Thousands of microorganisms, including "good" bacteria that aid in health, live in the vaginal canal.
Probiotic supplements claim to encourage the growth of these beneficial bacteria in the vaginal area. This action is similar to how probiotic pills or supplements work on intestinal bacterial flora. Some vaginal probiotics are taken as pills, whereas others are inserted as suppositories into the vagina.
Probiotics have been shown to help with a variety of digestive issues, including antibiotic-resistant diarrhea and ulcerative colitis according to research. A few preliminary studies suggest that vaginal probiotics may be beneficial in some circumstances. However, researchers do not have enough information yet to declare them safe and beneficial.
Women may take probiotics to keep their vaginal health in check, even if they have no evident issues. However, some experts warn that introducing new bacteria and other microbes into the body can be dangerous.
What are the uses of vaginal probiotics?
People may use vaginal probiotics to address two main issues: bacterial vaginosis and yeast infection.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
BV is the most common imbalance problem. In the vaginal canals of women with BV, there are many different species of bacteria. In comparison, there are fewer species of bacteria in the vaginal area of healthy women.
The pH of the vagina rises above four and a half because of the increased bacteria. This lowers the number of Lactobacillus in the vaginal area. Women with BV frequently suffer the following symptoms in addition to an elevated vaginal pH:
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Fishy odor
- Milky or gray vaginal discharge
The exact cause of BV is not known although some variables appear to increase the risk of some women, such as:
- Douching or cleaning the vagina with soap and water (the vagina cleanses itself and douching can disrupt its natural balance)
- Multiple sexual partners or a new sexual partner
- Natural shortage of Lactobacillus bacteria (some women do not have enough beneficial bacteria in their vaginal environment, which can contribute to BV)
Antibiotics are commonly used in the treatment of BV. These can be taken orally or used in the form of a vaginal gel. Some doctors may recommend a probiotic in addition to antibiotics but not in place of them.
Another problem is a yeast infection. The fungus, Candida albicans, is the most common cause of yeast vaginitis.
Fungus growth is usually slowed by the presence of beneficial bacteria. However, an imbalance of vaginal flora, especially a lack of Lactobacillus, might allow the fungus to develop uncontrollably inside the vagina.
The severity of a yeast infection can range from minor to severe, with signs and symptoms that include:
- Irritation or a burning feeling during sex or urination
- A thick white or watery discharge
- Itching in the vagina and vulva
- Ache and discomfort
- Rash on the vaginal area
The excess of yeast that leads to a yeast infection can be caused by a variety of factors, such as:
- Medications, which can kill the healthy bacteria in the vaginal environment
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- A weakened immune system
- Using oral contraceptives or other hormone therapy that raises estrogen levels
A short course of antifungal treatment can usually cure most yeast infections.
Are probiotics beneficial to vaginal health?
Some researchers believe that consuming probiotics can help restore a healthier bacterial balance in the vaginal area. In theory and some lab studies, this works.
However, what works in the laboratory may not always function in the real body. It might not be as straightforward as taking a pill or suppository containing beneficial microorganisms.
There is currently no evidence that these substances benefit vaginal health. This could change as scientists gain more knowledge. However, antibiotics and antifungal medications are currently the only treatments for vaginal bacterial and yeast infections that have been proven to be effective.
What are the risks of probiotics?
Probiotics sold as dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Their labels may make promises about what is in them and how they operate, but they may not be entirely accurate. So, it is best to be cautious.
More research is needed to determine how safe probiotics are. However, scientists believe they may have some negative consequences, such as:
- Ingredients that are not stated on the label could be harmful to health
- Probiotic microbes produce potentially harmful chemicals
If a person has a major sickness or a poor immune system, they are more likely to experience negative side effects. It is better to steer clear of such probiotics.
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Homayouni A, Bastani P, Ziyadi S, Mohammad-Alizadeh-Charandabi S, Ghalibaf M, Mortazavian AM, Mehrabany EV. Effects of Probiotics on the Recurrence of Bacterial Vaginosis: A Review. J Low Genit Tract Dis. 2014 Jan;18(1):79-86. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24299970/
Wang Z, He Y, Zheng Y. Probiotics for the Treatment of Bacterial Vaginosis: A Meta-Analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(20):3859. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6848925/
Harvard Health Publishing. Should You Use Probiotics for Your Vagina? https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/should-you-use-probiotics-for-your-vagina-2019122718592
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacterial Vaginosis – CDC Fact Sheet. https://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/stdfact-bacterial-vaginosis.htm
Cleveland Clinic. Yeast Infections. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5019-yeast-infections
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Vaginal Yeast Infection
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