Your vagina is a warm, moist environment and as such is the perfect breeding ground for unwanted invaders however, occasionally, things can go wrong and vaginal infection may set in. Unsurprisingly, nature has provided you with the perfect antidote – acidic mucus, excreted through the walls of the vagina, that helps to keep unhealthy organisms at bay.
Types of vaginal infection
As we’ve already seen, the most common kind of vaginal infection is a yeast infection . However, if a woman comes to see me with another kind of vaginal infection it is usually one of two types. The first, and most common, is bacterial vaginosis (BV). This is caused by an overgrowth of “unhealthy” bacteria within the vagina. Experts believe that the acidic environment of the vagina is upset in some way, making it more alkaline and enabling unhealthy bacteria to thrive. Unprotected sex, having multiple sexual partners, using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control, douching and using vaginal deodorants are all ways in which you can upset the acid–alkaline balance in your vagina.
The second type is a condition called trichomonas vaginalis. This is a sexually transmitted condition in which an infected partner passes a tiny parasite (called a protozoan) into the vagina during lovemaking.
Symptoms of illness
It is much easier for a doctor diagnose BV than trichomonas vaginalis because BV has distinct symptoms, including soreness, itching and redness around the vagina and a greyish or yellow discharge that may also have a foul, fishy smell. You may also experience pain around the vagina during intercourse and a slight burning when you pass urine. Trichomonas vaginalis, on the other hand, can show no symptoms at all, or you may have general symptoms of soreness around the vagina and a fishy, discoloured discharge, which is often frothy.
Any of these symptoms should prompt an immediate visit to your doctor (as long as this is not at the same time as your period), especially if you are trying for a baby, because BV can cause miscarriage. Your doctor will take a swab from your vagina and send it to a lab for analysis. (Note that if the test comes back positive for either infection, your doctor will want to screen your partner, too.)
Using your diet
Eating a healthy, balanced diet, will help to keep the acid–alkaline balance of your body in check and so stave off the unhealthy bacteria. In addition, try to eat more plain, live yogurt, which contains beneficial bacteria. (You could even apply some to the vagina or insert some on a tampon or there are vaginal probiotic pessaries (see BioCare’s Intrafresh available from www.naturalhealthpractice.com) And the other thing you must do, is avoid alcohol for the duration of your infection. Anything, like alcohol, that contains sugar will encourage unhealthy bacteria to grow. In addition, we know that alcohol lowers immunity and puts pressure on the liver to cleanse the system.
Pack your diet full of vegetables that are rich in beta carotene, which your body uses as vitamin A and will help boost your immunity. Yellow, orange and red fruits and vegetables are all rich sources, or you could take a supplement along with the other supplements listed.
Supplementation can help your body fight vaginal infection in two ways. First, if we can strengthen the internal structures of the body we can help prevent the spread of infection, and second, we can boost the immune system to fight infection.
Vitamin C (1,000mg twice daily) Your body is made up, in part, of connective tissue, bones and skin. Vitamin C helps your body form collagen, which gives strength to all these structures helping to prevent the spread of infection. Vitamin C is also a potent immune-booster.
Vitamin E (300mg daily) This immune-boosting vitamin helps your body fight infection. If you have inflammation or soreness around your vagina, you can open a vitamin E capsule and gently rub the oil into the relevant area.
B vitamins (50mg of each B vitamin, daily) If your cells are infected, you need to ensure that the healthy cells can replicate properly during the healing process.
Zinc (30mg daily) This powerful immune booster can encourage faster healing and prevent an infection recurring.
Probiotic (22 billion bacteria daily) Help your vagina to recolonise healthily by taking a supplement of these good bacteria.
Garlic (Allium sativum) Famed as a flavouring in food, garlic also has highly effective antibacterial properties. Take garlic supplements when you are fighting infection to give your immunity a boost. Aged garlic is the best form to take.
Aromatherapy Tea tree essential oil (Melaleuca alternifolia), from the Australian tea tree, has strong antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Combined with apple cider vinegar, which helps to restore the acid–alkaline balance of the vagina, tea tree essential oil makes a therapeutic addition to a bath. Use 5 drops tea tree essential oil in three cups apple cider vinegar. Swirl the mixture into a warm bath and bathe for 20 minutes or so.
Smoking can increase the chances of a simple vaginal infection turning into something more serious such as pelvic inflammatory disease
Listen to your doctor
You can use all the natural treatments given here, but it’s also important to take any medication that your doctor recommends. Remember that vaginal infections can lead to serious complications, such as pelvic inflammatory disease or infertility, if left untreated.
Don’t use talcum powder
This applies specifically to on or around your genitals. Anything you put on your genitals can make its way into your vagina, womb, Fallopian tubes and ovaries. Some experts believe that talcum powder can increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Your vagina plays host to a finely balanced ecosystem of good bacteria (called lactobacilli), which helps to maintain the vagina as an acidic environment (which itself keeps infection at bay) and constantly fights off unhealthy bacteria. Scrupulously clean with a self- regulating system for fighting bacteria, the vagina, when it’s healthy, can be cleaner than your mouth.
Although some women simply have lower levels of healthy bacteria in their vagina than others, and so are more at risk of infection, there are a number of things that can upset this otherwise healthy ecosystem. These include multiple sexual partners, vaginal infections, and antibiotics that wipe out all bacteria (whether they’re good or bad).
Under normal circumstances, your vaginal walls excrete an acidic mucus to keep unhealthy organisms at bay. When the ecosystem is disturbed, the vagina overproduces its mucus in an attempt to maintain cleanliness. This results in an unhealthy discharge. Changes in vaginal discharge can often indicate not only an infection, but general hormonal imbalance, or even a cyst.
HOW TO LOOK AFTER YOUR VAGINA
The most important thing you can do for the health of your vagina is to practise good hygiene, which keeps the beneficial bacteria flourishing. If you don’t clean the entrance to your vagina regularly, discharge can build up and attract unhealthy bacteria. Having said that, I don’t advise that you douche. “Flushing” water into the vagina upsets its pH balance, making it too alkaline. This means that it begins to kill off healthy bacteria. Many douches also contain perfumes or soaps that can irritate the vaginal lining. Keep your vagina clean simply by rinsing using plain water.