7 ways to optimise your vaginal health
It might not be the most glamorous of subjects to talk about, but understanding how to optimise your vulvovaginal health can help you act sooner if you’re experiencing issues down there.
“The vagina is where the female birth canal connects with the cervix and through that, to the uterus,” says Dr Anita Raja, a leading specialist in sexual and reproductive health. “The vulva is the outer portion of the female genitals – the parts you can see. Vulvovaginal health is an important part of women’s overall health and complications can interfere with fertility, sexual desire, and ability to reach orgasm.”
Here, Dr Anita Raja explains the seven simple ways you can keep your vulva and vagina in tip-top shape.
7 ways to optimise your vaginal health
Do not douche
There are various douches, vaginal washes, soaps and lubricants on the market claiming to help balance your vaginal pH, however, they don’t always benefit you as much as you might think. This is because your vagina has its own special microbiome and foreign fragrances and chemicals can disrupt it.
“A healthy vagina does not smell and actually has an amazing ability to keep itself clean,” says Anita. “Douching and using feminine sprays can eliminate healthy bacteria and make you susceptible to infections.”
Stick to unperfumed soaps and gyne-approved washes when washing your vagina and vulva. A strong odour coming from down there can often be a symptom of a bigger issue, so if you do notice a change in smell or discharge, consult your GP.
Wear the right undergarments
Washes and lubricants aren’t the only things that can upset your vagina’s delicate pH balance. Our underwear can also have an impact – especially if we use strong detergents or fabric softeners.
“Wearing non-synthetic, cotton underwear is beneficial for your vagina, as they naturally absorb discharge and allow the area to breathe,” says Anita. “Undergarments in particular should not be washed in strong, scented detergents to avoid inflammation of the vulva, which can manifest as a rash and burning sensation.”
According to the NHS, wearing cotton underwear can even help ease symptoms of thrush. For optimum vaginal health, it’s worth investing in some good quality underwear.
Use the right lubricant and condoms
“Lubrication is often necessary, but certain ingredients can be unhealthy to vulvovaginal health,” explains Anita. “Lubricants are a great way to restore vaginal moisture, however, it’s important to get one that doesn’t impact your pH balance. Water-based lubricants and non-latex condoms will ensure a healthy vagina and help avoid infections.”
Schedule your cervical smear
Think of this as your vaginal MOT. As Anita explains, making sure to attend your smear test will help to catch anything in the early stages.
“A cervical smear test is a screening test to detect abnormal pre-cancerous cells in the cervix at an early stage before it develops into cervical cancer and is offered to women between the age of 25-64 years,” she says.
Menopausal women can feel nervous about attending their smear test due to changes in their vaginal health that make insertion a more painful experience. But remember, you can always ask the nurse to use a smaller speculum or a water-based lubricant to help.
Pay attention to changes
Many women assume that any itchiness near the vagina or around the vulva is down to thrush, but there are other infections that can disrupt the pH balance and cause itchiness.
“Vulvovaginitis (which is the infection of the vulva and vagina) can present as redness, irritation, itching and abnormal vaginal discharge,” says Anita. “Yeast infections (thrush) are an overgrowth of normally occurring yeast, while bacterial vaginosis happens due to an imbalance of bacteria. With both conditions, you may notice a white or greyish discharge. These should always be confirmed with a swab test.”
If postmenopausal, think vulvovaginal atrophy
As natural levels of estrogen decline during the menopause, vulvovaginal atrophy is the term used to describe the changes occurring progressively in the genital tract.
“Estrogen is the primary hormone that regulates the physiology of vulvovaginal tissues,” says Dr Raj. “This results in a range of symptoms, such as vaginal dryness, irritation and discomfort. The atrophic changes also make the vulvovaginal skin more vulnerable to trauma and infection.”
If you think you might be suffering from vulvovaginal atrophy, speak to a healthcare professional, who may be able to provide a prescription for a topical estrogen cream and steroids can often ease these symptoms.
Focus on probiotics
Probiotics can help to improve your digestion, but did you know that they can also impact your vaginal health?
“A healthy diet is essential to keep your vagina healthy by maintaining a balanced pH,” says Anita. “Probiotic-rich foods will boost ‘good’ bacteria and reduce symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, such as discharge and odour. Kefir, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha, miso and sauerkraut are just some of the fantastic probiotic-rich foods you can incorporate into your diet.”
Supplements are also a helpful way to top up on probiotics. We like Ora Organics Lady Bugs for supporting vaginal health. This contains a number of helpful probiotics for supporting the vagina and urinary tract. Use LIZLOVES for 25% off your order.
Another excellent brand that’s worth a look is Optibac, and its probiotic supplement, Optibac For Women. This supplement contains friendly bacteria that have been scientifically proven to reach the vaginal area.