Do you experience frequent vaginal irritations or infections?
If yes, this could be caused by an imbalance of vaginal flora.
Responsible for maintaining the delicate ecosystem within your vagina, it doesn’t take much for your vaginal flora to become disrupted and cause a whole host of vaginal health problems.
What is vaginal flora?
Vaginal flora refers to the different types of bacteria that live in the vagina. There are over 250 different species of bacteria within your vagina, with most being good bacteria known as lactobacilli.
This good bacterium helps to keep your vagina healthy and free from infections. It also produces lactic acid, which helps to prevent bad bacteria from growing in your vagina.
A healthy and balanced vaginal flora is very important for your vaginal health, and any disruption can cause vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis and thrush.
Why is vaginal flora important?
As briefly touched on above, vaginal flora, also known as vaginal microbiome, helps to ensure good vaginal health.
Production of lactic acid
Lactic acid is what keeps your vagina’s pH balance at the correct level. Your vagina should have a pH of between 3.8 and 4.5. This is a moderately acidic environment.
If your vagina’s pH goes higher than 4.5, the bad bacteria is able to grow, and your vagina becomes more susceptible to infections and inflammation.
Production of hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide helps to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria and yeast within the vagina. This again helps your vagina to maintain the right pH level so that it can protect itself against vaginal infections.
What causes an imbalance of vaginal flora?
There are several factors that can affect your vaginal flora, most of which can be easily remedied.
Taking antibiotics for another infection can affect your vaginal flora. As well as killing any bad bacteria in your body, antibiotics can also wipe out the good bacteria. This is why yeast infections are common in women taking antibiotics.
Changes in hormones
Hormonal fluctuations can also affect your vaginal flora. This can happen during pregnancy, when breastfeeding, and during menopause. Oral contraceptives can also affect your hormones and your vaginal flora.
Weakened immune system
If you have a weakened immune system, then this can weaken your body’s natural defences in your intimate area. For example, if you are under a lot of stress, have the flu, or are experiencing mental health problems, you could cause an imbalance without knowing it.
Semen is an alkaline fluid which means it can affect the pH level of your vagina. If you have unprotected sex, your vagina will experience a temporary shift in pH, which can cause irritation or inflammation.
What are the effects of a vaginal flora imbalance?
If your vaginal flora becomes imbalanced, you may not notice any changes to your vagina and vaginal health. However, if too much bad bacteria is allowed to grow, then you may experience a vaginal infection. You may experience one of the following:
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
Bacterial vaginosis is is the most common infection and is caused by an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the vagina. When the good bacteria (lactobacillus) are disrupted, these bad bacteria are allowed to take over and wreak havoc with the delicate ecosystem within your vagina.
BV is not a sexually transmitted disease, but sexual intercourse can make your symptoms worse.
The most common signs of bacterial vaginosis are:
- A thin, grey, white or yellow discharge
- A distinct fishy odour
- Vaginal itching or soreness
- Pain during urination
How to treat bacterial vaginosis
Mild cases of bacterial vaginosis may go away on their own without any treatment needed. Alternatively, if you are experiencing unpleasant symptoms, you can buy over-the-counter products such as Multi-Gyn ActiGel, or you can ask your GP to prescribe antibiotics.
BV often comes back, usually within 3 months of treatment, so you may need to treat this infection more than once.
Yeast infection (thrush)
Thrush is also caused by an imbalance in your vaginal flora and your vaginal pH. However, unlike BV, which is caused by a bacterium, thrush is caused by yeast.
Vaginal thrush is very common and affects roughly 3 in 4 women. It occurs when Candida albicans, a healthy yeast that is present in your body, becomes overgrown.
Typically, your immune system keeps this yeast under control, but, if your vaginal flora becomes disrupted, yeast overgrowth can occur.
The most common signs of a yeast infection are:
- A thick, white and clumpy discharge
- Burning or itching of the vulva or vagina
- Burning during urination
- Pain or discomfort during sex
In severe cases, you may also notice swelling and redness of the vulva, and your skin may even crack.
How to treat yeast infection
You can treat a yeast symptoms with an over-the-counter product such as Multi-Gyn FloraPlus that treats and prevents the symptoms of vaginal yeast. You can also get thrush cream that is applied externally and which can soothe any vaginal irritation or soreness.
To restore your vaginal flora after thrush, it can be a good idea to start taking a daily probiotic supplement.
How to restore vaginal flora after an infection
There are several lifestyle changes that you can make to correct unbalanced flora and restore normal vaginal bacteria after an infection, such as BV or thrush.
Focus on diet and nutrition
If you are prone to yeast infections, then diet and nutrition have been proven to be highly effective in preventing future outbreaks of thrush.
By supporting the bacteria in your gut, you can also help support the bacteria in your vagina, aka your vaginal flora.
A daily probiotic can have a beneficial effect on your vagina flora and can be purchased at most pharmacies and health food shops.
It can also be a good idea to cut back on sugar and alcohol and to focus on eating whole foods.
Stress can have a big impact on your overall health as well as your vaginal health. Stress hormones such as cortisol decrease the number of good bacteria in your vagina, which can make an infection harder to recover from. It can also make your symptoms worse.
There are many ways to reduce your stress levels, including taking regular exercise, trying relaxation techniques, and taking time to meditate.
Giving up smoking
Research suggests that smoking can have a negative effect on your vaginal flora. More specifically, it can diminish the good bacteria in your vagina and increase the bad bacteria.
If you want to maintain your vaginal flora, you should aim to give up smoking completely.
Practice safe sex
When you have unprotected sex, the introduction of semen into the vagina can cause a disruption to your vaginal flora. However, by practicing safe sex (wearing a condom), you can maintain the right vaginal pH balance needed to keep infections at bay.
How to support your vaginal flora
To keep your vagina healthy and your vaginal flora balanced, there are several practices that you can adopt, including:
- Avoid harsh soaps that have a high pH
- Take a probiotic supplement or suppository
- Change your tampons regularly
- Use a condom during sex
- Avoid chemical additives and spermicides in lubricants and condoms
- Avoid wearing tight clothing
- Wear breathable, cotton underwear
- Eat a varied diet that contains fresh fruit and vegetables
- Seek medical advice if you notice any changes to your vaginal discharge or start to experience any unpleasant symptoms.
Vaginal flora FAQs
What is intimate flora?
Intimate flora, also known as vaginal flora, refers to the colonies of bacteria that live inside the vagina. Most of the bacteria within your vagina is good bacteria, known as lactobacillus, although your vagina does also house some bad bacteria.
Is vaginal thrush caused from a lack of flora bacteria?
Vaginal thrush is caused by an overgrowth of yeasts in the vagina. If your vaginal flora or vaginal microbiome is disrupted, then yeast is allowed to overgrow in the vagina and cause vaginal thrush.
Do probiotics also normalise vaginal flora?
Probiotics help to support a healthy vaginal flora by introducing live microorganisms into your vagina. These are the good bacteria that your vagina needs to stay healthy and fight off vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis and thrush.
What is a flora infection?
A flora infection occurs when too much bad bacteria is allowed to grow in your vagina. This typically causes vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis and vaginal thrush.
What is a shift in flora suggestive of bacterial meaning?
When your vaginal flora is disrupted, the bad bacteria within your vagina can grow. This can lead to vaginal infections and inflammation. You can restore your vaginal flora by taking daily probiotics and using a barrier method during sex.
How can I improve my healthy vaginal flora?
One of the simplest and most effective ways to improve your healthy vaginal flora is to take a daily probiotic. This contains lactobacillus, which are the good bacteria your vagina needs to stay healthy and fight off infection.