Preventing and Healing BV & Yeast Infections
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common vaginal infection that mainly affects young to middle-aged women. It develops due to a disturbance in normal vaginal microflora. This change can occur for various reasons. The main culprits are an abnormal response of the immune system and changes in the pH balance of the vagina. A healthy vagina has a pH level of between 3.8-4.2, and anything higher is overly alkaline, which contributes to BV. In a more alkaline environment, overgrowth or an imbalance of certain yeasts and bacteria (Gardnerella vaginalis) cause vaginal infections and diseases.
BV manifests as changes in vaginal discharge, more discharge than normal, unusual smells, itching, and pain when urinating. Women who are most susceptible to BV are those who have an active sex life, weakened immunity, or who are currently pregnant. The infection can spread among female sexual partners but generally cannot be passed from females to males.
Before discussing ways to naturally prevent and heal BV, it should be noted that if you’re currently pregnant and suspect you have BV, you should book a doctor’s appointment right away. BV is often linked to preterm labor, miscarriages, low birth weight, development complications, and other pregnancy issues. Prompt treatment can reduce the risk. Additionally, if you’re currently breastfeeding, talk to your doctor as well because you’ll need to know what the effects of any medication or other treatment will be on your newborn.
Avoid harsh soaps and products near your genitals: Washing your vagina with commercial products is not a good idea, as they’re typically overly alkaline and can cause worsened skin irritation, imbalances in pH and microflora, and increased vaginal discharge.
Engage in healthy sex practices: Any sexual activities that disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina may trigger an outbreak of BV. To prevent this from occurring, never transition from anal to vaginal sex in order to prevent fecal material from transferring into the vagina, and urinate immediately after intercourse to rebalance the delicate pH of the vagina.
Do not douche: Douching is a risk factor for developing BV because it disrupts the healthy bacterial balance of the vagina. Douching removes beneficial bacteria that are needed for protection against foreign invaders and harmful bacteria.
Use organic cotton tampons and pads: Commercial tampons and pads contain harsh chemicals, dyes, bleach, and perfumes. Using organic cotton tampons and pads and changing them frequently helps to prevent bacterial overgrowth. Using a menstrual cup is the healthiest way to collect menstrual blood as it does not alter the bacteria or pH balance of the vagina.
Stop smoking: Smoking can increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis as tobacco smoke compromises the anti-bacterial functioning of certain cells involved in the immune system. Just one more reason to quit!
Vitamin C: A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C helps the body fight infections and supports the immune system. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning that as it’s ingested, whatever your body cannot use will be excreted right away. This means it’s best to take it three times throughout the day to maintain sufficient levels.
Vitamin D: A vitamin D deficiency can make you more susceptible to getting BV. Taking vitamin D3 as a supplement can help to prevent and eliminate BV. Unlike vitamin C, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that whatever your body cannot use as it’s ingested will be stored - so get your levels tested before supplementing, and be careful not to over-supplement.
Folic acid: This B vitamin can help to combat and prevent BV. Good food sources of folate include spinach, peas, beans, asparagus, avocado, peanuts, romaine lettuce, wheat germ, and beef liver.
Garlic: This antibacterial vegetable can help to restore bacterial balance in the vagina, which will eliminate a BV infection. Garlic can be taken as a supplement, or integrated into meals.
Eliminate sugar: Sugar, including the sugars found in simple carbohydrates such as bread and pasta, feed harmful bacteria and promote their growth. These foods are also filling and can prevent the body from getting large enough quantities of the nutrients it needs.
Freshly juiced vegetables: Consuming juice on a daily basis provides the body with nutrients and can help bring the body’s pH into a more neutral state, preventing and healing BV infections.
Coconut oil: With its potent antibacterial properties, coconut oil makes an excellent personal lubricant. If the vagina is irritated from continued efforts to eliminate BV, coconut oil is soothing and healing to the vaginal tissue.
Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is antibacterial and antifungal, and is especially helpful when yeast infections and BV become recurrent.
