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The (un)Healthy Vagina: Healthy Blood and A Healthy Uterus  

May 30, 2024 . dija

Written by Daan Borrel

Welcome to the wonderful world of the vagina, where a self-contained environment of bacteria, yeasts and fungi protects you. Most people know very little about vaginal health, while a deficiency of certain bacteria in the vagina increase the risk of bladder infections, fungal infections, premature births, infertility and STIs. Currently, scientists worldwide are studying the intricacies of vaginal health and its maintenance. In this place, we will teach you everything you need to know about this in the next six months. 

Today in part four: the connection between the vagina and the uterus.  

Today, let’s take a trip from the vagina all the way to the uterus. If you thought a lot was being discovered within the realm of vaginal health, you’ll also be amazed at the developments in the field surrounding the uterus. Indeed, they are profoundly connected: bacteria from the vagina can move into the uterus.  

In her compelling book “Womb”, (which I highly recommend!), Leah Hazard reveals that for a long time, it was believed that the uterus was a sterile environment. However, recent discoveries show that the uterus is actually home to various bacteria, yeasts, and fungi. Hazard introduces the concept of the “uterine microbiome”, suggesting that it plays an important but previously overlooked role in uterine physiology and human reproduction. By studying the uterine microbiome, she argues, we can gain valuable insights into a person’s health. Hazard writes that “The next few years are likely to see a radical change in the way we prevent, diagnose and treat gynecological and obstetric diseases – from fibroids to infertility, from endometriosis to eclampsia.” 

One future she outlines: at first signs of disease, the uterine microbiome is tested, followed by an “infusion of healthy microbes to ward off disease, infection or even infertility. By transplanting good microbes from one uterus to another the microbiome can be encouraged. In this podcast, neuroscientist Iris Sommer also talks about how they also want to improve the gut microbiome through poop transplants in the future.   

In her vision for the future, Hazard outlines a proactive approach to healthcare: when signs of disease first appear, testing the uterine microbiome would become routine. This would then be followed by an “infusion of healthy microbes to ward off disease, infection, or even infertility”. She envisions a process where beneficial microbes from one uterus are transplanted to another to encourage a healthy uterine microbiome. Interestingly, in a related development, neuroscientist Iris Sommer discusses in a podcast how there are plans to enhance gut health through fecal transplants (poop transplants) in the future. 

Blood, blood, blood

Not to mention, menstrual blood may also carry an important role in the future of healthcare. Isn’t it strange that we provide urine samples to the doctor to check for medical issues, but we don’t do the same with menstrual blood? Hazard highlights that menstrual blood analysis can be instrumental in detecting conditions like endometriosis, cancer at an early stage, fertility issues, as well as conditions such as adenomyosis, fibroids, abnormal uterine bleeding, and painful menstruation. She hopes for a future where submitting a menstrual blood sample is as normal as submitting a urine sample. Despite that, even labs might have trouble examining menstrual blood, because it would be considered ‘dirty’. Yes, really.  

Yet, the future is closer than we think. For example, the company Qvin has launched a home test where people can gain insights intro their health through analysis of their menstrual blood. Remarkably, it can measure average blood sugar levels, and can thus enable the detection of (pre)diabetes. Unlike traditional methods of collecting samples in tubes, Qvin’s approach utilizes menstrual pads with an integrated strip. After wearing this pad while on your period, you simply pull out the strip and send it to the lab for analysis. The results are then conveniently delivered through an app right to your phone! 

Exciting advancements continue to emerge in menstrual health technology. The company ‘NextGen Jane’ is at the forefront with its development of a “smart tampon,” offering menstruating individuals the ability to gain valuable insights into their blood and overall health from the comfort of home (goodbye speculum?!).  Meanwhile, in Germany, The Blood, a pioneering femtech company, has introduced a unique approach to (menstrual) health analysis through a menstrual cup. They don’t look at hormone levels (yet), but they actually analyze the appearance of the menstrual blood; for example, are there lumps in your blood? What is the colour and stickiness like? Of course, people are also able to examine this themselves at home, using their app. 

Back to that uterine microbiome for a second  

In “Womb,” Leah Hazard imagines a future where women at risk of certain diseases due to their uterine microbiome could receive samples of a “healthy” microbiome, preventing illness before it occurs.  

Research is currently exploring the potential of introducing crispatus bacteria to the vaginal microbiome to prevent certain diseases. For instance, the Crispatus Foundation, in partnership with Yoni, is investigating methods such as using a syringe or tampon to increase the presence of crispatus in the vagina. Once extracted from a donor, these bacteria can be reproduced indefinitely, similar to how Yakult bacteria were originally sourced from an individual. 

This method of prevention isn’t just about staying healthy; it’s also about creating a supportive network among people with vaginas and wombs. It’s looking out for each other’s health, forming a kind of community that helps everyone stay well. 

Future science? Perhaps. But we are now closer than ever. 

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