Are you like me and wonder about those yogurt commercials that advertise probiotics? A couple of years ago, I would have turned my nose at them, but increasingly researchers are looking into the health benefits of healthy bacteria and other “critters” that live in our body.
Welcome to your microbiome!
Smithsonian.com pointed out that technological advances have really opened a window into microbial life – bacteria, fungi and viruses -- both in and around the body. Stating that this huge effort involves multiple key stakeholders (think international research partnership using leading edge DNA sequencing technology and datasets), the website added, “It also promises the biggest turnaround in medical thinking in 150 years, replacing the single-minded focus on microbes as the enemy with a broader view that they are also our essential allies.” That’s because the microbes have approximately eight million genes that collaborate in helping humans function, including maintaining the immune system and switching human genes on and off.
Researchers believe the microbial in our bodies is so important that the National Institute of Health is now home to the Human Microbiome Project, which is conducting research to “characterize microbial communities found at multiple human body sites and to look for correlations between changes in microbiome and human health. Parts of the body being studied include nasal passages, oral cavities, skin, the gastrointestinal tract and the urogenital tract.
And that last one is why I am writing about this topic for a menopause blog. That’s because we have lots of microbiome in our vagina. And that’s why we have to be careful what we do with – or to – our bodies. It turns out that common practices that we thought were healthy might be a threat to our body’s microbial. “Douching can cause the microbial imbalance that leads to bacterial vaginosis, and one in three American women douche,” The National Menopause Society executive director Margery Gass warns. “Don’t do it. Women may believe that they are practicing good hygiene, but they are actually increasing their risk of infection.”
Dr. Gass describes the vagina as a self-cleaning oven that doesn’t need any assistance unless prescribed by a doctor. Cleaning using water or other mixtures actually can cause infection. Instead, this effort changes the acidity and bacterial makeup of this organ. Infections that might spring up here may spread to the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries, and may cause a variety of conditions, including bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections and pelvic inflammatory disease.
Yet many women still douche. Researchers out of the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, San Francisco studied intervaginal practices of 141 women between the ages of 18-65 as part of a two-year study. Participants completed a self-administered questionnaire that looked at sexual behaviors, vaginal symptoms and intravaginal practices during the previous month Additionally, the women were evaluated as to whether they had developed bacterial vaginosis and candidiasis infection.
The researchers found that 66 percent of the women reported doing an intravaginal practiced during the previous month. Of those, 49 percent reported using an intravaginal product (other than a tampon) while 45 percent said they did intravaginal washing. The highest percentage of responses was for the use of commercial sexual lubricants. However, 17 percent of the responses indicated the women had used petroleum jelly. The researchers found that women using this product were 2.2 times more likely to be diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis, which is the disruption and replacement of healthy bacteria in the vagina which can lead to discharge, odor, pain, itching and burning. And 13 percent said they used oils intravaginally; the researchers found that the use of these oils was associated with a Candida yeast infection.
So the takeaway from all of this is that you don't need to take any special precautions with your vagina.The bacteria there is actually good for you and is protecting your health!
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Conniff, R. (2013). Microbes: The trillions of creatures governing your health. Smithsonian.com.
Gass, M. (2013). Health of vagina influenced by microbiome. The North American Menopause Society.
Gass, M. 92013). Why women should not douche. The North American Menopause Society.
National Institutes of Health. (2012). Human microbiome project.
Published On: October 14, 2013