Takeaway: Vaginal probiotics help with UTIs, yeast infections, and the restoration and maintenance of healthy vaginal pH levels. Some of the most effective vitamins for vaginal health are vitamin A, B6, and C. Keep reading for some helpful tips and tricks on supplementing with probiotics and maintaining optimal vaginal health.
Probiotics are the new go-to supplements for a healthy digestive system, but did you know that it has potential benefits for vaginal health as well? Similar to the human gut microbiome, the vagina is host to possibly millions of bacteria.
And, despite what you might think, having bacteria down there isn’t a cause for concern. The real problem is, how much of it is good bacteria and if it is enough to fight off the bad ones from doing damage to our bodies.
There’s a long list of bacteria that are classified as probiotics, but not all of them live inside the vagina. This is the reason why taking probiotics for the gut and colon is completely different from the type of probiotic supplement recommended for vaginal health.
An estimate of over 50 different species of microorganisms live inside the vagina, and most of them are a type called lactobacilli. Lactobacillus is perhaps one of the most common types of probiotics. It is popularly known for easing diarrhea and promoting a healthy gut, but it also helps in keeping the vagina free from infection.
Maintaining good vaginal health is almost always about keeping a good balance, and you don’t need a lot to achieve this. On top of eating a nutrient-rich diet and avoiding unhealthy lifestyle choices, supplementing the body with enough vaginal probiotics daily could go a long way.
From pills and capsules to consuming foods rich in probiotics like yogurt, there are simple ways to ensure a happy and healthy vagina. The lactobacillus from these probiotic sources can help the body sustain its normal vaginal pH range and prevent a variety of infections as well.
Acidophilus for Vaginal Health
When talking about probiotics for vaginal health, one type of lactobacilli comes to mind. Acidophilus (or more formally known as Lactobacillus acidophilus) is a type of bacteria that can be found in the mouth, intestines, and the vagina.
Today, it is sold as a probiotic supplement in the form of tablets, capsules, powders, and more. It is mainly used to treat digestive issues and promote the growth of good bacteria, but it can also aid in healing certain types of vaginal inflammation.
Although probiotics are naturally found in the body’s ecosystem, it is crucial to have the right amount to fight off the bad bacteria. A lack of vaginal probiotics gives way to the overgrowth of certain microbes that disrupt the overall balance in the vagina. Changes in one’s hormones, undergoing menstruation, unprotected sex, and bad hygiene all contribute to the vagina’s imbalance as well.
A vaginal imbalance can cause numerous issues such as inflammation. Bacterial vaginosis (BV), yeast infections, and trichomoniasis are some of the most common types of inflammation brought about by an imbalance in the vagina.
A vaginal yeast infection is caused by an overgrowth of fungus. While there are a variety of fungi that can cause a yeast infection, the most common culprit is a type called Candida albicans. Vaginal probiotics, especially Lactobacillus acidophilus, are responsible for keeping the vagina clear of such fungi and so a lack of it induces fungal growth due to the imbalance of vaginal bacteria.
However, vaginal imbalance alone is not the only cause of yeast infection. Bacteria-killing antibiotics, diabetes, and pregnancy are all factors that can throw the balance of bacteria off in the vagina. That said, yeast infections are very common among women. It is said that 75% of women have had a yeast infection at least once in their lifetime.
Sadly, no matter how typical this condition may be among most women, it still does not discount that fact that it can give a lot of discomfort and pain. Itching and irritation are the most common symptoms of a yeast infection. But in more severe cases, itching can intensify especially in the vulva area and irritation may lead to a vaginal rash. Some women may also have watery or a thick white discharge and a burning sensation during urination or sex may also occur without proper treatment.
Although a yeast infection is caused by a lack of vaginal probiotics, taking a probiotic supplement is not the cure. Probiotics are taken to simply provide extra strength and support for the body to maintain its well being; they are not medicine. To treat a yeast infection, you will need topical creams or ointments to relieve itching and irritation. Tablets and vaginal suppositories are also recommended as well as some oral antifungal medication.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
Bacterial vaginosis or BV for short is the most common vaginal imbalance condition among women. Healthy women normally have fewer species and lower numbers of bacteria in their vaginas. But, a woman with bacterial vaginosis will have a higher number of bacteria as well as a wider variety of bacteria species.
A large number of excess bacteria causes the vagina’s pH levels to increase beyond 4.5, reducing the number of lactobacilli in the vagina. Women with BV may experience itching along with a strong fishy odor. They may also feel a burning sensation during urination and notice a milky gray vaginal discharge.
