The reasons we make changes to our diet are many and varied: losing weight, better skin, improved digestion… but it's likely eating for vaginal health doesn't often cross your mind.
Making sure this reproductive organ stays happy and healthy is as good a reason as any to keep your diet varied, as this can help you avoid infections, fight off bad bacteria and generally keep things in working order.
Here, Dr Karen Morton, consultant gynaecologist and founder of Dr Morton's, the medical helpline, explains what we should be eating to ensure good vaginal health.
1. If you get regular yeast infections
There are several reasons why a woman might develop a yeast infection (such as thrush, which is shown to affect 75% of women at some point), including being overweight.
'Being overweight leads to a sweaty crotch and a predisposition to fungal infections in the groin, and if this leads to diabetes, the chances of getting recurrent thrush are even higher,' says Dr Morton.This is because high sugar levels lead to better conditions for yeast to grow.
Focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet that allows you to maintain a healthy weight to reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes'Having said that, even slim women can have the unpleasant experience of a cottage cheese-like discharge and burning irritation, which means a yeast (candida) or "thrush" infection.
The first attack will often follow the abrasion of starting to have sex, which occurs at the beginning of a sex life before you really start to relax and lubricate properly,' says Dr Morton.
'Women who get recurrent infections will usually be re-infected from their gut, where yeast lives harmlessly in a balance with millions of bacteria.
Boosting the bacteria in the gut will tip that ecosystem away from yeast, so taking a probiotic drink every day and avoiding yeasty food such as bread, beer and crusty cheeses will help.'Live bacteria probiotic drinks, such as Yakult, as well as fermented foods will help keep the level of yeast in your gut as low as possible. If you're prone to these type of infections, a daily probiotic drink will reduce the frequency of the infections and play a big part in keeping them at bay.
Additionally, live probiotic yogurt will work just as well.
2. If you get cystitis or UTIs
You've almost certainly heard that cranberry juice goes a long way in helping you overcome urine infections, which affect roughly 150 million people each year. Many women swear by this remedy, saying it not only helps cure these painful infections, but that it also prevents them from returning.
In the absence of conclusive scientific evidence as to why this happens, Karen admits that there's no harm in trying it.
'While the evidence is rather inconclusive, the theory is that there is an active ingredient in cranberry that prevents the troublesome bacteria from sticking to the wall of the bladder and causing inflammation.
On balance, it is certainly harmless and – as it also encourages a good fluid intake – it has to be good,' says Dr Morton.
The ingredient in question are substances called proanthocyanidins, and a systematic review of studies published in 2012 found that products containing cranberries – whether in juice, food or capsule form – reduced the risk of infection, particularly in those who had them twice a day.
However, there have also been some studies disproving this, which is why there is some confusion on the subject.There has also been some research to suggest that garlic can aid the body in fighting against certain multi-drug-resistant strains of UTI.
Indeed, one 2015 study showed that a 82% of otherwise untreatable resistant bacteria were susceptible to a crude aqueous extract of garlic (otherwise known as allium sativum), so if you're a garlic fan then it might be worth upping your dosage.
3. If you have vaginal dryness
While vaginal dryness is most common in the post-menopausal years, it is known to occur in roughly 17% of women aged 18-50 before the menopause begins. This is usually due to reasons that aren't hormonal, such as harsh soaps and chemicals.
Additionally, if you are very thin, your ovaries will not work properly and the oestrogen level will be low, meaning that every bit of your vaginal function and libido will be affected.'Losing weight, either through excessive dieting or excessive exercise, can make the ovaries stop working, as nature decides that you are not in the best of shape to have a baby. The vagina is dependent on oestrogen to keep the tissues plump and pink and perky, so if your ovaries are not working well, your vagina will suffer. In turn, the vaginal tissues get thin and dry,' says Dr Morton.
It is therefore important to keep your weight healthy. Aside from ensuring you are eating enough to maintain a healthy weight, Karen says that foods rich in plant oestrogen could also help you maintain moisture levels.
Dr Morton adds, 'Edamame, a dish of immature soya beans in the pod, is popular in China, Japan, Korea and Hawaii. Like all soya products, it is rich in plant oestrogen and is one of the reasons that menopausal problems, including a dry vagina, are relatively rare in these places. Root vegetables such as parsnips and turnips contain a lot of plant oestrogen, too.
'With this in mind, while these phytoestrogens will help boost your levels a little, in order to keep the vagina well nourished, you would have to eat them all day, every day.