In the past, I have written a lot about our vaginal microbiome but in this post, I want to look a bit deeper into one of the habits so many people tend to have: Our Vaginal Microbiome and Smoking.
What is our microbiome?
It is our vaginal flora that is there to protect and maintain our vaginal health. The vaginal flora is the first line of defence against vaginal infections. When we are talking about the gut microbiome, we are talking about diversity. Our gut flora loves that we have as many different types as possible of microbiome but our vagina prefers to have a limited number of communities. Some types of communities are associated with poor reproductive outcome and STDs while communities with Lactobacillus Crispatus are more associated with vaginal health.
An unbalanced vaginal microbiome can lead to pelvic infections, STD/STI and even miscarriages and prematurity.
What can influence our microbiome?
There are some things that can influence the vaginal microbiome such as race for example. A recent study in the USA showed the POC have more diversity in their vaginal ecosystem and a few other studies that were done in Africa show far lower communities dominant in Lactobacillus Crispatus when compared to women of European and Asian ancestry. Furthermore, other studies found that different ethnicities have different communities.
It seems that estrogen also plays a role in the vaginal microbiome as it promotes growth in the glycogen in the vaginal membranes which keep our vagina moist. High levels of estrogen are thought to promote the Lactobacillus community. People postmenopausal were found to have lower levels of glycogen, lower levels of Lactobacillus and we also know that they have more vaginal dryness.
Certain types of hormonal contraceptives can alter the vaginal microbiota. Some studies show that using the oral contraceptive, injection, implant and the IUD decreases vaginal Lactobacillus.
One of the things that promote bacterial vaginosis is smoking. Some components in the cigarettes can be detected in cervical mucus. In one study they found that the Lactobacillus in smokers was scientifically lower. Smoking has an anti-estrogenic effect and a trace of benzo[a]pyrene diol epoxide (BPDE) may increase the risk for bacterial vaginosis (BV).
Reading this makes so much sense to me and how much I suffered from thrush during my 20’s and 30’s when I used to smoke quite a lot.