What Is the Vaginal Microbiome?
When it comes to women's health, monitoring the health of your vagina is important. While you may already know tips like wiping front to back and drinking plenty of water, you may not know the importance of supporting your vaginal microbiome.
In this article, we'll learn about the vaginal microbiome, exploring how it works and how you can support it.
What Is the Vaginal Microbiome?
Deep within the vagina’s walls resides a diverse and dynamic community of microorganisms known as the vaginal microbiome. This microscopic ecosystem — comprising bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes — plays a pivotal role in maintaining the delicate balance and functioning of the vagina.
What Is the Vaginal Microbiome Made Of?
To learn about how to take care of your vaginal microbiome, it’s important to first learn about its microbiology. Many scientists have studied the composition of microbial communities in the vaginal microbiome, so we’ve been able to learn a lot about this helpful organ. One group of microorganisms that takes center stage in this ecosystem is the lactobacillus species.
Vaginal lactobacilli are a type of bacteria that are naturally found in the vagina of healthy women. They contribute significantly to the overall health and well-being of the vaginal environment. By producing lactic acid, lactobacilli help maintain a slightly acidic pH, typically around 3.5 to 4.5, which creates an environment that isn’t friendly toward pathogens.
Common lactobacilli strains found in the vaginal microbiome include:
- L. crispatus
- L. iners
- L. jensenii
- L. gassseri
While lactobacillusspp are the dominant players, they are not alone in this vibrant microbial community. Other microbes coexist in harmony, creating a diverse ecosystem. These include various species of bacteria like Gardnerella vaginalis, Prevotella, and Candida, as well as viruses and fungi.
Factors That Influence the Vaginal Microbiome
The composition of the vaginal microbiome, which is often lactobacillus-dominant, can vary among women due to a few factors.
- Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle can influence the types of microbes in your microbiome. This is because estrogen is one of the main hormones that governs the vaginal microbiome of reproductive-age women, and estrogen levels rise and fall during the menstrual cycle.
- Pregnancy and menopause also bring about significant shifts in the vaginal bacteria. This is partially to blame for the high prevalence of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and yeast infections in pregnant women.
- The use of contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy can also affect the microbial balance by interfering with the overall human microbiome, which is strongly connected to the vaginal microbiome.
Genetic factors play a role in shaping the vaginal microbiome, making each woman's ecosystem unique to her own body and genome characterization. Many researchers leverage metagenomics, in vitro study, and gene sequencing to further study the vaginal microbiome. Put simply, this means that your vaginal microbiome may be based on your genetics, which makes it uniquely yours.
Understanding the factors that can affect your microbiome is key to maintaining a healthy vaginal microbiome, as well as preventing imbalances that can lead to vaginal infections and other complications.
The Consequences of Vaginal Dysbiosis
When the delicate balance of the vaginal microbiome is disrupted, a condition called vaginal dysbiosis can occur. Vaginal dysbiosis refers to an imbalance of vaginal microbiota, where harmful bacteria outnumber the beneficial ones. This can lead to an increased risk of bacterial vaginosis (BV), which can affect your vaginal secretions (or discharge).
Vaginal dysbiosis can also cause some discomfort during pregnancy, which can add unnecessary stress to this time of change. The presence of certain pathogens and the absence of healthy lactobacilli in the vaginal flora during pregnancy can cause uncomfortable concerns like yeast infections, irritation, and excess discharge.
For instance, BV is an imbalance that can lead to higher concentrations of anaerobic bacteria (which is the bad kind of bacteria). If left untreated, BV can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
An imbalance in these cervicovaginal bacterial communities can also make you more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as chlamydia and trichomoniasis, and other infectious diseases.
How Can You Encourage a Healthy Vaginal Microbiome?
Maintaining a healthy vaginal microbiome is important for women's overall well-being. Here are some practices that can help you support a balanced vaginal ecosystem:
Choose Probiotics Wisely
Probiotics are helpful bacteria that can help restore and maintain a healthy vaginal microbiome. Certain bacterial species, such as Lactobacillus crispatus and Lactobacillus iners, may particularly help encourage vaginal health. These probiotics can be taken orally or as vaginal suppositories or creams.
Pro Tip: Not sure where to find a vagina-friendly probiotic? Check out Good Girl Probiotics®, a probiotic that supports a balanced vaginal pH, bacteria, and urinary tract health.*
Opt for Cotton Underwear
Wear breathable cotton underwear to allow for better air circulation and minimize moisture buildup. This helps create an environment that discourages the growth of harmful bacteria. You should also avoid tight-fitting, synthetic underwear that can trap heat and moisture.
