I've written before about the importance of maintaining a healthy pH balance in the body. But did you know that your vagina also has an ideal pH? It's not the same—but it's possible to maintain and even restore when things get out of whack.
But before I get into the specifics of maintaining a healthy vaginal pH level, here's a primer on what it is and why it's important.
An ideal vaginal pH
First and foremost, the vagina's natural pH is acidic. But that's a good thing! While the ideal pH levels in the body hover around a neutral pH of 7, for optimal vaginal health they're closer to between 3.8 and 4.5. The level is typically at its highest before each period and during menopause.
This acidic environment is ideal because it helps protect the vagina, allowing healthy bacteria like Lactobacilli to thrive while simultaneously preventing unhealthy bacteria and yeast from multiplying.
An alkaline environment, meanwhile, allows bad bacteria to thrive, which can lead to bacterial vaginosis (BV) or a yeast infection. High—or alkaline—pH levels can also lead to unpleasant odor, discharge, itching, and burning during urination.
What causes an unbalanced vaginal pH?
Just like everything else in life, what we do every day has a cause and effect, even when it comes to the vagina. And while there are ways to prevent and treat unbalanced vaginal pH levels, it's important to first identify the culprit. It could be one or a mix of any of these things:
- Douching, which is known to cause vaginal infections
- Unprotected sex, which leaves the body open to sexually transmitted diseases
- Antibiotics, which kill both good and bad bacteria
- Tight-fitting clothing, which can allow for bad bacteria to thrive
- Poor hygiene (always wipe from front to back!)
- Urinary tract infections, which can then lead to other infections
- Scented feminine products, which contain irritants and potentially harmful chemicals
- Menstruation, which temporarily affects the body's pH levels
- Menopause, which likely occurs due to lower levels of estrogen
While not much can be done about the last two on this list, the rest can be fixed relatively simply. Here's how.
Tips to restore balance
For many women, restoring this balance requires some changes but can be quite effective. The easier ones—simply not douching, practicing safe sex, changing pads and tampons frequently during menstruation, and avoiding tight-fitting clothing—can be easily incorporated into a daily routine. Avoiding soap and using a natural feminine spray also go a long way toward restoring balance. It's also ideal to get regular checkups, as vaginal pH test strips—while helpful for understanding the vagina's pH levels—do not diagnose any underlying conditions.
Perhaps the most ideal way to ensure the vagina's pH is balanced, though, is through diet. The connection between what we eat and how healthy we are cannot be ignored, and this is especially true with vaginal health. Getting probiotics through yogurt and other fermented foods is a great place to start!