Probiotics can play a major role in gut health and are often lauded for their overall health benefits. But what about when it comes to probiotics for vaginal health? Let’s dig in. Does probiotics really work? Here’s what you need to know…
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and/or yeasts found naturally in most fermented foods including (but not limited to) yogurt, kefir, unpasteurized sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, and soft cheeses. If fermented foods aren’t your thing, you can also purchase probiotics as a nutritional supplement. They’re often sold in the natural health aisles of your store, often in a refrigerator.
The main purpose of probiotics is to replenish “good” bacteria throughout the body. Our bodies naturally contain a balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria with the majority found in the digestive system, and for women, the vagina. When something happens to disrupt this balance, you might experience digestive issues or be more prone to developing an infection.
People will take supplements or eat foods with probiotics to attempt to replenish the balance of good bacteria.
Probiotics and vaginal health: Do they really work?
The vagina microdome naturally contains bacteria and other microorganisms that exist peacefully to prevent infection. Anything can disrupt this balance, from antibiotics to douching to introducing a new sexual partner. When this happens, harmful bacteria can take over making you more susceptible to infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV), fungal infections, and sexually transmitted infections. That’s where probiotics might help.
Around 70% of the bacteria found in the vagina belongs to the Lactobacilli family. This type of bacteria produces lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide which helps protect against harmful bacteria by creating an acidic environment. Therefore, it is believed that probiotics containing strains of Lactobacilli bacteria may help restore balance to the vaginal microdome so your body can fight the infection.
There isn’t a lot of evidence supporting the effects of probiotics on vaginal health, but some recent studies have offered promising results:
- A study published in 2019 determined that probiotics may help as a short term treatment against recurring yeast infections.
- This study from 2013 suggests that probiotics may be effective against recurring BV when taken alongside an antibiotic treatment.
Nonetheless, these studies shouldn’t be taken as gospel, and probiotics alone aren’t meant to treat vaginal issues wholesale. By the way, have you seen our vaginal health tips yet?
Should I Take Probiotics?
Since probiotics are considered a nutritional supplement, they don’t have to adhere to the same guidelines and testing as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Therefore, their effectiveness against vaginal infection isn’t well understood. Think of them as food, like any other nutritional supplement you might take (Vitamin D, etc), rather than thinking of them like medicine that’s going to fix everything for you.
Eating healthier foods is, of course, good for your health and preventative medicine can be effective in preventing various issues from cropping up, but food isn’t what you should turn to if you’re currently dealing with an infection or any other types of vaginal issues or discomforts.
While there isn’t evidence that probiotics will harm your health, it’s generally advised that you seek medical attention when treating any vaginal infection to ensure it is treated properly. Some infections, like BV and STIs, usually require antibiotic treatment and you could do more harm than good by delaying proper medical care. Infections can get worse and worse if you ignore them or don’t treat them properly.
The best thing you can do for your vaginal health is to prevent an infection from occurring in the first place. This includes doing things like avoiding douching (and other feminine hygiene products), wiping from front to back, urinating after sex, wearing cotton underwear, and using a condom when you have sex (especially if you have a new partner or multiple partners).
Once you’re already dealing with an infection, the best thing you can do is to get it taken care of quickly with professional medical guidance, as needed.
If you’re dealing with vaginal health issues currently, don’t rely on probiotics to treat them. This could take time, and there’s no reason to think that it will solve your problem, so it’s important to get properly diagnosed by a doctor instead of trying to self-treat by eating yogurt.
Eating or taking probiotics could help your overall health in a number of different ways, but it’s not some cure-all for vaginal health, especially if you’re already dealing with an infection.
Things like mild yeast infections can be successfully treated at home using over the counter treatments like boric acid suppositories, but for recurring yeast infections, BV, and other issues – go see a doctor!
If you love yogurt with extra probiotics, fermented foods, or probiotic supplements – do it up! But think of it as part of a healthy overall lifestyle, rather than thinking of it as medicine.
Sarah Nelson is a nurse with 15 years of experience working with a variety of patients. She has a Masters of Science in Nursing and has spent a large portion of her career working exclusively with women in an OB/GYN setting.
Nursing is a passion for Sarah but she also enjoys writing and sharing her expertise online with people who need helpful information. Treating patients well and helping them learn more about their own bodies is a key essential to a healthy lifestyle that Sarah truly believes in.