The pH balance of your vagina depends on many factors, including the foods you eat, stress levels, sexual practices, medications, and even the clothing you wear. If you are wondering what is pH balance and how it affects your vaginal and overall health, you aren’t alone.
What Is a Normal Vaginal pH Balance?
pH balance is an acronym for “power of hydrogen.” Simply put, pH is a measurement of the concentration of hydrogen ions in the body. The hydrogen levels are what determines if something is acidic or alkaline, or somewhere in between.
There is a pH scale that runs from 0 to 14, with alkalinity at the high end of the scale and acidity at the low end of the scale. For example, 0 is a totally acidic pH and a pH of 14 is totally alkaline, while a pH of 7 is neutral.
The pH scale causes confusion, especially when we are talking about balance. Just because we are striving for a balanced pH level, doesn’t mean we are aiming for neutral necessarily—it means we are aiming for the number that best represents health in a particular area.
For example, different parts of our body need different pH levels in order to operate optimally. Healthy blood pH levels are typically slightly alkaline with a pH of 7.35 to 7.45, while the pH level of your gut requires a more acidic environment with a pH of 3.5 or so. That acidic level helps you to break down and digest food properly.
A healthy vaginal pH of between 3.8 and 4.5 is considered within the normal range at the more acidic end of the pH scale. Acidic pH levels in the vagina allow the instrumental lactobacilli, a healthy bacteria, to fight bad bacteria and microorganisms. The bacteria that live in the vagina secrete lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, which gives the vagina its ideal pH level.
However, during menses, the pH of the vagina raises to 7.4 or above naturally due to the presence of blood. And menses isn’t the only thing that affects the pH balance—semen does too. After intercourse, when sperm is present, the vagina’s pH balance becomes more alkaline and adjusts to between 7.1 and 8.5. Both of these changes are temporary, and pH balance should return to between 3.8 and 4.5 within a short time.
One of the reasons that the pH balance of the vagina is so essential is fertility. If you struggle to get pregnant, use an at-home pH testing kit to determine if your vagina is too acidic, as sperm needs a more alkaline host to survive. Typically, Mother Nature takes care of increasing the pH balance to make the vagina more hospitable to sperm, but some women can experience infertility because of vaginal pH imbalance.
What Affects Vaginal pH Balance?
The vaginal ecosystem is a delicate balance of acidity and alkalinity where friendly bacteria are needed to protect against unhealthy bacteria and microorganisms. Many life-cycle changes affect vaginal pH levels, but there are also a number of external factors that affect vaginal health.
- Hormone fluctuations: When hormone levels, including estrogen, rise and fall, the pH balance in the vagina is affected. Estrogen changes occur during pregnancy and menopause, or when you are taking a hormonal birth control pill or using a hormonal IUD.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics kill not only harmful bacteria but also friendly bacteria in the flora of both your gut and vagina. If you have ever taken an antibiotic, you may have gotten a yeast infection due to the alkalinity of your vagina, for example. An alkaline environment allows fungi to thrive, which can lead to candida overgrowth. As a special note—genital yeast infections can be transmitted during sex. Use condoms whenever you have a yeast infection to prevent spreading it to your partner.
- Douching: It may sound like a good idea—washing out the vagina to keep it clean—but honestly, the vagina is designed to do its own house cleaning. When the pH level of the vagina is imbalanced, adding harsh ingredients like vinegar or baking soda can make conditions worse by getting rid of friendly bacteria. Regular douching does affect vaginal health and can make you more prone to urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and bacterial vaginosis.
- Sitting in a hot tub: Yes, even relaxing in a hot tub can cause a pH imbalance in your vagina. It isn’t just the temperature of the water; pH balance is disrupted by the harsh chemicals used to keep germs from proliferating in the hot tub. As these chemicals move into your vagina, they kill the bacteria there too—much like an antibiotic.
- Scented soaps and sprays: Market shelves are packed with feminine hygiene products. Sprays, soaps, gels, bubble bath, bath bombs—all can disturb the delicate vaginal ecosystem. Many of these products have a pH level of 8 or even 9, which is simply too far on the alkalinity scale to keep bacteria in check.
