- Ensuring your vaginal pH balance remains optimal can prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that cause vaginal infections.
- Many things can disrupt the acidic environment of the vagina, including sexual activity, hormonal imbalances, infections, and lifestyle practices like your dietary or hygienic choices.
- While there’s no foolproof method to entirely avoid infection, being intentional about your vaginal health can help you prevent most common causes of vaginal infections.
You may have heard of pH balance before, especially when it comes to swimming pools or acidic foods like tomatoes or coffee. But did you know your body naturally maintains a delicate pH balance, and ensuring your vaginal pH balance remains optimal can prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that cause vaginal infections? That’s right—the right vaginal pH level is an important component of a healthy vagina!
There are many things that can throw off your vaginal pH level and increase your risk of developing a medical condition down there. Here’s everything you need to know about the best pH level for your vagina and how to keep your vaginal pH at a healthy level.
What Is pH?
The word ‘pH’ is actually an abbreviation for potential of hydrogen. pH is the measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a particular substance on a range from 0 to 14. For instance, lemons, which are acidic, have a pH level of 2, while baking soda has a more alkaline, or basic, pH of around 9. Neutral items, like water, have a pH of 7.
The pH of the body is the acidity or alkalinity of the fluids and tissues of the human body. Each area of the body has its own unique pH for optimal functioning. For instance, the pH of saliva is slightly acidic (between 6.4 to 6.8) whereas the pH of the gastric environment is around 2. This more acidic pH in the stomach is essential for ensuring the digestive system can easily break down the food we ingest. Overall, the ideal pH of the body is a slightly alkaline environment with a pH around 7.4.
Why Does Vaginal pH Matter?
Like other body systems, the optimal vaginal pH balance is between 3.8 and 4.5. This acidic pH occurs because the vagina contains hydronium ions, which protect the organ from multiple pathogenic organisms. Additionally, the presence of healthy bacteria like lactobacilli fills the vagina with lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, which contribute to its acidic pH. (1)
For women, the pH of the vagina directly affects the reproductive health of women. The acidic pH of the vagina is one way the body defends itself against bad bacteria that can cause problems like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
What do microorganisms have to do with creating the perfect environment in the vagina? The pH level at which good and unhealthy bacteria can grow is different for every microorganism. For instance, fungi such as yeast, which cause yeast infections, grow best in an environment with an acidity level of 2. Lactobacillus species, however, the good bacteria that keep many vaginal infections in check, grows better at a pH between 5 and 7. (2) Some other common microorganisms that may cause vaginal infections include:
- Candida albicans can cause vaginal yeast infections and grows best at a pH of 5.4.
- N. gonorrhoeae which can cause gonorrhea, grows best at a pH of 7.5.
- B. proteus, which can cause urinary tract infections, grows best at a pH of 7.4.
- Streptococci, which can cause strep infections of the vagina, grows best at a pH of 7.4.
Maintaining a vaginal environment that is not an alkaline environment but has the right acidity level can help prevent these common infections.
What Impacts Vaginal pH?
Many things can disrupt the acidic environment of the vagina, including sexual activity, hormonal imbalances, infections, and lifestyle practices like your dietary or hygienic choices. Medications such as contraceptives or antihistamines may impact your body’s hormones, which can change the pH of the vagina. Additionally, chemicals in products such as condoms, detergents, scented tampons, or certain feminine hygiene products can alter the vaginal pH.
Natural Fluctuations During the Menstrual Cycle
Your vaginal pH naturally rises during menstruation because menstrual blood has a pH of 7.4. The vagina’s pH also rises to be more alkaline during ovulation, because the naturally acidic environment of the vagina can be harmful for sperm. These changes are naturally induced by the body to increase fertility and are not inherently harmful.
Our daily practices, including hygiene and sexual habits, have a significant impact on our vaginal pH. Regular washing of the vagina with warm water is essential for keeping the vagina clean and free from bacteria. However, use of some feminine hygiene products like douches or harsh soaps can wipe out good beneficial bacteria and make the acidic vagina more alkaline. Washing the vagina with water or gentle cleansers containing only natural ingredients can help prevent a vaginal pH imbalance.