Although the exact cause of bacterial vaginosis is still unknown, a couple of factors may put women at a higher risk of contracting BV. According to some research having more than one sexual partner may be a cause of bacterial vaginosis. Rinsing the vagina with soap and water disrupts its natural pH levels, making it another viable cause for BV as well.
On the other hand, some women just have naturally lower levels of good vaginal bacteria. In such cases, it is highly recommended to take some form of probiotic supplementation along with the consumption of more probiotic-rich food. But again, probiotics are not meant as a cure. Treating bacterial vaginosis requires antibiotic medication and consultation with a doctor.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 3.7 million Americans are infected with Trichomoniasis, making it one of the most sexually transmitted infections (STI) today.
Those with trichomoniasis may experience vaginal irritation, itching, and burning, coupled with soreness or redness of the area. They may also feel discomfort when urinating, and they may also have unusual vaginal discharge. The discharge may either be noticeably thinner or denser than ordinary. It may also be transparent, white, yellow, or green in color, and it often has a strong fishy odor as well.
Interestingly, not even probiotics can save a person with trichomoniasis. It cannot also be used as a preventive measure. However, studies show that those with bacterial vaginosis (BV) have a higher chance of contracting trichomoniasis. To cure this STI, a dose of doctor-prescribed antibiotics such as metronidazole or tinidazole are recommended.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Urinary tract infections are not usually caused by the same bacteria or fungi that cause vaginal infections. However, it is important to note that a lack of vaginal probiotics may be a cause of the infection. UTI happens when certain bacteria enter the urinary system via the urethra, eventually affecting the bladder in the process.
Although the urinary system has its own protective wall to keep unwanted bacteria out, in some cases, it still manages to enter and cause an infection. Vaginal probiotics aren’t just for keeping the vagina healthy; it can also help prevent harmful bacteria from entering the urinary tract.
Commonly, UTIs only affect one’s urethra and bladder. But, it can progress into something much more severe and fatal, especially once it affects the kidneys. Although UTI does not always have easily recognizable symptoms, some symptoms are hard to miss, such as:
- A painful, burning sensation when urinating coupled with pelvic pain near the pubic bone
- A need to urinate more frequently than normal but only passing a small amount
- Strong-smelling urine that appears cloudy, red, or pink
Although UTI can affect both men and women, this type of infection is more common among women simply because they have a shorter urethra, making it a lot easier for bacteria to enter and cause significant damage. Apart from a lack of vaginal probiotics, certain types of birth control, urinary system blockage, or sexual activities with a new partner may also be a cause.
Again, to treat UTI, one must take antibiotics that were doctor prescribed. Keep in mind that the antibiotics depend on the type of bacteria found in your urine, so it is best to seek consultation from your doctor first before reaching out to just any kind of antibiotic. For severe UTI cases, intravenous antibiotics may be required in a hospital setting.
Vitamins for Vaginal Health
Consuming probiotics isn’t the only answer to a happy, healthy vagina; you can do many things to ensure proper feminine care. Consuming nutrient-rich foods is a natural and organic way to protect the vagina from harmful bacteria. And for those who have dietary restrictions, taking vitamin supplements is the next best solution. Below is a list of vitamins that are recommended for improving overall vaginal health.
According to medical research, vitamin A is said to have effects on reproduction and fertility in both men and women. That said, taking vitamin A is highly recommended for women who are trying to get pregnant. It is also beneficial for pregnant women as it promotes healthy fetal development as well.
Apart from taking vitamin pills or capsules, incorporating sweet potatoes into one’s diet is also a great way to boost vitamin A levels. Sweet potatoes contain high levels of vitamin A, and they also help keep the vaginal and uterine walls strong and healthy. Nutrients found in sweet potatoes are also beneficial for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thanks to its aid in the production of sex hormones.
Vitamin A isn’t the only vitamin that provides strength for the vagina. Vitamin B6 is also proven to build up the vaginal wall. Neglecting the health of one’s vaginal tissue may cause it to become fragile after some time. When sexual activity and performing Kegel exercises aren’t an option, taking a healthy dose of vitamin B6 can help keep the vagina in good shape.
Foods rich in vitamin B6 are also said to be great libido boosters, making it an excellent option for those looking to improve their sex drive. One good example of such food is avocado. The nutrients found in the avocado does not only improve the libido, but it also enhances lubrication and estrogen levels as well.
