These good bacteria benefit us in a variety of ways which may include supporting immune function, controlling inflammation, supporting digestive function, improving the absorption of food and nutrients, and creating vitamins.
They are also found in pill, powder, or liquid form and commonly used to replenish good bacteria that may be depleted from a number of factors such as poor diet, antibiotics and medications, chronic stress, and toxins.
In this day and age they are well known for their beneficial effects on digestive health. But they are also gaining a lot more attention from new research that is continually emerging and finding that they not only benefit the gut, they also exert a variety of positive health benefits throughout the body, including vaginal health.
Yes, there is a whole world down there! Our vaginal microbiome can actually have a major impact on health and disease, so it's important that we take care of it.
Probiotics for women's health
The vaginal microbiome is home to many different microorganisms and made up of over 50 different species of microbes.
These bacteria aren’t here to harm us, they are here to protect us and keep us healthy, forming a mutually beneficial relationship with the human body and providing a line of defence against harmful pathogens (1).
Studies suggest that there exists upwards of 200 species of bacteria that live in the vagina. Among most women, the dominant bacterial species, Lactobacillus, is believed to promote a healthy vaginal ecosystem.
Over 120 species of Lactobacillus bacteria have been identified in the vagina (2).
A lack of lactobacilli bacteria paired with an overgrowth of other microbes can result in imbalances in the vagina and increase the risk of infections.
Probiotics for vaginal infections
Our microbiome is an important line of defence against infections that can arise from an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. This doesn't only occur in the gut, it can also happen in the land down under.
These bacteria play a protective role in preventing the colonization of potentially pathogenic organisms. Disruptions in the microbial community are associated with an increased risk of increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections and disorders of the vaginal microbiota that may impact fertility (3).
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal condition, accounting for millions of doctor visits per year in the U.S alone. BV is characterized by an imbalance or disruption of the equilibrium of the normal vaginal ecosystem (4).
Bacterial vaginosis is said to occur when there is an excess of certain bacteria present in the vagina. Women with BV have been shown to have different microbial profiles than asymptomatic and healthy women (5).
Vulvovaginal candidiasis is another common condition among females, also known as Candidiasis or vaginal yeast infection, which is caused by an overgrowth of fungus called candida albicans.
Fungus is usually kept under control by beneficial bacteria, however if there is an imbalance, this can cause fungus to grow out of proportion and outnumber healthy bacteria in the vagina, and as a result cause an infection.
According to research, the best probiotics for vaginal health and to prevent infections are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Lactobacillus reuteri.
In vitro studies and clinical trials have shown positive results regarding the effectiveness of some specific lactobacilli strains against candida albicans (6).
Ironically certain types of yeast can also help to clear yeast infections like candida albicans. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is known as a probiotic agent that can positively influence the treatment and prevention of vulvovaginal candidiasis by accelerating the clearance of the fungus (7).
Probiotics may be a safe and alternative treatment for BV, providing short term and long term beneficial effects, compared to antibiotics and placebo (8).
One study found that patients given probiotics with antibiotics noticed a significantly greater cure rate of bacterial vaginosis at 88% compared to 40% in the antibiotic/placebo group (9).
Thus far, studies measuring the effects of probiotics in the treatment of BV have more promising results compared to treatment of Candidiasis (10).
Yay or nay for probiotics down under?
So are probiotics the answer to vaginal troubles?
It's important to always receive a proper diagnosis and treat the underlying root causes to vaginal imbalances, especially if you experience recurring infections.
However, probiotics may help to both prevent and treat vaginal imbalances while reducing the irritating symptoms that may arise.
Probiotics may improve and support vaginal health in a number of ways:
- repopulating the vagina with beneficial microbes
- maintaining a healthy pH in the vagina
- protecting against and preventing reoccurring bacterial and yeast infections
Though more high quality research is needed to confirm the effects of probiotics on vaginal health, probiotics may be a safe and effective alternative treatment and prevention for many women suffering from vaginal imbalances.
Taking probiotic supplements and including probiotic foods in your diet may help contribute to keeping your lady parts healthy.
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