, and other secretions via discharge. In turn, this helps protect the vagina from infections. 

Tips for a healthy vaginal microbiome

There’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ vaginal microbiome since it’s a living environment that is constantly fluctuating. With that said, there are many ways to promote a healthy vaginal microbiome. 

Balance in the vaginal microbiome can be easily disturbed by internal factors like your period and pregnancy, as well as external factors like diet, stress, exercise, and medications. Consequently, everyday activities can take a toll on the health of your vagina. 

Fortunately, there are practical tips that can easily support a healthy vaginal microbiome:

  • Avoid douching products: vaginal hygiene products like soaps, wipes, and sprays can have a negative effect on the composition of good bacteria in the vagina. Instead, gently wash with mild soap and water.
  • Take a vaginal probiotic: Taking a daily probiotic that specifically caters to the vaginal microbiome can help promote balance and optimal health. HUM’s Private Party provides clinically studied probiotic strains, plus cranberry PACs to support a healthy urinary tract.
  • Eat a well-rounded diet: Research has shown that getting too little micronutrients, eating too many high-glycemic foods, and a high dietary fat intake are associated with increased risk for poor bacteria composition and pH levels. Here are RD-approved 20 healthy meal ideas to try. 
  • Manage stress levels: Overtime, elevated stress levels can take a toll on your immune system, leading to a loss of beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus spp. Try managing your stress by going on walks, spending time with a pet, reaching out to a friend, or by working with a mental health professional.
  • Choose clothing wisely: Choose cotton underwear to help avoid irritation or excess moisture absorption by synthetic materials. Also, be mindful of how long you stay in sweaty or tight fitted clothing which can equally wreak havoc on your vaginal health. 

The Final Takeaway for vaginal microbiome health

The vaginal microbiome is a community of bacteria that works to protect against disease. It’s also a self-cleaning organ that helps maintain its own balanced environment. To optimize your vaginal health, it is important to focus on keeping up an abundance of vaginal-friendly bacteria. Try these simple diet and lifestyle tips to optimize your vaginal microbiome health.

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