Unbalanced pH. Sounds like chemistry class, right? Add the word vaginal, and then it’s enough to make us squirm. Literally — because when you feel different down there, like with a new odor or more-than-usual discharge, it could be a sign that your vaginal pH is off.
A balanced vaginal pH needs to stay in the range of 3.8 to 4.5. The moment it strays out of balance for too long, bacteria has a chance to thrive and cause discomfort — or UTIs. This doesn’t mean everyone should start home testing their pH every day. (But if you do have symptoms of possible bacterial vaginosis, home testing may help you get diagnosed and treated more quickly.)
But don’t worry, ladies. Your vagina is pretty good at protecting and cleaning itself. Proper vaginal care, such as good hygiene, safe sex, and regular gynecological visits, all play a role in keeping your pH in check.
But the easiest ways to promote health below the belt? Food. Here are eight eats that work in favor of your vagina, walls and all.
We’ve all heard or heeded the popular advice: Drink cranberry juice to treat UTIs. But is there any evidence to that?
Fresh cranberries or 100 percent cranberry juice (not the sweetened stuff) are full of antioxidants and acidic compounds, which are powerful infection fighters that can help bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall. Studies show that cranberries can be especially beneficial in preventing UTIs in women with recurrent or recent UTI issues. Just make sure you stay away from the sugar-loaded cranberry juice varieties, which can actually make things worse down there.
Cranberries for vaginal health
- contain powerful acidic compounds to fight bacteria
- contain antioxidants, vitamin E, and vitamin C to boost your immunity
- Pro-tip: Opt for natural and sugar-free juice varieties or fresh cranberries. Not a fan of their tart taste? Mix into fresh fruit smoothies or try taking pure cranberry pills.
These potatoes have some sweet benefits, particularly for women trying to get pregnant. Rich in beta carotene and vitamin A, sweet potatoes help strengthen and protect uterine walls. Beta carotene and vitamin A have been studied to have direct effects on fertility and reproduction in both men and women, as well as healthy fetal development.
The nutrients found in sweet potatoes also help with the production of sex hormones and are often recommended for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Sweet potatoes for vaginal health
- contain high amounts of vitamin A, which is linked to fertility
- can help strengthen muscle tissues for healthy vaginal and uterine walls
- Pro-tip: Start your morning with one of these delicious and healthy sweet potato toast recipes for energy and an ample dose of vitamin A.
The live and active cultures in these foods provide our bodies with a boost of good bacteria, which is particularly helpful in preventing yeast infections. Even better, calcium (greatly present in yogurt) has been shown to help with PMS symptoms.
Probiotics for vaginal health
- can balance pH levels and introduce more “good” bacteria
- can help ward off infections and prevent yeast infections
- contain calcium (in yogurt), which can help ease PMS symptoms
- Pro-tip: Do fermented foods make you nervous? Get the 411 on their health benefits and even learn how to make them yourself.
Omega-3 fatty acids help with circulation and blood flow, which is good news for your sex drive. These essential fatty acids, as well as others found in sea buckthorn oil, like palmitoleic, linoleic, oleic, and palmitic, were shown in a 2014 study to help with vaginal dryness in postmenopausal women.
Plant fatty acids for vaginal health
- treat painful menstrual cramping more effectively than ibuprofen
- promote circulation and may relieve vaginal dryness
- Pro-tip: Find these essential fatty acids in oily fish (such as salmon), flax seed, eggs, walnuts, and more.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away… and keeps things more interesting in bed apparently! A study in 2014 suggested that women who ate an apple once a day had better sex lives. One phytoestrogen phloridzin found in apples is thought to promote better sexual function, arousal, lubrication, and ability to orgasm.
Apples for vaginal health
- contain the phytoestrogen phloridzin and antioxidants, which help stimulate vaginal blood flow
- promote better sexual function, lubrication, and ability to orgasm
Soy can be a bit of a controversial topic. But the phytoestrogens — compounds that mimic estrogen in the body — found in soy are good news for vaginal health, especially in people with reduced estrogen levels. There are many different reasons for decreased estrogen levels in the body, from medications to menopause, but one of the symptoms is vaginal dryness.
So here’s how soy helps: Minimally-processed soy products are hydrophilic (which allows your muscles to retain more water) and contain isoflavones (a plant-derived phytoestrogen) that have been studied to be beneficial for the skin in postmenopausal women.
Soy for vaginal health
- contains plant-derived phytoestrogen beneficial to women with decreased estrogen levels
- can help with vaginal dryness and benefit skin and blood vessel health in postmenopausal women
- Pro-tip: Opt for minimally-processed soy products such as edamame, tofu, tempeh, and miso.
Your favorite toast topper is also great for your sex life — who knew? Avocados are ample in healthy fats, vitamin B-6, and potassium — all of which have positive effects on your libido. This libido-boosting fruit (yes, it’s a fruit!) can enhance lubrication and estrogen levels, strengthen vaginal walls, and may even increase IVF success due to its unsaturated fats. Funny enough, the avocado tree was actually loosely named the “testicle tree” by the Aztecs.
What are leafy greens not good for?! Add vaginal health to their long list of health benefits. Dark leafy greens are blood-purifying and enhance circulation due to their many nutrients, including dietary nitrates. This can help prevent vaginal dryness and increase stimulation, which is never a bad thing.
These greens are also rich in vitamin E, magnesium, and calcium, all of which are beneficial to muscle health — including vaginal muscles.
As to what not to eat? The general rule of thumb is to skip foods with added sugars and trans fats, as well as any processed foods.
If you’re planning on having sex (especially oral), you may want to avoid eating asparagus, a common culprit for temporarily altering the scent of your pee.
With these eight bites for your bits, it’s easy to put your vagina (and yourself) as a priority. Better yet, try creating recipes that incorporate several of these foods! This healthy vegetarian lentil stew, for example, contains half of them: sweet potatoes, leafy greens, probiotic-rich Greek yogurt, and avocado.
Tiffany La Forge is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer who runs the blog Parsnips and Pastries. Her blog focuses on real food for a balanced life, seasonal recipes, and approachable health advice. When she’s not in the kitchen, Tiffany enjoys yoga, hiking, traveling, organic gardening, and hanging out with her corgi, Cocoa. Visit her at her blog or on Instagram.