All women have a vaginal discharge which varies depending on the phase of her menstrual cycle. However, a normal vaginal discharge shouldn’t cause any irritation. Two of the most common types of organisms that can cause irritation in the vagina are yeasts and bacteria.
Lifestyle factors like stress and poor diet can throw your vaginal balance out of whack, so read the advice that follows and keep these key culprits in mind to prevent recurrence – particularly as the silly season approaches!
If you suffer from recurring vaginal irritation, it is also a smart idea to drop in and see your healthcare professional to make sure there isn’t something more serious going on down below.
Stress not only brings tension and unease, but it can release “stress hormones” called corticosteroids which are masters at suppressing certain cells in the immune system that help us fight against infection. The immune system is important for stopping bad micro-organisms taking hold in the vagina. Think of ways to help deal with stress, for example:
- Get enough sleep. Sleep can help you to feel calmer and can give you more energy to deal with daily stressors. Aim for a minimum of 7-8 hours each night.
- Exercise, yoga or outdoor activities, such as a walk at the beach or a swim, help you to feel calmer and can also clear the head.
- Minimise caffeine intake to help reduce anxiety and tension.
Eating a whole food diet, including five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day, can help to provide the building blocks of a healthy immune system. Aim for a variety of colours in your foods for maximum immune-fighting nutrients like antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin E and betacarotene. Whole grains and nuts will provide zinc, omega-3s and B vitamins.
One key to preventing unwanted yeast and bacteria in the vagina is to avoid processed carbohydrates and sugars, as these are low in nutrients and can fuel pathogenic micro-organisms as well as dampen down the immune system. Keep in mind that there are many hidden sugars in sauces, canned foods and cereals. For cases of persistent vaginal irritation, cutting out fruits with high amounts of sugars may also be beneficial. These include dried fruit, bananas, grapes and berries.
Fermented foods high in yeast should generally be avoided. However, not all fermented foods are bad for vaginal infections; for example, yogurt is considered rich in probiotics (“good” bacteria) which may help to colonise the bowel and vagina and may also help to prevent infection.
You may think that alcohol is your best friend, especially in the party season, but it contains many hidden carbohydrates and yeast – not to mention empty calories. Alcohol can disrupt the bacteria in the bowel and vagina, and in particular, beer and wine should be avoided as these use a fermentation process that includes yeast.