1. Yogurt with live cultures or probiotic supplements may help prevent yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
Some doctors recommend yogurts with probiotics or probiotic supplements to women who suffer from chronic yeast infections, which are caused by the candida fungus. Probiotics are live microorganisms, often called “friendly bacteria,” that may help fight infections caused by “bad” bacteria and boost digestive health. They are sometimes added to yogurts and available in supplements. Those in the lactobacillus family are some of the most frequently used.
However, the evidence that yogurt can really stave off yeast infections is still inconclusive, said D.C.-based family physician, Djinge Lindsay, MD, MPH. (The FDA has not approved any health claims for foods with probiotics.) “A lot of the studies that have been done were with small groups of women,” and their infections weren’t all the same. “Some women were chronically infected, some women just got infections once in awhile. And the amount of lactobacillus,” she added, “varied widely across the studies.”
Still, though, eating plain, fat-free yogurt isn’t likely to hurt you. “It’s a fairly benign remedy to try and some women do report improvement with it,” said Lindsay. Probiotics are generally considered safe, but studies on long term effects and how they impact people with other health issues are limited.
One more thing to keep in mind: The most effective way to get your probiotics might not be to eat them. Several studies have found that vaginal suppositories containing lactobacillus may help treat bacterial vaginosis.
2. Sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi are also good sources of probiotics.
What’s a non-yogurt-eating, yeast infection-prone girl to do? Get your probiotics in fermented, homemade sauerkraut. (Store-bought sauerkraut is usually pasteurized — a process that kills all of the good bacteria that was in it.) Miso paste and fresh kimchi also contain probiotics.
3. Eating a lot of sugar may make you more prone to yeast infections, especially if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic.
Yeast infections are very common: About 75% of women will get one at some point in their lives and nearly half will get two or more, according to the Office on Women’s Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
There are many potential causes for yeast infections, including pregnancy, taking antibiotics, or eating too much sugar. “The idea is that the yeast will eat off of the sugar and that’s how they’ll grow,” said Lindsay. But while most women would need to consume a lot of sugar to make it the culprit, the bar is lower for diabetics and pre-diabetics. “I commonly see infections in my diabetic patients that don’t have good control over their blood sugar.”
Even if blood sugar is not a problem for you, your body will thank you for limiting your sugar consumption. Follow the World Health Organization’s recommendation of restricting your daily sugar intake to no more than 10% of your calories, about six teaspoons or 25 grams for most adults.
4. Cranberries may be slightly beneficial to your bladder, but they’re not a reliable measure for preventing UTIs.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been told to drink cranberry juice to help your UTI. Researchers have been examining cranberries’ impact on UTIs for at least a hundred years, focusing on their potential ability to prevent E. coli bacteria (the primary culprit behind UTIs) from sticking to cells on urinary tract walls.
But while doctors have been recommending cranberries as a preventative measure against UTIs for decades, the latest research suggests that this advice is misguided. In 2012, researchers reviewed 24 studies examining cranberries’ impact on UTIs. The results may surprise you: While cranberries can keep bacteria from adhering to bladder walls and may be slightly effective in preventing UTIs, the study ultimately concluded, “Cranberry juice cannot currently be recommended for the prevention of UTIs.”
Recommended methods of preventing UTIs include peeing after sex, wearing loose-fitting and breathable underwear, and drinking plenty of water.
Even if cranberries are not a UTI panacea, they are still a good source of essential vitamins like C, E, and K, so incorporating them into your diet isn’t likely to hurt you. But steer clear of sugary cranberry cocktail juices. Try making this healthy whole wheat cranberry banana bread or a cranberry banana smoothie.
5. Caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, and artificial sweeteners can irritate your bladder, especially if you suffer from interstitial cystitis (IC).
As if having IC, aka painful bladder syndrome, wasn’t hard enough, the 1–2 million Americans who have it (with women outnumbering men 8 to 1) have a long list of bladder-irritating foods to avoid, including foods with caffeine, alcohol, histamine, artificial sweeteners, MSG, and nitrates. (The Interstitial Cystitis Association provides a detailed guide here.)
Even if you don’t suffer from IC, if you’re running to the bathroom more than you’d like, removing certain foods from your diet may help you make it through your next rom-com without a trip to the ladies. Caffeine, for example, is a well-known diuretic, meaning it makes you pee more. Chocolate, which contains caffeine and other potentially IC-exacerbating ingredients, should also, sadly, be avoided. (Don’t kill the messenger!)
Organizations like the National Association for Continence and the Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute also recommend that anyone with an overactive bladder avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin. (That makes a diet soda a double threat since it probably contains both caffeine and artificial sweeteners.)
