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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Amanda Olson,DPT, PRPC
Vaginal douching disintegrated into a relic of the past, joining shag carpeting and fuzzy dice hanging from rear-view windows….Until it made a comeback. Thanks in part to Gweneth Paltrow and other natural websites boasting hormone balancing powers and energetic release, there has been a surge in women participating in vaginal steaming, in search of these healing powers.
Vaginal steaming, as described by Paltrow’s website GOOP and backed by naturalistic websites entails brewing a concoction of herbs, including mugwort, in boiling water.
Then, disrobing from the waist down, and perching one’s self over the boiling blend for 20-40 minutes. 1She refers to this apparatus as a mini-throne, and proclaims that it cleanses the uterus and provides energetic release. The practice is common in Mayan and Native American culture as well.
The problem with this procedure is threefold.
1. First, you run the risk of burning yourself. Steam related burns can occur, especially in novice “steamers” (How would you like to call in sick and explain that one to your boss?).
2. Second, there is no medical evidence to support the idea that warm, moist heat and herbs result in change in hormone production or regulation. Hormone production and secretion is a delicate and finely orchestrated dance between the thyroid, the hypothalamus, and the ovaries.
It is a far reach to believe that the herbal steam concoction can make its way up the vagina, through the (closed) cervix, across the fallopian tubes, and over to the ovaries.
3. Third, and perhaps most importantly, is the fact that douching, or the addition of external herbs, plants, or any other substance that is not native to the vagina presents the opportunity for infection and annihilation of the natural vaginal flora.
While it may sound counter-intuitive, the process of vaginal steaming can have the opposite of the intended effect and dry out the vagina while the additional heat can kill naturally occurring “good” bacteria which is necessary to fend of infection.
If you have concerns about vaginal hygiene or health of the tissue, the use of a probiotic specific to women can be beneficial. It has been suggested that probiotics can assist in maintaining vaginal flora health in pre-pregnancy care2as well as for the prevention and treatment of vaginal candida infections.3
In short, the vagina is a like a self cleaning oven. It will take care of itself under health circumstances. If there is concern over the health of the flora, address the issue with a women’s health probiotic, and avoid the possibly injurious and desiccating effects of the vaginal steam.