Concerns about good gut health—and how to maintain it— is seemingly everywhere these days, and, no, not just because of the meteoric rise in popularity of kombucha.
The interest in gut health is all with good reason: as Phoenix-based gastroenterologist, Dr. Liz Cruz puts it simply, “Your health begins with the gut. It affects every part of you.” This can include your vagina.
So how can you maintain a good gut, and in turn, a healthy vagina? We talked to the experts.
What Bad Gut Health Means
Your intestines have millions of bacteria, Cruz explains, and if the bad bacteria in your gut affects the balance of the gut bacteria in your gut, that’s where problems can arise.
Bad bacteria in the gut can occur due to poor diet (including foods high in sugar), stress, sedentary lifestyle, and even certain medications. Cruz explains that when your body tries to build on healthy cells but can’t on account of the abundance of bad bacteria, it negatively impacts your cells, tissues, and organs.
Some of the effects of poor gut health, Cruz says, can include abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, lethargy, bloating, heartburn, and weight changes, among other symptoms.
Does Your Gut Health Affect Your Vaginal Health?
“Similar to the gut, the vagina has millions, billions, or even trillions of microbes that make up its normal flora,” says Dr. Sara Twogood, the Assistant Professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Southern California.
However, she explains that while gut bacteria and vaginal bacteria have some microbes that would overlap, “the complete flora would be different.”
Still, that doesn’t mean that poor gut health can’t cause issues when it comes to the vagina. Cruz says that a common issue she sees with women who are dealing with the complications from bad gut health (i.e. “when the bad bacteria grows over the good bacteria”) is yeast infections.
Another dreaded health problem that may happen as a result of gut-related issues is the urinary tract infection. Cruz explains that because the gut “is not a sterile environment,” and if the urethra is exposed to certain bacteria, “they can ascend to the bladder and cause a UTI.”
This can become especially troublesome for those who suffer from diarrhea and/or aren’t practicing proper hygiene. “This is one reason why wiping front to back is important,” Twogood says, “To minimize the exposure of the urethra to any stool.”
If you are experiencing any burning, pain, and discomfort in your vagina, Twogood says to be seen and evaluated by a gynecologist. “Many women misdiagnose their vulvovaginal issues and that leads to treatments that don’t work and have the potential to irritate the area further.”
How to Maintain Good Gut Health and Good Vaginal Health
In addition to practicing good hygiene, Cruz says one of the best things you can do is take a probiotic, especially those that contain counts in the millions and billions of live cultures and have several strains. “It puts good bacteria in your intestine, and in turn, helps your immune system,” she says.
What you eat can have a major impact on your gut health, which is where fermented food and drinks such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchee, miso, and the aforementioned kombucha can really help out.
A food that helps maintain both a healthy gut and a healthy vagina is yogurt, as yogurt is “thought to help maintain a healthy vagina because of the probiotics in it,” Twogood says. However, if you have issues with dairy or sugar, Cruz says to read the labels carefully when choosing the best yogurt for you.
Cruz explains that probiotics, as well as probiotic-rich foods and drinks, can give your body the nutrients it needs to build healthy cells. If you have gut issues, your body has started to run out of reserves of good nutrients, which is when symptoms can start to occur.
If you believe you have gut issues that are leading to health problems, it’s best to visit a gastroenterologist who can assess your health, as well as run all the tests needed to get to the root of the matter. While it may feel like a terrible spot to be in, Cruz assures that with the right treatment and care, “There is hope.”