istock/4kodiakFermented foods, like kimchi (a Korean dish made of fermented veggies), are bursting with healthy bacteria. Eating more of these, along with fermented fare such as sauerkraut, pickles, and miso, can help maintain a healthy population of gut flora in your body—which includes your vagina, says Katherine Thurer, MD, an integrative gynecologist at the Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern in Chicago. Here are more foods that enhance your gut bug health (and aren't yogurt).
istock/a_namenkoWhile the warm cup won't directly act on vaginal health, it's a smart swap to make rather than sipping wine with a meal or dessert after. "I get an uptake of complaints of yeast infections around the holidays when people are indulging in alcohol and sweets," says Dr. Thurer. These foods, which are high in natural sugars, feed yeast in the body. Of course, too much wine and sugar can be consumed any time of the year. If this is chronic a problem for you, think about ways you can cut down both, and check out these other proven techniques for preventing yeast infections.
istock/kajakikiFatty fish supply plentiful amounts of omega 3 fatty acids. "Essential fatty acids are found in the membranes of every cell in our body," says Staci Small, RD, owner of The Wellness Philosophy in Indianapolis. "They've been shown to help improve vaginal dryness in menopausal women," she says. Bone up on fatty fish like salmon two times a week—or try to include these other omega 3-rich foods that aren't fish, if you're not a fan. On other days, Small recommends taking a high-quality fish oil supplement.
istock/A-S-LRich in probiotics, yogurt can also help populate your gut (and vagina) with healthy microbes, says Dr. Thurer. However, because sugar feeds bad bacteria in your system, which can throw off the intricate balance in your body, choose plain yogurt and add fruit yourself, she advises.
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istock/_NataliaBulatovaHealthy monounsaturated fats like avocado, nuts, and olive oil play a key role in helping your body make sex hormones. If those hormones are askew (for example, if estrogen levels are too low), you may notice that your vagina feels drier than usual, which can make sex painful. Don't fear dietary fat—your vagina depends on it! Here's how to make sure your avocado is perfectly ripe when you're ready to eat it.
istock/SupersmarioSurprise! Strawberries offer more vitamin C than an orange. "I find women aren't often getting enough vitamin C," says Small. The vitamin is needed for your adrenal glands, which produce both sex hormones and the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, Small points out, C plays a pivotal role in collagen synthesis, which is essential for muscles and tissue elasticity. Of course you need that all over your body, including in your vagina.
istock/HadelProductionsOne egg delivers a good dose of vitamin D. And being deficient in D sets you up to be more at risk for a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV), perhaps because of the vitamin's role in the immune system of the vagina. In a 2015 study, popping D supplements for 15 weeks helped treat BV. The researchers conclude that it may even help prevent the infections in people who are already low in vitamin D. Talk to your doc about taking a supplement, but it's also smart to eat more foods that are D-plentiful, like whole eggs. Here's the perfect way to cook eggs.
istock/ROTTSTRACook it and then pile a bunch on your plate. A couple cups will deliver a generous dose of both calcium and magnesium. "These two minerals are needed for proper muscle tone and function, including the vagina. However, many women find it difficult to get the amount they need," she says. Other sources of calcium include dairy, of course, while you can find magnesium in beans and nuts. (Here's why magnesium is also a secret ingredient for fitness.)
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istock/juffyIf you're hooked on diet soda or juice, count this as another reason to switch it out for plain water. "Artificial sugar disrupts your gut flora," says Dr. Thurer. And remember, when your gut flora isn't healthy, your vagina isn't either. If plain H2O is too boring for you, look for unsweetened carbonated waters like LaCroix. Check out these other ways to jazz up plain water.
istock/lisaaMCBarley, whole wheat, farro, popcorn. They're all whole grains, which are rich in prebiotics. "Their healthy fiber feeds good bacteria in our bodies so it can flourish," says Small. In addition to whole grains, foods like fruits and veggies, including bananas and artichokes, for example, are other sources of prebiotics. Here are the things your vagina wishes you knew.