Daily Vaginal Microbiota Fluctuations Associated with Natural Hormonal Cycle, Contraceptives, Diet, and Exercise

Stephanie D. Song, Kalpana D. Acharya, Jade E. Zhu, Christen M. Deveney, Marina R.S. Walther-Antonio, Marc J. Tetel, Nicholas Chia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The microorganisms of the vaginal tract are critical for vaginal and reproductive health. However, the regulation of these microorganisms is not well understood. Therefore, we investigated whether different factors regulate the vaginal microbiota of healthy college-aged women (n = 26) with high temporal resolution by collecting daily self-administered vaginal swabs and using 16S rRNA sequencing for bacterial identification. As expected, vaginal microbiota clustered into five predefined community state types. Vaginal microbial diversity, stability, and Lactobacillus abundances were associated with the menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptive use. Vaginal microbial diversity, as measured using the Shannon index, increased during menses (P < 0.001), while Lactobacillus abundances decreased (P = 0.01). The covariance of these microbial measures with previously established estradiol levels suggests that estrogens can regulate vaginal microbiota. Moreover, the use of hormonal contraceptives may alter the temporal dynamics of the vaginal microbiota and decrease Lactobacillus abundances, depending on hormonal content and release method. Interestingly, intrasample diversity was greater in participants on a vegetarian diet (P = 0.004) and among participants who exercised more (P = 0.04). These findings indicate that ovarian hormones, diet, and exercise can regulate vaginal microbial composition and stability and may impact vaginal and reproductive health.IMPORTANCE The vaginal microbiome is a critical component of women's sexual and reproductive health, with variations in microbial composition, particularly the loss of Lactobacillus species, being implicated in gynecologic and obstetric diseases. Given that the vaginal microbiome is so crucial, why do vaginal microbial profiles vary strikingly from person to person and even change over time within the same person? In the present study, which tracked the daily vaginal microbiomes of young healthy women through different lifestyles, we found that use of a locally released progestin contraceptive, a vegetarian diet, and intense exercise appear to lead to vaginal microbiome alterations and loss of Lactobacillus species. The impact of these vaginal microbiome changes on immediate and long-term health remain to be investigated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 8 2020


  • estrogens
  • lactobacillus
  • menstrual cycle
  • microbiome
  • progesterone
  • time-longitudinal analysis
  • women’s health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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