Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal infection in the U.S. for women ages 15-44. It’s estimated that up to 30% of American women (21 million) have BV right now. It’s an uncomfortable problem that most women are embarrassed to talk about. Yet, it’s highly prevalent and could increase your risk of a fertility problem. So, it’s time we talk about BV and share natural ways to re-establish healthy vaginal pH and prevent recurrence if you’ve been affected.
What is BV?
BV is not technically a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but it’s more prevalent in sexually active women. The risk of developing BV is also higher in women who douche frequently or who smoke. BV results from an imbalance in bacteria in the vagina. Recent studies link the same bacteria found in partners of women with BV and raises the issue of re-infection and the possibility that it is sexually transmitted.
In BV, vaginal pH becomes disrupted. It shifts from normally acidic to more alkaline. This shift allows pathogenic bacteria to overgrow and crowd out the healthy bacteria (lactobacilli) that keep the vaginal environment healthy. The presence of pathogenic bacteria also damages the mucous membranes, exposing the delicate tissues of the vagina to other types of infections.
The Link Between BV and Infertility
BV’s link to infertility is not completely understood. However, having BV increases your risk for other STIs like like gonorrhea and chlamydia which are linked to PID (pelvic inflammatory disease – a known factor in female infertility), HIV, mycoplasma, and herpes. Research in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology shows high prevalence of BV in women with unexplained infertility and polycystic ovary disease.
Further, BV is particularly troublesome for pregnant women. BV increases risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, having a low birth weight baby and uterine infection postpartum. BV is usually a transient problem, which clears up after a few days. However, for some women BV can be persistent and may require medical treatment.
Signs and Symptoms of BV to watch for:
Although some women may not notice any symptoms at all, here are common signs and symptoms that many indicate that BV is causing a vaginal infection. If you experience these symptoms, contact your doctor as BV can be diagnosed medically during a pelvic exam.
– grayish or white discharge with itching or discomfort
– strong, fishy vaginal odor (worsened after intercourse)
Natural Approaches to BV
The most important steps to normalizing from BV through dietary and lifestyle changes, more about which I share below, are to:
1) restore the natural pH of the vagina
2) re-introduce healthy vaginal microflora (lactobacilli)
3) flush out pathogens
Modify your diet:
- Switch to an alkaline, anti-inflammatory diet. Avoid refined sugar, fast foods, fried foods, commercial red meat, refined carbohydrates, all of which are known to cause imbalanced pH in the body, depress immune response and feed unhealthy bacteria.
- Eat cleansing foods daily like: dark leafy greens, seaweeds, apples, lemons, ginger, beets, dandelion greens, carrots, artichokes, radishes and asparagus. A one-month Fertility Cleanse can help too.
- Drink plenty of water to flush out toxins and re-establish proper vaginal pH. The mucous membranes in the vagina require fluids to be supported and healthy. Dehydration can make BV worse by allowing bacteria to become concentrated in the vagina. Drink plenty of clean water (at least 8 glasses) every day even if you’re not thirsty.
- Consume cultured foods to support proper vaginal flora and help prevent pathogens from moving into the fallopian tubes and uterus: organic yogurt, kefir, raw sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi. BV is directly related to a loss of lactobacilli in the vagina.
- Add prebiotic foods for ongoing balance: onions, garlic, chicory, jicama and burdock root. Learn the importance of probiotics and prebiotics for fertility here…
Consider antimicrobial herbs:
The same herbs that help fight colds and flu (immune-boosting herbs), can support recovery from BV. Herbs like Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, angustifolia), Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), Olive leaf extract (Olea europaea), Turmeric (Curcuma longa) or Bee Propolis can help flush out pathogens and support a healthy immune response.
Look for a high quality formula or try an antimicrobial herb by itself for at least 2 weeks time. Note: Taking antimicrobial herbs for more than a month can deplete friendly flora in the vagina and/or GI tract. Use them with a probiotic supplement or include probiotic and prebiotic foods (see above) in your diet.
Natural topical applications:
Some women report good results from:
1) applying a thin coat of plain, organic yogurt to the outside of the vagina daily.
2) applying a small amount of plain organic yogurt on a tampon for internal use before bed.
3) Lactobacillus suppositories (including L. rhamnosus and L. reuteri) can also be very helpful. Early research in the journal of the American Venereal Disease Association shows good results from lactobacillus suppositories for BV, but you may need to repeat their use a few times.
4) Kim Langdon Cull, MD shares, “Hydrogen peroxide capsules are useful because lactobacillus produces hydrogen peroxide to acidify the vagina.” Please work one on one with a qualified practitioner who can guide you in this therapy.
Lifestyle tips are essential in recovery and preventing recurrence:
- Take a break from intercourse and trying to conceive for one month.
- Don’t use commercial douches or harsh soaps. Stick to natural body washes from the health food store or use plain soap.
- Don’t wear tight or restrictive clothing. Let your body breathe while you heal.
- When you resume trying to conceive, use a pH and sperm friendly lubricant if dryness aggravates symptoms.
Paying attention to your vaginal health is especially important for women trying to conceive or who suspect they have a fertility problem. Bacterial vaginosis is highly prevalent in women in their reproductive years, and it can affect fertility. While BV is treatable medically, the good news is that BV can also be approached naturally with diet and lifestyle changes along with herbal therapies with good results.
- Hudson, T., (2016) Bacterial Vaginosis. Rockwell Nutrition. Retrieved from: http://blog.rockwellnutrition.com/natural-remedies-bacterial-vaginosis/
- Anders, H., Jarstrand, C., & Pahlson, C. (1991). Treatment of Bacterial Vaginosis with Lactobacilli. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 18(3), 146-148. doi:10.1097/00007435-199105000-00007 Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315248192_Treatment_of_Bacterial_Vaginosis_with_Lactobacilli
- Sexual Conditions Overview: Bacterial Vaginosis Topic Overview. (2005-2016). WebMD. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/tc/bacterial-vaginosis-topic-overview
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases Guidelines: Bacterial Vaginosis. (2015) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/bv.htm
- Salah, R. M., Allam, A. M., Magdy, A. M., & Mohamed, A. S. (2013). Bacterial vaginosis and infertility: Cause or association? European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 167(1), 59-63. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2012.10.031 Retrieved from: https://www.ejog.org/article/S0301-2115(12)00497-6/fulltext
- Oostrum, N. V., Sutter, P. D., Meys, J., & Verstraelen, H. (2013). Risks associated with bacterial vaginosis in infertility patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Human Reproduction, 28(7), 1809-1815. doi:10.1093/humrep/det096 Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/28/7/1809/611205
- Weed, S. (Dec, 2006). Healing Wise: Bacterial Vaginosis. Wise Woman Tradition. Retrieved from: http://www.wisewomantradition.com/healingwise/2006/12/bacterial_vagin.html