A healthy vagina normally maintains a slightly acidic environment, with a pH of about 3.8 to 4.5. Acidity is described or quantified by pH, which is a number on a scale of 1-14. The lower the number, the more acidic is the substance. A higher number denotes alkalinity. This level of acidity is a result of the presence of “good” bacteria, such as Lactobacilli, in the vagina, which produce hydrogen peroxide and prevent other harmful microorganisms from multiplying there. The balance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria is therefore maintained by the acidic environment of the vagina, which is sometimes disturbed by various factors such as douching. When an imbalance in the chemical and biological environment occurs, “bad” bacteria such as Gardnerella vaginalis may multiply, killing the “good” bacteria and causing a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis.
The loss of acidity or disturbance in vaginal pH allows proliferation of bacteria and yeast in the vagina, leading to symptoms like itching, vaginal discharge, and pain during urination. In most cases, symptoms may be mild, and some women do not even notice the presence of an infection until they find out from an incidental gynecological exam. However, in some women symptoms may be irritating and bothersome. In about one-third of cases, symptoms go away immediately even when left untreated. This occurs when the balance in acidity or the vaginal pH is restored by the spontaneous re-growth of lactobacilli.
Restoring Normal Vaginal pH
The chemical imbalance in the vagina is usually caused by certain hygienic and lifestyle factors that disturb the biological environment in the woman’s body. Some medications may also eliminate “good” bacteria or encourage the growth of “bad” bacteria. Therefore, it is important to avoid certain practices that may alter the normal vaginal pH, resulting in vaginal infection and its symptoms. These include:
- Avoid frequent douching. The practice of rinsing out the inner vagina with either water or a cleansing agent is unnecessary, since the vagina has a self-cleansing mechanism, and douching can eliminate the “good” bacteria.
- Avoid using bubble baths, hot tubs, or whirlpool spas.
- Avoid using vaginal deodorants or scented soaps.
- Avoid having multiple or new sex partners. Although bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted disease, certain sexual practices increase one’s risk for vaginal pH disturbance.
- Use a condom during sex.
- Other risk factors like smoking and the use of intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control must be avoided.
Many women use natural remedies to restore normal vaginal pH. Taking yogurt is one of the most popular ways to restore the natural acidic environment in the vagina. Yogurt contains live lactobacilli, which can induce the growth and increase the number of “good” bacteria in the gut and in the vagina.
Boric acid suppositories can be inserted vaginally for 14 days to fight against chronic bacterial vaginosis, which results from abnormal vaginal pH.
Hydrogen peroxide or vinegar diluted in one-half to one liter of clean water may be used to rinse the vagina two or three times a day. Another way to restore vaginal pH is by soaking in a warm bath that contains a few drops of pure apple cider vinegar.
Women are advised to eat more fruits, vegetables, grains, flax seed and food products containing acidophilus, which increase lactic acid production. Other natural remedies that can be taken as oral supplements to restore vaginal acidity include:
- Cultured milk that contains “good” bacteria (kefir milk)
- Probiotic capsules and foods
- Vitamins A, B, C, D and E