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Thrush, Bacterial Vaginosis, Vulvar Pain: Get To Know Your Vaginal Ecosystem

Mar 01, 2023

Thrush, bacterial vaginosis, vulvar pain, smelly discharge…You might not think that vaginal issues aren’t a sign of body burnout — but guess what? They absolutely are!

Experiencing chronic infections is a major sign of burnout, as your immune system gets suppressed when you are experiencing stress, overwhelm and struggle to stop and recharge. Chronic infections means that at some point your immune system has physiologically given up, and highly likely needs some therapeutic TLC.

I’ll talk more about the immune system another time, but today I wanted to focus on the vaginal ecosystem.


The Vaginal Ecosystem

The gut microbiome is all the hype these days (and rightly so!). But did you know that the vagina also has an amazing ecosystem of microbes? These are mostly made up of lactobacillus bacteria species and yeast microbes.

In perfect balance, the vaginal ecosystem will carry on happily. But, like the gut, opportunistic bacteria and yeast can easily overgrow. And the more dysbiotic the ecosystem, the more susceptible you can become to picking up sexually transmitted infections.

Common pathogenic microbes include:

  • Enterococcus faecalis
  • Escherichia coli
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • Proteus mirabilis
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Streptococcus agalactiae
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Gardnerella vaginalis
  • Atopobium vaginae
  • Prevotella species
  • Megasphaera species
  • Ureaplasma species
  • Mycoplasma species
  • Candida species
  • Trichomonas vaginalis
  • Chlamydia trachomatis
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • Herpes Simplex Virus-1
  • Herpes Simplex Virus-2

Eek — a lot, right?!


Common Symptoms Linked To Vaginal Dysbiosis

Common symptoms that arise when your vaginal ecosystem is unhealthy include:

  • Itchiness
  • Funky discharge (cottage cheese discharge, or yellow/brown/green slimy discharge)
  • Smelliness
  • Broken, irritated skin
  • Pain, discomfort, especially during sex
  • Chronic UTI’s

Because these opportunistic microbes also spit out inflammatory metabolites, they can also cause systemic inflammation. Plus, just like there is “leaky gut”, there is also “leaky vagina”, where the vaginal wall starts to separate which can cause pathogenic microbes to leave the vagina and enter the bloodstream. Systemic symptoms linked to vaginal dysbiosis include:

  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Mood disorders/imbalances
  • Imbalanced sex hormones
  • Low sex-drive
  • Miscarriages and infertility


Causes of Vaginal Dysbiosis

Common causes of vaginal ecosystem disruption include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Stress
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Processed diet heavy in refined carbs and sugar
  • Diaphragm use
  • Increased frequency of sex
  • Spermicides
  • Vaginal douching/washing
  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Nervous system dysregulation
  • Deep-seated dysfunctional self-beliefs
  • Leaky gut
  • Gut dysbiosis
  • Detox issues / toxicity


The Biggest Mistake When It Comes To Self-Treating

Most women, when they experience weird discharge, smelliness or itchiness, immediately assume they have thrush (candida/yeast overgrowth). Not to blame you — it’s not a common topic of conversation that many women have. It’s still considered a bit taboo!

In this case, many women try to treat the infection with over-the-counter antifungals. But bacterial infections, often referred to as bacterial vaginosis (or BV, if you’re after ganster-style!) are also incredibly common. If you’re treating the infection using antifungals, when actually it is a bacterial infection, you can make the infection worse as antifungals create a more alkaline environment (your vagina should be very acidic), which can cause a further overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria that thrive in a more alkaline environment. If you have both infections, most women will find relief using antifungals, but the itchiness and discharge continues coming back, because the bacterial infection is never addressed. And let’s just say you also have an STI added to the mix, well the more dysbiotic your vaginal microbiome, the more the STI will flare up.


How To Test Your Vaginal Microbiome

If a patient is experiencing a once-off acute vaginal infection, I would usually suggest doing a quick vaginal pH swab test. These can be easily picked up from the chemist or online, usually for around $15. We also stock them in our clinic. As I mentioned earlier, the vagina should be very acidic. If the swab remains yellow, it is more likely that you have a candida issue, because candida can live in an acidic environment. But if the swab changes to a blue or green colour, triggered by a high pH (alkaline) reading, then it is more likely you have a pathogenic bacterial infection.

If, however, you have chronic vaginal issues, I would run a comprehensive Vaginal Microbiome Profile swab test, which detects not just pH levels, but also identifies specific pathogenic bacteria and yeast microbes, and STI’s. Unlike a general vaginal swab that you might do with your GP, the functional vaginal swab test also looks at the health of the vaginal beneficial bacteria, which is absolutely critical for a happy, thriving vagina.

For your curiosity, here’s a pic of a test we use in clinic to comprehensively assess the vaginal ecosystem:

Ready to get on top of your chronic infections and treat your WHOLE self for long-term resolution? Book in here to start your journey :)


Filipa Bellette is Co-Founder of Chris & Filly Functional Medicine. She is an accredited Clinical Nutritionist & Functional Medicine Practitioner. She is also a Ph.D. thought-leader, award-winning writer, and regularly published as a guest blogger & in the media. Together with her husband Chris Bellette, Filipa has worked with over 2,000+ busy, burnout clients in the last 10+ years, and specialises in producing healthy, balanced, and happy Mums & Dads…or as she calls it, a Power Parent! Filipa’s own passion for producing high-performance Power Parents came from her own personal experience of Mummy Burnout, after having babies and juggling the demands of business, family, and her failing health.

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