Infections due to imbalances in the vaginal area are commonly experienced by approximately three quarters of females within their lifetime. This doesn’t make it any less confronting or embarrassing to talk about.
The symptoms often include abnormal, often thick, white discharge, redness and swelling in the area, itching and pain, and discomfort while urinating.
Some women seem to be more prone to these conditions when compared to others, seeing them suffer monthly bouts of infection (at times regularly occurring during certain periods of the menstrual cycle), every time they take a course of antibiotics, or when they simply become run down.
The vaginal and urinary tract areas are similar to the intestines, in that they are home to billions of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi/yeast. Some of these little bugs work hard together with your immune system to maintain health in the area, while others are potentially harmful if given the opportunity to flourish.
Are urogenital tract infections often caused by a spread of bad bacteria or an imbalance of beneficial vs bad bacteria?
Maintaining a balanced microflora (the mixture of bacteria and other organisms that live in the body) is important in all areas – including the urogenital tract. An imbalance could lead to infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV) and vulvovaginal candidiasis (thrush).
Why shouldn’t I spend all day in my bathers?
Synthetic materials, like the ones that make up your swimsuit, don’t allow air circulation down there. Leaving a wet swimsuit on all day creates a warm, moist environment, which encourages the growth of the candida yeast. Opt for natural cotton underwear, and change out of your wet swimwear as soon as you can. The same goes for your workout wear. If you are prone to thrush, avoid staying in your sweaty lycra tights for hours on end.
Are urogenital tract problems more common in summer/warmer months?
This can vary from person to person. Some women may be more likely to suffer a yeast overgrowth in summer due to the type of clothing, activities, and warmth during these months. On the other hand, vitamin D is known to be important for helping to support our immune system, and some individuals are at risk of being deficient in the winter months due to the reduced exposure to the sun. Furthermore if you regularly suffer sicknesses in winter that result in antibiotic use – then this could mean that winter is the time you’re at a greater risk.
What are some signs of candida?
Candida overgrowth, more commonly called thrush, causes a thick, white, odourless discharge. It’s usually itchy, and can cause pain with intercourse or urination. In contrast, BV causes a thin, grey or white discharge with a fishy odour and is rarely itchy.
What are some simple ways to treat it?
Antifungals are a common treatment for thrush, while antibiotics are commonly prescribed for BV (bacterial vaginosis). It’s now thought that localised probiotics such as a probiotic pessary may be a useful option, as they will help to restore the balance of microorganisms in the area, without killing off any of the good bacteria. Oral probiotics are useful alongside traditional treatment in thrush too – they will introduce beneficial bacteria to restore balance.
Eat a diet that supports the good bacteria, not the yeast:
Fermented and probiotic-rich foods are also awesome to assist in keeping the balance in check, so introduce natural yoghurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso soup and apple cider vinegar.
Bug-busting, immune boosting foods:
Certain foods have been used for hundreds of years to protect against and treat infections. Some of the best immune-support foods include garlic, ginger, pomegranate, pineapple, turmeric, cod liver oil and coconut oil.
Manage stress and check your vitamin D:
Chronic stress (even if it’s low-grade stress) has been show to suppress the activity of your immune system, making your body more vulnerable to infection. A deficiency in vitamin D may have the same effect. Look at how you can better manage stress – methods such as exercise and meditation are very effective, get more hours of sleep each night, and speak to a healthcare professional regarding vitamin D and whether a supplement may be needed (many Australians are deficient).
Support the friendly bacteria levels in the vagina:
Be sure not to use harsh soaps, creams, douches, fragrances, etc in the area. These upset the acid/alkaline and secretion balance that your bodily is desperately trying to maintain for protection. Stick with water until the infection clears! Also, wear cotton underwear instead of synthetic.
I’ve just gotten over an infection down there. How can I make sure it doesn’t come back?
Prevention is as important as treatment for thrush and BV, as recurrent infections are common; however, with these small changes you can reduce your risk:
- Maintain general health through diet and exercise
- Increase consumption of probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and natural yoghurt; consider a probiotic supplement to increase your intake further
- Wear cotton underwear instead of synthetic never use soaps, douches, fragrances or deodorants on the vaginal area – use only warm water for cleaning