Seriously, you really do not have to do this.
I live and work in the space of self-care. It is very much my livelihood as well as a great source of personal joy. But in recent weeks, I’ve started to re-evaluate how much love I really give to myself on a day-to-day basis. When I turned 25, I made a bunch of promises to myself, the first of which was no more fuck boys.
I’ve held up that end of the agreement with myself, but when it comes to deciding what to put in my vagina, it took the election to make me realize that considering that we are most likely going to enter at least two to four years of hostility (ugh, god help us) towards women, I might as well take an interest in my vagina and how I take care of it. And by this I mean something beyond regular visits to the gynecologist, practicing safe sex and doing right by myself with the “Do I really want to sleep with him?” gut check. It’s the very least I can do for myself.
In recent months, I’ve noticed a number of products dedicated to giving your lady garden some love, but when it comes to matters of the vagina, I find, at least for me, I like to make sure what the effects of using said products might before I use them.
For example, Lo Bosworth’s new project Love Wellness Co has a number of enticing products, but one in particular that caught my eye was a probiotic made from vaginal flora. This is intriguing for a number of reasons, the first being, I had no idea you could target specific areas of your body with a probiotic. Turns out, you can go beyond your run of the mill probiotic that keeps things, erm, running efficiently. It’s all about the microbiome — much like the gut, your vagina has one too, or so, Dr. Rebecca Booth co-founder of Veneffect (a skincare range formulated around an understanding of the female hormonal cycle), and gynecologist, tells me.
If you want to help your body’s immune function, aid in digestion, or help yourself recover from a tummy ailment, take a probiotic. If you want to optimize the natural functions of your vagina, you can take a probiotic for that too. “The strains of bacteria that you take for your vaginal microbiome are different than those you would take for your gut — specifically the lactobacillus strain, which is very important in maintaining the low pH or high acidity of the skin in the vagina.”
This acidic environment is crucial for maintaining balance in your nether region, because a low pH ensures that the presence of undesirable bacteria is minimized. Dr. Booth, however, maintains that while a vaginal probiotic is beneficial, without a doubt, minimizing sugar intake, and maintaining a healthy diet packed with phyto-estrogenic (aka plant estrogen) foods is your best defense against things like yeast infections.
“You’d be surprised how many yeast infections you see as a clinician this time of year. Between the higher rate of antibiotic use and high sugar consumption (which feeds undesirable microorganisms,) it’s the perfect storm for creating an environment that is ideal for yeast overgrowth.”
So what will be the effect of taking a vaginal probiotic and eating a diet in pre-biotic, phyto-estrogenic foods? Well, for starters, eating seeds, legumes etc. naturally helps with your estrogen levels, regardless of where you are in your cycle, and in turn, estrogen stimulates glycogen production in the walls of your vagina, adding to the volume of the tissue in your vaginal column and facilitating the production of lactobacillus, which maintains the pH necessary for a balanced, comfy and healthy undercarriage.
Dr. Booth explains to me that this might not be so noticeably beneficial when you are chugging along and healthy, but when you are sick, on antibiotics and on your period, that’s when you will experience a difference. Why? “When you are on your period, your estrogen levels are at their lowest, so your glycogen levels are at their lowest, thus rendering your micro-biome vulnerable to an overgrowth of yeast because the pH maintaining lactobacillus bacteria is also lower due to the antibiotic use.”
Period and yeast infection? That sounds like a very specific kind of hell that I hope to never see for myself.
The big take away? Respect the damn pH of your vagina and it will make your life so much easier. Which of course, brings us to cleansers specifically targeted for your vagina. I spoke with Leah Millheiser MD, The Chief Scientific Officer of Nuelle/Fiera about vaginal washes and she reminded when it comes to our internal vaginal columns, we should be letting our vaginas do what they are naturally programmed to do. “Think of the vagina as a self-cleaning oven,” says Millheiser, “It doesn’t need any other products to help facilitate that process.” In fact, douching or washing inside of the vagina can alter the normal ecosystem of the vagina putting a woman at greater risk for an infection. “ Cleaning of the vulva can be done with mild cleansers,” adds Dr. Millheiser, but it should be noted that women with sensitive skin can stick to cleaning their vulvas with good ol’ h2o.
However, the aforementioned cleansers, like Sweet Spot or the Love Wellness versions, are helpful in keeping the area clean, because they are gentle and have minimal to no fragrance or irritating surfactants. Even gentle exfoliation can be good, according to Dr. Booth because skin cell turnover in those areas can be slow. And by gentle, we mean lightly going over the area with an exfoliating glove while you cleanse. Let’s not pummel our nether-regions for no reason.
In my adorable Love Wellness cosmetic bag (with some cat-like features) came a pack of vitamins. Truth be told, I am incredibly lazy about vitamins — most of them make my tummy hurt. Before I ingest anything, I definitely want to know what it’s going to do. Is this adulthood? Anyway, The Perfect Condition Vitamins contain Tumeric, coconut oil, grapefruit seed extract, garlic, boron and 200% of your DV of folic acid, among many other purportedly wonderful ingredients. I shot this ingredient list over to Dr. Booth and she confirmed a number of things. Firstly, Dr. Booth explains, “ Tumeric is a phytoestrogen and prebiotic and proven to be a wonderful anti-inflammatory. Ingestion of it has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer and lower insulin resistance, thereby reducing the risk of type II diabetes.” Obviously, all of these things appeal to me, but the phytoestrogenic nature of turmeric in this instance is very important because as explained before, this facilitates the maintenance of an ideal vaginal micro-biome.
Additionally, Dr. Booth tells me that boron is also integral in maintaining an acidic pH and thus minimizing yeast, but also that folate, or folic acid, is something that every woman should be taking too. “Folic acid deficiency in mothers can actually lead to birth defects in babies, such as a cleft palette or even some heart defects,” explains Dr. Booth, “which is why I recommend to any of my patients who are planning to conceive that they start taking a folic acid supplement.”
So, yes these vitamins could be considered by some an unnecessary addition to my lifestyle, but given that I a) have only ever had one yeast infection and have literally no desire to experience that again, and b) might conceivably want to have children in the future, taking a vitamin geared toward my reproductive health feels like a good call.
Now that I’m a little more savvy about the intricate and delicate balance of my vagina, all I want to do is read more about how it works. It’s fascinating, plus knowledge is power. The whole thing makes me feel very in control, which I highly suggest as a coping mechanism in uncertain times such as these. Safe to say I’ll be starting 2017 by optimizing my microbiome.
- Do you take supplements for your vagina health?
- How much do yeast infections suck? Seriously?