Preventing Bacterial Vaginosis With Diet

Image Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Preventing Bacterial Vaginosis With Diet

In the same way fermented pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut foster the growth of good bacteria by maintaining an acidic environment, so does the human vagina. The normal pH of one’s vagina is that of tomato juice. However, once it starts creeping up to that of coffee, an overgrowth of bad bacteria can take hold and cause bacterial vaginosis, which affects an astounding 29 percent of American women, nearly 1 in 3. That makes it the most frequent cause of vaginal complaints among younger women. It’s commonly diagnosed with the so-called “Whiff Test,” where the doctor takes a whiff of the vaginal discharge, sniffing for the characteristic fishy odor.

The fishy odor is a consequence of a compound of decay called putrescine, which is also found in certain foods. More about these “biogenic amines” in:

Traditional risk factors for bacterial vaginosis include douching, which has also been associated with a wide range of problems. With no demonstrable benefits and considerable evidence of harm, douching should be strongly discouraged. Medical professionals need to clearly explain to women that the vagina is naturally self-cleaning.

Nasal douching, though, is another matter entirely. See The Risks and Benefits of Neti Pot Nasal Irrigation and my answer about the “brain-eating amoeba.”

Recently, poor nutrition has been added to the list of risk factors for bacterial vaginosis. Women appear more likely to get bacterial vaginosis if they have lower circulating levels of phytonutrients like vitamin C and beta carotene in your bloodstream—indicating a lower intake of fruits and vegetables. In recent years, though, the field of nutrition has shifted toward examining overall dietary scores as opposed to single nutrients, because it has become recognized that nutrients are not consumed in isolation. To help consumers eat healthier foods, nutrient-rich food indices have been devised. Using these indices, researchers have found that the more nutrient rich one’s diet, the lower one’s apparent risk for bacterial vaginosis.

Why might a healthier diet improve vaginal health? Researchers suggest that high fat intake, particularly saturated fat may increase vaginal pH, thereby increasing the risk of bacterial vaginosis. As you can see in the associated video Bacterial Vaginosis and Diet, most saturated fat in the American diet comes from dairy, desserts, and chicken. The researchers conclude: “The next steps ahead include sharing these findings with gynecologists, obstetricians, and general practitioners, as well as increasing the awareness of the general community to the importance of optimal nutrition… to prevent infections of the genital tract, reduce associated disease, and maintain reproductive health.”

More on the detrimental effects of saturated fat in videos such as:

More on vaginal health in Treating Genital Warts With Green Tea and more on achieving maximum nutrient density in Calculate Your Healthy Eating Score.

What about male reproductive health? See Male Fertility and Diet.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

14 responses to “Preventing Bacterial Vaginosis With Diet

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  1. This is an excellent presentation to help people how eating impact more than just weight. As a clinical researcher in France, my patients were following my nutrition advices to treat infections from urinary and gynecological tracts. My peers did not enjoyed to use nutrition as a support to be healthier. It is time to understad the importance of eating

  2. Any more recent research on this topic? I am vegan but still a chronic sufferer. Any updates would be really appreciated! Love the website. Thanks

    1. I became a pescatarian over a year ago, and have experienced repeated bouts with BV. I can’t help but wonder if a diet without meat throws off the pH levels within the vagina.

      Please someone confirm this assumption!

      1. Justine: I can’t answer your specific question. However, I noticed that you said, “I became a pescatarian…” And then you asked a question about “a diet without meat”. Please note that fish *is* meat. And a very, very unhealthy meat at that:

        This site has so much evidence supporting a whole plant food based diet, that I think your chances of improving health problems might be greatly improved if you really did have a diet without meat, dairy or eggs. And hopefully one that focuses on whole plant foods (rather than processed foods such as oil, etc).

        Let me know if you would like some practical tips for moving toward a more healthy diet.

        1. Fish is NOT an unhealthy meat. I wish people would stop pretending to be doctors on the internet telling people what to do, it’s pathetic and you’re wrong and a complete idiot! Shut up!

        2. Hi. I am vegan but I’d say a very “junk food” vegan, eating out at vegan restaurants a lot. These places of course cook in oil & such, probably causing the issue. It has nothing to do with vetting vegan, as that has helped many of my health issues but recently I’ve been eating out a lot more. Burgers & more. I was wondering if you would suggest certain fruits/vegetables? The ones higher in vitamin C or nutrient rich foods? I eat lots of fruit but need to higher my greens intake. Let me know what you suggest.

      2. Hi there, not sure you will get this but yes 100% too much animal protein causes BV for me. I’m BV free for nearly 2 months since Xmas this year after having it on off for nearly 5 years.

    2. Hey Anna,
      I just came across this article and your post. I have had BV a few times. Before my 30s I never heard or experienced it. Wondering if you have found successful ways to prevent it. Thanks

  3. Most info I’ve seen indicates that acidic bodies, low pH, are unhealthy and alkaline ones are more healthy. I know my urine as a whole food vegan is much more alkaline than omnivore urine. This post seems to be opposite of what one might expect from more alkaline urine?

  4. Off topic but why can most sites be resized by my iPad and this one can’t? I can hardly read your entries and yet they seem so interesting. Can you fix it so iPads and tablets can resize your pages? Please,,,
    If so thanks a bunch.

    1. Terry: Thanks for your post. FYI: I forwarded your post to the NF staff and they are working on it. It is possible that this issue will be fixed when a new version of the NF site is rolled out. I do not believe there is a deadline for the roll out yet, but I thought you would want to know that your post was taken seriously and there is hope for the future. :-)

    1. Yes I also use it as a suppository. It helps for a day or two but I know it’s my diet that will give me better results with vitamins

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