How to use: Mix a couple drops of tea tree oil with a tablespoon of water. Soak an organic cotton tampon in this mixture and then insert it vaginally. Leave this in overnight. One treatment may be sufficient depending on the severity of the infection. Otherwise, tea tree oil can be used for 3-7 nights in a row.
Activated charcoal: Used to remove odors, charcoal has many applications in combating infection.
How to use: Insert two charcoal tablets or capsules into the vagina at bedtime for one week. Use a pantyliner as charcoal can be a bit messy.
Neem bark: A natural antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial, neem helps to support balanced intestinal flora while fighting infection.
How to use: Take neem bark in capsule or oil form.
Hydrogen peroxide: This helps to keep bad bacteria, including Gardnerella vaginalis, in proper balance.
How to use: Do not use straight 3% hydrogen peroxide in the vagina - it must be diluted with equal parts of distilled water.
Avoid using soap: Soap can be avoided altogether on your vulva in order to allow the irritated area to heal. For a few days, cleanse your vaginal area with warm water only. Afterwards, just use non-deodorized soaps and don’t clean the area more than once a day. Unscented glycerin or castile soaps are the healthiest options for vaginal health.
Wear cotton underwear and pants: Synthetic materials do not breathe and can allow bacteria to proliferate. It’s also more challenging to get odors out of synthetic materials.
Lactobacillus colonization therapy: This boosts the number of good bacteria in your vagina and re-establishes a balanced vaginal environment. The therapy can be accomplished by eating organic pure yogurt or other foods containing lactobacilli, such as fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.), miso, tempeh, and sourdough bread.
Take a sitz bath with apple cider vinegar: This can help fight off the toxins and bacteria that cause vaginal odor while restoring the acidic environment of the vagina. Add a 1/2 cup to 1 cup to a 1/2 tub or less of water - soak for 15-20 minutes.
Enhance immune system functioning: It’s common for bacterial vaginosis to recur within 3 to 12 months, even if initially treated. This is likely due to certain risk factors and the root causes not being addressed. It can also be due to impaired immunity in some women, which leads to a higher chance of all infections/illnesses. To increase resistance, take a probiotic supplement and eat probiotic foods on a daily basis. Consuming probiotics including lactobacillus increases the number of “good” bacteria in the vagina and re-establishes a balanced microflora. Fermented or cultured probiotic foods like yogurt, kimchi, and kefir are great probiotic sources. Additionally, eat a balanced diet, eliminate processed foods, address allergies and leaky gut syndrome, exercise consistently, get adequate sleep, and manage stress.
Practice vaginal hygiene: Always wipe from front to back after using the bathroom, change your pad/tampon several times per day during your period, pee after sex, and always clean your sex toys with soap and hot water after use.
The type of yeast (or fungus) that causes yeast infections and candida symptoms is also known as candida albicans, and can be completely harmless. However, at some point, its levels are capable of reaching high enough levels to take over our body’s “good” bacteria and to cause a vaginal infection or worse. The most common causes of imbalanced vaginal microflora are taking antibiotics, douching, sex (especially without a condom or without showering for a long time before or afterwards), eating a poor diet, and having a compromised immune system.
Vaginal yeast infections are a type of vaginitis, which is inflammation or infection of the vagina. Yeast infections of all kinds tend to develop in areas of the body where conditions are most favorable for yeast and mold to reproduce quickly. Yeast and fungus thrive in moist conditions, so damp folds of the body (think areas where you sweat a lot) are most prone to infections and outbreaks. These areas include the mouth and throat, genitals, armpits, anal area, navel, nasal cavity, ears, fingernails and toenails, in between fingers and toes, and in the digestive tract.
Yeast overgrowth in the vagina can cause many symptoms of infection. Symptoms include vaginal itching, irritated skin around the opening of the vagina (on the vulva and labia), redness and swelling, slight bleeding, vaginal pain especially during intercourse or menstruation, pain when going to the bathroom or when urinating, a slight smell that’s unusual, and vaginal discharge that’s white, thick, clumpy, and odorless.
