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How your gut health can impact your vaginal microbiome

An expert has revealed how to tell if your vaginal microbiome is imbalanced. (Getty Images)
An expert has revealed how to tell if your vaginal microbiome is imbalanced. (Getty Images)

Our gut health can impact every aspect of our body – a healthy gut is key to better bodily functions. Yet, did you know that it can also affect the vaginal microbiome?

The body is peppered with several different microbiomes, including the gut, the vaginal (in females), the oral, the lung, and the skin.

While the majority of microbes live in the gut, the vaginal microbiome is populated by around 173 different species of microorganism, Kim Plaza, technical advisor at Bio-Kult, explains.

“The community of microorganisms plays a key role in gynaecologic wellness,” she tells Yahoo UK. “In healthy women, Lactobacilli bacteria tend to be the most predominant microorganisms in the vagina, in fact, this microbiome is said to be beneficial when there is low diversity (the opposite of what is generally beneficial in the gut microbiome).”

How to tell if your vaginal microbiome is imbalanced

When the vaginal microbiome is off balance, this is what can lead to an increased risk of infections such as bacterial vaginosis, UTIs, or thrush.

“Vaginal health is something many women struggle with at some point in their lives,” Plaza explains. “Yeast, bacterial, urinary tract and sexually transmitted infections can all be unpleasant, painful, and uncomfortable. The symptoms associated with many of these conditions could be a sign that the vaginal microbiome isn’t quite in balance.”

A young woman holding her lower abdomen, in pain due to cramps or a stomachache.
Recurrent thrush or bacterial vaginosis can be a sign that your vaginal microbiome is imbalanced. (Getty Images)

She adds that other indicators that vaginal and gut support may be necessary can include discharge, an unpleasant smell, and itching.

“Considering vaginal microbial support may also be useful for those experiencing menopausal symptoms, such as vaginal dryness or vaginal atrophy,” Plaza says.

The link between gut health and vaginal microbiome

Due to the proximity of the rectum, vaginal, and urinary tract means that if there is an imbalance in one, it could lead to imbalances in the others.

“Evidence suggests that an imbalance of microbes in either the vaginal or gastrointestinal microbiomes is associated with an increased rate of bladder-related conditions, such as urinary tract infections,” Plaza says. “For this reason, it has been suggested that to support gut health, we are also supporting vaginal health.”

Supporting gut health during can also help with vaginal health for anyone experiencing menopause symptoms like vaginal dryness.

“Fluctuations in the vaginal microbiome is said to be common throughout a woman’s life, perhaps because of the hormonal changes that occur,” Plaza adds.

“Our gut microbiome and the mix of microbes within it, may also determine how well we process oestrogen, with evidence suggesting that gut microbial imbalances are linked with a higher chance of experiencing menopause-related issues.”

How to rebalance vaginal microbiome

Plaza says there are several ways to rebalance your vaginal and gut microiome.

Fermented foods

Specifically, fermented foods that contain microorganisms such as the Lactobacilli species which can be good for both gut and vaginal health.

“Examples include live plain yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi (spicy fermented vegetables and miso,” Plaza explains. “Buy these from the fridge section of the health food store or supermarket or make them easily at home.”

Fermented foods like kimchi are a great way to boost gut health. (Getty Images)
Fermented foods like kimchi are a great way to boost gut health. (Getty Images)

Prebiotic foods

“Prebiotic foods are foods providing certain types of fibre which feed beneficial species of bacteria in the gut,” Plaza explains. “Foods high in prebiotics include onions, leeks, spring onions, Jerusalem artichokes, slightly under-ripe bananas, dandelion greens and asparagus.”

Low Glycaemic Load (GL) foods

Diets high in sugar can encourage the growth of more pathogenic species in your gut and vagina, Plaza says, so switching to a Low GL diet can help.

“Glycaemic load is a measure of how much quick release sugar is in foods,” she explains. “Avoiding sugary foods such as cake, biscuits, fast-foods, sweets and refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta and rice and instead opting for wholegrain varieties can help to lower the glycaemic load of your diet.”

Vitamin D

As we synthesise most of our vitamin D intake through exposure to sunlight, most Brits have a vitamin D deficiency.

“Vitamin D helps to ensure the integrity of the cells lining the gut and vagina and is crucial for immune health,” Plaza says. “Vtamin D is available in only a few foods like eggs, oily fish, and mushrooms. Therefore Public Health England recommends supplementing with vitamin D over the winter months. As we come into spring, try and spend more time outdoors with your face, arms and legs exposed to the sun for natural vitamin D production.”

Vitamin A

“Vitamin A is another vital nutrient for the heath of mucous membranes and the immune system,” Plaza explains.

She says to opt for the beta-carotene version of vitamin A which can be found in vegetables such as kale, spinach, swizz charge, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, and fruit like oranges.

Nuts and seeds can help with fibre. (Getty Images)
Nuts and seeds can help with fibre. (Getty Images)

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds contain fibre which helps to boost gut health, healthy fats, and antioxidants.

“Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds and good sources of anti-inflammatory omega 3, whilst pumpkins seeds and almonds are great sources zinc to support the immune system and mucous membranes,” Plaza says.

Phytoestrogenic foods

“Phytoestrogens are compounds in foods which may help modulate oestrogen levels in the body, by interacting with oestrogen receptors (including in the vagina),” Plaza explains.

“Declining levels of oestrogens in peri and post-menopause are thought to contribute to vaginal atrophy, dryness and reduced Lactobacilli species, leaving women exposed to discomfort and potential infections. Phytoestrogenic foods include soy (opt for traditionally fermented tofu, natto, tempeh and miso rather than processed-soy products, which will reduce phytoestrogen content), chickpeas, sesame seeds and flaxseeds.”

Water

Hydration helps to regulate most aspects of the body, and Plaza says the vaginal mucous membranes require plenty of water.

“To function properly, stay healthy and well-lubricated and prevent tears and damage, they need to stay well-hydrated,’ she adds. “The best way to achieve this is by drinking sufficient amounts of water. Current recommendations are for women to consume two litres of water a day.”

Wear breathable underwear

“Quickly changing out of wet clothing or swimsuits is useful, as well as opting for breathable underwear,” Plaza recommends. “Synthetic clothing may not be as good for maintaining moisture levels.”

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