Bacterial Vaginosis & Diet

Bacterial Vaginosis & Diet
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A more plant-based diet may help prevent vaginal infections, one of the most common gynecological problems of young women.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In the same way fermented pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut foster the growth of good bacteria (like lactobacillus) by maintaining an acidic environment, so does the human vagina. The normal pH of one’s vagina is that of tomato juice. Once it starts creeping up to that of coffee, though, an overgrowth of bad bacteria can take hold, and cause bacterial vaginosis—which affects an astounding 29% of American women; that’s nearly one in three women in the United States. That makes it the most frequent cause of vaginal complaints among younger women, affecting tens of millions. 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.”

Traditional risk factors for bacterial vaginosis include douching, which has been associated with a wide range of problems. With “no [demonstrable] benefits and considerable evidence of harm, women should be encouraged to not douche.” Medical professionals need to clearly “explain that the vagina is naturally self-cleaning.”

Recently, poor nutrition has been added to the list of risk factors. You appear more likely to get bacterial vaginosis if you have lower levels circulating in your bloodstream of phytonutrients, like vitamin C and beta-carotene, 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, that individuals consuming one health-promoting nutrient also tend to consume many others, and that the specific source of nutrients may be of importance.” What a concept!

So, nutrient-rich food indexes have been devised to enable folks to get the most nutrients out of their calories. And the more nutrient-rich one’s diet, the lower one’s apparent risk for bacterial vaginosis.

Why, though?  Well, it’s thought that high fat intake—particularly saturated fat, which comes mostly from like, dairy, doughnuts, and chicken in this country—may increase vaginal pH, thereby increasing the risk of bacterial vaginosis. So, now that we know…

“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.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Dr. F.C. Turner via Wikimedia

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In the same way fermented pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut foster the growth of good bacteria (like lactobacillus) by maintaining an acidic environment, so does the human vagina. The normal pH of one’s vagina is that of tomato juice. Once it starts creeping up to that of coffee, though, an overgrowth of bad bacteria can take hold, and cause bacterial vaginosis—which affects an astounding 29% of American women; that’s nearly one in three women in the United States. That makes it the most frequent cause of vaginal complaints among younger women, affecting tens of millions. 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.”

Traditional risk factors for bacterial vaginosis include douching, which has been associated with a wide range of problems. With “no [demonstrable] benefits and considerable evidence of harm, women should be encouraged to not douche.” Medical professionals need to clearly “explain that the vagina is naturally self-cleaning.”

Recently, poor nutrition has been added to the list of risk factors. You appear more likely to get bacterial vaginosis if you have lower levels circulating in your bloodstream of phytonutrients, like vitamin C and beta-carotene, 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, that individuals consuming one health-promoting nutrient also tend to consume many others, and that the specific source of nutrients may be of importance.” What a concept!

So, nutrient-rich food indexes have been devised to enable folks to get the most nutrients out of their calories. And the more nutrient-rich one’s diet, the lower one’s apparent risk for bacterial vaginosis.

Why, though?  Well, it’s thought that high fat intake—particularly saturated fat, which comes mostly from like, dairy, doughnuts, and chicken in this country—may increase vaginal pH, thereby increasing the risk of bacterial vaginosis. So, now that we know…

“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.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Dr. F.C. Turner via Wikimedia

Doctor's Note

For more on the detrimental effects of saturated fat, see:

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:

Now, nasal douching is another matter. See The Risks & Benefits of Neti Pot Nasal Irrigation, as well as my response to a follow-up question (see Given the “brain-eating amoeba” (Naegleria fowleri) in tap water should I sterilize my neti pot water?).

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

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