Unbalanced feminine pH can cause a host of problems. From itching and irritation to discharge and odor, when your vaginal pH is off, you’ll know it.
But how do you know if pH balance is the cause of your symptoms? If it is, how do you get your pH balance back?
We had the pleasure of speaking with two board-certified medical doctors who specialize in gynecology and obstetrics, Dr. Daniel Boyer of the Farr Institute and Dr. Greg J. Marchand, FACS, FACOG, FICS of the Marchand Institute to hear their thoughts on vaginal pH balance and how you can get it back.
What is Vaginal pH?
Starting with the basics, let’s first talk about what vaginal pH is and how we determine if it’s healthy or not. Generally speaking, pH stands for potential hydrogen, which is the measurement of how pacific or basic (alkaline) a liquid is on a scale from 14-0.
A pH that’s below 7 indicates acidity and numbers above 7 indicate alkalinity. A pH around 7 is considered neutral. Your vaginal fluid has its own pH level, when it becomes too acidic or too alkaline, it’s a good indicator that something is off balance with your body.
The causes of vaginal pH imbalance are numerous – your monthly menstrual period, bacteria from your gut, tampons, and external irritants like lube and semen, all play a role in your vaginal pH.
What’s a Good pH Balance for a Woman?
Our bodies naturally maintain a healthy pH balance between 7.35-7.45, this is the ideal place for your body’s systems to be running correctly. Your vagina, however, has a more acidic pH than the rest of your body. Vaginally, your pH will generally range between 3.8-4.5 as it has its own microbiome and many different bacteria.
When your vaginal pH spikes above the 4.5 level, it then becomes the ideal breeding ground for bad bacteria and fungi. With this spike comes a host of uncomfortable and embarrassing issues that usually warrant some kind of treatment to resolve.
What Causes Vaginal pH Changes?
According to Dr. Greg Marchand, Board Certified OBGYN, “the pH level, or how much acid is in the vagina, is dependent on many sources. One very important source is the pH of the blood in the body, but the most important source is going to be what microorganisms are living on the surface of the vagina. Like the mouth and anus, the vagina is not a sterile opening to the body, and it is normal and healthy for bacteria and yeast to exist in this area.”
He goes on to explain that, “usually, when someone is referring to their pH being imbalanced, they are referencing the flora of their vagina has become imbalanced, and this usually results in an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast, both of which can normally live in a healthy vagina together without causing irritation. It is also possible that someone could imbalance the pH using diet, drugs or alcohol, but this is more rare. Occasionally, outside irritants such as perfumy soaps or lubricants can affect the vagina’s pH directly as well.”
Furthermore, Dr. Daniel Boyer adds that “in general, a woman's body pH will become slightly more alkaline (a higher pH) as she gets older because metabolic processes are generally slowed and become less acidic as we age. Additionally, many women experience menopause, which changes the body's pH balance.”
Continuing our discussion of causes, Dr. Boyer states that “in addition to age and menopause, other factors may contribute to a woman's pH becoming more alkaline. These include:
- Body fat stores are more acidic than muscle mass
- Hormone replacement therapy can affect the body's pH balance
- Antacid medications can cause an increased body pH, as these medications work by neutralizing stomach acid.”
What Are the Symptoms of an Unbalance Vaginal Microbiome?
Symptomatically speaking, a pH balance can cause any or all of the following:
- A burning sensation during sex or while urinating
- Itching around the vulva and/or vagina
- A foul or “fishy” odor
- Green, yellow, or grayish discharge
- Thick or chunky discharge
If you’re unsure if imbalanced vaginal pH is the cause of your symptoms, you can purchase a vaginal pH testing kit like the ones offered from VeeFresh for a relatively low cost. But you should also seek a consult from your physician to ensure that you’re properly diagnosed.
How Can You Restore Your Vaginal pH Naturally?
As soon as you know that your vaginal pH is off and it’s causing your unwanted symptoms, it’s natural to want to get to work righting it immediately.
Dr. Greg Marchard recommends “staying well hydrated, eating a balanced diet and avoiding binges of alcohol or carbohydrates is important. If you’re a diabetic control your diabetes the best you can. Wash the outside of your vulva twice a day with mild soap, and do not douche. Avoid perfumy or flavored vaginal washes or lubricants.”
He goes on to say that “If in addition to sensing your pH is off you also have a vaginal irritation, then either see a practitioner or take the regiment your practitioner has recommended. Always avoid any vaginal “one dose” products unless prescribed by your doctor (longer 7 day regiments work better and have less side effects. Many women are prone to recurrent infections and often your practitioner will provide you with medications so that you don’t have to go to the doctor’s office every time this happens.”
Dr. Daniel Boyer emphasizes the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet and states that “If you notice any symptoms resulting from unbalanced pH, it’s essential to take action to help maintain your pH at the appropriate level. Avoid consuming the following foods if your body has a more acidic pH:
- Red Meat
- Processed Meats and Animal Products (Fish)”
He continues by explaining that “once your body’s pH is more alkaline (7.3-7.4), eat the following foods:
- Green vegetables and herbs (kale, spinach, chard); Bok Choy, Celery, Cucumber, and more;
- Fruit: Apple juice; herbal teas; fresh fruit and dried fruit; watermelon and other melons; oranges and other citrus fruits; peaches and nectarines; avocados; bananas, figs, and dates).”
What About Probiotics for Vaginal pH?
Recently, we’ve heard a lot about vaginal-specific probiotics and how they might be helpful for rebalancing your vaginal pH. We asked our experts for their thoughts on the topic of vaginal probiotics and this is what they had to say.
“The science on this is in its infancy,” says Dr. Boyer, “and there is not yet sufficient data to support or refute the use of vaginal probiotics for pH balance. However, they may be a promising addition to your wellness regimen if you have a healthy vagina. The Lactobacilli species in vaginal probiotics are naturally present in healthy women, so they are likely safe to use. Many brands of vaginal probiotics available online and in health food stores can be taken as a supplement.”
Dr. Marchand was a bit less enthusiastic about the use of vaginal probiotics, saying “they may be a solution for someone with recurrent irritations, but not commonly needed. A balanced diet, loose cotton panties or no underwear, (avoid thongs,) avoiding perfumy soaps or lubricants, avoiding alcohol and sugar binges, and controlling diabetes if you are a diabetic are the mainstay of prevention.”
It’s clear that more research needs to be done to conclude whether or not vaginal probiotics are effective for rebalancing your pH, however, recent studies are promising. According to this study, “Healthy Vaginal Microbiota and Influence of Probiotics Across the Female Life Span,” the specific probiotic, lactobacilli could be a safe and natural treatment for balancing and maintaining your vaginal microbiota, so seeking one with this strain is likely going to be an effective option.
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Wrapping Up: Getting Your pH Levels Back Is Easier Than You Think
After speaking with top MDs and OBGYNs, it’s clear that the issue of an unbalanced pH level, while uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing, is easier to correct than one might think. For most women, a few simple diet and lifestyle changes can make a huge difference and may even provide the resolution they’re looking for.
Of course, there’s also a population of women who have tried everything and continue to struggle with unbalanced pH levels that are causing them a lot of frustration and discomfort. For these women, seeking additional treatments might be the right way to go, and a vaginal probiotic might help. Be sure to speak with your doctor and do your research before investing in a probiotic for pH balance or any other supplement.