The vagina is a fertile environment for bacteria, and when there’s a balance between these good and so-called bad microorganisms, harmony can exist. However, when the natural balance is disrupted, one of the possible consequences is a condition called bacterial vaginosis. Although women of any age can develop this condition, one group of women who can be especially susceptible are those in their postmenopausal years.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is a type of inflammation of the vagina that is caused by the overgrowth of bacteria. Although experts don’t completely understand what causes this imbalance of bacteria to occur, it appears that levels of lactobacillus, the bacteria that keep your vagina slightly acidic so harmful bacteria can’t thrive, decline. This allows bad bacteria to become more prevalent, resulting in bacterial vaginosis.
Not every woman who develops bacterial vaginosis experiences symptoms. However, when they do occur, they can include vaginal itching, a fishy vaginal odor, vaginal discharge (green, grey, white), and burning when peeing. Sound familiar? Many of us have been there. In fact, these symptoms are similar to those of several other vaginal infections, but your doctor can help make the proper diagnosis.
Some of the recognized risk factors for bacterial vaginosis are:
- Having multiple sexual partners or starting relations with a new sexual partner
- Douching, which upsets the natural balance of bacteria in your vagina
- A natural lack of lactobacilli bacteria, which occurs in some women
- Use of fragranced or scented tampons or soaps
If any of these risk factors are true for you, be sure to mention them to your doctor if you schedule a visit.
Why does bacterial vaginosis occur during postmenopause?
The microbiome—the collection of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa that live inside and on your body, including your vagina—is constantly changing. During postmenopause, women have extremely low estrogen levels, accompanied by reduced levels of lactobacilli in their vagina. Therefore, “their intravaginal microflora can be colonized by harmful microorganisms that can cause BV ” as noted in a study appearing in Journal of Menopausal Medicine. Don’t panic, however; not every postmenopausal woman gets bacterial vaginosis, and some who do have mild to no symptoms. This condition may also occur during perimenopause and menopause.
What causes dry mouth during menopause?
Estrogen helps regulate fluid levels in the body, and that includes saliva. Researchers have noted that “because the oral mucosa contains estrogen receptors, variations in hormone levels direct affect the oral cavity.” Changes in hormone levels can result in women experiencing more oral health conditions during menopause and postmenopause. Among those conditions are dry mouth and dry tongue. When the hormone levels decline, does do the amount and quality of saliva the salivary glands produce. The mucus membranes in the mouth and nose also become thinner and drier.
How can I treat bacterial vaginosis naturally?
Goodies from your kitchen as well as some lifestyle changes are on the treatment roster for bacterial vaginosis. Here are a few of them.
- Yogurt and other probiotic foods. The probiotics in yogurt (always check the labels for live cultures) and other fermented foods such as kefir and sauerkraut may help restock some of the healthy bacteria in your body. Enjoy at least one serving daily.
- Probiotic supplements. You also can take probiotic supplements. A new meta-analysis found that taking probiotic supplements may have a “positive effect” on treating bacterial vaginosis. The dose can vary, but at least 30 CFUs daily is suggested. Probiotics also can be used vaginally as well as orally.
- Hydrogen peroxide. Once bacterial vaginosis has set in, you might try irrigating your vagina with one ounce of hydrogen peroxide daily for one week. According to the results of an Italian study, the hydrogen peroxide also helped restore healthy flora to the vagina.
- Garlic. If you love garlic on your pizza or veggies, then you may love how this potent antibacterial can help eliminate bacterial vaginosis. Taking garlic supplements or including lots of garlic in your diet may help fight this condition.
- Tea tree oil. Essential oils have some amazing qualities, and tea tree oil is no exception. The powerful antifungal and antibacterial abilities of this plant essence can be helpful in treating bacterial vaginosis, as reported by a study in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. To use tea tree oil, you can mix several drops of the oil with twice the amount of carrier oil, such as coconut or avocado. Soak a tampon in the oil mixture and keep it in for about an hour. Before inserting the soaked tampon, test your skin’s reaction to tea tree oil on the back of your arm. Wait 24 hours before you use the tampon method to ensure you aren’t allergic to tea tree oil.
- Good personal and sexual hygiene. These are really more preventive measures than treatment, but they can help with the management of bacterial vaginosis as well. Because the vaginal and anal regions are very close, the risk of contamination is great. Therefore, always wipe from front to back after you use the bathroom, as contamination from stool is a risk factor for bacterial vaginosis.
You also can reduce your risk by using a condom when you have new or multiple sexual partners. If you are still menstruating and using tampons or pads, change them several times a day. Two more tips: thoroughly clean any sex toys with hot water and soap after use, and don’t douche. The latter practice contributes to an imbalance of microorganisms in the vagina and can result in bacterial vaginosis.
when to see a health provider
If you notice a vaginal discharge and you also have a fever, you should talk with your healthcare provider. You also should contact your doctor if you’ve had vaginal infections in the past but this time your vaginal discharge is different. If you have tried treating your symptoms using home treatments without success, a visit you’re your gynecologist is in order. The symptoms of some sexually transmitted diseases are similar to those of bacterial vaginosis and you should have an examination for that possibility. If you are still menstruating, arrange for an appointment when you are not bleeding because your doctor can get a better vaginal discharge sample that way.
Bacterial vaginosis may be part of your menopausal or postmenopausal experience. If it does develop, there are numerous natural treatment options at your disposal. In many cases, the condition can be resolved without medical intervention if you diligently follow the lifestyle suggestions.