Gynecologist Leah Millheiser explained the importance of looking after your vagina's microbiome to avoid infections, such as thrush and bacterial vaginosis, many of which she says are preventable, in a new Goop blog post.
For those unfamiliar with the term, vaginal microbiome are the different bacteria and fungi that live in your vagina.
Millheiser, who is the director of Stanford's female sexual medicine programme, explained that vaginal infections occur when the balance of your microbiome is upset. An imbalance of this kind can make you more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases, like HIV, she added. Meanwhile symptoms of infection include itching, odour, pain during sex and abnormal discharge.
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"Your vagina doesn’t need anything meant for 'cleaning,' she told the site, describing it as a "self-cleaning oven."
If you don't know by now not to use soap when cleaning your vagina, then consider yourself told. Most doctors you speak to will recommend just using water to clean down there FYI.
Other things which should be avoided are douching and vaginal steaming - a practice Gwyneth herself has praised in the past - because they are more likely to exacerbate or cause issues. She also added that the claim that using natural yoghurt to soothe yeast infections is purely anecdotal and more research is needed before it can be recommended.
So what can you do to help promote a healthy vagina environment?
If 2018 was the year that everyone banged on about taking a probiotic to improve gut health then soon you might be hearing about a probiotic for vaginal health, according to Millheiser, who says there is some preliminary data which suggests taking an oral probiotic could be helpful for those people who are prone to these kinds of infections, by repopulating the healthy bacteria.
"There’s not a lot of great long-term data on this," she said. "We really need to gather more evidence before we can confidently conclude anything, but right now there are a handful of small studies looking at probiotics specifically made to repopulate the vaginal microbiome."
However, there is one thing that many of us are probably guilty of doing at some point or other, which she says should be avoided at all costs: wearing your yoga leggings all day, even after exercise.
"That is what yeast love: warm, dark, moist areas. That’s where they flourish. It’s a near-perfect setup for infection," she says.
Millheiser advises making a conscious effort to always change your clothes after exercising, especially if you consider yourself to be particularly susceptible to yeast infections.
"If you’re not working out and you’re just at work or doing a lot of walking around during the day, it can be smart to take an extra pair of underwear with you in your bag and change underwear in the middle of the day," she went on. "Sweaty, moist underwear can lead to that environment that makes yeast grow."