Menopause and the vaginal microbiome

Maturitas. 2016 Sep:91:42-50. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2016.05.015. Epub 2016 Jun 1.


For over a century it has been well documented that bacteria in the vagina maintain vaginal homeostasis, and that an imbalance or dysbiosis may be associated with poor reproductive and gynecologic health outcomes. Vaginal microbiota are of particular significance to postmenopausal women and may have a profound effect on vulvovaginal atrophy, vaginal dryness, sexual health and overall quality of life. As molecular-based techniques have evolved, our understanding of the diversity and complexity of this bacterial community has expanded. The objective of this review is to compare the changes that have been identified in the vaginal microbiota of menopausal women, outline alterations in the microbiome associated with specific menopausal symptoms, and define how hormone replacement therapy impacts the vaginal microbiome and menopausal symptoms; it concludes by considering the potential of probiotics to reinstate vaginal homeostasis following menopause. This review details the studies that support the role of Lactobacillus species in maintaining vaginal homeostasis and how the vaginal microbiome structure in postmenopausal women changes with decreasing levels of circulating estrogen. In addition, the associated transformations in the microanatomical features of the vaginal epithelium that can lead to vaginal symptoms associated with menopause are described. Furthermore, hormone replacement therapy directly influences the dominance of Lactobacillus in the microbiota and can resolve vaginal symptoms. Oral and vaginal probiotics hold great promise and initial studies complement the findings of previous research efforts concerning menopause and the vaginal microbiome; however, additional trials are required to determine the efficacy of bacterial therapeutics to modulate or restore vaginal homeostasis.

Keywords: Anaerobic bacteria; Bacterial vaginosis; Lactobacillus spp.; Probiotics; Sexual and vaginal health; Vaginal dryness; Vaginal epithelium; Vaginal microbiota; Vulvovaginal atrophy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Menopause*
  • Microbiota
  • Probiotics / administration & dosage
  • Vagina / microbiology*
  • Vaginal Diseases / prevention & control