The health of your vagina affects your overall health. The term “vaginal health” covers a wide range of factors ranging from gender to fertility to general hygiene and more.
A healthy vagina maintains proper pH and is free from infection. Fortunately, there are many ways to ensure vaginal health, including taking supplements.
Researchers have studied various supplements for vaginal health, some of which appear to be more promising than others. These supplements include vitamins, minerals and other vital nutrients.
This article will cover the use of supplements to support vaginal health, including scientific evidence and specific examples. It will also look at the causes of vaginal microbiome imbalance, the effects of nutrient deficiencies on vaginal health, and when to see a healthcare provider.
Why do people use supplements for vaginal health?
Like the gut, the vagina has a microbiome made up of beneficial microorganisms that help maintain its health.
Vaginal flora (bacteria) mostly consists of lactobacillus species. The main job of these and other bacterial species found in the vagina is to produce antimicrobial compounds that fight potentially harmful substances.
However, sometimes the vaginal microbiome can become unbalanced.
An imbalance in the vaginal microbiome can promote the growth of harmful bacteria and other organisms resulting in bacterial vaginosis (BV), yeast infections, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), urinary tract infections (UTIs), and impaired fertility.
To maintain a healthy vaginal microbiome, some people turn to dietary supplements.
There is some evidence that certain supplements are beneficial for vaginal health. For the most part, these supplements are believed to help restore the vaginal microbiome and prevent infections and other issues.
It should be noted that dietary supplements are never meant to replace standard care for vaginal conditions (or any conditions). Instead, dietary supplements can act as a complementary treatment for vaginal health.
The science behind popular supplements for vaginal health is discussed below.
Probiotics are commonly prescribed for gastrointestinal disorders, but they may also be beneficial for vaginal health.
Probiotics are “good” bacteria found in certain foods and supplements that can improve the balance of bacteria in your digestive and reproductive tract.
According to one review, the use of probiotic supplements may support the vaginal microbiome and improve its immune defenses. In various studies, probiotics have been found to play a role in the treatment of BV and vaginal atrophy. There is also some evidence that probiotic use may slow the progression of cervical cancer.
When it comes to using probiotics for vaginal health, it may be best to take them orally. While both suppository and oral probiotics are considered effective, oral probiotics may provide additional benefits to the gut microbiome.
Zinc is a trace mineral essential for many aspects of your health, including cell growth, hormone regulation and reproduction. Research shows that zinc protects the reproductive system by acting as an antioxidant.
When used externally, zinc may improve vaginal dryness and other symptoms associated with menopause.
In a small pilot study, women with certain menopause symptoms such as vaginal dryness, burning, itching, and pain used a moisturizer gel that contained zinc for two weeks. After using zinc gel, participants experienced improvement in these symptoms, with the most significant improvement being in vaginal dryness.
More research is needed to determine whether zinc can be used in other ways to promote vaginal health.
Vitamin E is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins. It also acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells and tissues from damage.
Various studies have shown potential benefits of vitamin E in vaginal changes associated with menopause. However, researchers believe that vitamin E is best used as a supplemental treatment. For example, when used with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), vitamin E may reduce vaginal atrophy, a common symptom of menopause.
Compared to placebo, vitamin E suppositories have been found to significantly improve vaginal symptoms of menopause. However, it is worth noting that more information is needed regarding the dosage and safety of vitamin E for vaginal health.
Like vitamin E, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that may be useful in some vaginal health conditions.
According to a study, inadequate or deficient levels of vitamin D may increase the risk of BV. In the study, women suffering from BV were compared with healthy control women. The researchers found that women with BV were more likely to have low levels of vitamin D in their blood than controls.
Vitamin D has also been researched for its possible role in menopause.
A review of the available research found that vitamin D may affect vaginal pH, improve vaginal symptoms, prevent vaginal infections, and enhance sexual function in menopausal women. Both topical and oral vitamin D supplements have been found to provide benefits for vaginal health.
