You probably already know that probiotic supplements support your microbiome and immune system, but they aren’t only beneficial for your gut — they can also positively impact the balance of microbes in your vagina (not to mention those in your mouth and elsewhere, too).
How do probiotics for vaginal health work? Key roles that they “friendly bacteria” have include balancing vaginal flora (yeast and bacteria) and maintaining a healthy pH in the vagina, both of which fight development of infections.
What Is An Imbalanced Vagina?
Much like the human microbiome (or gut), a woman’s vagina is home to many different types of beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms. For example, two healthy strains of bacteria that are found in the vagina include L. crispatus and L. iners.
When there’s an imbalance in microorganisms present in the vagina, meaning there’s more than an ideal amount of harmful microbes in proportion to beneficial ones, a woman has a higher chance of developing certain vaginal conditions.
The two most common problems that are linked to an imbalance in microbes in a woman’s reproductive system are bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. Preventing and helping to treat these issues are why most women choose to take a probiotic, especially if these problems keep returning and don’t respond well to other treatments.
It’s now possible to take probiotic pills by mouth, as well as suppository capsules that are inserted into the vagina, in order to help balance the ratio of bacteria present in the vagina. But are they safe and effective? Let’s find out more.
Probiotics for Vaginal Health
Why are probiotics good for vaginal health? According to Harvard Health Publishing, there’s still more to learn about the impact that probiotics can have on vaginal health, mostly due to a lack of credible studies. However, at this time there’s some evidence suggesting that supplementation can lower the risk for reoccurring vaginal infections and the irritating symptoms they cause.
Two smaller studies show the potential of probiotic supplements improving vaginal health, in particular as a natural treatment for bacterial vaginosis (BV).
In a Microbes and Infection journal study of 125 premenopausal women diagnosed with BV by presence of vaginal irritation, discharge and ‘fishy’ odor, half of the cohort were given antibiotics for seven days while the other half were prescribed antibiotics along with a probiotic or placebo for 30 days. A total of 106 subjects returned for 30-day follow-up, of which 88 percent were cured in the antibiotic/probiotic group compared to just 40 percent in the antibiotic/placebo group.
In a separate study of 42 healthy women, supplementing with probiotic for 30 days was correlated with a healthy vaginal flora in up to 90 percent of patients. Among the 11 patients with BV, seven converted to normal or intermediate scores within one month.
Some of the ways that probiotic foods and supplements can support a healthy microbial balance in the vagina include by:
- Preventing reoccurring bacterial vaginosis, which causes symptoms including itching, discharge and an unpleasant smell.
- Preventing reoccurring yeast infections, which can cause painful urination, stinging, vaginal burning, discharge and other uncomfortable symptoms.
- Promoting healthy yeast balance and urinary tract health.
- Reducing discomfort and sensitivity to cleaning products, condoms and even sex with partners by helping to balance vaginal flora and the pH of the vagina.
- Decreasing vaginal odor.
- Serving as a gentle alternative to traditional douching, which can be problematic.
Which probiotic is best for bacterial vaginosis?
BV is considered the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age. BV is thought to be caused mostly by an overgrowth of harmful microorganisms, including the strains called Gardnerella vaginalis and Prevotella.
Experts believe that the best probiotics for women with frequent BV are those in the Lactobacillus family, especially acidophilus, rhamnosus and reuteri. These are naturally found in the vagina and help to counteract the effects of other microorganisms that can be problematic.
It is better to take a probiotic capsule or use a probiotic suppository for BV? It’s still not entirely clear how well oral probiotics (taken in pill form by mouth) make their way to the vagina. And suppositories may be harmful if they are not inserted properly, thus oral capsules are most often recommended at this time.
Most gynecologists who support the use of probiotics for vaginal health advise women to take a high-quality oral supplement (such as one with a high CFU count around 10 to 50 billion CUs) that contains strains including Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and L. reuteri RC-14.
What are the best probiotics for yeast infections?
Yeast infections are mostly caused by an overgrowth of fungus called Candida. Even among women without yeast infections, Candida is still normally present in the vagina, however it can cause an infection when it overpopulates and outnumbers other healthy microbes.
When it comes to preventing yeast infections, research suggests the best probiotics for vaginal health are similar to those used to prevent BV: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Lactobacillus reuteri. These strains are typically recommended for women with frequent yeast infections or vaginosis.
Do probiotics help with pH balance?
Some gynecologists believe that they can. Research published in the Journal of Family Practice states that BV is caused by a shift in vaginal flora from hydrogen peroxide–producing Lactobacillus species to anaerobes that raise the vaginal pH. A balanced pH, which tends to be more acidic, helps to fight infection.
The same Lactobacilli species mentioned above (mainly acidophilus, rhamnosus and reuteri) are among the most widely recommended for balancing the pH of the vagina, which helps maintain the normal balance of bacteria and reduces the risk for some forms of irritation.
Can probiotics make your vagina smell better?
Most likely yes, because bacterial vaginosis can cause a heavy unpleasant odor, and a probiotic can help you repopulate your vagina with healthy bacteria that fight vaginosis.
Other Steps to A Healthy Vagina
If you frequently develop bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections, it’s still important to visit a doctor for help with treatments (such as antibiotic or anti-fungal treatments) even if you choose to take a probiotic.
In addition to taking some of the best probiotics for vaginal health, other ways you can support the health of your vagina include:
- Avoiding douching, which can remove healthy bacteria from the vagina that are needed to control growth of other microorganisms.
- Using natural, unscented soaps on your vagina as opposed to those that are fragranced and contain irritating chemicals.
- Wearing cotton underwear, rather than synthetic fabrics, which allow for more air flow.
- Using organic cotton tampons/pads that are unscented.
- Bathing daily and gently washing with warm water and mild soap.
- Avoiding having too much sexual partners/unprotected sex.
- Never inserting unprescribed treatments into your vagina, including garlic, yogurt, or oregano or tea tree oil.
- Eating a healthy diet that supports your immune system and gut, such as one that includes probiotic fermented foods, leafy greens, berries, herbs and other veggies, and that’s low in sugar and processed foods (you can check out more on following a Candida diet here)
- Certain probiotics can help you repopulate your vagina with healthy bacteria, which can benefit women who experience bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections frequently.
- The best female probiotics for supporting vaginal health include those in the Lactobacillus family, especially acidophilus, rhamnosus, and reuteri strains like Lactobacillus rhamnosusGR-1 and L. reuteri RC-14.
- When it comes to preventing recurrent bacterial vaginosis and yeast or urinary tract infections, introducing more of the helpful lactobacilli strains to the vagina might protect against that overgrowth of harmful organisms that trigger symptoms.
- In addition to preventing infections, a probiotic for vaginal health can help reduce itching, redness, irritation, burning, sensitivity, odor and discomfort.