6. Strong smelling foods like asparagus, garlic, and curry can make your crotch sweat stinkier.
Before we go any further, let’s state the obvious for a second: Vaginas can and will smell like whatever they want. They are not supposed to smell like roses; that concept is annoying. That said, a concern about the air down there is hardly abnormal, and certain foods can have an impact — albeit a slight one — on the smell of your nether regions.
There is not a large canon of research on how foods impact your vaginal smell, but it is related to the rest of your particular scent of BO. “It has not been extensively studied, it’s been inferred from other research,” said Lindsay. Because an important component of the odor is from sweat, foods that make your sweat more odiferous, will likely do the same for your vag. “If you ingest foods with very strong odors like asparagus or garlic or curry, it’s possible that that can translate to a smell in your vaginal area,” said Lindsay.
(As for the commonly repeated myth that inserting a garlic clove into your vagina can cure a yeast infection, don’t listen. “In reality, inserting any foreign object in the vagina may cause further complications or even worsen an infection. And there is no scientific proof that garlic can cure a yeast infection, so why risk it?” wrote Drs. Yvonne Bohn, Allison Hill, and Alane Park, OB/GYNs and authors of The Mommy Docs’ Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth.)
7. Red meat might make you smellier than usual, too.
Eating red meat can make you sweat more and make your sweat smellier. “You can smell worse within two hours of eating red meat,” E. Adam Kallel, who holds a Ph.D. in Victrix computational and medicinal chemistry consultancy, told the Huffington Post last year. Like with other body odor-causing foods, the results may manifest in the sweat glands around your private parts.
Eating red meat may also throw off your vagina’s pH levels. “A normal vagina is slightly acidic,” said Lindsay. “There’s some evidence that for certain people, some foods that are high in alkalines, like meat and fish, can possibly affect the odor.”
And BTW, studies indicate that red meat has an impact on your male companion too. A 2006 study put seventeen male “odor donors” on either meat or non-meat diets for two weeks and then tested their scents on 30 women. The results: “[T]he odor of donors … on the nonmeat diet was judged as significantly more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense.”
8. Pineapples might make your vagina smell and taste better, but it’s not scientifically proven.
We all want our vaginas to smell and taste as pleasant as possible, but while there are some stories floating around about how to do that, there is no real corresponding scientific research. “A common one I’ve seen is pineapples, but there’s no evidence for that,” said Lindsay. But she added, “If you think it works, then you can try it.”
Another important note from Dr. Lindsay for those worried about vaginal scents and tastes: “Every woman’s vagina is going to be slightly different. The taste is also going to be different depending on who’s tasting it and their taste buds.” So don’t stress about it unless you have a reason to, like a particularly strong or pungent smell. And if that happens, see your doctor, don’t just stock up on pineapples.
9. Water keeps your membranes ~lubricated~ and your odors diluted.
“Your vagina is a mucus surface, same as the inside of your mouth, so the better hydrated you are, the better hydrated those membranes are going to be,” Lindsay told BuzzFeed. And while some strong-smelling foods can translate into a stronger-smelling vagina, water can help bring things back to whatever is normal for you. “If you’re concerned, you can drink water and that can dilute out what you might perceive to be a bad smell from the food,” Lindsay said.
10. Flax and soy may improve vaginal dryness in post-menopausal women.
After menopause, women often experience a natural drop in their estrogen levels, leading to vaginal dryness. The phytoestrogens in foods like flax and soy may help women compensate for this, said Lindsay, but the evidence to back this up is still relatively sparse. “I’ve definitely had women tell me they’ve added soy milk into their diet and their hot flashes felt better and their vaginal dryness was better. But in terms of the hardcore research, there’s not great evidence that it can help.”
That said, flax and soy are similar to yogurt and cranberries in that they are healthful foods which are unlikely to hurt you, and may even help you in other, non-vagina ways. Try one of these delicious tofu recipes to add soy to your diet or wake up with a wild blueberry, mint, and flaxseed smoothie.
11. The smell of Good & Plenty may actually get your juices flowing.
Guys, this is not a joke. If you haven’t been feeling the heat lately, you might want to hit the candy store. In 1998, Dr. Alan Hirsch of the Smell & Taste Research and Treatment Foundation in Baltimore wrote in his book Scentsational Sex: The Secret to Using Aroma for Arousal that the scent of Good & Plenty candy, especially when mixed with a cucumber perfume, sexually arouses women.
(Hershey Foods Corp., the maker of Good & Plenty, was not particularly excited about the discovery. A spokesman told the Baltimore Sun, “We weren’t involved in the study. We prefer not to comment.”)
Keep in mind that there’s only so much any one food can do. “Broadly, as long as you’re generally physically healthy, you should have a healthy vagina,” said Lindsay. But if you have specific concerns about your vagina, be sure to see your doctor.
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