To be considered healthy, a vagina needs to be populated by a number of different lactobacillus bacteria. These bacteria – commonly referred to as “vaginal flora” – essentially do for your vagina what chlorine does for your swimming pool: that is they attack invasive, incompatible bacteria and other pathogens. They do this by generating lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide which prevents invasive bacteria from attaching to the wall and creating problems. Without these friendly flora, the environment within your private area would essentially descend into chaos, much like a swimming pool without chlorine.
So you should care about your vaginal flora because if the delicate balance inside the woman becomes upset for any reason, you open the door to any number of unpleasant complications including, perhaps most commonly, yeast infections. The leading indicators of floral imbalance are most often burning, itching, odors, and discharge. These may indicate the presence of the aforementioned yeast infection, or they may portend more serious problems.
Causes of Imbalance in the Vaginal Flora
There are any number of factors that can cause the flora in the vagina to become unbalanced including but not limited to:
- Overuse of antibiotics – Antibiotics are one of the miracle medicines of the modern world. Without them, the world we live in would be a very different and much less pleasant and healthy place. However, overuse of antibiotics often winds up killing beneficial bacteria such as vaginal flora. Never take more antibiotics (or less) than is prescribed.
- A weakened immune system – Work-related stress, relationship stress, mental strain and certain diseases that attack the immune system can open the door to floral imbalance. When this happens, opportunistic fungi often move in.
- Douching – Douching is a controversial topic that has as many opponents as it does proponents. There is one undeniable fact however about douching: if done to excess it can destroy colonies of beneficial bacteria which opens the door to a yeast infection or worse.
- Fluctuations in hormone levels – Hormonal fluctuations can affect the environment of your privates. Some causes of hormone fluctuations include pregnancy, menstruation, hormone replacement therapy and the taking of oral contraceptives.
Other possible causes for floral imbalance include the presence of blood, semen, amniotic fluid (after giving birth) or other alkaline bodily fluids.
Tips for Keeping the Vagina Flora at Healthy Levels
There are a number of things you can do in order to maintain healthy levels of vaginal flora. None of them are particularly difficult. Most are just a matter of common sense and overall awareness of what you’re putting into and onto your body.
- Your diet – Try to avoid heavily processed foods that contain lots of sugar, salt and other artificial preservatives and flavor enhancers. Some processed foods are known to affect the pH balance of the vagina. Also, try and eat plain yogurt with active cultures a minimum of 3 times a week.
- Your clothing – The clothes you wear can also have a direct effect on the floral balance inside your privates. This is especially true when it comes to tight-fitting pants that force themselves up into the vulva and cause irritation that can lead to a yeast infection. Also, it’s important to always wear cotton underwear the fits you well but doesn’t pinch or rub the vulva.
- Sex – If your intimate area typically feels dry when having sex make sure to use a lubricant. Dry skin in and around the sensitive area is susceptible to tearing during sex which can lead to infections that cascade into other problems. And while you have likely never done this it needs to be said that condoms should never be reused. Ever.
- Your personal hygiene habits – Vaginal flora can be disturbed by certain personal hygiene habits such as wiping back to front and excessive douching. Also, never ignore signs that something is off. If you begin to notice your privates feels itchy or sore or unusual in any way, or you notice unusual odors, get yourself checked ASAP. Procrastination in such matters won’t lead to anything good.
- Use of OTC feminine products – It’s generally accepted today that many sanitary products such as pads or tampons are not in fact very sanitary at all. You’ll particularly want to avoid any that contain deodorants, bleach, various plastics or other poisons derived from the use of recycled materials as many of these can be absorbed by the walls of the vagina and cause both short and long-term harm. In most cases, it’s wise to stick with a brand that contains no chemical additives, keeps you dry and is (for strictly environmental reasons) biodegradable. Here are some additional tips about feminine products that can help maintain floral balance in the vagina:
- Change your tampons frequently – Don’t let them linger inside you all day and night. If you do, they can attract and encourage the growth of harmful bacteria.
- Store your feminine products in the bedroom instead of the bathroom – No matter how often you clean it the bathroom is always going to be home to more germs than the bedroom.
- Change your tampon every time you pee – This will prevent urine from getting on the tampon and traveling up into your intimate area.
- Pay attention to the expiration date – Sanitary napkins have an expiration date for a reason. Once they pass that expiration date, they become more susceptible to outside bacterial influences. So do your body a favor and don’t ignore the expiration date. If it says on your box of sanitary pads that they’ve expired, go get new ones.
Most of the unpleasant experiences women encounter with their privates can be traced back to imbalances in the vaginal flora. Exactly what circumstances may be causing the imbalance will differ from woman to woman. But if you take the above tips to heart and are studious in your personal hygiene habits you’ll likely find that common vaginal problems like yeast infections can largely be prevented. And that by preventing the small problems you’ll head off larger, potentially more serious problems.