Yup, you heard correctly. Your vagina, just like your gut and your skin, has an important microbiome that needs to be kept in delicate balance in order to protect against nasty yeast infections and the growth of bad bacteria like thrush. This complex ecosystem of bacteria, fungi and viruses exists within the female reproductive tract and it plays a key role in keeping your downstairs in tip-top condition.
The wellness world has really woken up to the dangers of hormonal, synthetic birth control in recent years, which has changed the lives of many women. But, we still need contraception, y’all. And it turns out, that someone with a, seemingly “natural” and hormone-free IUD, is more than twice as likely to suffer from an upset vaginal microbiome.
Here’s what you need to know:
Even the copper IUD has its drawbacks
Ask a professional on the drawbacks of the copper IUD and we’ll bet our bottom dollar you’ll be warned about heavier, more painful periods and more than likely not about the adverse impact it could have on the microbiome of your vagina. Because it’s hormone-free and doesn’t come with the associated side effects of synthetic birth control (hair loss, weight gain, depression, hormonal fluctuations, decreased libido, need we go on?), the copper IUD is a popular choice for women trying to prevent pregnancy. However, at the end of the day (and the beginning and middle, too) there’s something not entirely natural about lodging a copper and plastic device inside your uterus where it can stay for up to ten years, which means that it can really interfere with your vaginal microbiome.
Just as talking about your vagina can be quite, erm, delicate—so is its microbiome, which consists mainly of friendly, lactic-acid-producing bacteria from the genus Lactobacillus. Disrupting the balance of bacteria tends to manifest as recurrent yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Up to half of women with BV display no symptoms, while the most common symptom among the remaining fifty percent is an often fishy-smelling odour and discharge.
The copper IUD doubles (yes, doubles!) the risk of bacterial vaginosis. This concerning statistic is attributed to the longer—and often much heavier—menstrual flow of IUD users, which depletes Lactobacillus and permits the overgrowth other bacterial species associated with BV.
Supporting your vaginal microbiome
All of these microbiomes can get confusing, so you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a strong connection between the gut microbiome and vaginal microbiome. So, all of the things that you would do to support your gut health will also support your V (the lucky thing). Here’s some ideas:
Avoid inflammatory foods (lookin’ at you, sugar and gluten), incorporating fermented foods and eating the rainbow will all help to support your gut health, alongside focusing on increasing your fibre intake.
Remember that your vagina is designed to be a self-sufficient cleaning system, which means that washing it with harsh, heavily-scented feminine washes just douses it with chemicals can end up doing way more harm than good.
Avoid antibiotics where possible. Ever gotten an inexplicable bout of thrush after taking anti-B’s for a while? That’s because of the harsh impact they have on bacteria within both the gut and the vagina.
If you’re in a situation where antibiotics are a non-negotiable, health professionals usually recommend taking a probiotic and try supplementing with Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri if you’re experiencing discomfort in the nether regions.
*As always, be sure to consult a healthcare professional if things a feeling a little funny down there.
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