Here are a few tips from experts to keep everything down there working as it should.
1. Eat plenty of prebiotics and probiotics.
According to Jennie Ann Freiman, M.D., your vagina, like your gut, requires healthy bacteria to fight infections and maintain a normal pH. The bacteria in the gut, in turn, affects those in the vagina. To improve your gut health and your vaginal health, she advises eating prebiotic foods like garlic, onions, and raw leeks and probiotic foods like yogurt, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kombucha tea. According to Brian A. Levine, M.D., consuming probiotics has actually been shown to help women with vaginitis—chronic vaginal discomfort that can lead to pain during sex. Prebiotic and probiotic supplements aren’t great substitutes for these foods, Freiman says: “Lab formulations don’t beat Mother Nature.”
2. Enjoy nuts and other healthy fats.
Healthy fats like those found in nuts, olive oil, and avocados regulate your cholesterol, keeping your estrogen levels in balance, which in turn creates a healthy mucosal lining that can help ward off infection. Almonds and other types of nuts are especially good, says Levine, because they contain B vitamins and calcium that prevent vaginitis.
3. Avoid processed foods.
While prebiotic and probiotic foods add helpful bacteria to the gut and vagina, Freiman says processed foods depress your immune system, which can allow harmful bacteria to take over. This can lead to all sorts of problems down there, including bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, dryness, pain during sex, and urinary tract infections.
4. Go easy on the sugar.
According to Burt Webb, M.D., too much sugar can damage or kill the important vaginal bacteria Lactobacilli, which can lead to yeast infections, soreness, and irritation—three things you really don’t want to deal with.
5. Try to avoid artificial hormones.
Certain meats and dairy products contain xenoestrogens—artificial hormones that imitate estrogen. According to Webb, these can block estrogen from the vagina, preventing the mucosal lining from forming which again, can leave you open to infection.
6. Stay hydrated.
“The vagina is just like the inside of the mouth—when a woman is thirsty and parched, her vagina probably is too,” says Levine. Hydration can also help prevent any unusual odors from surfacing down there, says Octavia Cannon, D.O.—just one more reason to gulp down more water every day.