Eat an immune-boosting diet:A weakened immune system is one of the significant risk factors for recurring yeast infections. When your immune system is boosted, white blood cell count increases and is able to target the problem before it worsens. Eat a nutrient-dense diet containing mostly vegetables, healthy fats, and good quality sources of protein. Fermented foods that contain lactobacillus or acidophilus bacteria are beneficial for fighting infections of all kinds, and are especially beneficial for yeast infections.
Take probiotics: They should ideally contain at least 25 billion CFUs Your probiotic should also contain species of acidophilus when focusing on prevention. Always store your probiotics in the fridge.
Avoid douching: This will disrupt the vaginal pH and make getting a yeast infection easier.
Keep your vagina dry: Practicing good hygiene and taking care of any open wounds properly will help to prevent infections. Make sure to wash the genitals with unscented soap every day and to dry off the area well after showering, since fungi are most commonly found in moist environments. Additionally, when you use the bathroom, decrease the risk of spreading germs by wiping from front to back (from the vagina to your anus, instead of the other way around).
Practice safe sex: Following sexual intercourse, make sure both you & your partner urinate and wash your genital areas. It’s possible to spread yeast infections during sex from person to person, and though women are much more prone to yeast infections, men (especially men who are uncircumcised) can develop these infections in the genital area as well. Practice safe sex by using condoms, and abstain from sex if either you or your partner have an active infection.
Wear clean clothes and cotton underwear: Allowing air to reach your genitals helps to prevent moisture and warmth from developing, both of which worsen yeast growth. Wearing loose-fitting clothing and avoiding stockings, tights, or bathing suits is beneficial if you’re prone to getting infections, since these often increase bodily heat and retain moisture. When you do wear a bathing suit, be sure to clean and dry it properly after each use, and avoid spending time lounging around in a wet bathing suit.
Control blood sugar levels: Candida yeast feeds on sugars, therefore too much in the diet can stimulate the growth of the yeast and promote it spreading to other areas. It can be beneficial to eliminate all sources of sugar, at least for some time while the condition clears up. This includes most processed foods or snacks, alcohol, most grains (especially refined grain products), conventional dairy products, fruits, and even starchy veggies (such as potatoes) in some cases.
Eat a yeast-free diet: Candida thrives in a sweet environment, so as well as decreasing sugars and carbohydrates, you’ll also want to eliminate any products containing yeast. These foods include vinegar, premade stocks, and pickles.
Consider other medical or hormonal problems: Certain pre-existing medical conditions can increase your susceptibility to vaginal yeast infections because they alter bacterial and chemical balances within your body. Two examples are endometriosis and Type 2 diabetes.
Apple cider vinegar: Helps balance pH levels.
How to use: Add ½ cup of apple cider vinegar to a warm bathtub + soak for 20 minutes. The vinegar will eliminate any harmful microorganisms.
Elderberry and milk thistle: These help to cleanse the liver from prescription medications and hormones from birth control pills, both of which increase the risk of developing yeast infections.
Vitamin C: Helps to increase immune system functioning. A robust immune system allows your body to bring itself back into balance naturally. Vitamin C also has antimicrobial components when it’s distilled into tablet form, so it can be used to kill candida overgrowth.
Tea tree, lavender, and myrrh essential oils: These are gentle yet help to kill a variety of yeasts, parasites, and fungi, helping to maintain a healthy balance of flora in the vagina.
How to use: Place several drops mixed with coconut oil topically just outside of the vaginal area.
Oil of oregano: Look for oil of oregano made from wild oregano or Origanum vulgare, as they are potent antifungals. Note that oil of oregano is a natural blood thinner, so don’t use it if you take blood thinners or have a health condition like blood clotting issues.
Practice relaxation techniques: A stressful lifestyle can compromise the immune system and allow candida to grow in excess. Taking time to slow down, breathe, and restore balance should be practiced daily, particularly after stressful life events. Other techniques that show many benefits are massage, meditation, yoga, and frequent exercise.
Both BV and yeast infections can be prevented and treated naturally, using a holistic approach that incorporates diet, supplementation, and lifestyle. It’s all about understanding the causes of these infections and eliminating the environments that allow them to thrive. With a comprehensive approach, they can be treated quite effectively and eliminated for good.