We talk a lot about balancehere at Renew Life. Why? Because a body in balance is a body in good health. A balanced intestinal environment, for example, is important because at least 70% of your immune system can be found in the gut.
Eating a balanced diet is another piece of advice you may hear often from your health care practitioner. That’s because consuming a sensible mix of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, protein and good fats is beneficial for optimal mind and body health.
BUT FOR WOMEN, ANOTHER TYPE OF BALANCE IS JUST AS IMPORTANT
Vaginal pH balance plays an important role in maintaining a healthy vagina and urinary tract, which in turn can impact the health of your whole body.
In chemistry, pH is a measurement of how acidic or alkaline a solution is, based on the number of hydrogen ions—hence the term potential hydrogen, or pH. More acidic solutions will have a lower pH level, while mostly alkaline (also called basic) solutions will have a higher pH level. But what does any of this have to do with a healthy vagina?
First, it is important to understand we are not just talking about solutions you may have studied in chemistry class. Different bodily fluids also have different pH levels, and maintaining the right balance is critical to keeping your organs and bodily systems functioning optimally. For women, that includes maintaining a “normal” vaginal pH level: generally between 3.8 and 4.5, with the exception being younger women and those who are post-menopausal.
WHY DOES VAGINAL pH MATTER?
Think about when your gut is out of balance due to stress, unhealthy eating, taking certain medications, or even a change in your everyday routine. You may experience occasional constipation, gas and bloating, or diarrhea. You may feel run down or low on energy. And you may even get sick. (Remember, the majority of your immune defenses are in your gut.)
The same goes for women and vaginal pH balance. The ideal vaginal pH level is moderately acidic and acts a protective barrier to help prevent the overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria and yeast. If that balance is compromised and those harmful microorganisms are allowed to multiply and flourish, it can increase the risk of infection and disease.
75% OF ALL WOMEN WILL HAVE A YEAST INFECTION AT SOME POINT IN THEIR LIFE.
And 45% will have at least two. Not exactly welcome news.
Most vaginal yeast infections are caused by a microscopic yeast organism called Candida albicans. Though it can be naturally present in a healthy vagina, Candida albicanscan cause problems when factors such stress, dietary changes, sexual intercourse, the use of some medications, illness or hormonal fluctuations (such as with pregnancy) upset the healthy bacterial balance in the vagina and allow the opportunistic yeast to grow out of control. When that happens, it may cause uncomfortable symptoms, such as itching, burning, irritation or discharge.
Because there is evidence of a link between high blood sugar and vaginal yeast infections, following a well-balanced, low-sugar diet may help support a healthy vaginal environment. Increasing your fiber intake through foods and natural fiber supplements is also recommended, as fiber helps to nourish the beneficial probiotic bacteria in the body whose job it is to help crowd out harmful yeast organisms.*
Finally, taking a women’s daily probiotic supplement with the right Lactobacillus strains may help maintain a balanced internal environment, since Lactobacilli are found in abundance in a healthy vagina and urinary tract.*
CAN I TAKE PROBIOTICS DURING PREGNANCY?
When talking about female genitourinary health, especially regarding the benefits of probiotics, the conversation often turns to pregnancy. (As a reminder, if you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, remember to always consult your physician before starting any dietary supplement.)
Research shows getting additional good bacteria during pregnancy may provide numerous benefits for moms-to-be. Because some probiotics help maintain intestinal balance and promote optimal digestive function, they can help support a healthier tummy while pregnant and may help reduce occasional constipation and occasional diarrhea.*
Some probiotics also help to maintain a healthy immune system for mom and baby, and the right probiotics can offer immune support.* Babies get their first good bacteria from their mothers—in the womb as well as when they travel through the birth canal—and that is the beginning of educating their immune systems.*
According to emerging studies, getting additional good bacteria during pregnancy may also help reduce the risk of bacterial vaginosis (a bacterial infection in and around the vagina), gestational diabetes mellitus,pediatric atopic dermatitis, and childhood allergies and eczema.
Finally, there have been no reported adverse reactions with regard to probiotic use during pregnancy, and no association between probiotic use and miscarriages, fetal malformation, Caesarean section, birth weight or gestational age.
DO PROBIOTICS CAUSE GAS AND BLOATING?
If you are new to taking a daily probiotic supplement, it helps to think of it like introducing a new food into your diet. For some people, taking a daily probiotic may produce occasional gas or bloating at first, kind of like adding more cruciferous vegetables to the menu.
This is perfectly normal and often resolved by gradually increasing the dosage—for example, one day on, one day off—until your body adjusts and you feel comfortable taking it daily.
WHY TAKE A PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENT? CAN’T I JUST EAT YOGURT?
While it’s true that live bacteria can be found naturally in some non-pasteurized, fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and miso, most people get very few of these foods in their daily diet. And even if you do, you would have to eat a lotof yogurt.
Renew Life founder Brenda Watson has a great explanation for this:
When people think of probiotics, the first thing that comes to mind is usually yogurt. It’s true that all yogurt is cultured with probiotics, but not all yogurt contains live cultures in the finished product. This is because yogurt must be pasteurized, or heated, to kill off potentially pathogenic bacteria. Unfortunately, this also kills off the beneficial bacteria the yogurt was cultured with. Some yogurts do contain live cultures that are added back in after pasteurization. Next time you buy yogurt, be sure to look for the “live cultures” label.
The limitation of yogurt, however, is the amount of probiotics in yogurt—it’s low. It may not be enough, especially if your gut is out of balance. Unless you want to eat a gallon of yogurt each day, a probiotic supplement is best.
Again, it’s all about balance, especially since everyday factors such as stress, travel, eating unhealthy foods and even the use of some medications can wreak havoc on a healthy gut environment. If you prefer to stick with yogurt, plain Greek yogurt is a great option. In addition to having more live bacteria than regular yogurt, it typically contains less sugar and double the healthy protein.
STAYING IN BALANCE MEANS STAYING STRONGER FOR LIFE
Here in the United States, more than a third of all women say they don’t visit their doctor as often as they should because of steep health care costs, but there are simple, preventative steps we can take every day to support overall balance and wellness—many of which cost far less than the average co-pay. Eating well, staying physically active, getting plenty of sleep, managing stress, and taking a daily probiotic supplement are a great start.