- Sexually transmitted infections: These are a double-edged sword in vaginal health and pH balance. First, when pH levels aren’t optimal, your vagina is more prone to infection. However, there are several STIs that can cause an imbalance. One of them, trichomoniasis or the “trich,” is a parasite that can change the healthy flora balance of the vagina. As it doesn’t cause symptoms in the vast majority of people, you and your partner may not know you have it. If you struggle with maintaining a healthy pH balance in your vagina, be tested for STIs, even if you don’t have symptoms.
- Tampons: Yes, tampons can cause vaginal pH imbalance, because they absorb and retain the blood in the vagina. As mentioned above, blood’s natural pH is around 7.4. If possible, change your tampons at least every 2 hours to help maintain a healthy pH level in your vagina.
- Diet: A diet heavy with simple carbohydrates, wheat, and refined sugars can cause an imbalanced pH level in your vagina. These foods can also make genital candida infections more difficult to fight as they provide food for fungi.
What Does pH Vaginal Imbalance Cause?
When the pH level of the vagina is too alkaline or too acidic, it can cause several health conditions including the following.
- Urinary tract infections: Having a high pH number increases your risk for developing a urinary tract infection. If you are prone to UTIs or have recurrent UTIs, your vaginal pH is likely to be alkaline. Remember, a healthy pH level for a vagina is between 3.8 and 4.5, more on the acidic side of the scale where healthy bacteria flourish.
- Bacterial vaginosis: Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is the most common vaginal infection. It occurs when too many hostile bacteria are allowed to thrive due to an alkaline environment in the vagina’s ecosystem. Symptoms of BV include a fishy odor, discharge, burning, and itchiness. It is vital to treat BV, as it does put you at an increased risk for HPV, HIV, and herpes simplex virus.
Testing Vaginal pH
At-home vaginal pH test kits are available at most pharmacies. The kits contain special pH test paper (litmus paper) and a color chart to determine your vaginal pH results. Follow the directions carefully to get an accurate reading.
In most cases, you just insert the included swab into your vagina and place it against the vaginal wall, holding for 5 seconds. Be sure not to touch the swab to anything before it is inserted, including the outer areas of the vagina. After removal, compare it with the included color chart to determine your vagina’s pH balance.
9 Natural Remedies for Vaginal Health
A healthy diet is essential for maintaining healthy pH balances in your vagina, your blood, and your gut. Eating a higher content of fresh vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and clean proteins can give your body the energy it needs to maintain balance. Stay hydrated, drink plenty of water, and keep sugar and gluten to a minimum. In addition to following a healthy diet, here are nine natural remedies to help restore a healthy pH balance in your vagina.
Probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods help to keep friendly bacteria in your system balanced. Look for a high-quality probiotic supplement with at least 50 billion live cultures and multiple strains of bacteria. Enjoy a couple of servings a day of probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha to boost the healthy bacteria in your system.
2. Avoid Added Sugar
Cutting refined sugar and simple carbohydrates from your diet can help improve the pH levels in your system—including in your vagina. If you are fighting a candida infection or exhibiting other signs that your vagina is too alkaline, try eating a ketogenic diet until you see improvement.
3. Cranberry Juice or a Cranberry Supplement
Cranberry juice has long been recommended to both prevent and to treat stubborn urinary tract infections. Cranberries are loaded with healthy antioxidants and flavonoids that boost the immune system. Drink a couple of cups of unsweetened cranberry juice or enjoy a healthy Cranberry Mango Smoothie made with frozen cranberries.
Today, cranberry supplements are also available year-round. In addition to UTIs, cranberry is often used for wound healing, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and to fight Helicobacter pylori infections.
4. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, manganese, and vitamin A (providing nearly 800% of the recommended daily value per cup). Vitamin A is believed to contribute to healthy uterine and vaginal walls, and it is associated with the production of hormones that give you energy and vibrancy.
You may have heard that a garlic clove inserted into your vagina will cure a yeast infection. Please, please don’t try it. Instead, add fresh raw garlic to your diet. Garlic is packed with antibiotic qualities that can help treat and prevent yeast infections.
