Specific foods improve your vaginal pH and overall health. This will keep your most sensitive organ functioning well and makes the necessity for multiple gynecological visits at a minimum. Fighting infection and minimizing unpleasant odors are just a few of the benefits of a good diet in foods great for your vagina.
What Is pH and What Should Your Vagina Be?
First off, pH is simply the scientific measurement to determine how acidic or basic something is. It is annotated numerically from 0 to 14, where 0 is the most acidic and 14 is the most basic. To measure this, a litmus test is conducted where a special sheet of paper is exposed to a substance and, based on its coloring, you can determine its acidic or basic level.
For reference, water should be at a 7 (in the center). As far as vaginas are concerned, your levels should be anywhere from 3.8 to 4.5; however, your healthy pH level can vary depending on age reproductively (pre-menstruation, reproductive years, and post-menopause). Generally, you want the number to be on the more acidic side.
Why the pH Level Matters
A more acidic vagina is ideal for women because it helps prevent bacterial growth and infections such as bacterial vaginosis (BV) or trichomoniasis (trich). It is important to note that a vagina that is too acidic can cause fertility problems because sperm survive better in a more basic (or alkaline) environment where their most optimal level is between 7 and 8.
Thankfully, modern science has studied and shown how different foods and natural remedies to restore pH balance to the vagina can be beneficial to overall health.
Foods That Help Balance pH
Cranberries have long been known to help prevent and treat urinary tract infections. There are two special ingredients found in cranberries: A-Type proanthocyanidins (PAC) and fructose (sugar). These ingredients concurrently prevent bacteria, which cause UTIs from clinging to the wall of the bladder.
The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology studied cranberry and its effects and found that the rate of UTIs after gynecological surgery had been cut by 50%. It is important to note that in this study, women were taking cranberry supplement pills which replaced the need to drink two servings of juice. The sugar found in cranberry juice can often raise your pH levels in your vagina, making them more basic and thereby create an environment for yeast infection.
2. Foods with Healthy Fats
When we go to the grocery store, we are assaulted with foods that claim to be “low in fat” or “fat free.” This might not always be helpful to your health, especially when it comes to your vagina. Nuts, olive oils, and avocado are just three of the foods available which can keep your cholesterol and estrogen levels balanced, which keeps your pH level in your vagina balanced, as well. Go nuts on nuts and definitely add avocado to your toast in the morning to reap the benefits of these foods.
3. Kimchi, Greek Yogurt, and Other Probiotics
Kimchi contains any variation of veggies, chili peppers, salt, fish sauce, garlic, and ginger and is then canned/jarred and fermented. It can either be purchased at a regular or international grocery store or, if you prefer, made right at home with all your preferred flavors and combinations. The point overall is that the dish is fermented, which creates more acidity in your pH levels of your vagina but not so much to cause a problem.
Greek yogurt, like kimchi, is also a probiotic, which can promote good intestinal/stomach health as well as keep away bad bacteria from your vaginal area. Probiotic foods are also foods that balance pH in the stomach.
If you cannot get probiotics naturally into your diet through foods like kimchi, cottage cheese, kombucha, miso, or Greek yogurt, try a simple supplement you can get over the counter at your local pharmacy.
4. Prebiotic Foods
Naturally, where probiotic foods exist, there are also prebiotic foods. To understand the difference, think of it this way: probiotics are living microorganisms that function as good bacteria, whereas prebiotics are carbohydrates that feed “good” bacteria in the gut.
When prebiotics travel to the colon, they are undigested despite having gone through the stomach. While in the colon, they ferment and feed naturally-occurring gut bacteria. While prebiotics exist largely in plant-based foods, not all plants function in this way. Prebiotics can be found in honey, bananas, soybeans, onions, and garlic.
As far as your vagina is concerned, prebiotics feed naturally-occurring “good” bacteria, and it is suggested by doctors to be consumed with probiotics. Like probiotics, prebiotics can be taken as a supplement, so when purchasing, make sure to pay attention to the prefix in front of “biotic.”
It’s probably not a shock to many but water and basic hydration is the best way to create a hospitable environment in your body in general. Water, besides being necessary to maintain life, can keep your vagina functioning at maximum capacity. The vagina has its own cleansing system built-in, and proper hydration only aids in its ability to keep itself clean by increasing lubrication, allowing discharges to be released, and maintaining overall balance of the pH of the vagina.
To maintain proper hydration, the good rule is to drink at least nine cups (2 liters) of water every day. Instead of gulping down that much water, it is preferable to drink little by little throughout the day evenly; gulping too much water can cause nausea and vomiting, which dehydrates you.
If you are using sports drinks to achieve hydration while working out or doing heavy physical exercise, make sure your sugar intake in these drinks is at a minimum.
6. Vitamin C
While not exactly a food, this vitamin is important to consume for vaginal pH health and can be found in a variety of different fruits and vegetables. The foods found to have the highest amount of Vitamin C are citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, etc.), bell peppers (red, green, yellow – you can’t lose), and strawberries (yum!). Any food high in vitamin C can aid in fighting infections in your body in general, but especially in your vaginal area.
Vitamin C can help maintain healthy pH levels in your vagina, as well, and can be administered through a boric acid suppository alternative if you are sensitive to any of the foods high in vitamin C.
