The best (and worst) foods for a healthy vagina
Unfortunately, vaginal health is a woefully under-researched area of women’s health – not least the understanding food might play. And yet, the vagina sits between the bladder and the gut. Of course, what we eat and drink affects it. Here we take a look at eating for good vaginal health.
What does a healthy vagina look like?
If you have a vagina, you’ll probably encounter some problems at one point in your life. And that’s normal. However, ongoing vaginal infections – the likes of recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs), yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis should not be a regular occurrence – they can affect your overall sense of wellbeing, confidence, and quality of life. If you suffer from reoccurring vaginal infections it is good advice to seek a professional examination from your health care practitioner.
How does the gut affect vaginal health?
It may surprise you to learn that your gut health and vaginal health are closely connected. Comprising a diverse community of trillions of microorganisms, the gut microbiome is the extraordinary interface between the inside and the outside world – and it affects far more than just the digestive system. Increasingly, research suggests the gut plays a role in mood, immunity, sleep, skin, and, yes, even vaginal health (1).
The gut and vagina communicate both directly and indirectly: directly via the proximity of the vagina to the anus, which allows for the transportation of gut bacteria; and indirectly via the ‘gut-vagina-axis’ whereby a balanced gut helps promote overall health in the body, including a happy, harmonious vagina.
The vaginal microbiome
There’s also the vaginal microbiome. While the gut and vagina share similar bacteria, the vagina has a higher percentage of Lactobacillus, the ‘good’ bacteria responsible for keeping the vaginal pH acidic (under 4.5) and infections at bay (2). When the vagina becomes too alkaline, the pH of the vagina increases, making it ripe for bad bacteria to colonise.
How to restore PH balance for a healthy vagina
Try a feminine wash product
Some women find an intimate wash product helpful as part of their daily routine. Vagisil pH Balance Intimate Wash is a feminine hygiene solution that’s clinically proven to maintain a healthy pH. It includes LactoPrebiotic which is naturally found in the vulvovaginal area and promotes the growth of good bacteria known as lactobacillus.
What are the best foods for vaginal health?
The microbial community in your gut and vagina is reliant on what you feed it. You have the power to shape and sustain it. Each bacterium has different taste buds and preferences, so eating a diverse diet is key.
Your hungry microbes love fibre-rich plant foods. Fibre literally feeds them, encouraging them to thrive and multiply. According to gut health experts, you should aim to eat 30 different plant foods a week, including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices (3).
Eating more soluble fibre in the natural form of fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) can also help maintain intestinal health, which, in turn, may support your vaginal health.
Probiotics for vaginal health
Supplementing with live cultures may also help increase levels of good bacteria in the gut and vagina. Studies have also shown that certain strains of live cultures, namely the Lactobacillus species, can support vaginal and urinary tract health (4). We recommend a live bacteria supplement that delivers around 25 billion CFUs (colony-forming units).
What are the worst foods for vaginal health?
Although these foods are typically favourites, refined sugar, dairy and gluten are known to feed the bad bacteria in your gut and disturb your vaginal flora. Overly processed foods do the same.
Drinking for a healthy vagina
Caffeine and alcohol can also cause inflammation in the gut. Wine is one of the worst offenders. The sugar and fermentation can aggravate a sensitive vagina. If you want to drink alcohol, stick to clear liquor. For instance, you could try vodka, tequila or gin mixed with soda water, fresh lime, and a dash of agave nectar (a sweetener widely available that you can use as an alternative to sugar).
Fermented drinks are often recommended to support gut health. However, if you’re prone to vaginal infections, you need to be careful with the likes of kombucha and kefir. Although fermented drinks are rich in healthy live bacteria, they also contain yeast, which creates the perfect condition for certain vaginal infections.
Treating a vaginal infection
Consider a candida cleanse
Candida is a yeast that’s naturally present in your gut. Your body only needs a very small amount to help digest what you eat and draw nutrients from food. In general, the good bacteria in your gut prevent candida from getting out of control. But when there’s a surge of bad bacteria in your gut, it can lead to candida overgrowth, which, in turn, may lead to poor vaginal health, including recurrent yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and bacterial vaginosis.
