The pH balance of the vagina is a crucial part of its self-preserving mechanism. If it becomes too alkaline, invading microorganisms can colonize the space and cause serious distress. If it becomes too acidic, reproductive health may suffer. It is therefore important to be aware of what is a “normal” pH level and what are some natural remedies to restore vaginal pH balance if it goes off.
In This Article
What’s A Normal Vaginal pH?
The vagina’s inner environment is acidic with a normal pH of less than 4.5. The pH scale is designed to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. With 7 being neutral on the scale, a measure above 7 indicates alkaline, and below 7 means acidic. It is normal for your vaginal pH to change throughout your lifetime. If you are in your reproductive years, your vaginal pH should ideally range between 3.8 and 4.5. Before you have your first menstruation cycle or after you’ve had your menopause, it is normal to have a vaginal pH slightly higher than 4.5 (1), (2).
Lactobacilli are the friendly bacteria that inhabit your vagina and keep it acidic by secreting lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide. The acidic environment of your vagina is absolutely crucial for its defense against harmful bacterial or fungal growth (3).
However, for various reasons, the natural pH balance of the vagina may change and start becoming more alkaline. It is important for you to be aware of such a change as an alkaline environment may leave your vagina vulnerable to infections.
So, how do you know if your pH balance is off?
How Can I Test My Vaginal pH?
There are different home testing kits in the market that can help you measure the pH balance of your vagina (4). Most of them involve the use of a strip of paper that changes color on being held against the vaginal wall for a specified time. You have to remove the paper and compare the color on it with the chart that comes with the kit. Each shade has a corresponding value, which can help you determine the pH level of your vagina.
It is important that you read the information that the test kit comes with. That will guide you regarding the specific time you need to hold the strip against your vaginal wall and the appropriate conditions in which you need to take the test.
A test kit is an easy tool that you can use to check the pH levels. Besides that, your body may also give certain indications when your vaginal pH levels are out of balance. Let’s see what some of them are.
Vaginal pH Imbalance Symptoms
- Discharge Color And Texture May Change
Healthy vaginal discharge is usually a clear or whitish gel-like fluid. A pH imbalance can cause your discharge to change color and appear yellow, gray, or milky white over time. It may also change its texture to appear curdled, like cottage cheese.
- Discharge Odor May Change
Healthy vaginal discharge is typically odorless or has a very faint smell. An imbalance in the pH level can cause a strong, foul-smelling discharge.
- Itchiness And Discomfort
The opening of the vagina may be itchy and you may experience discomfort or a burning sensation while peeing or during intercourse.
These symptoms are often caused due to a bacterial or yeast infection that could have developed in the vagina in the absence of an acidic environment (5). Read on for a better understanding.
What Happens When Your Vaginal pH Balance Is Off?
- Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis is a condition in which there is bacterial overgrowth in the vagina. It is characterized by a fishy or foul-smelling vaginal discharge that could be gray, yellow, or white in color. It might also cause discomfort, itchiness, or a burning sensation in the vagina (6).
Trichomoniasis or trich is a very prevalent sexually transmitted infection that is caused by trichomonas vaginalis, a parasite. A yellowish-green discharge that appears frothy, severe itching, painful urination, and small red dots on the cervix are common symptoms associated with trich. This infection raises the risk of cervical cancer and pregnancy complications (7).
- Increased Risk Of Serious Infections
Conditions like bacterial vaginosis and trich may also increase the risk of contracting other more serious diseases and infections including HIV, HPV (human papillomavirus), and herpes simplex virus (6).
- Yeast Infection
The candida fungus is the leading cause of vaginal yeast infections. While candida exists in your vagina, their overgrowth may lead to an infection and cause itchiness and discomfort along with vaginal discharge, and pain during intercourse or urination. Research shows that Candida infection may increase the risk of HIV (8), (9).
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Infections in the urinary tract, commonly referred to as UTIs can take hold when the vaginal pH levels are imbalanced. Women in menopause are at greater risk of UTIs as their pH levels tend to be on the higher side of 4.5 (10).
- Reduced Fertility
The weakly acidic environment of the vagina protects the mobilization of sperms by thwarting off the colonization of harmful pathogens. Different bacteria tend to stick to sperms and reduce their chances of reaching the egg. The presence of pathogens in the vagina also increases the risk of inflammation and infection, both of which affect fertility (11).
As you can understand, an imbalance in the pH of your vagina can clear the pathway for various unwanted situations. Luckily, there are various ways to restore the pH balance naturally.
Natural Remedies To Restore Your Vaginal pH
- Increase Probiotic Intake
Probiotics, as the name suggests, support the growth and multiplication of friendly bacteria, especially lactobacilli, and help to restore the pH balance of your vagina. You can either take probiotic supplements or include foods that contain probiotics like yogurt, kombucha, and miso (12).
