Ladies, if you’ve ever experienced below-the-belt discomfort, you know it can feel like the most debilitating pain in the world. But if it’s any consolation, you’re far from alone. Most women will experience the discomfort associated with bacterial imbalances of the vagina at least once in their lifetime. Belinda Reynolds, Dietitian and Nutritionist at BioCeuticals gives expert advice on natural ways to support your environment down there.
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While it can feel embarrassing to talk about, all women should be conscious of their vaginal health as it is the home of billions of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi/yeast. The good guys work together with the immune system to maintain good bacterial health, but sometimes stress and other conditions allow for the bad ones to flourish and cause infection.
The most common cause of infection is due to an opportunistic fungi/yeast organism known as Candida Albicans (Candida) and thrives in poor health conditions. The body works hard to fight off this strand of yeast, but some situations such as a compromised immune system (e.g. from stress or illness) or low levels of good bacteria (e.g. when they are killed off due to antibiotic use) create an environment for candida to take over and cause infection.
Thankfully there are several bug-busting natural approaches which can safely and effectively help to minimise your risk of vaginal discomfort.
1. A healthy environment starts with a healthy diet
A diet rich in fibre and nutrients helps to maintain healthy bacterial balance in the body, while an unhealthy diet high in sugar and bad fats will likely disrupt the balance. To support a healthy bacterial environment eat your five servings of veggies and two servings of fruit (e.g. berries and an apple) every day and stay away from foods containing added sugar, over-processed grains (e.g. sweet breakfast cereal, white bread) and fried foods. Fermented and probiotic-rich foods are fantastic additions to assist keeping things in check, so introduce natural yoghurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso soup and apple cider vinegar.
2. Supercharge your immunity with bug-busting foods
For hundreds of years certain foods have been used to protect against and treat infections. Science is now beginning to understand the incredible power held by some of these ingredients for supporting the immune system’s infection-fighting actions, and directly killing bad bugs. Including these immunity boosting foods into your diet can help to safeguard against infections downstairs. Some of the best immune-support foods include garlic, ginger, pomegranate, pineapple, turmeric, cod liver oil and coconut oil.
3. De-stress and get some extra vitamin D
Chronic stress (even if it’s low-grade stress) has been shown to impair the immune system, making your body more vulnerable to illness and infection. A vitamin D deficiency can have the same effect. To combat this, look at how you can better manage stress (e.g. exercise and meditation are very effective), sleep more, and speak to a healthcare professional regarding vitamin D and whether a supplement may be needed (many Australians are deficient).
4. Nurture friendly bacteria levels in the vagina
Certain types of bacteria, known as lactobacilli, should be naturally dominant in your vagina. If you are prone to infection and frequently experience discomfort, or have recently used antibiotics, the numbers of these could be diminished. Using a probiotic pessary that is inserted at night can help to rapidly restore lactobacilli numbers. Be sure not to use harsh soaps etc. in the area either. These upset the acid/alkaline and secretion balance that your body is trying to maintain for protection. Stick with water until the infection clears!
Always speak to your healthcare practitioner for more information about looking after your health with high quality probiotics.