Vaginal flora is a crucial aspect of a woman’s health and plays a significant role in the occurrence of HPV infections. According to recent research studies, up to 80% of women will contract at least one strain of HPV in their lifetimes.
Although most cases will resolve spontaneously, 5% of women will develop precancerous cervical lesions. In light of these findings, Dr. Julia Maruani, a medical gynecologist in Marseille, used a press conference ahead of the 46th meeting of the French Colposcopy and Cervical and Vaginal Diseases Society to emphasize the importance of treating bacterial vaginosis and preserving the balance of vaginal flora.
By doing so, women can reduce the risk of persistent HPV infections and other related complications.
The Balance of The Vaginal Flora
A healthy vaginal flora is critical for maintaining good reproductive health and reducing the risk of sexually transmitted infections. The flora is made up of a diverse range of microorganisms, including:
- Gardnerella vaginalis
- Atopobium vaginae
Lactobacilli maintain the balance of the flora by producing lactic acid, which lowers the vagina’s pH. They also produce hydrogen peroxide, a toxic chemical to other bacteria.
Moreover, there is a number of factors that could negatively impact your vaginal flora, including excessive alcohol consumption, an unhealthy diet (e.g., high in sugar and polyunsaturated fatty acids), and smoking. Ultimately, this will lead to vaginosis. The abnormal multiplication of anaerobic bacteria results in a relative reduction of lactobacilli and an increased vaginal pH. This makes women more susceptible to contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and reduces their ability to clear HPV infections.
Maruani pointed out that women who smoke are particularly at risk for persistent HPV infections due to the imbalance of their vaginal flora. Maintaining the balance of the vaginal flora is essential for women’s reproductive health, and this requires a healthy lifestyle, regular check-ups, and prompt treatment of bacterial vaginosis and other related infections.
Bacterial Vaginosis and Persistent HPV
Doctor Maruani also noted that scientists extensively studied the link between persistent HPV infections and untreated bacterial vaginosis. Today, the evidence suggests that there is a direct correlation. When an imbalance occurs in the vaginal flora, the number of lactobacilli decreases.
As a result, the protective effects of these bacteria on the vaginal mucosa diminish. Additionally, other bacteria will be able to disrupt the mucosa, giving HPV access to the basal cells.
Studies demonstrated that HPV infections persist in cases of vaginosis, resulting in the development of epithelial lesions. The severity of these lesions is proportional to the degree of dysbiosis. As for the use of probiotics, Dr. Maruani stated that they can be effective in treating vaginosis, but only if used for an extended period.
It’s important to note that no randomized studies support the conclusion that probiotics can effectively treat HPV infections and low-grade lesions. Dr. Maruani underlined that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and that probiotics are not suitable for treating patients with precancerous lesions.
She also added that a team of researchers is exploring the potential benefits of diagnosing asymptomatic vaginosis. The idea is that treating these cases could reduce the risk of persistent HPV infections. Currently, there is no data to support or refute the effectiveness of probiotics in the treatment