- Stop Douching And Use Only Mild And Suitable Intimate Products
Douching refers to the practice of washing the vagina (or any other body cavity) with an upward stream of water or a mix of water and vinegar/baking soda/antiseptics/ iodine. It is a common practice among women and can have negative consequences on the vaginal pH balance as well as reproductive health. Research has found evidence to discourage this practice (13). Only use warm water to gently clean the outer area of the vagina, or only those intimate wash products that are specially designed to keep your vaginal pH balance intact (14).
- Ensure Airflow To Your Vagina And Vulva
A lack of airflow can raise humidity levels down there and create the perfect environment for bad bacteria and yeast to grow. Wear light and comfortable underwear and try to sleep without them so that you can aerate your parts (15).
- Use Condoms Or Other Barriers During Intercourse
Semen can neutralize the acidic environment of your vagina. If you are not planning to conceive, use a condom or another barrier while engaging in intercourse (16).
- Use Antibiotics Wisely
Antibiotics work against bacteria, whether good or bad. This function makes it responsible for altering the vaginal flora, or the balance of microorganisms that helps maintain the vaginal pH balance (17). Avoid using them too frequently if possible, or combine antibiotics with probiotics.
- Change Tampons Frequently During Menstruation
The pH of blood is slightly alkaline. Avoid keeping on your tampons or sanitary pads for too long as the standing blood may increase the pH of your vagina. Even those tampons that claim to be pH balanced do not significantly control the vaginal pH, according to a study (18), (19).
Besides these simple practices, you can make certain additions to your diet for boosting your vaginal health.
What Can I Drink To Help My pH Balance?
Probiotics have been shown to have a positive correlation with the health of the vaginal microbiome that is responsible for its pH balance. Antioxidants too can play an important role in vaginal microbiome health. Though more research is needed to understand the efficacy of oral probiotics and antioxidants, some of these probiotic or antioxidant-rich drinks may help you restore the vaginal pH balance (20), (21):
- soy milk
- cranberry juice
- pickle juice
- lemon-infused water
In certain situations, diet changes or natural remedies to restore pH balance may be insufficient and it is important to know when you should consult a doctor.
When To See A Doctor
Generally, the vagina can restore its health on its own, with a little support from natural remedies to restore vaginal pH balance. However, you need to seek medical help in case any of the following symptoms does not improve or get worse:
- green, yellow, milky white, or cheese-like discharge
- burning sensation
- foul odor
The vagina is good at cleansing itself from within and maintaining its internal environment. However, there are several factors that may throw its natural pH balance off. The ideal pH level of a healthy vagina, between the first menstruation cycle and menopause, varies anywhere between 3.8 and 4.5. You can incorporate certain natural remedies in your daily practices to help restore your vaginal pH balance. This could include taking probiotics, avoiding soaps or cleansing products on the vagina, and wearing breathable fabric. A pH imbalance could potentially make you vulnerable to STDs and UTIs. If you are worried that your vaginal pH is too alkaline, or that you may have an infection, you should consult your gynecologist at the earliest.
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- Vaginal pH measured in vivo: lactobacilli determine pH and lactic acid concentration
- Acid production by vaginal flora in vitro is consistent with the rate and extent of vaginal acidification
- The role of lactic acid production by probiotic Lactobacillus species in vaginal health
- Clinical Evaluation of a Self-Testing Kit for Vaginal Infection Diagnosis
- Vaginal Microbiota and the Use of Probiotics
- Evaluation of vaginal pH for detection of bacterial vaginosis
- A Study of Trichomonas vaginalis Infection and Correlates in Women with Vaginal Discharge Referred at Fann Teaching Hospital in Senegal
- Warding Off Recurrent Yeast and Bacterial Vaginal Infections: Lactoferrin and Lactobacilli
- Candida Infection as a Risk Factor for HIV Transmission
- The Vaginal Microbiota and Urinary Tract Infection
- Role of Lactobacillus in Female Infertility Via Modulating Sperm Agglutination and Immobilization
- Utilization of the intestinal tract as a delivery system for urogenital probiotics
- An updated review of evidence to discourage douching
- Effects of feminine hygiene products on the vaginal mucosal biome
- Role of female intimate hygiene in vulvovaginal health: Global hygiene practices and product usage
- Vaginal pH neutralization by semen as a cofactor of HIV transmission
- Bacterial Vaginosis Biofilms: Challenges to Current Therapies and Emerging Solutions
- Influence of the Normal Menstrual Cycle on Vaginal Tissue Discharge and Microflora
- pH-balanced tampons: Do they effectively control vaginal pH?
- Probiotics and vaginal microecology: fact or fancy?
- Analysis of the Oxidative Stress Status in Nonspecific Vaginitis and Its Role in Vaginal Epithelial Cells Apoptosis