The vagina is a self-cleaning machine that protects itself from infection by maintaining a mildly acidic pH level and a delicate balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria. This is known as the vaginal microbiota or microbiome, and Gardnerella vaginalis is one type of bacteria that exists within it.
What is Gardnerella Vaginalis?
Gardnerella vaginalis is a type of bacteria found in the vaginal microbiome. Typically found in small amounts, it coexists with other bacteria to protect the vagina from infection.
When vaginal pH levels are upset, the microbiome becomes unbalanced, and levels of Gardnerella vaginalis can thrive, allowing an infection known as Bacterial Vaginosis to set in.
What Is the Purpose of Gardnerella Vaginalis?
While the exact role of Gardnerella vaginalis in the vaginal microbiome is not fully understood, scientists have recognized it to be a normal and naturally occurring part of the ecosystem that exists within the vagina.
It is important to understand that Gardnerella vaginalis is not a “bad” bacteria. Although an overgrowth of Gardnerella (along with other bacteria) can result in a BV infection, women who do not have a BV infection will also have Gardnerella in the vagina, albeit at lower levels.
That being the case, the purpose of Gardnerella vaginalis is to contribute to the natural balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria within the vagina, thereby helping to maintain a healthy vagina and mildly acidic pH levels.
Normal Levels of Gardnerella Vaginalis
Because the vaginal microbiome typically varies from woman to woman, the concept of "normal levels" of Gardnerella vaginalis is difficult to define. In a healthy vaginal microbiome, Gardnerella vaginalis is usually present at low levels and in balance with other bacteria like Lactobacilli.
It's important to understand that the presence of Gardnerella vaginalis alone doesn't necessarily indicate an issue. Rather it's the overgrowth or imbalance of Gardnerella vaginalis and other bacteria that can lead to infections like BV.
Indicators that you might be experiencing high levels of Gardnerella vaginalis include vaginal itching, unusual vaginal odors, or a change in the color of your vaginal discharge. In these cases, it is best to consult with a doctor who will test for infections and prescribe the necessary treatment.
Are Gardnerella Vaginalis and Bacterial Vaginosis the Same?
No, while Gardnerella Vaginalis is associated with BV, they are not the same thing. Essentially, an overgrowth of Gardnerella causes an imbalance within the vaginal microbiome and encourages the growth of other harmful bacteria. BV is the infection that ensues because of the microbial imbalance and altered pH levels.
Bacterial Vaginosis & Symptoms
BV occurs when there is an overgrowth of certain harmful bacteria, including Gardnerella vaginalis, and a decrease in beneficial bacteria like Lactobacilli. Although more predominant in women aged 15-44, females of any age can be affected by Bacterial Vaginosis (BV).
Certain activities like unprotected sex, smoking, and douching are thought to increase the risk of infection due to their ability to upset the natural vaginal pH balance.
Although many women with BV notice no symptoms until tested, the most common symptoms of BV include:
- Gray vaginal discharge
- A fishy or unpleasant vaginal odor
- Itching or irritation in the genital area
- Burning sensation during urination
How to Treat Bacterial Vaginosis Caused By Gardnerella Vaginalis
After testing and diagnosis, antibiotics are generally prescribed to treat BV infections. Although, given the various side effects of antibiotics, many women prefer to try natural remedies first. In this case, a full course of boric acid suppositories is recommended.
That said, a combination of boric acid suppositories taken in conjunction with antibiotics is the most recommended form of BV treatment by pelvic health professionals. Essentially, the antibacterial properties in Boric Acid are believed to kill the offending bacteria and quickly soothe irritating symptoms.
A 2009 study, for instance, concluded that combining a course of antibiotics with a course of boric acid suppositories cured not only the current BV infection in 92% of women but prevented recurring infections too. These findings were backed up in a 2020 study by the Journal of the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association.
These 100% naturally produced Boric Balance Suppositories from Intimate Rose are designed to dissolve quickly to restore a healthy pH balance and reduce unpleasant odors, irritation & itching within 24 hours.
To help prevent BV and recurring BV infections, it's essential to maintain good vaginal hygiene and sustain natural vaginal pH levels. The most helpful tips to achieve this include:
- Avoiding douching. It disrupts the natural balance of the vaginal microbiome
- Use unscented soap and warm water to clean the vagina daily
- Practice safe sex by using condoms or a dam
- Pee after sex and wash the genitals with warm water
- Limit the number of sexual partners
- Wear cotton underwear instead of synthetic material to prevent humidity where harmful bacteria can thrive
- Wipe from front to back after using the restroom to prevent any fecal bacteria from entering the vagina and upsetting the natural microbiome
- Take a daily probiotic
Studies have confirmed that probiotics containing Lactobacillus strains can help to promote vaginal health as well as digestion. Flora Bloom Probiotics for Women from Intimate Rose, for example, help to balance your vaginal pH, improve digestion, and lower the risk of recurring BV infections.
What Happens If Bacterial Vaginosis is Not Treated?
When left untreated, BV infections can increase your risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV. It can also evolve into a more serious condition known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Women with BV can also pass the infection onto their female partners during intercourse.
In addition, women who leave BV untreated while pregnant run the risk of experiencing premature birth and extremely low birth weights.
Because BV is often symptomless for many women, the most effective way of checking for the infection is to schedule a vaginal health check-up at least once a year.
Gardnerella vaginalis is a natural component of the vaginal microbiome and does not always lead to BV. However, if you experience symptoms such as an unusual vaginal discharge, unpleasant vaginal odor, or itching, it’s vital to consult a healthcare provider for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
To prevent BV from occurring or reoccurring, read our tips above for maintaining good vaginal hygiene, keeping your vaginal pH balanced with probiotics, and restoring healthy pH levels with Boric Acid supplements.
Science Direct – Gardnerella Vaginalis - https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/gardnerella-vaginalis
News Medical – What Is the Vaginal Microbiome? - https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Vaginal-Microbiome.aspx
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – Bacterial Vaginosis - https://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment-guidelines/bv.htm
National Library of Medicine – Boric Acid - https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Boric-acid
Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology - The Female Vaginal Microbiome in Health and Bacterial Vaginosis - https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcimb.2021.631972/full
Journal of The American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association - Boric Acid Addition to Suppressive Antimicrobial Therapy for Recurrent Bacterial Vaginosis - https://journals.lww.com/stdjournal/Fulltext/2009/11000/Boric_Acid_Addition_to_Suppressive_Antimicrobial.13.aspx
National Center for Biotechnology Information – Clinicians' use of Intravaginal Boric Acid Maintenance Therapy for Recurrent Vulvovaginal Candidiasis and Bacterial Vaginosis - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6878170/