Foods That Throw Off Your pH
Your pH can be balanced by foods, so, naturally, there are certain foods that throw off your pH to either end of the acid/base scale and cause gynecological problems. Here is a short list of foods to stray away from to maintain good pH levels in your vagina:
1. Foods High in Sugar
As we mentioned before, foods higher in sugar can throw off your pH level tremendously. On top of being bad for your pH level, high sugar foods can cause excessive weight gain, lethargy, “sugar crash,” acne/skin problems, and can degrade teeth enamel over time (think cavities). While a slice of cake every once in a while certainly will not kill you, it is important to maintain that good balance.
There is a reason those who are recovering from alcoholism crave sugary foods – it processes the same in the body. Likewise, alcohol can be as detrimental to your pH of your vagina as sugar itself can – in the end, it’s all just unnecessary glucose.
Don’t worry, however – you can still enjoy a glass of your favorite alcohol to wind down, but again, moderation is key. Red wine has been shown to increase the blood flow to your vagina and increase libido in women. It is advised with red wine, however, to limit yourself to 2 glasses only.
3. Processed Foods
At the end of the day, it is difficult to “get into gear” and cook a healthy meal from scratch. For busy people, processed foods can be a quick and easy way to prepare food, but, as with most things, too much can be harmful to your body (especially your vagina). Processed foods are any foods that are not “whole” or naturally occurring. While it is very difficult to only consume whole foods, you can supplement processed foods for simply or minimally-processed foods, such as food grown and sold organically.
4. Any Meat or Dairy with Additive Hormones
Be a savvy consumer and make sure when you purchase meat or dairy products that the animals these products come from have not been injected with hormones. Products without hormones will be USDA-certified organic or marked specifically as “hormone-free.” These hormones are called xenoestrogens and mimic naturally-occurring estrogen in animals born purely for food purposes. These xenoestrogens then transfer to your own system when you consume hormonally-treated meat or dairy and can play havoc on your own hormones. Red meat and dairy products are not harmful but make sure you know how it was made ahead of time.
Good Life Practices for Vaginal Health
There are certain activities which women should be engaging in to maintain and promote good vaginal health.
If you are not doing these things and experiencing vaginal problems/infections, this list might help aid what ails you:
- Cleanliness of your vagina – Cleaning and maintaining the vagina isn’t as difficult as one might imagine. Your vagina naturally cleans itself, but if you want to clean it further, rinsing the area with warm/lukewarm water will help keep it fresh. If you need to use soap, make sure it is free of fragrance. Though tempting, cleansing products are not advised (such as douching or washes). While on your period, try to avoid any scented tampons or sanitary pad products.
- Quit smoking – Besides being harmful to lung and heart health, people who smoke tobacco are more prone to infections like BV. Non-smokers in a study conducted in 2018 were found to have more Lactobacillus in their vagina versus smokers. Lactobacillus is a probiotic bacteria that is important to the vagina to function properly.
- Stress-busting – A study in 2018 linked cortisol (the hormone produced during stressful events) and BV. While stress is impossible to abstain from completely, stress-busting activities such as meditation, exercise, and music/other hobbies can help maintain healthy stress levels.
- Good underwear sense – Wearing a breathable but absorbent, soft fabric (such as cotton) on your vagina is incredibly helpful to keeping your pH levels regulated. Also, make sure you are cleaning your laundry with detergent, which is fragrance-free and hypoallergenic. If possible, go “commando” at night while you sleep to prevent moisture from building up in the vaginal area.
- Condoms/barriers during sex – Semen, as we mentioned before, can alkalize the vaginal walls and increase risk of infection. Even digital penetration and oral sex have bacterial risks, so using a “dental dam” or “finger cot” is suggested for those activities. If you are trying to get pregnant or cannot use condoms, make sure to cleanse your vagina after sexual activity.
Times to Seek Medical Help
Even with preventative and good health practices, there are times where you might be faced with symptoms and discomfort in your vagina and need professional medical care and advice. Try not to “self-diagnose” on the internet and instead call your gynecologist to set up an appointment immediately. If you do not have a gynecologist, ask your primary care doctor for help with your symptoms or for help finding a gynecologist in your area.
Here are symptoms to never ignore:
- Unusual discharge – anything that is not clear as vaginal discharge is something that should be examined.
- Foul odor – don’t douche or use vaginal washes as the smell might be indicative of a larger issue.
- Burning sensation – if the skin inside or outside your vagina feels like it is burning or irritated.
- Itchiness – itching could be an indication of an infection or yeast infection and needs doctor-prescribed pharmaceuticals and care.
Come See the Experts in Vaginal Care
At Arizona Gynecology Consultants, we are experts in gynecological services and minimally invasive procedures for women in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. We also provide options for those unable to travel with telehealth appointments. Our welcoming, compassionate doctors, nurses, and staff are here to help you with your concerns.
Schedule an appointment today.
Founder and Medical Director of ARIZONA GYNECOLOGY CONSULTANTS
Dr. Kelly Roy is a specialist in surgical gynecology and advanced laparoscopy (and hysteroscopy). She is a long-time resident of Arizona and obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering at Arizona State University before finishing her Doctorate of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1997.
Dr. Roy completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the then “Banner Good Samaritan Hospital” (now Banner University Medical Center), in Phoenix Arizona in 2001.
Well known for her teaching and surgical ability, she is on the faculty at the residency program at both Banner University Medical Center and Saint Joseph’s Hospital in central Phoenix and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix Campus. Dr. Roy has taught advanced surgical techniques to medical students, residents, fellows and colleagues for over 15 years.
Dr. Roy is also a consultant to the medical device industry and has participated in the design and clinical testing of many instruments and surgical devices available on the world-wide market today.