If you don’t fancy consuming raw garlic because of its taste, or how it affects your breath or body odor, you can take a high-quality garlic supplement. Choose an organic garlic supplement whenever possible.
6. Vitamin C-Rich Foods
Boost your immune system by including more vitamin C-rich foods in your diet. The antioxidants in kiwi, oranges, bell peppers, guava, pineapple, broccoli, and others fight free radicals. What many people don’t realize is that free radicals can disrupt normal sexual health—so increasing your antioxidants is key for vaginal health.
Enjoying a Watermelon Swirl Smoothie made with grapes, blueberries, watermelon, and kiwis is a great way to boost your immune system and normalize sexual health. Of course, there are vitamin C supplements available, but it is always best to get your nutrients from fresh, organic foods.
7. Dark Chocolate
Who doesn’t love dark chocolate? Dark chocolate is antioxidant-rich, high in minerals, and low in sugar. Be sure to choose a dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa for the best health benefits. It is believed that dark chocolate is an aphrodisiac for both men and women due to its tryptophan and phenylethylamine content.
8. Zinc-Rich Foods
Zinc is a powerful mineral responsible for the activation of nearly 100 enzymes in the body. These enzymes help regulate the immune system, wound healing, and menstrual cycle regulation.
The best source of zinc is oysters—with one serving providing nearly 500% of the daily value. Oysters are followed (not closely) by beef chuck roast at 47% of the daily value per serving. Zinc supplements are available, but they can cause digestive upset for some people.
One of the active compounds in hot chile peppers is capsaicin. Capsaicin is recognized for its ability to relieve muscle, joint, and nerve pain. Capsaicin can also help to improve blood circulation and stimulate nerve endings, thereby heightening arousal.
In order to get the amount of capsaicin necessary to enjoy its benefits, you will likely need to take a cayenne pepper extract supplement. As a bonus, this supplement can spur your metabolism and help you drop unwanted pounds.
7 Lifestyle Changes to Improve Vaginal Health
In addition to a healthy diet and high-quality supplements, there are lifestyle changes you can make to improve your vaginal health.
1. Practice Safe Sex
As mentioned above, a vaginal pH level on the alkaline side of the scale heightens the risk for infections and sexually transmitted diseases. Use condoms, and avoid having sexual contact when you have a yeast infection or UTI.
2. Use a Natural Lubricant
Don’t use petroleum jelly as your go-to lubricant. The vaginal ecosystem is delicate and easily absorbs chemicals from lubricants. Instead, use coconut oil (if you aren’t using condoms). Coconut oil is an anti-fungal and antimicrobial, and is overall great for vaginal health.
3. Avoid Douching
If you feel the need to use a vaginal douche to relieve itching, burning, discharge, or an unpleasant odor, it is likely that you have an infection like BV, a UTI, or a sexually transmitted disease. Douching is only going to further harm the delicate balance of healthy bacteria in your vagina. Visit your gynecologist for an examination to determine if you need treatment.
4. Annual Women’s Wellness Exam
Speaking of gynecologists, it is important to have a gynecological exam every year. During these examinations, be sure to talk to your gynecologist about any unpleasant symptoms you are experiencing and any changes you’ve noticed in your vaginal health. If you’ve recently changed sexual partners, or don’t practice safe sex, ask to be tested for sexually transmitted infections.
5. Practice Good Vaginal Hygiene
Some simple hygiene changes can help keep your vagina’s pH balanced. Change tampons and sanitary pads often, wipe yourself from front to back to avoid bacterial infections, and after a shower, dry yourself fully before getting dressed. If you are susceptible to vaginal infections, be aware that bubble bath and bath bombs can disrupt your pH balance.
6. Change out of Wet Clothing
If you are experiencing vaginal discharge, it is important to change your underwear often. The retained moisture can cause further disruption to the pH balance of your vagina. It is equally important to change out of wet or damp workout clothes and swimsuits as soon as possible.
7. Practice Yoga
Yoga is a great exercise that strengthens muscles, improves balance, increases flexibility, protects you from injury, induces a sense of calm, and strengthens the pelvic floor. Here are 10 yoga poses to improve vaginal health.