Can diet improve a person’s vaginal health?
Certain foods and drinks contain compounds that may improve vaginal health and symptoms of vaginal conditions. These include probiotics, prebiotics, and fermented food and beverages.
The vagina uses natural secretions, immune defenses, and “good” bacteria to keep itself healthy. Eating a healthful, balanced diet might also further prevent infections and improve vaginal conditions.
This article discusses what little research there is into the effects of diet on vaginal health, looks at dietary choices for common vaginal conditions, and identifies other ways to improve vaginal health.
People should speak to a doctor before using diet to address any health concerns.
Balancing pH levels
The vagina is a moderately acidic environment with a pH of around 4.5. This acidity helps healthful bacteria to grow and prevents harmful microbes from developing.
Some good bacteria, such as probiotics, may help balance vaginal acidity levels.
Lactobacillus species bacteria is the most dominant type of “good” bacteria found in a healthy vagina.
Research has suggested that Lactobacillus could benefit vaginal health in the following ways:
- regulating the microflora in the vagina
- improving the vagina’s acidity levels
- stopping harmful microbes from attaching to the vaginal tissues
- working with the body’s immune system
A 2016 study indicated that using vaginal Lactobacillus supplements after taking antibiotics hindered bacteria growth in people with bacterial vaginosis (BV), and significantly reduced vaginal pH.
A 2015 review study found “no significant evidence” that probiotics were more beneficial than using a placebo or no treatment. However, the authors noted that due to a lack of evidence, “a benefit cannot be ruled out.”
Probiotic supplements are available, but some nutritionists recommend getting them from fermented foods and drinks, such as:
- yogurt and kefir
- kimchi and sauerkraut
Prebiotic compounds may also help stabilize vaginal pH by promoting the growth of healthy bacterial populations. Foods rich in prebiotics include:
- leeks and onions
- asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke
- whole wheat products
It is important to note that prebiotics can worsen bowel conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur when bacteria enter parts of the urethra, bladder, or kidneys, causing symptoms such as burning or pain during urination and bad smelling or cloudy urine. According to the Urology Care Foundation, about 60% of women will experience a UTI at some point.
Drinking lots of fluids might help prevent a UTI.
According to the Urology Care Foundation, drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry tablets may prevent UTIs from developing.
Research supports this idea — in a 2016 study, researchers found that drinking 8 ounces (oz), or 240 milliliters (ml) of a 27% cranberry juice drink each day for 24 weeks lowered the rate of UTIs in adult women who had recently had a UTI.
Cranberries are rich in antibacterial compounds that kill bacteria. These include antioxidants and organic acids, such as:
- proanthocyanidins and anthocyanins
- organic and phenolic acids
- vitamin C
- flavanols and flavonols
Research into diet and UTIs has mainly focused on cranberries, but many fruits, especially citrus fruits and berries, are also rich in antioxidants and may have similar effects.
Reducing candida infections
Candida infections, or yeast infections, are the second most common cause of vaginitis, or vaginal inflammation.
There is no scientific proof that any foods can reduce candida infections. However, some foods contain ingredients that the fungus uses to grow. These ingredients include refined sugar, preservatives, yeasts, fungi, allergens, and trace antibiotics. People may benefit from avoiding these foods.
Researchers are studying the possible benefits of natural remedies with antifungal, anti-inflammatory, or antioxidant properties for candida infection, including tea tree oil, coconut oil, and garlic.
Other ways to improve vaginal health
Regularly eating a healthful, balanced diet that contains fermented products with probiotics and prebiotics can improve vaginal health.
Following some of these lifestyle habits might also help:
- cleaning the genital region with mild, unscented soap before rinsing well and patting dry daily or as needed during menstruation
- wiping from front to back
- using antibiotics appropriately and only when necessary
- reducing sweat around the vagina
- exercising regularly
- maintaining a healthy weight
- staying hydrating
- reducing stress
- wearing loose-fitting cotton underwear
Avoiding or limiting things that can imbalance the body’s systems or irritate the vagina can help, such as:
- holding in urine or rushing urination
- personal care products with dyes, flavors, or fragrances
- spermicidal foam or diaphragms
- tight pants or underwear
- prolonged exposure to moisture
- processed or heavily refined foods
- foods or drinks with artificial hormones
Many nutrients contribute to vaginal health. Eating a healthful, nutrient-rich diet can improve all body systems.
Certain nutrients, antioxidants, and probiotics may have particular benefits for vaginal health. However, researchers need to do more studies to work out which nutrients help boost vaginal health and prevent vaginal infections.