Photo by Kira Ikonnikova on Unsplash
You can feel it coming on, that not so fresh feeling down there.
Perhaps it’s burning, maybe it’s itching, or both.
All you know is things don’t feel right.
Chances are there’s that annoying discharge and maybe it has a smell to it that drives you nuts.
You’re thinking not again ….
You just finished another round of medication.
You’re frustrated and embarrassed because you can’t seem to kick this thing and it’s interfering with your sex life.
You’re wondering will you ever be free from worrying what might irritate your vagina this time.
You’re not alone, 29% of ladies have chronic bacterial vaginitis while 5-8% have chronic vaginal yeast infections.
You can put your vaginal health in check if you assess the following reasons for why it’s staying out of balance.
Reason 1: Your Hormones are Imbalanced
You don’t have to be in menopause to have hormone imbalances.
Estradiol is your most active estrogen and when it’s lowered it increases your vaginal pH.
Ideal vaginal pH is 3.8 to 4.5 but lowered levels of estradiol can increase it to 5.3.
Even that subtle shift in pH can disrupt the growth of beneficial bacteria in your vagina and reduce the strength of your vaginal tissue.
Lactobacillus is the most prevalent beneficial bacteria in your vagina and when the pH goes up it struggles to survive.
Leaving you unprotected against yeast and other bacterial overgrowth.
Excessive or prolonged stress can have a similar effect on your vaginal health.
The stress hormone cortisol increases your blood sugar, which in turn increases your pH.
Alterations in your levels of estriol, the estrogen that’s key for vaginal lubrication, can leave you dry down there.
Vaginal dryness sets you up for vaginal and bladder infections while making sex extremely uncomfortable!
The good news is there are ways to test your hormones as well as your vaginal microbiome, aka the organisms living in your vagina.
And you can do the testing from the privacy of your own home!
Saliva hormone testing, is the best assessment of all of the hormones your body has available and is available using a kit from the company ZRT labs.
Blood hormone testing is available through your doctor and can also be used however, it shows bound hormones that are ready to be used versus your reserves.
Vaginal microbiome testing is available using the Smart Jane kit from UBiome.
Both tests can be ordered online and doctors are available through the companies’ websites to interpret your results.
Reason 2: Your pH is Being Disrupted by Things You Put in Your Vagina
Let’s face it there are a lot of things your vaginal tissue comes into contact depending on the day.
Here’s a list of the most common things that change your vaginal pH:
• Unprotected sex with a male – pre-ejaculate (aka pre-cum) fluid and semen have a pH between 7 and 8.
• Spermicide & condoms with spermicide increase the pH to around 7.
• Lubricants, some soaps, douches, and feminine washes
• Tampons and pads increase pH to that of blood 7.35 to 7.45
• Sex toys if not washed properly can host bacteria and yeast
• Fingers and fingernails if not washed properly can introduce organisms that can alter pH of the vagina
• New sexual partners – your vagina has to get used the bugs on their parts
The hygiene products that you use make a difference in the health of your vagina.
Many feminine washes and douches contain fragrance, parabens and other chemicals that are known to disrupt your hormone balance.
These same washes and douches, especially if they have antibacterial ingredients, also wash away the good bugs you need to keep your vaginal tissue healthy.
Tampons and pads contain chemicals that alter your hormones and good bug balance.
Not changing your tampons and pads every four hours increases your vaginal pH to that of blood.
Cleansing toys, yourself and partners with simple soaps, such as Dr. Bronner’s, can help you maintain your vaginal pH and health as well as prevent the introduction of new organisms.
And of course getting to know your partners and their history before introducing them to your vaginal tissue is always a good idea!
Reason 3: Your Clothes and Underwear Can Irritate Your Vagina
Chances are you might have figured that the thong style of underwear wasn’t the best for your vaginal tissue.
That thin strip of fabric can hold onto bacteria and transfer bacteria from the behind even if you wash it.
And if that wasn’t lovely enough, thong underwear can cause friction rubs in places down there making sex and walking super painful.
Top that off with the thongs being too small for you and you have double trouble.
Nylon and lace underwear do not allow the vaginal area to breathe setting you up for vaginal infections.
The tightness of your underwear and jeans can also contribute to the friction issue.
Especially, if you don’t wear underwear when wearing your super sexy tight jeans.
Not washing your tight jeans and underwear in hot enough water with toxic detergents and drying on high heat allows bacteria and yeast to live in the fabric and keep causing you trouble.
Some studies even suggest replacing all your underwear yearly to keep the vagina healthy.
Who doesn’t love getting a new pair of underwear every so often?
Reason 4: You are Eating Foods That Change Your pH
Your diet makes a huge impact on your vaginal health.
Eating non-toxic, non-processed foods are best for your general health and it’s no different for your vaginal health.
Dining out and eating processed foods regularly increases your vaginal pH.
How you cook your food and what you cook your food in also has an impact on your pH.
