We’ve all heard claims about the health benefits of kombucha — that it can improve your mood, soothe your arthritis, get you backstage at concerts because it went to high school with the bouncer — but you may not know that some people think the fermented tea is good for what ails your vagina, too. Some kombucha proponents claim that the drink can help prevent yeast infections. For those of us who spend a decent chunk of every year helplessly clawing at our itchy pink bits, the idea of preventing that entire mess by chugging a health drink sounds appealing. But does it actually work?
Like most of the other alleged health benefits of kombucha, the fermented tea’s positive impact on your Bonnaroo is contested. Some folks claim that kombucha is helpful because it contains probiotics. However, other folks —including the writers of the Integrative Medicine page on the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center website — think that kombucha could induce yeast infections in drinkers, possibly due to the amount of sugar used in flavoring most commercial versions of the drink.
This set of contradictory evidence is pretty much par for the course when it comes to assessing a food’s impact on your vaginal health. While experts agree that consuming an excessive amount of sugar can lead to yeast infections — especially if you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic — there’s little definitive research about what will improve the pH levels in your vagina, which can help good vaginal bacteria thrive and cause bad bacteria (the ones that cause yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis) to die dramatically, a la Darth Vader. But the five foods below are thought by many to play a role in maintaining vaginal health — and even if they don’t do anything for you, hey, at least it was an excuse to eat some kimchi.
What It’s Supposed To Do: Help prevent bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections by encouraging the growth of good vaginal bacteria via probiotics.
What The Research Says: You’ve seen the ads touting the mystical feminine health properties of this or that brand of yogurt, which is then noted to be full of probiotics. But all yogurts with live and active cultures in them are actually probiotic (and thus, full of the kind of bacteria that can theoretically help your vagina maintain a healthy pH balance).
Should You Eat It?: Though research about whether eating yogurt actually prevents yeast infections is still inconclusive, throwing back a container of yogurt without added sugar certainly won’t hurt you (and yes, some of the research that supports eating yogurt to improve your vaginal health also supports applying it directly to your goods).
2. Sweet Potato
What It’s Supposed To Do: Sweet potatoes have a lot of vitamin A, which is alleged by many to strengthen uterine walls as well as vaginal muscle tone.
What The Research Says: No official studies have been done on sweet potatoes and reproductive health, although sweet potatoes figure heavily into many traditional and alternative PMS remedies. A handful of studies have linked heavy consumption of potassium (which is abundant in sweet potatoes) to worse PMS symptoms.
Should You Eat It?: If you suffer from severe PMS, it may be worth discussing the potassium connection with your doctor. But otherwise, sweet potatoes are so danged good for you, consuming them is an overall win, even if eating them isn’t actually like pilates for your uterus.
3. Kimchi And Sauerkraut
What The Research Says: Kimchi has been proven to be a reliable source of lactobacillus strains, the “good” bacteria that helps keep your vagina balanced and healthy. So, theoretically, eating kimchi and similar fermented foods could help you support your vagina’s good bacteria (who are locked in a constant, Transformers-style battle for supremacy of your vag with the bad bacteria).
Should You Eat It?: Sure — you’ve got everything to gain, and nothing to lose (except your friends who complain whenever you eat something vinegar-y, but who cares what those goofuses think, anyway?).
What It’s Supposed To Do: Cranberries contain an active ingredient that can keep bacteria from sticking to the walls of your bladder — which can keep you from developing a urinary tract infection. That’s, like, Vagina 101, right?
What The Research Says: For a remedy we’re all raised to believe in, the connection between cranberries and UTI prevention has yet to be proven in any formal scientific studies. While researchers believe that an ingredient in cranberries can definitely keep many harmful bacterias, including E. Coli, from successfully sticking on your bladder walls, they also claim that most commercially available cranberry productsdon’t contain enough of the ingredient for it to effectively prevent the infections. In fact, a 2012 study found that cranberry supplements weren’t more effective in preventing or treating UTIs than a placebo. Also, sadly, consuming any amount of cranberries won’t do anything for a UTI that has already developed.
Should You Eat It?: You may want to skip the cranberries — most cranberry juicesthat you can buy at the grocery store have a lot of added sugar (which, as we previously noted, does not do anything for the health of your Grand Budapest Hotel). And if you already have a UTI, you should definitely see a doctor instead of messing around with Thanksgiving side dish ingredients.
What It’s Supposed To Do: Garlic’s antifungal properties are supposed to help fight off yeast infections.
What The Research Says: Sad news for your hippie friend from college who was always trying to get you to put a clove of garlic in your vagina every time you got a weird itch down yonder — no scientific research has proven that squatting on a clove will clear up a yeast infection. Studies assessing whether consuming garlic orally helps fight yeast infections have been equally inconclusive. According to ob-gyn and researcher Paul Nyirjesy, speaking to Scientific American, “There have been some animal studies that look interesting. Theoretically it makes a lot of sense. But you don’t know how much garlic you need or how effective it is.”
Should You Eat It?: There’s no firm guarantee that garlic will clear up your yeast infection. But garlic is full of antioxidants, and some research suggests that it can support the immune system, helping people fight ailments from the common cold to cancer. So, yeah, might as well eat a little of that.