However, not all studies conducted on vitamin D supplements for vaginal health have found positive or consistent results. Further research should be conducted.
Vitamin C is often considered an alternative treatment for BV and other vaginal health problems. However, there is little recent research to support these claims.
A 2013 study compared the effects of vitamin C with placebo in women with recurrent BV. Participants used suppository-style vitamin C or placebo pills for six consecutive days per month for six months. People who used vitamin C pills experienced significantly lower rates of BV recurrence than those who used placebo pills.
Vitamin C itself is acidic. Therefore, vitamin C is thought to prevent BV by lowering the vaginal pH, a job usually left to the vaginal flora under healthy circumstances.
Some additional studies have been conducted on vitamin C and its effects on vaginal health. Updated research is needed.
A common source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil supplements have been used to treat a variety of vaginal health problems.
In one study, the effects of fish oil supplements on vaginal health were compared to probiotics and placebo in pregnant women. Compared to a placebo, participants who used fish oil supplements during their pregnancy had less potentially harmful bacteria in their vaginal microbiomes. It was also observed that combining fish oil with probiotics improved the vaginal microbiome.
There are claims that fish oil and omega-3 fatty acid supplements may also improve vaginal dryness. However, this claim is supported by very little research.
More research is needed to understand how fish oil may affect vaginal health.
What do healthy vaginal pH levels mean?
Vaginal pH determines whether your vagina is acidic, alkaline, or neutral.
For women of childbearing age, normal vaginal pH values range from 3.8 to 5.0, which is slightly acidic. As a woman enters menopause, the pH value of the vagina increases slightly.
Factors affecting vaginal microbiome
The vaginal microbiome can change for various reasons. While some change is normal, imbalances in the microbiome can result in BV, yeast infections, or other problems.
The vaginal microbiome naturally changes during hormonal fluctuations. These include puberty, menstrual cycle, menopause and pregnancy.
An imbalance in the vaginal microbiome can also be the result of unsafe sex, antibiotic use, or douching.
If your vaginal pH or microbiome is off, you may notice itching, burning, unusual discharge, or an unusual odor.
Can vitamin deficiency cause vaginal problems?
Deficiencies in certain vitamins can cause problems with your vaginal health.
Some evidence points to vitamin D deficiency as a possible cause of BV and other vaginal health problems. One study found that women who had low vitamin D levels were more likely to develop BV.
Other research has found an association between low vitamin D levels and worsening menopause symptoms, including menopause-related heart disease.
Lack of additional vitamins, minerals and nutrients can also affect vaginal health. However, there is not strong evidence that any additional deficiency causes vaginal problems.
To ensure vaginal health, it is best to follow a balanced diet rich in all the essential nutrients.
When to see a health care professional
Some vaginal problems require a visit to a health care provider.
It’s important to be aware of any possible signs and symptoms that something is wrong with your vaginal health. Knowing these signs and symptoms is one way to take care of your vaginal health.
Possible symptoms of vaginal problems include:
- abnormal discharge
- intense itching
- pain during sex
- swelling and pain
- fishy smell
- burning sensation
- pain while urinating
Some of these symptoms may come and go, but any symptoms that are intense or persistent should be checked. You should also contact a healthcare provider if you know you have been exposed to an STI or have a fever or sores or ulcers on your vagina.
A healthcare provider will assess your symptoms and provide a treatment plan. Treatment may include medications, home care, or various alternative treatments.
Vaginal health is a key factor in overall health, and it all starts with the vaginal microbiome.
If the vaginal microbiome is unbalanced, the risk of infection and other problems increases. Luckily, there are some steps you can take, including supplements, to keep your microbiome healthy.
Research shows that certain supplements may support the vaginal microbiome as well as other aspects of vaginal health. However, supplements should only be used as a complementary treatment and under the guidance of a healthcare provider.
Talk to a healthcare provider if you are interested in using supplements for vaginal health or if you have any symptoms of a vaginal condition.
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