Alright all you uterus loving, ovary hugging, science nerds out there; the November issue in Unpopular Science’s awkward topics series is just for you. This month we are gonna talk about vaginal health. This is a topic that has been so taboo to discuss for so long that quality information is not only hard to obtain, but often shadowed out by really bad information. You know, the locker room talk about how Sally’s, mom’s, hairdresser’s, sister cured her yeast infection with … you fill in the blank. Maybe this information was good and helpful, but sometimes it is downright dangerous. One particular bit of advice that has been known to be bad for our health since the 80’s is vaginal douching. Many of my readers will say, “Of course that’s bad for you, duh!” But guess what, it’s still on the shelves, and people are still buying it.
So in case you haven’t heard, douching is associated with increased risk of: pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial vaginosis, cervical cancer, low birth weight, preterm birth, STD transmission, ectopic pregnancy, yeast infections, and infertility. What!? Even if you had heard it wasn’t good for you, I bet you didn’t know how big the risks were.
A lot of the negative side effects of douching are thought to be due to microbiome disruption. Just like your gut biome, there is also a vaginal biome (mostly lactobacillus oriented); and we need those happy, well-balanced bacteria. Now that douching is losing a little bit of popularity, companies are pushing products with different types of lactobacillus in them with the claim they will actually help your vaginal health by improving your flora. This is where this month’s research article by C. van der Veer et al. comes in. (See link below.) They assessed one such brand of douches and found that not only did it not improve the lactobacillus flora or the pH balance, but it actually might increase the risk of C. albicans (aka yeast) infections.
So the take home message of November’s article is this: your vagina is amazing, no need to add anything extra on it or in it. Full stop. Read that again if you need to until you realize it’s true. If you are having vaginal symptoms: pain, discharge, atypical smell, etc, don’t be shy about it. This can be a sign of more serious medical issues. Instead go to a doctor; this is in fact what they're trained for, and if yours isn’t up to the challenge, find a better one. And if you have dysbiosis (atypical microbiome issues) this can often be treated with vaginal probiotics, but you are gonna want the good stuff from a holistic doctor that has proven bacteria and doesn’t have a bunch of other nasty chemicals in it.
Looking forward to chatting with you next month about another awkward subject. Until then, enjoy the changing color of the leaves and the crisp morning air.