Cervical mucus really is a wonderful thing. It tells us when we are fertile or not, it helps transport sperm or not, and it is an indicator of general vaginal health.
The cervix acts as a gateway between the vagina and the uterus. The cervix is, strictly speaking, an extension of the uterine wall, but it is an organ in its own right and has many important functions..
Located within the cervix are secretory cells called cervical crypts. On average there are about 600 – 800 mature crypts in the cervix. The abundance of cervical crypts peak in adolescence (at about 1000) and decreases in premenopause, when there are about 500.
“The crypts do not live indefinitely, usually only 3 years, at the most 10-15 years; they then degenerate and new ones are formed. During adolescence there occur many thousands of immature crypts, in addition to about 1000 mature ones. Some crypts normally disappear by cell apoptosis (programmed cell death) and are progressively replaced by new crypts as the result of crypt maturation. There is a continuous process of cell desquamation (cell shedding) and cell apoptosis with replacement of cells in crypts of the different types. So the cervix is a very dynamic organ.“(1)
The mucus itself is a mixture of water, lipids, proteins, enzymes and inorganic salts. Women of reproductive age produce about 20 – 60ml of mucus daily, although the texture and characteristics of mucus changes throughout the menstrual cycle.
Infertile mucus is more viscous and impedes the flow and penetration of sperm through the cervix.
Fertile mucus (leading up to and during ovulation) is more fluid and alkaline in nature. At this time, the cervix, crypts and mucus protect the sperm from the hostile environment of the vagina and other organism that seek to destroy it. The mucus also supplements the energy needs of the sperm. Essentially the cervix, crypts and mucus act like a refueling depot for the sperms journey to the egg – providing shelter and nourishment.
The health of the cervix and mucus is dependant on many factors,
Generally mucus should be white/pale yellow or clear and should not smell offensive. If it is darker yellow or green, smells bad, and / or itches – it could be a sign of thrush or yeast (candida) infection so get it checked out. If you suffer form recurrent yeast infections you may need to llok at alternative remedies or lifestyle changes to nip it in the bud.
As a rule, avoid douching and vaginal deodorants (these really are unnecessary as the vagina is one of the cleanest places on your body anyway), avoid tight and synthetic clothing, minimise the use of antibiotics.
For more information on learning how to observe your cervical mucus go here
(1) Some notes on the biology of the cervix. by Erik Odeblad at http://www.woomb.org/omrrca/bulletin/vol24/no2/cervixnotes.shtml
It is thought that the use of the contraceptive pill may also affect the way the cervical crypts age see http://www.billings-ovulation-method.org.au/act/cervix/ageing.shtml