Vaginal flora: what is it for and how to take care of it?
You know the intestinal flora or intestinal microbiota, this set of bacteria including the famous lactobacilli which preserves our digestive system. The vaginal flora is less known. Yet it has an equally essential role! It ensures the fragile bacteriological balance of the vaginal mucosa and protects it from infections and irritations.
What is the vaginal flora?
Contrary to what one might think, the vagina is not at all a sterile place! The vaginal mucosa is naturally inhabited by millions of living microscopic organisms, mainly bacteria such as lactobacilli (Döderlein bacilli) for example, but also by mycotic organisms (fungi) such as Candida Albicans. This is called the vaginal microbiota or vaginal flora (Döderlein flora). Protective bacteria (probiotics) ensure the correct microbial balance of the flora and thus protect us from infections and fungal infections. They fight pathogenic germs by maintaining a suitable and stable pH between 4 and 4.5. Yes, if you remember well your chemistry lessons, it means that the vagina is an acid zone!
The vaginal flora is also very useful for the newborn who passes through the mother's vagina at the time of birth. The lactobacilli, which he will encounter on his way, will infiltrate his body and inseminate his intestines. The toddler will then be assisted, like all of us, by his mother's bacteria to digest his food. Nature does things really well!
Imbalance of the vaginal flora: the causes
When the pH of the vagina is out of balance, pathogenic germs – these tricksters – take advantage of it to multiply and invade the vaginal mucous membranes. As a result, the risks of urinary tract infections (cystitis) and vaginal infections (bacterial vaginosis or trichomonas vaginitis) become much greater.
The imbalance of the vaginal flora (dysbiosis) can have several causes, of which here are the main ones:
- hormonal changes, especially at certain key times in a woman's life (menstruation, pregnancy, menopause);
- taking medication such as antibiotic treatment reducing the protective power of bacteria and leaving plenty of room for fungal infections to develop;
- certain habits such as smoking, wearing underwear that is not breathable enough, regular swimming in the pool, etc., but also lack of sleep and exposure to stress.
Symptoms of an imbalanced vaginal flora
Generally, dysbiosis (an imbalance of the intimate flora) causes the following symptoms:
- thick, smelly secretions;
- itches ;
- Burns ;
- pain during sexual intercourse.
Imbalance of the vaginal flora: the consequences
As we have seen, the decrease in lactobacilli and variations in pH promote the proliferation of pathogenic germs in the vaginal microbiota. They can be the cause of vaginal infections:
- bacterial vaginosis (vaginal infection causing grayish or white, smelly secretions);
- trichomonas vaginitis (greenish or yellow smelly secretions, accompanied by itching or irritation).
These two vaginal infections are cured by antibiotic treatment.
The imbalance of the vaginal microbiota is also a frequent cause of certain diseases, such as urinary tract infections:
- cystitis (inflammation of the bladder caused by the proliferation of bacteria);
- urethritis (infection affecting only the urethra);
- pyelonephritis (inflammation of the kidney usually resulting from untreated or poorly treated cystitis).
How to take care of your vaginal flora?
To know everything about intimate hygiene and take care of your vaginal flora, you should not fall into an excess of hygiene: one intimate toilet, or even two daily maximum, is more than enough!
Do not use antiseptic products (unless on medical advice) and do not attempt to wash the inside of your body. Forget everything you've been told about douching: it's wrong and dangerous. Your vagina is self-cleaning, mother nature has really thought of everything! Only your vulva must be cleaned daily, and to do this you can use a simple mild soap without perfume (no need for special soap for intimate hygiene).
In addition, certain gestures are important: when you go to the toilet, for example, wipe yourself from front to back to avoid bringing pathogenic germs to your vulva.
To maintain or restore the balance of your vaginal microbiota, your gynecologist may prescribe lactobacilli in the form of probiotics. For a reinforced action, it is likely that you will be advised to rebalance your intestinal microbiota at the same time, because these two microbiota are closely linked.
Vaginal flora and menstruation
The vaginal flora is particularly fragile and sensitive during hormonal changes and therefore during the menstrual period. Indeed, the estrogen level decreases and the vaginal pH rises. Some microbes, such as mycoplasmas, also feed on blood. So what can we do to avoid infections at this precise moment in our cycle ? Choose the right hygienic protections!
If you are a fan of the tampon or the cup, change them every four to six hours (to guard against vaginal infections and irritation) and avoid wearing internal protections at night. Indeed, they absorb menstrual blood, but not only! The vaginal microbiota is also absorbed, which is why women using tampons are more prone to recurrent yeast infections. If this subject interests you, do not hesitate to read our article: Preventing and curing vaginal yeast infection naturally .
But if you prefer external protections, you are not off the hook! Scented sanitary napkins are to be avoided, as are certain airtight napkins that cause high temperatures and humidity – a climate conducive to the proliferation of bacteria. So choose 100% cotton pads that are more breathable, or better yet period panties that will keep you dry all day! :)