Sexual activity with a male partner also plays a role in the vagina’s pH because semen has a slightly alkaline pH between 7.1 and 8. (3) Using condoms during sex can help prevent your sex life from increasing your risk of fungal or bacterial infections as well as sexually transmitted infections.
A healthy diet can also help prevent a vaginal pH imbalance. Foods rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, kimchi, or pickles can help you maintain your vagina’s stores of friendly bacteria and by extension your vaginal pH. If you find it difficult to fit probiotic-rich foods into your diet, adding probiotics for vaginal health into your diet in supplement form can help.
Adding apple cider vinegar to your diet may also prevent a pH imbalance, as will remaining adequately hydrated. Dehydration can cause acidity of the vagina.
The pH of the vagina naturally shifts over time depending on where you are in the life cycle. These changes are normal and should not negatively impact your vaginal health. For example:
- Newborns have a normal vaginal pH of 5.7.
- Children before puberty have a pH of 6 to 8.
- At puberty, the vaginal pH becomes 4.
- During pregnancy the pH of the vagina tends to be about 4.
- Upon reaching menopause, the pH of the vagina becomes 7.
- The mean pH range of women during the childbearing years is 5.5.
How To Check Your Vaginal pH
Now that you know the importance of maintaining your vaginal pH, how can you tell if it’s imbalanced? One way is to pay attention to your vaginal discharge. In a healthy individual, discharge color ranges from clear to light yellow and is thin or slightly stretchy. Other colors of vaginal discharge, from green discharge to gray discharge and everything in between, may signify an infection or other health condition impacting your vaginal pH. You should also pay attention to your discharge odor and consistency. Unusual discharge that an unpleasant odor often described as a fishy smell may indicate a bacterial vaginosis infection, while discharge with a cottage cheese consistency is a common symptom of a urinary tract infection.
If you believe you may have a vaginal pH imbalance, you may want to contact a medical professional for a formal test. There are two methods for testing vaginal pH:
- A pH indicator paper (phenaphthazine) can be placed on the vaginal wall.
- An endocervical swab can be done for gonorrhea or/and a urine sample can be tested for chlamydia to ensure a sexually transmitted infection isn’t impacting your vaginal pH.
8 Ways To Maintain Your Vaginal pH
Maintaining your vaginal pH at the right acidity might seem complicated, but it all comes down to some healthy lifestyle practices. While there’s no foolproof method to entirely avoid infection, being intentional about your vaginal health can help you prevent most common causes of vaginal infections. Stick to these 8 tips to maintain your vaginal pH and reduce your chance of severe infections.
- Take an oral probiotic for women containing lactobacilli. Lactobacilli are good bacteria that secrete lactic acid, which maintains the acidic pH of the vaginal environment.
- Avoid using any products containing chemicals in or around your vagina, including bubble baths, bath salts, condoms, scented toilet paper rolls, or scented tampons.
- Practice safe sex, including using protection and limiting your number of sexual partners.
- Change your underwear frequently, and wear dry, breathable cotton underwear to reduce bacterial growth.
- Reduce the amount of sugar in your diet. (4) Sugar and your vaginal health are intricately related; a high sugar diet can create a favorable growth environment for some anaerobic vaginal bacteria as well as cause hormonal imbalance.
- Visit a gynecologist annually for regular checkups and if you suspect a vaginal issue.
- Drink at least 8 cups of water each day.
- Try to keep your stress levels low. (5) Chronic stress releases specific hormones in your body which can impact your vaginal pH. Stress-reducing activities like yoga, mindfulness exercises, or deep breathing can also help maintain your vaginal pH.
Restore Your Vaginal Health With Evidence-Based Products from Happy V
Don’t let something as simple as a vaginal pH imbalance get between you and having a happy v. Happy V’s probiotic supplements help maintain your body’s stores of good lactobacillus bacteria, which can prevent infection and restore a healthy vaginal pH. If bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, or urinary tract infections are plaguing you, we offer a suite of products to help you manage these infections naturally.