The medical and wellness communities are increasingly abuzz about the importance of optimizing the gut microbiome (comprised of the trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microscopic living things we refer to as microbes, all persisting happily in our intestines and digestive tract). Most of us are aware that we can affect our gut health by increasing our intake of certain foods, such as the natural probiotics found in foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and many brands of yogurt.
It’s difficult to comprehend, but these gut microorganisms essentially function as an additional organ in your body, and may weigh as much as two to five pounds altogether (roughly the weight of your brain). We have every reason to believe that the vast majority of these microbes are hugely beneficial to health, and can positively impact multiple bodily processes – such as immune response, brain health and central nervous system activity, fiber absorption and other digestive processes, weight management, and more. Studies are still ongoing daily on the enormous importance of gut health, as well as the impact of our diets on that gut health, and it’s no wonder that health influencers and media are speaking about it more and more.
But even considering all this, you’d probably never guess that there’s emerging science to support a connection between a person’s diet and gut health, and their vaginal health.
This may sound strange, as the reproductive system seems – at first blush – to be somewhat disconnected from the digestive tract. How could these two systems be interconnected? Here are three ways we believe our diets, and the resulting impacts on our gut microbiomes, could be affecting the pH balance and health of our vaginas.
1. Sugar feeds yeast.
We are beginning to understand that foods high in sugar feed not only the fat cells on your waistline and the inflammation across your body, but also the yeast that builds up in the vagina. High sugar diets stimulate the production and growth of vaginal yeast, which can eventually cause a chronic yeast issue. And for most of us, a yeast infection is treated topically with medicated creams instead of looking deeper at the root cause – the high sugar diet. To mitigate this issue, choose a sugar free sweetener such as stevia, and lean more heavily toward whole fruits to satisfy your sweet tooth.
2. Refined flour causes similar problems to sugar.
When choosing your grains, be aware that refined white flour in white breads, crackers and processed foods is going to act exactly like sugar in your body and in your vagina. Just as straight sugar feeds the yeast that leads to an unbalanced vaginal pH, so does refined flour. For many people, gluten is also an issue when it comes to bacterial overgrowth in the vagina, and it’s worth experimenting with your diet to see if going low-gluten, gluten-free, or 100% whole grain is best for your body.
3. Dairy hormones can block estrogen.
We know that certain dairy products contain something called xenoestrogens
, artificial hormones that imitate estrogens. These hormones can block natural estrogen from the vagina, which can prevent the mucosal lining from forming – leaving you open to infection. For some, dairy can also have an effect on vaginal odor, with high-dairy intake correlating to a stronger vaginal scent. That said, yogurt can be an exception to the limited-dairy rule, as we know that the bacteria in yogurt naturally breaks down the milk sugars and lessens these effects. So, in summary – keep your daily dose of yogurt, but take it easy on the rest of the dairy aisle.
The vaginal microbiome is delicate and multi-faceted. Many different aspects of this system must work together symbiotically to produce a harmonious environment. We know that making simple changes to diet such as those outlined above, utilizing natural products to restabilize the biome when needed, and practicing simple daily hygiene will help to keep the vaginal pH acidic (the way it should be), healthy bacteria like lactobacillus in place, and everything functioning the way it should be.