Even if I fully agree with Kourtney Kardashian that vaginal health is an important, hence not sufficiently talked about part of women’s wellbeing, we may have a strikingly different view on how to tackle the problem.
The reality TV star recently launched a vitamin sweet called Lemme Purr to boost the health of your vagina. On her Instagram channel, she says these gummies use pineapple, vitamin C and probiotics to target vaginal health and pH levels that “support freshness and taste”.
Kourtney continues with the selling words “Give your vagina the sweet treat it deserves (and turn it into a sweet treat)”. One of the claims she makes is that the vitamin sweet supports a healthy vaginal microflora. As a researcher specialising in the role of vaginal microflora for women’s health, I was curious and wanted to find out which active ingredients this claim is based on.
Lemme Purr contains pineapple extract (probably for its taste), vitamin C (not really needed if you have a balanced diet) and a clinically tested probiotic (Bacillus coagulans). According to the product description, the probiotic has been shown in clinical studies to support vaginal health, freshness and odour. This surprised me – I should know about these studies and effects as this is my primary research field.
A healthy vaginal microflora is composed of lactobacilli that keep the pH low and protect us from infections. My colleagues and I never identified Bacillus coagulans as being important for the health of vaginas, even though we have analysed thousands of samples during recent years. From other research groups and our own results, we know that Lactobacillus crispatus is the species that is associated with vaginal health and female fertility.
As I may have missed something important, I immediately checked what has been published on that probiotic in scientific journals. I found one systematic review and meta-analysis (a type of analysis where many individual studies are taken together) that mentions Bacillus coagulans. Apparently, it may improve stool frequency and symptoms of constipation, although the authors conclude that more research is needed.
On the topic of women’s vaginal health, I could only find a single study. There, 70 women with vaginal discomfort reported symptom relief after direct vaginal administration of the probiotic. There is nothing published on the oral administration of the probiotic that could support the claims made by Kourtney.
Vaginas don’t need fixing
So it seems likely that vaginal microflora isn’t influenced by so-called vaginal gummies. But I must share another concern. The statement that our vaginas are not good as they are but need to be fixed to please our partner is deeply worrying.
A healthy vagina has its unique odour based on the discharge that contains cells from the mucosal layer of the vaginal walls and the microbes that thrive there.
Also, our hygiene, sweat and underwear can influence this odour. It can be slightly acidic, because of the lactobacilli producing lactic acid, or have a distinctive metallic smell of blood during menses. Still, this individual odour is not unpleasant or something we have to be ashamed of. It is our personal signature that we do not have to hide.
I also need to dispel the myth that pineapples can affect the taste of a vagina. This statement shows a staggering ignorance of how our bodies function. Like any other foods we eat, pineapple will be digested in our gut into the smallest components, such as carbohydrates, amino acids, lipids, vitamins, minerals and other small molecules that are absorbed into our bloodstream and reach all cells and organs in our body. Sorry, but there is no shortcut of pineapple-derived sugars and fragrances to our vagina.
It is also important to note that our vaginas do not need any special care; they are self-cleaning with a continuous discharge. If this discharge has a strong and unpleasant odour, it might be a sign of a vaginal infection that can have serious consequences on your health and fertility.
After I have read up on the content and checked the scientific research, I feel confident to say that vaginal gummies do not add any health benefits for women. It is yet another example that money can be made from women’s insecurity about their bodies.
If you notice that your vaginal discharge has an abnormal smell, you should seek advice from your GP or gynaecologist – not a reality TV star.
Ina Schuppe receives funding from Ferring Pharmaceuticals and the Swedish Strategic Research Fund.