Let’s talk about vaginal health. It’s an uncomfortable topic for many–– one that has been stigmatized to such an extent that many women shy away from addressing––even at the expense of their own health. A recent survey conducted by RepHresh of 2,000 American women aged 24-34 revealed that two in five women turn to Google as their go-to source for health advice, rather than a physician or gynecologist when experiencing discomfort or vaginal health symptoms. Their top three most commonly Googled phrases and questions included “vaginal discharge” (44%), “Do I have a yeast infection?” (39%) and “Vaginal odor” (37%).
The knowledge gap between women and their vaginal health is one reinforced by stigma, intimidation, and lack of dialogue. Misguided information increases the likelihood of misdiagnosing symptoms or leaving a serious condition untreated. Worse yet, DIY treatments can have serious consequences. With misinformation having a moment in today’s landscape, it’s critical that women not only have access to accurate information, but also the resources they need to feel empowered in their bodies, speak openly about their concerns, and approach their vaginal health with more confidence and less fear. Empowered women are some of the most powerful agents of change.
So, to empower you with the facts about vaginal health, we tapped Dr. Jacqueline Walters (a.k.a. “Dr. Jackie”), a Board-certified Obstetrics & Gynecologist and RepHresh Women’s Health and Wellness Expert, for a candid conversation about our vaginal microbiome. Her mission is to inspire all women about the power of being informed about their vaginal health and the importance of owning one’s Vaginal IQ, or “VQ” to make the best health decisions for themselves. Below, Dr. Jackie answers all the questions you were too embarrassed to ask about your vaginal microbiome during your last pap, and shares her nine commandments to help keep your vagina in balance.
Take control of your health and scroll down with confidence.
What is your vaginal microbiome? Why is it so important?
Your vaginal microbiome is made up of lactobacillus (predominantly), yeast, and other bacteria that are all naturally present in your body. Every woman’s vaginal flora is unique to her. These bacteria are good bacteria and its presence in your body is an indicator of flora health and does not make it dirty. Optimum vaginal health occurs when there is a healthy balance of these microorganisms. Throughout a woman’s life, the vaginal microbiome undergoes dramatic shifts that coincide with hormonal and lifestyle changes.
What is a healthy vaginal pH?
Just like a self-cleaning oven, your vagina has its own cleansing process thanks to the secretions it releases. It also has a naturally balanced ecosystem made up of healthy bacteria that you shouldn’t disrupt. On a scale of 0 to 14, you want your vagina’s pH (the normal level of acidity present) to be between 3.8 and 4.5.
What are some of the factors that affect your vaginal pH? What are some known microbiome disruptors?
As stated above, the vaginal microbiome undergoes dramatic shifts that coincide with hormonal and lifestyle changes.
Infections can change your vaginal pH, but so can your period, unprotected sex, antibiotics, and hormones. Any chemicals you introduce into your vaginal ecosystem could disrupt its natural pH. To keep your vagina in balance, I tell my patients to follow these 9 Vaginal Hygiene Commandments:
How do you treat an unbalanced vaginal pH?
If your vaginal pH is off, I tell my patients it is important to identify what conditions are altering the pH in order to correct the problem. So see your provider to identify what’s disrupting your pH if you are unsure.
Also be careful to not introduce products into the vagina that could disrupt the pH. (I.e. soap). As stated, your vagina is naturally self-cleaning. Wash only outside of the vagina with only water.
I do discourage patients from inserting anything into the vagina without consulting their OBGYN first, but the one product I have used for years and recommend to balance vaginal pH is RepHresh Vaginal Gel, an over-the-counter pH balancing and odor-eliminating gel insert that is clinically shown to maintain healthy vaginal pH for up to three days. Other products try to mask vaginal odor with deodorizing scents or perfumes, but RepHresh gets to the root cause, which is unbalanced vaginal pH.
What tips can you share to maintain everyday vaginal pH balance?
To proactively maintain vaginal health consider the following:
– Maintain a healthy diet for vaginal health. Following a balanced, nutritious diet and drinking plenty of water are both key to vaginal and reproductive health. In fact, certain food like yogurt can potentially help maintain a normal pH.
– Lubrication is very important to reduce friction and enhance pleasure during sex, however some products can alter vaginal pH. If experiencing discomfort or unusual odor after sex, keep RepHresh Gel handy to rebalance pH to its normal range.
– Choose clothing carefully to stay dry. Wear breathable cotton underwear. Change out of wet swimsuits and sweaty workout clothes as quickly as possible as yeast and bacteria tend to grow in warm, moist environments.
– I tell my patients to take a vaginal probiotic supplement like RepHresh Pro-B that works to keep lactobacillus, yeast and vaginal flora in balance. Pro-B is a once daily supplement taken orally that contains clinically tested strains of probiotic lactobacillus that have been shown to work with the body to balance yeast and bacteria.