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When I think of pH, I think about learning how to use pH strips to test the acidity of different water sources in science class as a kid. Anyone else have that memory? What I don't remember learning about, though, is how pH relates to the human body. For women, in particular, maintaining the optimal pH levels in the vagina is extremely important for vaginal and reproductive health.
The pH level of the vagina directly correlates with the presence bacteria, ideally resting between the levels of 3.8 and 4.5. A vaginal pH between 3.8 and 4.5 is indicative of the correct amount of good bacteria and an absence of the growth of bad bacteria, according to Dr. Streicher, a clinical professor at Northwestern University. This slightly acidic environment keeps bacteria that cause Bacterial Vaginosis as well as yeast Infections from growing inside the vagina, however, when these levels are disturbed, females are most at risk of contracting an infection.
While the vagina typically rests at a pH level between 3.8 and 4.5, There are certain times when vaginal pH will naturally fluctuate outside of 3.8 and 4.5. For instance, it’s normal for the pH of the vagina to rise during menstruation, as the pH of blood is 7.4. The alkalinity (AKA our body’s efforts to neutralize the acidity in the vagina) of the vagina might also increase during ovulation. This is because the acidic environment of the vagina can be harmful to sperm, so in order to increase fertility, the pH must become more neutral. The pH of the vagina can also be altered slightly from different forms of medication, hormonal changes, or even sexual intercourse.
While these slight changes do not necessarily signal a problem, it is vital to be aware that maintaining a relatively stable pH level in the vagina is the best way to avoid infection.
There are two main factors that affect the pH levels within the vagina that we can control in order to decrease our chances of contracting BV, UTIs, or yeast infections.
Although it’s largely under-credited, it turns out that the precise acidic environment within the vagina is largely responsible for keeping away infection. Practicing healthy habits is the best way to decrease the chance of discomfort and disease.