Practice Good Hygiene
Keep the genital area clean with gentle, unscented soaps or intimate washes. Avoid douching, as it disrupts the natural balance of the vaginal microbiome and can increase the risk of infections. Remember to wash the area from front to back to prevent the spread of bacteria.
Pro Tip: Need to cleansedown there? Opt for a feminine wash that supports vaginal pH, like our pH Balancing Cleanser™, a fragrance-free, gentle cleanser for your vulva.
Steer clear of perfumed products, dyes, and harsh chemicals in personal care items. These can irritate the delicate vaginal tissues and disturb the vaginal microbiome. Instead, opt for hypoallergenic and fragrance-free options to minimize potential irritation.
Practice Safe Sex
Using barrier methods like condoms can help reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections, which can disrupt the vaginal microbiome. Remember that some lubricants and spermicides may affect the microbial balance, so it’s generally recommended to choose products that are pH-balanced and free from harmful chemicals.
Drink plenty of water to support overall vaginal health. Hydration encourages the production of healthy vaginal fluids, which help maintain the optimal pH and prevent dryness. Aim for at least eight glasses of water per day to stay adequately hydrated.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. A nutritious diet supports the immune system and can contribute to a healthy vaginal microbiome. You may also want to incorporate foods like yogurt, garlic, and cranberries, which are known to help balance the vaginal microbiome.
Chronic stress can disrupt hormonal balance, which in turn affects the vaginal microbiome. Practice stress management techniques like meditation, exercise, and adequate sleep. Throughout your day, prioritize self-care activities that help reduce stress levels and encourage overall well-being.
Avoid Antibiotic Overuse
While antibiotics are sometimes necessary, using them too often can disrupt the vaginal microbiome. Only take antibiotics when prescribed by a healthcare professional and follow the recommended dosage.
Seek Regular Check-ups
Visit your gynecologist for routine check-ups and screenings. Regular examinations can help identify any imbalances or infections early on and allow for timely treatment. Maintain open communication with your healthcare provider to address any concerns or questions about your vaginal health.
Wrap It Up
Although its effects aren’t always visible, the vaginal microbiome is an important part of women’s health. By encouraging a healthy vaginal microbiome and making sure you take your vaginal health seriously, you can enjoy the comforts and benefits of a happy and healthy vagina.
At Love Wellness, we understand how important it is to feel comfortable and secure down there. Taking care of your vagina isn’t just about a healthy decision here and there — it’s about prioritizing your vaginal health in your day-to-day. For more tips on vaginal health, check out our blog.
Shop Our Founder's Favorites Wellness Products
Alleviates bloating fast*$8.99 One-time Purchase
A blend of digestive enzymes and herbs that alleviates bloating fast.* - Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free - Take 1-2 capsules after a meal or before b...View full details$8.99 One-time PurchaseSale Sale
Supports vaginal & urinary tract health*$16.99 One-time Purchase
- 7-day supply — perfectly sized to take on the go so you can keep your routine up when you’re not at home! - Good Girl Probiotics®: Helps to maint...View full details$16.99 One-time PurchaseSale Sale
Supports vaginal & urinary tract health*$35.24 Subscribe & Save$46.99 One-time Purchase
For vaginal & urinary tract health. HOW IT WORKS Together, this powerful duo supports your vaginal health by balancing bacteria and yeast. Go...View full details$35.24 Subscribe & Save$46.99 One-time PurchaseSale Sale
Helps support brain function*$22.49 Subscribe & Save$29.99 One-time Purchase
A blend of probiotics and nootropics to help support brain function, cognitive health, and help maintain a healthy mood and sense of calm.* - Vegan...View full details$22.49 Subscribe & Save$29.99 One-time PurchaseSale Sale
Helps boost your gut health*$54.74 Subscribe & Save$72.99 One-time Purchase
Beat bloat with this combo of fiber, digestive enzymes, and probiotics that naturally boost your gut health.* gut, bloating, gas, reflux, probiot...View full details$54.74 Subscribe & Save$72.99 One-time PurchaseSale Sale
Gently cleanses your vulva$11.24 Subscribe & Save$14.99 One-time Purchase
A fragrance-free, gentle cleanser for your vulva to help maintain a balanced vaginal microbiome. - Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegan - Apply to wet s...View full details$11.24 Subscribe & Save$14.99 One-time PurchaseSale Sale
Gently cleanses your vulva$4.99 One-time Purchase
A fragrance-free, gentle cleanser for your vulva to help maintain a balanced vaginal microbiome. - Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegan - Apply to wet s...View full details$4.99 One-time PurchaseSale Sale