Vaginal Infections and Probiotics

Probiotics help prevent and treat vaginal infections. Find out how they work and how to take them for bacterial vaginosis as well as yeast infections.



Vaginal infections can broadly be divided into two groups: bacterial infections (bacterial vaginosis) and yeast infections (for example, Candida albicans infection).

Bacteria and yeast are normal inhabitants of the vagina. The problem arises when pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and yeast become overgrown and the balance of vaginal microflora is disrupted.

There are several reasons why this happens. Among them are antibiotic therapy, normal hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, diet, high in sugar and junk food, use of spermicides, and sexual activity.

What are Probiotics and How They Help With Vaginal Infections?

Probiotics are live, friendly bacteria, which provide numerous health benefits. They can normally be found in the vagina and play an important part in vaginal health.

The most important probiotics in the vagina come from the Lactobacilli group. These bacteria produce substances (like lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide), which make the vagina more acidic and less favorable for the growth of unhealthy microorganisms.

Probiotics also influence the immune system and help calm down the inflammation in the vagina. Studies have shown that probiotics prevent pathogenic bacteria and yeast from adhering to the lining of the vagina and help protect from recurrent vaginal infections.

Probiotics can be successfully used for treating and preventing the reoccurrence of both bacterial vaginosis as well as yeast infection.

When probiotics are used for prevention, they are usually used alone. However, when you are already suffering from the symptoms of vaginal infection, probitics are often used in conjunction with other treatments.

Treating yeast infections

Yeast infections are often treated with antifungal medications, such as clotrimazole, fluconazole, terbinafine.

Those that choose the more alternative path, sometimes use boric acid suppositories (also called borax). These suppositories have been proven helpful for treating yeast infections. Bear in mind, though, that they can often additionally irritate the already inflamed vaginal lining and be quite painful.

After the infection has cleared, probiotics are added to replenish the vaginal flora and decrease the chances of recurring infections.

Treating Bacterial Vaginosis

Many women find that probiotics alone help with bacterial infection.

In cases of severe infection or recurring infections, though, you should get antibiotic treatment. This comes in two forms – you can get oral antibiotics (tablets) or antibiotic gel that you insert in the vagina.

After you finish with antibiotic treatment, probiotics are added to restore healthy vaginal flora.

How To Take Probiotics For Vaginal Infections

There are 2 types of probiotics for vaginal health – oral in tablet form and vaginal in the form of suppositories.

You can take either oral or vaginal or combine both.

All probiotics for vaginal health are focused on the Lactobacilli since they seem to be the ones that contribute most to healthy vagina. Some supplements combine several strains; others focus only on few strains that have been clinically documented for their beneficial effect on the vagina (such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri, RC-14).

When you are suffering from a vaginal infection, it is recommended that you go through the whole treatment course. This means taking the recommended daily dose of probiotics for a certain time period.

Vaginal suppositories are usually used for 6 (or 7) consecutive days. After that period it is recommended that you take a maintaining dose, which means that you use one or two suppositories per month.

It is recommended that you use probiotics just after the end of your menstruation, when you are more susceptible to infection. Sexual intercourse also makes the vaginal lining more vulnerable, so some women use probiotics after each intercourse.

Oral probiotics are usually used on a more long term basis. The starting dose is often higher (for example 2 ‘normal’ servings per day), and then decreased to the long term preventative dose.



Sources and References: 
  1. The Rationale for Probiotics in Female Urogenital Healthcare. Gregor Reid PhD MBA, BSc (Hons), Jeremy Burton PhD, Estelle Devillard PhD. 2004 Medscape. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/470468_4
  2. Health Benefits of Taking Probiotics. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics
  3. Lactobacillus. WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lactobacillus-uses-and-risks
Studies: 
  1. Probiotics for urogenital health. Reid G. Nutrition in clinical care. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12134717
  2. Oral use of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and L. fermentum RC-14 significantly alters vaginal flora: randomized, placebo-controlled trial in 64 healthy women. Reid G, Charbonneau D, Erb J, Kochanowski B, Beuerman D, Poehner R, Bruce AW. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12628548
  3. The identification of vaginal Lactobacillus species and the demographic and microbiologic characteristics of women colonized by these species. Antonio MA, Hawes SE, Hillier SL. Journal of Infectious Diseases. 1999 Dec. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10558952
  4. Improved understanding of the bacterial vaginal microbiota of women before and after probiotic instillation. Burton JP, Cadieux PA, Reid G. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2003 Jan. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12513982
  5. Influence of the normal menstrual cycle on vaginal tissue, discharge, and microflora. Eschenbach DA, Thwin SS, Patton DL, Hooton TM, Stapleton AE, Agnew K, Winter C, Meier A, Stamm WE. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2000 Jun. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10852812
  6. Probiotic Lactobacillus dose required to restore and maintain a normal vaginal flora. Reid G, Beuerman D, Heinemann C, Bruce AW. FEMS Immunology and medical microbiology. 2001 Dec. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11750220
  7. Oral probiotics can resolve urogenital infections. Reid G, Bruce AW, Fraser N, Heinemann C, Owen J, Henning B. FEMS immunology and medical microbiology. 2001 Feb. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11172991
  8. Microbiologic characteristics of Lactobacillus products used for colonization of the vagina. Hughes VL, Hillier SL. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 1990 Feb. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2300352
  9. Assessment of the capacity of Lactobacillus to inhibit the growth of uropathogens and block their adhesion to vaginal epithelial cells. Osset J, Bartolomé RM, García E, Andreu A. Journal of Infectious Diseases. 2001 Feb. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11133381
  10. Persistence of Lactobacillus fermentum RC-14 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 but Not L. rhamnosus GG in the Human Vagina as Demonstrated by Randomly Amplified Polymorphic DNA. Gillian E. Gardiner, Christine Heinemann, Andrew W. Bruce, Dee Beuerman, and Gregor Reid. Clinical and Diagnostic Laboratory Immunology. 2002 Jan.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC119863/

Supplements commonly used for Bacterial Vaginosis:

Probiotics

Vaginal infections can broadly be divided into two groups: bacterial infections (bacterial vaginosis) and yeast infections (for example, Candida albicans infection).

Bacteria and yeast are... read more…

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