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The vaginal flora

It may seem hard to believe, but new gene mapping techniques reveal that out of 100 trillion cells present in the human body, only around 1/10 of them are actually human. The other 90% of them belong to microorganisms – bacteria, viruses and other microbes. No wonder it is so important for our overall health that the delicate balance of the microbes living in our bodies is maintained – and the same goes for our vaginas, too.

Almost all women will suffer from bacterial vaginosis, a yeast infection or a urinary infection at least once in their lifetime. The main cause of the high occurrence of vaginal issues is an imbalance in the vaginal flora. In other words, the balance is being disrupted either by good bacteria being reduced in numbers or due to the overgrowth of “bad” bacteria or yeast cells. The reduction in good bacteria and overgrowth of harmful microbes is often correlated. When this happens, your body can either manage to fight the infection off and return itself to a state of healthy balance, or it may need some help from the outside in the shape of medication, products containing prebiotics or a change in lifestyle.

What is considered to be a healthy vaginal flora?

A healthy vagina is heavily populated with “good” lactobacillus bacteria. These bacteria are considered to be a sort of gatekeepers for the vagina – they can inhibit the growth of potentially harmful bacteria/yeast by producing lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, and prevent the bad bacteria from attaching to the vaginal wall. Lactic acid helps maintain the acidic environment of the vagina, while hydrogen peroxide helps kill the bad bacteria.

There are many factors that can disturb the delicate balance that exists inside the vagina – some of them include tissue damage caused by giving birth; health issues, stress, certain medication, tight clothing or synthetic underwear; inappropriate hygiene; irritants present in lotions, body washes and other cosmetic products; friction caused by penetration if the woman is not sufficiently aroused during intercourse; hormonal changes, etc.

Disturbed balance

If the vaginal flora is compromised, the protective role of the lactobacilli (the good bacteria) is reduced. Due to reduced numbers of lactobacilli, less lactic acid is produced and the protective low vaginal pH is affected. As a result, bad bacteria take the opportunity to overgrow, giving rise to bacterial.

During pregnancy, the amount and diversity of the vaginal lactobacilli is often reduced, putting pregnant women at a higher risk of an infection. Symptoms associated with an imbalance in the vaginal flora include discharge, odour, itch, irritation, redness, swelling, pain while urinating or during intercourse, burning, sensitivity and soreness.

A balanced vaginal flora helps to prevent bacterial and yeast infections and is crucial for good vaginal health. In order to reduce the risk of imbalance in the vaginal flora, develop good hygienic habits and follow general recommendations on how to take care of your intimate region. You could also use a a product that contains ingredients which support the growth of the good bacteria to prevent possible infections and promote recovery if the symptoms have already developed.