The Vagina Questions You’re Too Embarrassed To Ask, Answered
Let’s talk about our lady bits.
When was the last time you talked about your vaginal discharge? If your answer is never, you’re not alone.
In a society where the image of a ‘normal’ vagina is based on porn, and men run away whenever they hear terms like ‘period pain’, it’s not surprising we don’t ever really talk about our vaginas.
And it’s often to the detriment of our health. Our discharge is one of our body’s best indicators for the state of our wellbeing. The sticky stuff we find in the bottom of our underpants throughout the month is actually a combination of liquid, cells, and bacteria that lubricate the vagina, and if its consistency, smell or color changes, it’s often a sign something’s up.
The vaginal and urinary tract areas are similar to the intestines, in that they are home to billions of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi (yeast). Just like our gut health is important, so is maintaining balanced vaginal microflora. Some of the ‘little bugs’ in our vagina work hard together with our immune system to maintain health in the area, while others are potentially harmful if given the opportunity to flourish, so it’s important to know what’s what, and which signs in particular could indicate the wrong kinds of bacteria are at play.
We talked to dietitian, nutritionist and education manager at BioCeuticals, Belinda Reynolds, who knows everything about vaginal health and didn’t shy away from answering all our itchiest questions…
How do I know if my vaginal microflora is imbalanced?
“An imbalance could lead to infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV) and vulvovaginal candidiasis; thrush. If you’re itchy down there or your discharge looks or smells different than usual, it’s often a sign of an imbalance.”
What are the causes of a vaginal infection?
“Synthetic materials, like the ones that make up your swimsuit, don’t allow air circulation down there. Leaving a wet swimsuit on all day creates a warm, moist environment, which encourages the growth of candida yeast. Opt for natural cotton underwear, and change out of your wet swimwear as soon as you can. The same goes for your workout wear. If you are prone to thrush, avoid staying in your sweaty lycra tights for hours on end.
Another common cause is harsh soaps or body washes, which upset the acid/alkaline and secretion balance that your body is desperately trying to maintain for protection. Taking antibiotics can also cause an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, so always follow a course up with some high-quality probiotics.”
What are the different signs of candida and bacterial vaginosis?
“Candida overgrowth, more commonly called thrush, causes a thick, white, odorless discharge. It’s usually itchy and can cause pain with intercourse or urination. In contrast, bacterial vaginosis causes a thin, gray or white discharge with a fishy odor and is rarely itchy.”
What are some simple ways to treat it?
“Antifungals are a common treatment for thrush, while antibiotics are commonly prescribed for bacterial vaginosis. It’s now thought that localized probiotics such as a probiotic pessary may be a useful option, as they will help to restore the balance of microorganisms in the area, without killing off any of the good bacteria. Oral probiotics are useful alongside traditional treatment in thrush. too – they will introduce beneficial bacteria to restore balance.”
How can I prevent thrush and BV?
“Eat a diet that supports the good bacteria, not the yeast. Fermented and probiotic-rich foods are also great to assist in keeping the balance in check, so introduce natural yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso soup and apple cider vinegar into your diet.
Manage stress and check your vitamin D levels. Chronic stress has been shown to suppress the activity of your immune system, making your body more vulnerable to infection. A deficiency in vitamin D may have the same effect. Look at how you can better manage stress. Methods such as exercise and meditation are very effective, get more hours of sleep each night, and speak to a healthcare professional regarding having your vitamin D levels tested, and whether a supplement may be needed.”
Comment: Do you feel you know enough about your vagina’s health?