Our vaginal microbiome is a very important ecosystem.
I hear and read so many posts on Facebook recommending this and that soap to use vaginally. Here are some interesting facts that every person with a vagina should know. The vagina is a self-cleansing organ. It does not need soaps, it does not need douches, it just needs to be left alone, maybe with some water. It has a natural pH which during most of the cycle is acidic, while we are on our fertile wave it is more neutral and once we ovulated it goes back to its acidic way. The acidity also works as a spermicide, here’s to our natural birth control and it protects against bacteria that shouldn’t be there.
In our vagina, we also have a very delicate microbiome which is supposed to protect us from “bad” bacteria, yeast infections, BV and other conditions. While we like diversity in our gut, our vagina doesn’t like to have a different microbiome and we have one most dominant type which is called “Lactobacillus crispatus”. The vagina has a symbiotic relationship with many different types of bacteria. This group is impacted greatly by estrogen. Estrogen keeps the vaginal cells rich in glycogen, which feeds this group of bacteria. Studies have shown that Lactobacillus can produce lactic acid and short-chain fatty acids, acidify the vaginal environment to a pH level of <4.5 and prevent the growth of other pathogenic bacteria in healthy women.
There are a few reasons why it is important to maintain a healthy ecosystem in our vagina:
- Enhances fertility. Furthermore, women without Lactobacilli-dominance accompanied by elevated Gardnerella or Ureaplasma abundances and pregnant women with increased vaginal microbiome instability have a higher risk of preterm birth.
- Reduces HIV transmission. They found that individuals with diverse genital bacterial communities dominated by anaerobes other than Gardnerella were at over four-fold higher risk of acquiring HIV and had increased numbers of activated mucosal cells compared to those with Lactobacillus crispatus dominant communities. They identified specific bacterial taxa linked with reduced L. crispatus or elevated Prevotella, Sneathia and other anaerobes inflammation and HIV infection and found that high-risk bacteria increased numbers of activated genital cells in a murine model. The results suggest that highly prevalent genital bacteria increase HIV risk by inducing mucosal HIV target cells.
- Reduces STI risk. They researched sex workers from Rwanda and found out that their vaginal environment that was L. crispatus dominated and to a lesser extent L. iners dominated, cervicovaginal microbiota are associated with a lower prevalence of HIV/STIs and a lower likelihood of genital HIV-1 RNA shedding.
- Prevents vulvovaginal atrophy. In a study, they found significant associations between vaginal bacterial composition with both menopause stage and signs of vaginal atrophy. We identified a novel community assemblage which was highly associated with signs of VVA and was predominantly found among postmenopausal women.
- Protects against cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer.
There is a lower presence of Lactobacillus in infertile women than in healthy women in nonovulation follicular phase. Lactobacilli acts as a barrier against pathogen invasion because their metabolic products secreted in the cervical-vaginal fluid are the main causes of differences in bacterial and viral infections. Besides, reductions in levels of lactobacilli are associated with an inability to inhibit the colonization of specific harmful microorganisms that increase early abortion rates.
As we can see, the microbiome plays a large role in our ability to conceive and stay healthy. When we are using soaps and douches, we can wash away all this goodness and it can cause a brutal interference in the gentle balance which leaves us more vulnerable.