Before anyone panics I have not gone full Paltrow and this post is not about making a Bran Buds® douche, it’s a love letter to my favorite cereal.
I’m often interviewed by women’s health magazines about “best foods for your vagina.” No one ever wants to hear about the amazing benefits of fiber because apparently what sells is made up stuff about changing vaginal zest with foods. When I explain the real vaginal “super food” is fiber I am inevitably told, “That’s not the direction we’re going.” And people wonder why there is so much misinformation online.
I’ve been meaning to write about how many lives I have changed with Bran Buds® for a while (this is no joke) and then I heard this week that Kellogg’s is no longer advertising on Breitbart so I thought this was a perfect time to throw some additional love their way. I don’t get any money from Kellogg’s just to clear that up front.
My Bran Buds® love is all about their palatable, affordable and low-calorie fiber. The average American has a very fiber deficient diet. We need 25 g a day and in the US most people eat < 10 grams. The benefits of adequate fiber intake are well-described, for example a lower risk of obesity and heart disease just to name a few. Fiber, however, can also benefit the vagina.
Constipation messes with the vagina too
The first way that fiber is helpful vaginally speaking is preventing constipation. This is mostly due to fiber’s effect on increasing stool weight and softness as larger and softer stools move faster through the colon. Soft stools are also quite frankly easier to poop out. Fiber bulks up your stool in the following three ways:
- The physical presence of the fiber
- Water drawn into the stool by the fiber
- Increased bacterial mass from fermentation
Wheat bran, the first ingredient in Bran Buds®, is often considered the “gold standard” for fecal bulking.
When people are constipated they strain. Straining is bad for the pelvic floor (levator ani) muscles and can lead to muscle spasm. The levator ani muscles wrap around the rectum as well as the vagina and if they develop spasm this can cause pelvic pain and pain with sex. Straining, especially with hard stools, can also lead to hemorrhoids (ouch) and anal fissures (major ouch). Pain from hemorrhoids or anal fissures also leads to increased tension in the pelvic floor as it is a normal reflex to tighten up in response to pain.
Because the pelvic floor is not so much in our conscious control (for example, we don’t think about defecating or how to orgasm) people are often unaware this spasm is occurring. A tight pelvic floor can make you feel as if you have something in your rectum when you don’t (many of my patients tell me it feels as if they have a stick in their rectum) and this feeling tricks you into thinking you have to defecate. However, when you sit down nothing happens as there isn’t much stool in the rectum because it was a false signal from muscle spasm. Because nothing happens but you are convinced you have to defecate you strain. If you strain long enough and hard enough eventually a small amount of stool comes out because there is always some stool in the rectum, falsely reinforcing that you had to go. All that straining just makes the pelvic floor spasm worse (and causes hemorrhoids) and so the problem grows and cycle of straining and pain can develop.
Fiber can be a prebiotic
Fiber can also be a prebiotic, which means it resists breakdown and absorption in the stomach and upper gastrointestinal tract, is fermented by gut bacteria, and stimulates growth of good gut bacteria. It is believed that the good bacteria in the vaginal econiche (I love that word!) can come from bacteria in the rectum. The most important strains of lactobacilli for vaginal health, L. crispatus, gasseri, jensenii have all be identified in the lower intestinal tract, so if fiber can help nurture the good bacteria in the bowel that can be helpful for the vagina. The most important thing for preventing vaginal infections is healthy vaginal lactobacilli.
While there are no studies that directly prove that eating high fiber foods results in a better vaginal microbiome there are some studies that link poor dietary health and low carbohydrate quality with bacterial vaginosis and bacterial vaginosis is a condition of deficient vaginal lactobacilli. The exact mechanisms are unknown, but basically if you have a healthy diet you are more likely to have healthy vaginal lactobacilli. Having 25 g of fiber a day is part of what makes a diet healthy. It is a valid hypothesis that feeding the good gut bacteria with fiber could be one of these mechanisms. It’s also possible that the reduction in gut inflammation associated with adequate fiber intake may build a better ecosystem for good bacteria to thrive. I’ve often wondered if one of the reason oral probiotics have been so underwhelming in treating vaginal infections is inadequate fiber intake so the probiotics never colonize, although it is also possible none of these supplements contain any live bacteria as there is no required standardization.
Anecdotally I can say that patients with recurrent vaginal infections and low or absent lactobacilli under the microscope who take me up on eating 25 g of fiber a day (almost always via Bran Buds®) end up with more vaginal lactobacilli over time. The way we look at lactobacilli in the office does not tell me if this is the right lactobacilli or not, but it is an interesting observation. As I recommend adequate fiber intake along with other ways to help good bacteria grow, like always using condoms for sex, it is hard to know if there is a direct cause and effect.
It’s it’s all about the fiber, why Bran Buds®?
When I embarked on my weight loss journey over five years ago I committed to fiber. I knew that a high fiber diet was associated with a lower risk of obesity and so I recorded not only my calories every day but also my fiber. I often came up short on the fiber. Fruits and other sources of fiber are not always that low in calories and so I found getting enough fiber and staying within my calorie allotment was a real challenge. I went through all the high-fiber cereals and breads, but many just had too many calories and honestly didn’t fill me up. If you have a 220 calorie breakfast cereal (and the serving sizes are often pretty sad) and add some milk you are at 300 calories. Some of the high fiber cereals were just too gross to eat and others had too much sugar. Eventually I found Bran Buds®, a serving is 70 calories has the equivalent of 2 tsp. of sugar and a whopping 13 g of fiber and it tastes just fine. A cereal that packs a fiber punch, tastes okay, doesn’t break the calorie bank and is a lot cheaper than supplements. I was sold. I eat my Brand Buds® every day with 2 added tablespoons of raw oatmeal (you lose the fiber if you cook the oatmeal). It adds a nice texture contrast and I like the flavor. I have it with 1/2 a cup of milk or 1/2 a cup of Greek yogurt and some fruit.
I used to just recommend fiber counting, but honestly I almost never got anyone to meaningfully increase their fiber intake. If you think about it, it’s kind of silly to recommend something as a doctor that you couldn’t do yourself. Adding foods up and reading labels can be taxing and committing to eating high fiber foods every day is a challenge in America for a variety of reasons. I also saw lots of eyes glass over when I would speak about looking up fiber content online, legumes, and food diaries. Finally one day I told someone what I did and their eyes lit up! This they could do every day and the added bonus was the price.
Obviously it doesn’t have to be Bran Buds®, but on the other hand a health intervention has to be easy or most people just can’t do it. I can’t sustain 25 g of fiber a day without Bran Buds® (or my other big fiber love, Thomas high fiber 100 calorie English Muffins, 8 g of fiber!) and I have a lot of resources, medical knowledge, and am obsessive about using a food journal. Making it easy offloads your working memory for other health issues.
My patients who have converted to Bran Buds® have become evangelicals like me. Routinely I hear, “Oh my God the Bran Buds® have changed my life.” I get more thanks about my Bran Buds® recommendation than almost anything else.
Hey, everyone likes a nice and easy regular poop and if it can help keep your vagina in shape that’s just an added bonus.