Besides taking antibiotics, research says that vitamin C supplements may also be a viable treatment for bacterial vaginosis, most especially with candida-related cases. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests two daily doses of 500 to 1000 mg of vitamin C to improve immunity and to strengthen the lining of the vagina. This helps the vagina to heal from irritation caused by BV.
And, because vitamin C plays an integral role in collagen production, this proves that it can also help in the repair of the body’s damaged tissues. Additionally, consuming large amounts of vitamin C can serve as a treatment for urinary tract infection as it limits the growth of bacteria that acidify urine. This is perhaps one of the reasons why many recommend drinking vitamin C-rich cranberry juice to treat UTI.
Vaginal Health Tips
Let It Breathe
Preventing bad bacteria from growing in the vagina isn’t always about taking the right supplements or eating the right type of food. Most of the time, it’s about choosing the right kind of underwear. 100% cotton is the most highly recommended material for underwear mainly because of its breathability. Cotton lets the air in while also absorbing moisture.
Avoid Using Harmful Chemicals
There are hundreds of feminine care products in the market today; but the truth is, the vagina does not need most of them. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, and it has its own odor. As long as it isn’t foul-smelling, there is no need to clean the vagina with chemical fragrances.
The ingredients found in such products usually cause more harm to the vagina by unbalancing its natural pH level. Before purchasing any product for vaginal health, it is best to consult with a gynecologist first to ensure its safety.
Use Clean Condoms
Poor feminine hygiene is not the only cause for bacterial infection in the vagina. Those who do not practice proper sexual hygiene put themselves at a higher risk not only for vaginal infection but for sexually transmitted diseases as well.
To avoid this, it is recommended to always use a clean condom, especially with a new partner. Those who are engaged in anal sex must also ensure a fresh condom before continuing on to vaginal sex.
Coconut Oil for Vaginal Health
In recent years, coconut oil has become a popular solution for vaginal dryness. Many people are conditioned to think that anything natural and organic is good for the body, but unfortunately, this is not always true when it comes to health.
Although seemingly harmless, coconut oil is not a medically tried and tested substitute for vaginal health supplements. There’s not enough research to support its effectivity as well as safety for prolonged use.
Because coconut oil is oil based, it puts your vagina at risk for a biofilm, making it an environment for recurring bacterial infection.
Coconut oil is also not ideal as a lubricant as it can degrade the latex quality of condoms, and therefore increase the chances of an unplanned pregnancy.
Healthy Vaginal pH
Maintaining the vagina’s normal pH level is essential in preventing vaginal infections. The normal pH range for the vagina is between 3.8 and 4.5 – this is the ideal level to avoid bacterial or fungal infection.
However, there are many situations that may cause the vagina’s pH level to become unbalanced such as unprotected sex, menstrual periods, as well as certain medications and feminine care products. Luckily, there are also plenty of ways to improve pH levels. Read on below to find out how to restore and maintain a healthy pH level in the vagina.
How to Restore Vaginal pH
Those experiencing bacterial vaginosis or other common types of infections may also have a high vaginal pH. While it might make a lot of sense to try to balance the vagina’s pH level with certain products, it is not the proper way to treat it. Douching may also seem like a good solution, but unfortunately, this could actually do more harm than good.
To restore vaginal pH, see your doctor. They will most likely prescribe antibiotics to treat BV and to resolve the vagina’s high pH levels.
How to Maintain Vaginal pH
Maintaining vaginal pH is quite simple as it only takes a couple of lifestyle changes to achieve. Consuming probiotics and vitamins that support vaginal health daily is an obvious way to keep the vagina balanced. Practicing proper hygiene goes a long way in keeping the vagina free of harmful bacteria and fungal growth. Lastly, being selective with underwear and feminine care products are good habits in promoting overall vaginal health.
Vaginal Health Supplements
As mentioned above, Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most popular and common type of probiotic strain when it comes to vaginal health. There are many different types of probiotics out there, but not all of them are meant as supplements for vaginal health. Choose a probiotic with added Lactobacillus acidophilus if you are looking for an option to serve as a vaginal health supplement.
If you’re looking for a supplement to improve your vaginal health, we recommend you give Garden of Life’s Raw Probiotics Vaginal Care Vegetarian Capsules a try. Here’s why we love this supplement:
- You only have to take it once a day
- It has 38 raw probiotic strains promoting flora diversity as found in nature
- Its blend of natural ingredients promotes yeast balance, vaginal and urinary tract health
- Contains a unique yeast-digesting enzyme blend to help break down yeast cell walls
- It has no binders, fillers or carriers.