Itching, irritation, dryness, discomfort… every woman experiences a time when her life is disrupted by these minor intimate problems.
Intimate comfort depends on the well-being of a delicate area, protected by a beneficial flora, the vaginal microbiota.
Made up of bacteria that protect the vaginal mucosa, the flora is a delicately-balanced ecosystem which needs to be taken care of to avoid discomfort.
The vaginal microbiota, guardian of your intimate areas
Just like the intestine, the vaginal mucosa is coated with billions of bacteria. 1 millilitre of vaginal secretions contains 108 bacteria: the same amount as the oral microbiota but less than the intestinal microbiota which hosts at least a thousand times more!
However, it's composition is different to the other microbiotas, being 90% dominated by the lactobacilli group of bacteria, with various types: Lactobacillus crispatus (dominant strain in a healthy vaginal flora), Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus iners, Lactobacillus vaginalis, etc.
The vaginal microbiota undergoes changes throughout a woman's lifetime. Subjected to the influence of female hormones (oestrogens), the microbiota is established at puberty and develops according to the menstrual cycle, sexual activity, pregnancy, contraception, the menopause…
The close relationship between microbiotas…
Our body's microbiotas do not live in isolation but interact with one another! Some of them have a close relationship with the vaginal microbiota: the urinary and intestinal microbiotas. In fact the exchange of bacteria, whether pathogenic or not, takes place between all three floras. Accordingly, an imbalance in any one of them can lead to an imbalance in the others.
The protective role of the vaginal microbiota
The vaginal microbiota acts as a protective barrier for your intimate areas against bacterial attack, both fungal and viral. Vaginal lactobacilli fulfil this protective role via a series of mechanisms:
They produce antimicrobial substances.
They prevent the adhesion of pathogens to the vaginal mucosa.
They stimulate the natural defences (local immunity).
They prevent pathogens from accessing the nutrients they need to develop and survive.
They can directly destroy or inhibit pathogens!
Lactic acid, a key element
Lactobacilli are called the "lactic" bacteria.
It ensures that an acid environment is maintained (the vaginal pH is 4) to favour the proliferation of lactobacilli while remaining unfavourable for the proliferation of other types of pathogenic bacteria.
It possesses antimicrobial properties.
Vaginal dysbiosis: when the microbiota is "unwell", intimate well-being is affected…
Heat and humidity, soap unsuitable for intimate use, sexual activity, pregnancy, taking antibiotics… these are all factors that can destabilise your intimate areas.
When the vaginal flora is imbalanced it is known as dysbiosis. The protective microenvironment is disturbed, promoting vaginal pathologies such as bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections (candidiasis).
Bacterial vaginosis leads to complex changes in the vaginal microbiota caused by a variety of pathogenic bacteria, while candidiasis or yeast infections are caused by a microscopic fungi, the yeast Candida albicans.
When to seek treatment?
Burning sensation, irritation, redness, itchy private parts, pain, vaginal discharge… if you experience any of these symptoms, don't hesitate! Ask the opinion of a health professional.
Diagnosis: vaginosis or candidiasis?
40% to 50% had bacterial vaginosis.
20% to 25% had mycosis (candidiasis).
Yellow discharge and an odour are mainly signs of bacterial vaginosis while itching, white discharge and the absence of odour lean more towards candidiasis. Diagnosis always depends on a medical consultation and biological analysis. Confusion between the two pathologies may lead to incorrect treatment (antibiotics or antifungals) and advice.
The solution for preventing and combating intimate discomfort on a long-term basis: probiotics
Antibiotics and antifungals are generally effective in the treatment of vaginosis and mycosis. On the other hand they do not feature in the reinstatement of a healthy and balanced vaginal microbiota, so useful in preventing further episodes.
Having eliminated the troubling symptoms, it is therefore important to rebuild the natural flora. To this end, probiotics (lactobacilli identical to those found in the vaginal flora) are one of the best solutions for long-term comfort.
By mouth? Yes! Scientific studies have demonstrated that probiotics taken orally will colonise the gastro-intestinal microbiota leading to the restoration of a healthy vaginal microbiota, thanks to interactions between the intestinal and vaginal mucosa. In fact, the intestinal microbiota acts as a lactobacilli reservoir for the intimate flora.
Also, the oral route is an ideal alternative, because it is much more practical than more local applications such as pessaries or capsules.
Which hygiene rules to follow for your intimate comfort
Female complaints are often due to bad habits! There are simple actions which will help prevent both their initial occurrence and any subsequent recurrence:
Use soap with an identical pH to that of the vaginal flora, fragrance free and/or specially designed for intimate hygiene.
Avoid intimate cleansing that is either excessive (once a day maximum) and/or aggressive (don't use a flannel).
Avoid vaginal douches.
Wear cotton underwear.
Avoid tight clothing.
Don't go to the swimming pool, sauna, jacuzzi too often (heat and humidity encourage the proliferation of bacteria and pathogenic fungi).
During your period, change sanitary protection regularly.
If you are taking antibiotics, also take probiotic dietary supplements adapted to your intimate flora.
There are also some foods that help maintain the balance of the vaginal flora:
Fermented products are a source of lactobacilli: sauerkraut, fermented milk (kefir, ribot…), yoghurt, olives, fermented cheese.
Fruit and vegetables contain fibre which will "feed" good bacteria: artichokes, asparagus, bananas, onions, figs, Jerusalem artichoke, white part of leeks…, preferably to be eaten raw or steamed.
Avoid excessive consumption of sugar in all its forms (fizzy drinks, fruit juice, sweets, cake), which encourages the development of Candida albicans fungi.
Be careful not to consume too much protein, low quality industrial fatty acids and sweeteners which may cause imbalance in all the body's floras (intimate, intestinal…).