Our body is home to trillions of bacteria and throughout our body, we have several different bacteria communities including in our gut, vagina, mouth, skin and lungs. Each of these communities represent a different environment and challenges for the bacteria to overcome and therefore, are dominated by different species.
The female microbiome is a delicate and dynamic community of bacteria, that constantly undergoes fluctuations during a women's entire life including infant, puberty, pregnancy and menopausal stage. Maintaining the balance of the vagina microbiome is vital as it plays a significant role in maintaining vaginal health and protecting the host from disease.
How does the vaginal microbiome differ from other bacterial communities in the body?
The vaginal environment has different properties when compared to your gut therefore, the profile of bacteria also differs. The vaginal environment is anaerobic and Lactobacillus species, commonly by species such as Lactobacillus crispatus, Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus iners, and Lactobacillus jensenii, flourish and dominate this environment.
These bacteria produce various antimicrobial compounds, such as lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), and bacteriocins which play an important role in contributing to a healthy vaginal microbiome and establishing defence against invading pathogens. The lactic acid produced by the vaginal microbiota helps maintain a low pH of 3.5-4.5, a major factor in limiting the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.
What happens when the microbiome becomes disrupted?
Disruption of the vaginal ecosystem contributes to the overgrowth of pathogens which causes complicated vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis (BV), sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC).
The vaginal microbiome can become disturbed by several factors including -
- The menstrual cycle
- Sexual activity
- Use of antibiotics
- Vaginal douching
One of the most notable features of vaginal dysbiosis is a change in pH. A significantly higher vaginal pH, caused by a decrease in Lactobacillus bacteria and therefore, lactate concentration, is found in those with BV, STI infections and VVC patients, when compared to healthy women. A shift of microbial communities in the vaginal environmental can also lead to severe gynaecological issues such as pregnancy loss, preterm labour and low conception rates if left unattended.
Therefore, it is vital to maintain the balance of the vaginal microbiome.
Maintaining your vaginal microbiome can be achieved through several methods including -
- Practising safe sex
- Avoiding flavoured or scented sexual lubricants
- Practice good hygiene and avoid harsh soaps
- Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics and when necessary to start an antibiotic course, take a course of friendly bacteria to restore your gut microbiome
- When we are unable to control changes to our gut microbiome e.g. pregnancy, medication and menopause, friendly bacteria supplements can be used to help restore the delicate ecosystem. As our vaginal microbiome is different than our gut microbiome, look out for products which are specifically designed for female intimate health.
If you need help choosing a probiotic or want to learn more information about looking after your vaginal microbiome, book a free 1-1 consultation with one of our nutrition experts, click here.
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