Let’s Have an Open and Honest Discussion About DouchingWomen’s health
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Let’s put all the embarrassment aside and just have an open and honest discussion about a perhaps uncomfortable topic: vaginal douching.
“Douching is washing or cleaning out the inside of the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids. Most douches are sold in stores as prepackaged mixes of water and vinegar, baking soda, or iodine. The mixtures usually come in a bottle or bag. You squirt the douche upward through a tube or nozzle into your vagina. The water mixture then comes back out through your vagina,” reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office on Women's Health (OWH).
To put it quite bluntly, this concept of “cleaning” the inside of the vagina is absurd. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ that contains beneficial bacteria that protects it from harmful bacteria. And douching may disrupt the vagina’s balance of good bacteria and cause infections. But despite this, reportedly almost one in five women 15 to 44 years of age douche. Many women may douche, because they were taught to believe that you’re not supposed to “smell down there.”
There are no proven benefits of douching. On top of potentially causing bacterial or yeast infections, douching can be very harmful if you already have an infection. Douching can push bacteria up into the reproductive organs and can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to fertility problems.
Furthermore, douching has been associated with premature births and ectopic pregnancies (when the egg implants outside the uterus).
“Research has also found that it can double the risk for ovarian cancer in women who had a sister with breast cancer. For all these reasons, doctors have been recommending that women not douche.”
The vagina cleans itself, however, it is up to every woman to be proactive about maintaining vaginal health through good hygiene and by leading a healthy lifestyle.
And in order to maintain vaginal health you have to maintain the right vaginal pH.
The pH of a healthy vagina is 3.8 - 4.2, which means that the vagina is supposed to be acidic. (The pH scale usually ranges from 0-14, and anything below 7 is acidic. A pH of 7 is considered neutral, anything above 7 is alkaline).
“The usual acidic environment helps retard the growth of pathogenic microbes. When the vaginal pH increases to above 4.5 it is considered alkaline and may be caused by bacterial overgrowth,” (drugs.com).
And again, just like with our gut microbiomes, a woman has to be proactive and maintain a healthy vaginal flora.
“A healthy vagina is rich with small, beneficial bacteria called lactobacilli. These bacteria help prevent other organisms from infecting the vagina and assist in maintaining the vagina’s normal, mildly-acidic, environment,” according to Cornell Health.
“When the balance is maintained, the vagina will usually have a mild,slightly pungent or earthy odor (not unpleasant),and there will be occasional small amounts of clear-to-white discharge that may look yellow when it dries on underpants.”
So how can women be proactive?
"Generally, good vaginal health is maintained by making sure you're in good general health," said one doctor. “This includes a healthy diet and exercise.”
Regarding exercise, “Normal exercise helps maintain good vaginal function, as walking and running helps the pelvic floor to tone up and ensure good general health."
And many women may not realize that what you eat may greatly impact whether you have healthy vaginal function or not.
Include probiotics in your diet.
Just like probiotics are good for your gut, they are also good for balancing a woman’s vaginal pH. So ladies, eat probiotic-rich foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt (avoid yogurt high in sugar), kefir and tempeh. And don’t forget prebiotics! You may want to consider talking to a competent healthcare professional about taking a good quality probiotic supplement.
As a general rule of thumb, you want to maintain an overall healthy diet with plenty of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean proteins and healthy fats. Specifically, cranberries may help prevent and reduce urinary tract infections. Most plant-based foods contain powerful antioxidants that help fight off harmful bacteria and infections.
Vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant, boosts the immune system and may help ward off vaginal infections. One study suggested that women who used a vaginal vitamin C tablet were able to better manage bacterial vaginosis (when there is too much of a certain bacteria in the vagina). Consuming citrus fruits, bell peppers, pineapple, strawberries and spinach is a great way to get vitamin C in your daily diet.
Maintaining overall good health will help ensure healthy vaginal function (which includes self-cleaning). For example, the Cleveland Clinic reports that having poorly controlled diabetes increases a woman’s chance of suffering from yeast infections and urinary tract infections. So you want to avoid chronic health conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Stay away from processed foods, which are full of unnecessary added sugars. Eating too much sugar may cause an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina (which could lead to a yeast infection).
It is also extremely important to drink plenty of water.
“Hydration is key for overall health, but also for proper functioning of the vagina which has its own self-cleaning system,” says one doctor..
“Adequate water intake will increase lubrication, allow secretions to be released and proper PH balance of vaginal tissues.”
If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. Alcohol, like sugar, also may cause an overgrowth of yeast.
Maintain nutritional balance.
If you are going to be your healthiest self, you need to be nutritionally balanced (as in not having too much or too little of a certain vitamin or mineral). Taking routine, comprehensive nutrient tests will help to determine if you have any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances. If you do, a competent healthcare professional can work with you on making the necessary dietary changes and, if necessary, recommend quality supplements.
Practice good hygiene.
Commercials that promote douching products claim that you will be left feeling “clean” and “fresh.” But douching should not fall under good feminine hygiene practices.
Simply cleaning with warm water and scent-free soap is sufficient (some doctors say you don’t even need soap, every woman is different). And you never need to clean on the inside (as douching does).
Finally, never wear clothing that is too tight and restricts air to the vagina or lounge around in a wet swimsuit (as this could lead to a yeast infection).
Well, I’m glad we got that cleared up!
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.