Understanding BV and its Causes
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common vaginal infection caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. While there are many bacteria that live in the vagina, when the balance is disrupted and the “good” bacteria (lactobacilli) are outnumbered by the “bad” bacteria, such as Gardnerella vaginalis and Mycoplasma hominis, it can lead to BV.
The exact cause of this bacterial imbalance is still unknown, but certain factors can increase the risk of developing BV. These include:
- Sexual activity: having a new sexual partner or multiple sexual partners
- Vaginal douching: this can upset the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina
- Antibiotics: taking antibiotics can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the vagina
- Hormonal changes: changes in hormone levels, such as during menstruation or menopause, can affect the vaginal environment
- Poor hygiene: not cleaning the genital area properly can increase the risk of developing BV
Understanding the causes of BV can help you take steps to prevent it and reduce the risk of recurrence. If you suspect that you have BV, it’s important to see a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes to Prevent BV
Making certain diet and lifestyle changes can help prevent BV and reduce the risk of recurrence. Here are some tips:
Practice good hygiene: Keeping the genital area clean and dry is important for preventing BV. Avoid using harsh soaps, perfumes, or douches in the genital area, as they can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria.
Wear breathable underwear: Opt for underwear made from cotton or other breathable materials, as this can help prevent moisture buildup in the vaginal area.
Practice safe sex: Using condoms during sex can reduce the risk of BV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections.
Avoid feminine hygiene products: Products like sprays, powders, and deodorants can irritate the vagina and disrupt the natural balance of bacteria, increasing the risk of BV.
Eat a healthy diet: Eating a balanced diet that’s rich in nutrients can help support your immune system and promote healthy vaginal bacteria. Focus on foods like leafy greens, whole grains, lean protein, and probiotic-rich foods like yogurt.
By making these simple changes, you can help prevent BV and promote a healthy vaginal environment. If you’re experiencing symptoms of BV, it’s important to see a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Natural Remedies for Treating BV
While there are prescription medications available for treating BV, there are also several natural remedies that may help alleviate symptoms and promote healing. Here are some natural remedies to try:
Tea tree oil: This essential oil has antibacterial properties that may help fight the bacteria responsible for BV. Dilute a few drops of tea tree oil in a carrier oil (like coconut oil) and apply it to the vaginal area.
Apple cider vinegar: Adding a cup of apple cider vinegar to a warm bath may help reduce inflammation and balance the pH of the vagina. Do not apply undiluted apple cider vinegar directly to the vagina.
Garlic: Eating raw garlic or taking garlic supplements may help reduce inflammation and fight bacteria. You can also insert a garlic clove into the vagina for a few hours to help alleviate symptoms.
Hydrogen peroxide: Using a hydrogen peroxide solution as a douche may help balance the vaginal pH and reduce the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Mix 1 part hydrogen peroxide with 3 parts water and use as a douche.
Probiotics: Taking probiotic supplements or eating probiotic-rich foods (like yogurt) may help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina.
While natural remedies may be effective for some women, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before trying any new treatments. Some natural remedies may be contraindicated with certain medical conditions or medications.
The Role of Probiotics in BV Treatment
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial to your health, especially your digestive system. In recent years, research has shown that taking probiotics may also be helpful in preventing and treating BV.
Probiotics work by replenishing the “good” bacteria (lactobacilli) in the vagina, which helps restore the natural balance of bacteria and prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. There are many different strains of lactobacilli, but Lactobacillus crispatus, Lactobacillus jensenii, and Lactobacillus iners are the most commonly found in the vagina.
Probiotics can be taken in several forms, including:
- Probiotic supplements: These are available in pill or capsule form and can be taken orally.
- Yogurt: Certain types of yogurt, like those that contain live and active cultures, can be a good source of probiotics.
- Probiotic suppositories: These are inserted directly into the vagina and can help replenish the “good” bacteria.
When choosing a probiotic supplement or yogurt, it’s important to look for products that contain strains of lactobacilli that are specific to the vagina. It’s also important to choose a product that contains a sufficient number of live bacteria (CFUs) in order to be effective.
While probiotics may be helpful in preventing and treating BV, it’s important to note that not all probiotics are created equal. Consult with a healthcare provider to determine the best type and dosage of probiotics for your individual needs.
When to See a Doctor for BV
While there are natural remedies and lifestyle changes that can help prevent and treat BV, it’s important to see a healthcare provider if you suspect you have BV. Symptoms of BV include:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge: Discharge may be thin, gray, or white and have a strong odor.
- Itching or irritation: The vaginal area may feel itchy or irritated.
- Burning during urination: You may experience a burning sensation when urinating.
- Pain during sex: BV can cause pain or discomfort during sex.
If left untreated, BV can lead to more serious health complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause infertility.
A healthcare provider can diagnose BV through a pelvic exam and vaginal culture. If you’re diagnosed with BV, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics to help eliminate the infection. It’s important to take all medication as directed, even if your symptoms improve.
If you experience recurrent BV infections (more than three in a year), your healthcare provider may recommend additional testing and treatment to identify and address any underlying causes.