By Rachel Strysik
Vaginal smell will vary over your life due to a number of factors such as hygiene, your menstrual cycle, and overall health or lifestyle changes. Altered smells may also be due to the sweat glands that surround the vagina or hormonal changes, so if you notice subtle changes, they should not necessarily cause alarm.
Your smell may change over each month, but if you’re noticing stronger scents, they’re often linked to sweat. The vagina doesn’t produce sweat, but the vulva does.
Can foods really increase/change odors down there?
Some believe that certain foods may increase vaginal odor but it’s actually due to the sweat in the groin area being altered, which makes it seem like vaginal odor has changed. These foods and beverages are believed to impact vaginal smell:
- Coffee, cheese, or sugar. If you’re intaking an excessive amount of any of these, they may disrupt the pH value and increase yeast bacteria, causing more potent odors.
- Onions. There’s a reason we avoid them on a first date. In addition, garlic, curry, and other strong-smelling foods may excrete in sweat glands.
- Choline-rich foods. Foods like egg yolks, red meat, and liver may contribute to a fishy odor.
- Alcohol. If you’re drinking a copious amount, it can lead to dehydration and decrease vaginal lubrication.
- Cinnamon and celery. The alkaline nature is believed to help neutralize excessive acidity and balance the pH.
- Watermelon. Flushes out toxins to help balance pH levels.
So, foods on their own don’t change the vaginal odor, but they can influence things like pH and sweat excretion.
Pregnancy and pH level shifts
If you’re pregnant, that alone can affect pH levels through the increased blood flow to the vagina and the changing hormone levels. Potential diet changes—hello new cravings—and a heightened sense of smell may also cause you to notice new scents.
The fluctuating hormone levels may increase susceptibility to BV if you’re pregnant, so contact your doctor if you have a strong fishy scent that isn’t going away. If you’re postpartum, you may notice a metallic or musty smell as the uterus releases blood and mucous to return to its pre-pregnancy state.
Short-term shifts in pH levels may also cause vaginal odors like:
- Metallic. When you’re menstruating, the period blood may give off a metallic, coppery smell.
- Sweet to bittersweet. Almost molasses-like, it may signify changing pH levels.
- Slightly sour. An increase in the acidity of your vaginal flora may be causing this yeasty odor.
- Ammonia. This smell could indicate you’re dehydrated or have urine residue in your underwear.
- Chlorine. This odor may be due to ejaculation in the vaginal canal after sex as it can shift the pH level.
Perimenopause and post-menopause
While you’re in perimenopause your vagina is naturally acidic, after menopause, your vagina becomes more alkaline, which can change the odor. As estrogen levels decline during and after menopause, it causes thinning of the vaginal walls, dryness, and a rise in pH levels. This can make you more susceptible to vaginal infections, inflammation, and UTIs.
There are several ways you can manage vaginal odor without disrupting the pH level or the good bacteria that live there. It’s especially important to practice good hygiene as you age to reduce health risks.
- Wash the outer genital area with mild, unscented soap. Since the vagina is mostly self-cleaning, there is no need to wash inside. Some people may be more sensitive to essential oils or fragrances in soaps, so it’s best to keep them scent-free to avoid irritation.
- Avoid douching, which eliminates the good bacteria your vagina needs and upsets the natural balance. Again, the vagina is self-cleaning, so douching simply isn’t necessary.
- Take a probiotic. Like Pre+Probiotic for Women. Our two strains, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus plantarum are good for vaginal and gut health. Probiotics help balance your body’s bacterial ecosystem. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure of which is right for you.
- Estrogen therapy. If you’re going through menopause, taking estrogen may help alleviate some of the symptoms. Alternatively, you can grab our 40+ Essentials Bundle for a natural approach to ease the transition. The bundle includes The Daily Hormone Balance and Menopause Essentials so you can tackle hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings while supporting hormonal balance and healthy, glowing skin.
- Grab the 40+ Total Bundle if you want to support your body as estrogen decreases, help balance your metabolic hormones, and decrease your UTI risk, all at the same time.
A few other helpful tips
If you’re looking for additional solutions to reduce unpleasant odors, make these part of your daily habits:
- Wear breathable undergarments and change out of wet ones to avoid bacterial build-up
- Change pads and tampons every four hours
- Use condoms during intercourse
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
- Don’t use scented products that could disrupt vaginal pH
When to see your doctor
If you’re ever concerned about a smell coming from down there, never hesitate to reach out to your doctor. However, there are a few instances when it’s urgent you make an appointment to ensure you treat the condition before it gets worse.
- You have a persistent, foul fishy odor
- You have a smell like rotten meat
- This may include additional symptoms like a colorful discharge and pain when urinating
It’s important to remember that vaginas aren’t supposed to smell like fruit or flowers and the odor may fluctuate throughout your life. The best thing you can do is support it with a good diet and lifestyle habits and a quality probiotic.
Copywriter by day, performer by night, I've always had a way with words.
It took me a few years to realize writing was my calling and performing was simply a hobby.
But once I did, I never looked back.
I'm insanely passionate about menstrual health and dismantling the topic as taboo.
So let's talk about it. Period.