Here it is: the map of the Flemish vaginal microbiome

Yes, we did it. Just under a year ago, we have sent the first Isala postal parcels to more than 4150 women all over Flanders. From these women, more than 3300 women have sent vaginal samples back to us, not only from the big cities but also from the smallest villages.

A map of Belgium with the heatmap of the distribution of the participants.
Home town of the Isala participants

The youngest participants were 18 years old and the oldest 98 years old. According to the answers to the questionnaire, the Isala women were generally in good health, although about 70% of the women said they were sometimes concerned about their vaginal health.  Some more results of this questionnaire can be found here. You can also find some extra information in our conversation starters

But now. With a lot of pride and many scientific leaps of joy, we present you the first results: the vaginal microbiome map of Flanders. Each participant of Isala has a unique vaginal microbiome, or a unique collection of bacteria. But through various analyses, we were able to find parallels between the vaginal profiles of the 3300 Isala participants from which we could analyze the blue swab. Based on the 8 most common bacteria, we drew up 8 ‘vaginal types’. Lactobacillus crispatus was found in 43% of all Isala women as most common, Lactobacillus iners in 28%, Lactobacillus jensenii in 4%, Lactobacillus gasseri in 3%, Gardnerella vaginalis in 12%, Prevotella in 6%, Bifidobacterium in 2% and Streptococcus in 2% of all participants.  

Distribution of the 8 most common bacteria types: Lactobacillus crispatus was found in 43% of all Isala women as most common, Lactobacillus iners in 28%, Lactobacillus jensenii in 4%, Lactobacillus gasseri in 3%, Gardnerella vaginalis in 12%, Prevotella in 6%, Bifidobacterium in 2% and Streptococcus in 2% of all participants.

All together, this sums up to about 80% of all Isala women having a lactic acid bacterium as the most abundant bacterium. That is usually a Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium species. And that’s good news. Th lactic acid that is produced by these lactic acid bacteria helps a healthy vagina to maintain a low acidity. And that is extremely important in the fight against pathogenic bacteria and viruses. In almost all vaginal swabs studied so far, we have found a bacterium that can make lactic acid. In addition to 1 or 2 ‘dominant’ bacteria, many women have other vaginal bacteria that either belong to the other ‘types’ or that we have tentatively classified under ‘other bacteria’. That exact composition is unique to everyone. 

“About 80% of all Isala women have a lactic acid bacterium as the most abundant bacterium “

Important: This map is a snapshot

The composition of vaginal microbiome is somewhat dynamic. Your menstrual cycle, hormonal fluctuations, diet, smoking, sexual activity, the type of soap you use when washing, etc. can all have an effect. But at the moment, we don’t have a ready-made answer as to what you can really do yourself to improve your vaginal microbiome. We are still working hard on making statistically significant and biologically relevant connections between your questionnaire responses and your vaginal microbiomes. Hopefully, this will allow us to better understand what a ‘healthy microbiome’ really is and what action you can take yourself to obtain or preserve such a healthy microbiome. On this page, you can get an overview of the different aspects we want to investigate.

“Our most important message is: if you experience complaints, contact your trusted doctor so that you can be helped.” 

So, it is important to realize that your personal result for Isala — if it seems a little less favourable — does not immediately mean that you belong to the same type today. And vice versa, if you were dominated by a very healthy bacteria in the summer of 2020, something may have changed in the meantime. That is why our most important message is always: if you experience complaints, contact your trusted doctor so that you can be helped. If your doctor would like to know more about Isala, you can always refer him or her to our special page for doctors. Are you in doubt? Check out this short video we made with our Isala doctors. 

To conclude, another big thank you! You form a dream team with us researchers! Without your active participation and involvement, Isala would never have been such a success. We can be proud: together we are the largest research into the vaginal microbiome in the whole world! 😊