Commensals in the genital area are included in the vaginal microbiome. First of what are commensals, and what is a vaginal microbiome? Commensals are organisms that feed on the environment of the host they thrive in, and they mean no harm to the host. In fact, they provide some benefit to the host just by existing in a certain area of the host. Some of these organisms can be seen by the naked eye, and often they are microorganisms, meaning they are not visible to the naked eye. This includes the commensal bacteria as well. The human body is full of commensal microbes, and you might have heard of the human digestive tract and the commensal microbes that reside in it.
Commensal bacteria rarely mean any harm to the human body, and usually, they live in peace together with the host body. And when we say there are many commensal bacteria residing in your body, we really mean “many.” The human body consists of commensal bacteria, approximately ten times more than the cells in your body. Your body consists of trillions of cells, so you can easily imagine the number of commensal microbes that live in your body.
Commensals usually live on external surfaces such as skin or internal surfaces such as mucus layers. Just like the other places on your body, these commensal bacteria have also made a home out of your genitalia as well. Yes, this means your vagina also consists of a commensal community. This collection of communities is called a vaginal microbiome or vaginal flora. And don’t worry; these commensals are friendly and beneficial to your vaginal health.
What are the common commensal bacteria found in the vaginal microbiome?
You might be wondering what the commensals that are living in your vagina rent-free are. We have a few names for them, the most common commensals being the lactobacillus species, such as L. crispatus, L. gasseri, and L, jensenii. Don’t be afraid of the scientific names here; they are some friendly commensals that live in your vagina and provide positive health outcomes down there. A healthy vaginal flora or a microbiome should be dominated by none other than the lactobacillus species.
How do commensals help you?
Now that you know who lives on the surface down there, you must be getting the questions; what’s their deal, and how do they benefit you? Let’s dive into this by seeing what these lactobacilli do in your vagina. During their metabolic actions, Lactobacillus produces high amounts of lactic acid in your vagina.
Lactic acid, as the name suggests, “acid”; helps you to keep the PH levels lower down there in your vagina. Now if you don’t know, PH levels show how acidic or basic a liquid solution is. This means a lower PH level; indicates an acidic environment, while high PH levels showcase a higher basic environment. Lactic acid produced by lactobacilli helps you to keep the PH levels in your vagina under 4.5. The normal PH level of a vagina is between 3.8 PH to 4.5. Now if you are confused about how acidic your vagina is, imagine the juice of an orange. That’s how acidic your vagina usually is.
But what’s the point of an acidic vagina? Actually, an acidic environment does not allow harmful pathogens to grow easily in your vagina. This means that your vagina keeps itself free of infections due to its acidic nature. This means the commensals actually do help you and benefit you in maintaining your health down there. Moreover, the lactic acid produced by commensal lactobacilli has antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties.
What happens when the vagina is not acidic enough?
A healthy vagina is acidic; however, your vagina fails to maintain this acidity at certain points. When the acidity of the vagina gets lower, and when the PH level gets higher than 4.5, your vagina becomes a favorable breeding ground for the many other types of bacteria that live in your vagina. This means these bacteria begin to grow rapidly in your vagina, throwing off the equilibrium of the vaginal microbiome. If you haven’t figured it out already, this leads you to have a vaginal infection.
When the helpful and beneficial lactobacilli bacteria decreases in your vagina, this condition is called bacterial vaginosis. This condition causes health disadvantages in your vagina. This also increases the risk of you contracting infections such as sexually transmitted infections.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
This is a condition you face when the friendly commensals in your vagina decrease due to reasons such as washing your vagina with scented vaginal washes or soaps, douching, not wearing condoms during sexual intercourse, and having many sexual partners. The more the friendly commensals decrease, the more the harmful pathogens increase in number.
How to know if you have bacterial vaginosis?
You will know certain symptoms down there if you have bacterial vaginosis. These symptoms include,
- Pain in your vagina.
- Itching and burning sensation in your vagina.
- Burning sensation when you are peeing.
- Itching in the vulva.
- An unpleasant odor like fish odor.
- A thin and white discharge.
How does bacterial vaginosis affect pregnancy?
If you are pregnant and are experiencing bacterial vaginosis, the chances of your baby getting born earlier than expected are high. This is also known as premature birth. This means that your baby will be born with a low birth weight.
How to avoid getting bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is not a fun experience at all. It is better if you can avoid it at all costs, and this includes following certain lifestyle habits to maintain the commensals in your vagina. This ultimately maintains the proper PH levels in your vagina to be healthy.
- Practice safe sex by wearing latex condoms when you engage in sexual activity.
- Avoid douching when washing your vagina.
- Limit your sexual partners.
- Avoid scented vaginal washes and soaps.
You probably have a better idea about how important the commensals are in your vaginal area. So as they protect you down there, your job is to protect them from decreasing in number to keep your vagina healthy and happy.