Use cast iron, stainless steel or ceramic coated pans instead of Teflon non-stick pans to avoid exposure to pH altering hormone disrupting toxins.
Choose only bamboo, stainless steel or high heat silicone for cooking utensils.
Never heat up or store your hot food in plastic as this creates xenoestrogens that alter your pH and hormone balance.
The more processed foods you eat that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates the higher your vagina’s pH goes.
Here’s a list of foods to limit to balance your pH:
• Sugar, candy, ice cream, chocolate, frosting
• Breads, pastries, crackers, cookies, cake, cereal, chips
• Soda, sugar sweetened beverages and juices
• Dried fruit
Here’s a list of foods to eat to balance your pH:
• Wheat grass, chlorophyll
• All vegetables
• Sprouted whole grains – ex: quinoa, oats, buckwheat
• Sprouted legumes – ex: lentils, black beans, chick peas, mung beans
• Fermented foods – ex: sauerkraut, pickled veggies
Drinking ½ your body weight in ounces of water a day helps maintain your vaginal pH.
Focusing on eating foods in their states closest to nature at least 90% of the time is key for obtaining an ideal pH.
Now that you know the most common reasons for vaginal pH imbalance it’s time to take the steps to put your pH in balance.
Steps You Need to Take Right Now to Balance Your pH
Having a healthy vagina means making sure you are taking all the steps to ensure your pH is balanced.
Step 1: Test Your Hormones and Vaginal Microbiome
Start by testing your hormones via blood or saliva to know if you are deficient at all.
Test your vaginal microbiome (the organisms that live in your vagina) using Smart Jane.
Once you know your hormone and microbiome status a functional medicine practitioner or naturopathic medicine doctor can help you get started on balancing your hormones and bugs.
There are herbs such as black cohosh for estrogen boosting, chaste berry or evening primrose for progesterone boosting and maca for general hormone regulation.
There are bioidentical hormone creams, suppositories, patches and capsules that can help with regulation of hormones.
Suppositories to replace the beneficial vaginal bacteria, lactobacillus can be specially made.
Specially made creams, using a compounding pharmacy, can be prepared to address specific infections and imbalances.
Step 2: Get Your Stress and Style In Check
Lifestyle is just as important as balancing hormones, and replacing the good bugs.
Don’t forget that stress increases your blood sugar, which increases your vaginal pH.
The higher your vaginal pH, the better the environment for infectious bacteria and yeast to thrive.
Thongs are sexy, but what’s the point if you can’t have sex because you’re irritated down there?
Tight jeans are cute but are they worth it if you can’t enjoy sex or life because of them?
Nice smelling soaps, douches and feminine washes don’t cover the smell of a pH imbalance and could be making your symptoms worse.
• Grab non-toxic hygiene products with essential oils as fragrances.
• Give your kitchen a makeover and only use non-toxic cookware from here on.
• Try out menstrual discs vs tampons and pads
• Eat a pH balanced diet 90% of the time
• Purchase cotton underwear that allows your vaginal area to breathe.
• Get briefs, boy shorts or go commando, especially at night
• Make sure to clean underwear with hot water and dry using high heat.
• Ditch the super tight jeans
• Clean your sex toys after each use
• Get to know your partners
Step 3: Treat Imbalances, Infections or Irritations
Bioidentical hormones such as progesterone, estradiol, estriol, testosterone and DHEA can be used to put your hormones in check.
If you have chronic yeast or bacterial vaginosis infections there are suppositories that can be made specifically to address your particular infection.
Once hormones are balanced and infections are taken care of beneficial bacteria can be replaced with lactobacillus suppositories.
If you suffer from vaginal irritation due to friction from underwear or clothing there are suppositories that have pain relieving ingredients, such as lidocaine, combined with shea butter, vitamin E and A to repair and soothe the irritated tissue.
What’s amazing about all the specialty creams and suppositories out there is that compounding pharmacies are able to tailor your treatment specifically to your needs.
So if you have irritation and an infection or if you have irritation and hormone imbalances there are creams that can be made using a compound pharmacy.
All you need is a functional medicine practitioner or naturopathic doctor to guide you in the right treatment direction.
Should you not have someone in your area compounding pharmacists are a wealth of information, see if you have a pharmacy near you to consult with.
You Don’t Have to Suffer in Silence
Talking about your vaginal health likely isn’t your favorite subject.
Imagine for a moment, if you had a healthy vagina where you didn’t wonder when your next episode would come on and you didn’t have to avoid sex.
Or what about being able to really enjoy sex for once without worrying if you’d get an infection after it?
You can turn things around and never have to worry about your vagina again.
If you assess the reasons for why your pH if off and go through the steps outlined in this post you will be well on your way to a happy healthy vagina.
You now have a plan and it’s time to get rid of that nagging irritation once and for all.
Take your first step today and get your hormones and microbiome tested.
Did you enjoy this post? If so Dr. Jannine Krause has a podcast dedicated to this exact subject. Click HERE to listen now.