This month, we are joined by Good Clean Love medial advisor Dr. Jessica Drummond who is a passionate advocate of integrative healthcare. We ask Dr. Drummond about her root-cause approach to treating women's health issues, how nutrition can be a game changer, and the role of the gut biome in vulvovaginal health.
Dr. Jessica Drummond, DCN, CNS, PT, NBC-HWC Founder and CEO of the Integrative Women’s Health Institute is passionate about caring for and empowering women who struggle with women’s and pelvic health conditions. She is equally passionate about educating and supporting clinicians in confidently and safely using integrative tools to transform women’s and pelvic healthcare.
SHWI: How did you become interested in integrative healthcare for women?
Jessica Drummond: After the birth of my first daughter, I got very sick. Though I was already a women's pelvic health physical therapist and had worked in major teaching and specialty hospitals at that time, I did not yet understand the power of an integrative and lifestyle medicine approach. As a driven, Type-A kind of person, I had to dramatically shift my relationship with stress, overwork, and exercise. And, I began to integrate nutrition into my practice, which was a game changer.
SHWI: As a trained functional medicine specialist in women’s care who trains other physicians, what do you most want other caregivers to understand about the most common vaginal diagnoses?
JD: Everything starts with the nervous system. Most of these chronic vaginal issues don't occur in a vacuum. Chronic bacterial vaginosis (BV) and yeast issues, vulvodynia, and vulvar atrophy usually occur with a backdrop of stress, poor sleep quality, and overuse of sugar, processed foods, processed grains, poor quality fats, and either too much or too little exercise.
When healing vulvovaginal issues, it's essential to address the local discomfort using tools like Good Clean Love’s soothing lubricants and moisturizers, and root cause healing which requires addressing stress, digestion, the gut microbiome, and the vulvovaginal microbiota.
SHWI: Please give a little background into how functional medicine is different than allopathic care?
JD: The key difference is that root cause approach. In functional medicine, we think from the perspective of optimizing physiologic systems vs. chasing and just quieting symptoms.
While we care about reducing and eliminating symptoms, our goal is to do so for the long-term, not just with a quick fix perspective. That long-term healing approach usually requires addressing overall systems, and improving daily health habits like stress management and better nutrition.
SHWI: How is the vaginal biome health impacted by the other biomes in the body?
JD: To me, the “mother” microbiome is the gut microbiome. So, it's essential to always address digestion, nutrition, and the gut microbiome. Once the person has a healthier relationship with stress (including eating mindfully), can digest well, and has better gut microbiome balance, it's much easier to balance the vulvovaginal microbiome.
SHWI: What are your primary recommendations for patients with recurrent BV and ongoing vaginal flare-ups – both dos and don’ts?
JD: First, I always recommend assessing stress. Stress is usually the very root cause of these issues, and can contribute to stress eating of foods that lead to microbial imbalance. In our clinic, we objectively measure stress by looking at heart rate variability using fitness trackers, and daily cortisol (stress hormone) rhythms. We also assess sleep and sleep quality.
Then, I recommend a diet that eliminates sugar (often including fruit), alcohol, and grains, usually for 3 to 12 weeks. Plus, it's just as important to add herbs and spices to the cooking like oregano, garlic, and turmeric. We add 8 to 10 servings of vegetables daily with about 60 to 80 grams of protein and high quality fats like olive and coconut oils, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and avocado.
It's also essential to have your sexual partner address these issues as well, because there is also a penile microbiome and mouth microbiome. Using a clean lubricant like Good Clean Love, and using soothing vaginal moisturizers is also key. On an individual basis, we'll recommend specific therapeutic herbs and other supplements as well.
To read more interviews with leading women’s healthcare practitioners, as well as the latest on women's health clinical trials and research, check out The Biome Blog.