Stress, alcohol, poor diet (especially those high in sugar, junk foods, carbohydrates, and caffeine), and long-term hormonal contraception use may throw your gut microbiome off and cause candida overgrowth.
Frustratingly, candida overgrowth can also be aggravated by frequent antibiotic use, which is prescribed to treat urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis. The problem is that candida overgrowth often leads to yeast infections. And so, many women find themselves plagued by a relentless cycle of vaginal infections.
Aside from vaginal infections, candida overgrowth can also lead to mental health concerns, such as anxiety and low mood, digestive issues, poor immunity, acne , and food cravings. If you suspect candida overgrowth might be contributing to poor vaginal health, consult a healthcare professional, and consider tweaking your diet.
A short-term candida cleanse involves removing alcohol, processed food, gluten, sugar, some fruits, and dairy from your diet for a month or so. It aims to wipe out the bad bacteria and repopulate the good bacteria in your gut. We recommend working with a nutritionist if you decide to take this route.
Maintain a balanced vaginal pH
Your vagina does a pretty astounding job of keeping itself balanced and sanitary (it’s self-cleaning, after all!). Sometimes, however, it can stray out of its slightly acidic pH range of 3.8 to 4.5, which gives bacteria a chance to thrive.
Can sex change your vaginas pH?
Since the pH levels of semen are higher than those of the vagina, unprotected, ejaculatory sex can, in some instances, affect the vaginal flora and make you more prone to vaginal infections, like bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.
Let’s get scientific briefly: acidity and alkalinity are measured by pH: 0 is the most acidic; 14 is the most alkaline. Anything under 7 is acidic, while anything over 7 is alkaline. A healthy vagina has a pH between 3.8 and 4.5, which makes it more acidic; semen falls between 7.1 and 8, making it more alkaline.
For a happy, healthy vagina, it needs to maintain a delicate pH balance to protect it against harmful bacteria, germs, and fungi. But since semen is slightly more alkaline, it runs the risk of disrupting the pH of the vagina.
If your partner eats a lot of sugar, processed foods, gluten, and dairy, and drinks excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol, it can affect the alkalinity of their semen, which may impact your vaginal health. Where possible, encourage them to follow a balanced, wholefood diet, and, or consider using condoms during vaginal sex.
How to restore PH balance for a healthy vagina
Cranberries continue to be widely used amongst women to support urinary tract health. Like many dark-skinned fruits, cranberries are rich in compounds called polyphenols and anthocyanins. But unlike other red fruits, cranberries contain exceptionally high levels of flavonoid A proanthocyanidins (PACs A), which are loaded with health-promoting properties for the vagina.
If you want to drink cranberry juice, stay away from sugar-loaded varieties, which can make your nether regions worse.
Add more lemon
Thanks to their acidic nature, lemons may help maintain the vagina’s healthy pH. Consider starting the day with a glass of warm lemon water.
Think apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has traditionally been used to support many areas of wellbeing. Owing to its slightly acidic nature, apple cider vinegar may be a useful addition for vaginal health. You may wish to add a capful to your warm lemon water in the morning.
Want to know more?
Although most women will experience vaginal infections at some point in their life, recurrent vaginal issues can be extremely painful and bothersome. However, you have more agency over your vaginal health than you think. And food is one of the best tools you have to help.
If you want to learn more about supporting any aspect of women’s health, feel free to reach out to one of our expert Nutrition Advisors.
Oliphant . K., Allen-Vercoe E., Macronutrient metabolism by the human gut microbiome: major fermentation by-products and their impact on host health. Microbiome. 2019;7, 91.
Chen X. et al., The Female Vaginal Microbiome in Health and Bacterial Vaginosis. Frontiers In Cellular And Infection Microbiology. 2021;11.
How to get your gut-loving 30 plant points a week - The Gut Health Doctor(2022) Available online: https://www.theguthealthdoctor.com/how-to-get-your-gut-loving-30-plant-points-a-week/
Cribby. S, Taylor. M, Reid. G. Vaginal microbiota and the use of probiotics. Interdisciplinary perspectives on infectious diseases. 2008;2008, 256490.
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.