Women are blessed with an amazing body with intelligent body parts. Take the vagina for example, it brings new life to the world and serves as a source of pleasure and is also self-cleaning! The vagina secretes natural fluids and maintains a healthy pH balance, creating a microbiome of beneficial bacteria. Unfortunately, we are not taught much about it, and most women do not understand their own body. For instance, many women probably do not know what vaginal pH is all about. So, let’s know about vaginal pH and its importance.
What is pH?
It is the scale of alkalinity and acidity that ranges from 0 to 14. Anything less than 7 suggests higher levels of acid, while a score above 7 shows a higher alkaline level. Distilled water has a pH level of 7, which means that it is neutral.
What is vaginal pH?
Every part of the body has a standard pH level. The ideal pH level for the vagina is 3.5-4.5, which is acidic. For menopausal women, the perfect pH level is 5.
What happens when the vaginal pH balance is not maintained?
The vagina has an acidic environment for the sustenance of healthy bacteria and some yeast cells. This delicate balance can easily get disturbed. If the level goes up, it can lead to the growth of bad bacteria, or an overgrowth of the good ones, neither of which is right for you. It can lead to infections, bad odour, and discomfort. It paves the way for sexually transmitted infections. It also makes you susceptible to bacterial vaginosis, which raises your chances of post-hysterectomy infection, preterm births, or pelvic inflammatory disease that can result in infertility.
What can cause the vaginal pH level to go up?
There are plenty of reasons why the vaginal pH level can shoot up. They are:
1. Menstrual blood: It has a pH level of 7.4 and naturally causes the vaginal pH to increase.
2. Tampons: The cottony bullets are organic, and absorb the menstrual blood and retain it, thus creating the perfect place for the growth of bacteria. The vagina becomes the perfect host amidst the dark, warm, and alkaline environment.
3. Unprotected Intercourse: During unsafe sex (sex without condoms specifically), the vaginal pH can go up temporarily, to make the environment more alkaline and protective for the semen released. The semen also has pH level of 7-8.5.
4. Hormonal fluctuations: During pregnancy and menopause, the hormonal imbalance in the body can lead to a rise in the pH level of the vagina. You can also face the same problem during the initial stages of using hormonal birth control.
5. Scented soaps and vaginal douche: Vaginal douching and cleansing are the latest fad in the world of feminine health. These products are misleading and have salts with very high pH level. If the vagina smells like fruits, it is not a good thing. But, some women use these products to ‘cleanse’ their vagina and thus end up causing more damage.
6. Long baths in hot tubs: Hot baths in the tub might feel relaxing, but they are bad for the pH level of your vagina, especially when bath salts and soaps are used.
7. Tight clothes: Clothes that are too tight, especially thongs, can lead to a rise of vaginal pH.
How to maintain vaginal pH?
You can take specific steps to avoid disturbing the pH balance of your vagina.
1. Avoid using tampons and sanitary napkins for too long. Change them as frequently as possible. Aim for a change every 3-4 hours in case of menstrual pads, and 5-6 hours in case of tampons.
2. Switch to menstrual cups. They are made of medical silicone and do nothing additional during your periods to disturb the pH level. The natural change during menstruation is temporary, and the vagina is capable of handling that.
3. Avoid unprotected sex to prevent semen from staying in the vagina.
4. Do not forget to urinate after intercourse. This is a piece of age-old advice that helps in restoring the pH level.
5. Do not use vagina douches or other cleansing products. Remember that the vagina has a self-cleaning capability, and does not need you to shoot foreign cleansers into it. Even natural products like yoghurt, vinegar, etc. are to be kept away from the vagina.
6. Avoid long baths in hot tubs, especially when you’re using scented soaps and bath salts.
7. Avoid wearing tight clothes. Let the vagina breathe as often as you can. Give it comfortable clothes of breathable fabrics.
8. If you notice any kind odour, irritation, redness, itchiness, etc., especially during pregnancy, menopause, or the starting of hormonal birth control, visit a gynaecologist and discuss the problems.
9. Incorporate iron, zinc and manganese in your diet, as well as a healthy amount of good fats that you get from animals, olive oil, avocado, etc. Also get your estrogen, testosterone, and iron levels checked regularly.
Remember that it is not a good idea to follow random instructions of self-proclaimed health experts, naturalists, aestheticians, etc. Let the vagina do its own job, while you live a healthy life. The only person to solve vaginal problems like a rise in the pH level is your gynaecologist.