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4 Surprising Facts About the Vaginal Microbiome

The kind of bacteria found in probiotics has the potential to aid in a wide range of conditions including digestive disorders, allergic disorders and the common cold. But did you know they can also aid or prevent vaginal conditions like yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and HPV?

To get the full picture of how your body might be impacted by bacteria and probiotics, let’s start with the basics. Here are four surprising things you might not know about your microbiome.  

1. You Have Thousands of Strains of Bacteria in Your Body

For starters, a "microbiome" is any collection of microorganisms living in a given environment. You may have heard that there are good bacteria and bad bacteria, but you might not know that there are over 100 trillion good bacteria in your body at any given time.  On average, the breakdown is about 85% good and 15% bad bacteria.

Probiotics are a way of describing the good bacteria that occur naturally in many fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha, and kimchi, and can also be found in over-the-counter dietary supplements. You may have seen these in the refrigerated section of your grocery store; oftentimes, probiotics are stored at a lower temperature because many of the bacteria they include are sensitive to heat and moisture. However, those packed in capsules and those that use freeze-dried bacteria do not need to be refrigerated. 

2. You Have Your Own Unique Bacterial Makeup, Unlike Anyone Else’s 

Like a thumbprint, we all host a bacterial ecosystem that is unique to each of us, resulting from a combination of many factors such as our diet, our environment, and what we interact with from day to day. New research reveals that our microbiome may even develop inside the womb, which means our mother’s bacteria would have been a major influencer of our own microbiome. 

This unique quality also means that you have the power to influence your microbiome. It is not a static entity; it is constantly changing, and everything from the foods and drinks you consume to your physical activity and daily stress levels can greatly impact the strength of your body's microbiome - including your vaginal microbiome.

Learn more about biomes in this Q&A with our Chief Science Officer.

3. Lactobacilli Bacteria Aid Much More Than Digestion

We hear most often about our “gut microbiome” and how much probiotics with millions of bacteria can aid in digestion. What may surprise many to learn is that these good bacteria don’t just live in your gut. Lactobacilli – one of the primary bacterial strains found in your intestines – are also prevalent throughout the urogenital tract which includes your urethra, uterus, cervix, and vagina.

You might be wondering: when Lactobacilli aren't aiding digestion, what do they do?  Lactobacilli play an important role in making lactic acid, a key component to a healthy functioning vagina. Lactic acid stimulates healthy cervical mucus, and discourages the growth of unwanted bacteria, yeast, and viruses in your vagina.

4. Probiotics Can Positively Impact Your Vaginal Health

If lactobacilli already exist in your urogenital tract, what is the benefit of taking a probiotic? 

Over 500 microorganisms have been identified in human vaginas, though any individual vagina hosts only a small number of species. Healthy vaginal microbiomes consist primarily of Lactobacillus species, especially L. crispatus; and in these healthy biomes, the dominant species may represent 90% or more of the microbial abundance in the vagina. 

However, the number of lactobacilli and the types of species can fluctuate, and conditions can arise when your natural defenses are down. Unhealthy microbiomes, for example, are those which consist of relatively few lactobacilli, and typically have many other species of bacteria present. Yeast, protozoa, and viruses may also be found in an unhealthy biome. The presence of large numbers of these organisms modifies the vaginal tissues, sometimes increasing pH (de-acidifying it), sometimes increasing rate of loss of epithelial layers, and nearly always eliciting an unhealthy response by the host immune system. Research even suggests the health of your vaginal microbiome may be tied to the transmission of HPV.  

Conditions Affected By Your Vaginal Microbiome

  • Yeast infections are characterized by itching and white discharge, and over 200,000 women in the U.S. are treated for this condition each year. According to a 2009 study, Lactobacilli can disrupt yeast biofilms and inhibit the growth of urogenital pathogens. 

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV) – If you have BV, you may not know it because the condition is not always symptomatic. However, an estimated 3 million women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with BV each year, and those with symptoms may experience odor, itching, or discharge. A 2009 study says BV is a condition resulting from a lack of Lactobacilli as well as the presence of a variety of other pathogens. In addition, the most common treatment today for BV is to employ antibiotics such as metronidazole. While metronidazole may treat the symptoms of BV, it also wipes out the population of all bacteria in your vagina (both good and bad). Vaginal probiotics may assist in restoring the population of beneficial Lactobacilli in your body. 

  • HPV and cervical cancer – A recent study in Microbiome suggests that factors such as the diversity of bacteria in the vagina combined with the quantity of Lactobacilli can affect HPV acquisition and persistence, and the development of cervical pre-cancer and cancer.

If you're considering trying a vaginal probiotic, our BiopHresh vaginal homeopathic suppository includes both of the most dominant species of healthy bacteria found in the vagina, and five other probiotic strains. Probiotics may help restore healthy vaginal flora, promotes urinary tract health, and lowers the pH of the vagina.