The benefits of using Probiotics for digestive health are well documented. Probiotics, otherwise known as “good bacteria,” can help us to metabolize our food, absorb key nutrients, and protect our immune systems.
Probiotic-rich foods such as kefir and kombucha have become widely popular in the wellness world, and the demand for Probiotic supplements among the mainstream is also on the rise.
Today, Probiotics are being recommended not only for gut health — but also for vaginal health. Does your vagina really need a Probiotic? Are Probiotics for vaginal health a marketing scam, or is there real science to back the case for vaginal Probiotics?
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What is the microbiome and does the vagina have one?
We are made up of multitudes of microorganisms. The vast network of bacteria living on our skin and inside our body is often referred to as our “microbiome.” A healthy microbiome is one where levels of “good” bacteria outweigh the bad.
The balance of “good” bacteria in our microbiome can easily become disrupted by lifestyle factors such as eating a poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption, or even high levels of chronic stress. An overgrowth of bad bacteria can eventually lead to various health problems.
The vagina, just like the digestive tract, is rich with bacteria and microorganisms. When the microbiome of the vagina becomes imbalanced, this can present in the form of infections such as bacterial vaginosis and vaginal yeast infections.
Several supplement manufacturers are now making Probiotic capsules and suppositories for the treatment of vaginal yeast infections — but do they work?
Do Probiotics work for vaginal health?
When it comes to Probiotics for vaginal health, the research is still ongoing. Currently, the only two scientifically proven ways of treating a vaginal yeast infection are antibiotics and antifungal medications.
While the scientific research to support the effectiveness of vaginal Probiotics is still limited, our understanding of what constitutes a healthy gut microbiome can be a good indicator of the implications for vaginal health.
When it comes to maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, diversity is key. Studies have shown that a healthy gut microbiome plays a role in immune health, and can help ward off inflammation associated with a variety of different diseases.
Related reading: 15 billion reasons to take a Probiotic
When it comes to vaginal health, several gynecological conditions such as bacterial vaginosis and vaginal yeast infections are believed to be caused by an imbalance of bacteria inside the vagina. A yeast infection, for example, signals that there is an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina.
Maintaining a balanced microbiome in the vagina is key for maintaining good vaginal health. Factors that can disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria include:
- Sweaty moist underwear
- Vaginal washes or douches
- Antibiotic use
- Hormonal contraception
- Sexual activity
The natural pH balance of the vagina is acidic, so when the pH becomes more alkaline, women will typically begin to notice symptoms.
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What are the best Probiotics for vaginal health?
When it comes to Probiotic strains, there are a select few that have a scientific basis for supporting vaginal health. These are both strains with proven intestinal health benefits that have been taken orally. These include:
Lactobacillus acidophilus GLA-14
Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001
These strains have shown promising results based on their ability to counteract the growth of pathogens associated with vaginosis.
Taking a high-quality Probiotic on a daily basis has been shown to help reduce the presence of harmful bacteria in the gut by creating a protective coating on the walls of the digestive tract.
It is believed that Lactobacillus acidophilus works in the same way in the gut as it does in the vagina. However, the majority of studies are small and still limited in scope — meaning more research is needed.
Can you use Probiotics to treat yeast infections?
Vaginal yeast infections are incredibly common. An estimated 50% of women worldwide will suffer from a vaginal yeast infection before the age of 50.
Vaginal yeast infections stem from an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. The fungus Candida — which exists normally in the vagina— becomes overgrown and can lead to a whole host of unpleasant symptoms such as:
- Itching or irritation
- Change in odor
- Abnormal thick discharge
- Burning sensation
Luckily, vaginal yeast infections are easy enough to treat. Often doctors will prescribe an-over-the-counter antifungal medication. Many women also seek out Probiotics as a natural complement to allopathic treatments.
When it comes to Probiotics, most Nutrition Experts recommend taking a high-quality synbiotic that contains both Probiotics and Prebiotics — the fibre which feeds the “good bacteria” to multiply and thrive.
The supplement industry is heavily unregulated, meaning that many manufacturers can get away with poor labeling practices and dubious supply chains. Therefore a healthy dose of skepticism is wise when selecting a Probiotic.
What is a yogurt douche and does it work?
A yogurt douche is the introduction of yogurt, which is high in “good” bacteria such as lactobacilli, directly to the vagina. The thinking behind yogurt douching is if you add more “good” bacteria to the vagina, it will protect against the overgrowth of harmful organisms and consequently reduce recurrent infections.
Some women insert yogurt-soaked tampons as a way of introducing this beneficial bacteria. Unfortunately there is no scientific research to support that this is in any way beneficial. Most of the advice regarding yogurt douching is based entirely on anecdotal evidence.
In fact, yogurt douches may cause more harm than good. Inserting any kind of foreign compound into the vagina can be dangerous as it runs the risk of causing further irritation or damage to the delicate lining of the vagina. It is therefore not advisable to practice yogurt douching.
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The bottom line
The verdict on vaginal Probiotics is still out — however, the benefits of Probiotics for digestive health are well documented. Taking a high-quality Probiotic on a daily basis is a safe bet for any woman looking to improve her overall wellbeing.
If you are suffering from persistent or chronic vaginal yeast infections, you should consult your doctor as this may be an indication of a separate health issue.