Understanding the link between probiotics and improved vaginal health

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Vaginal health is of immense significance, especially for women opting for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment for infertility. According to a April 2022 Nature.com study, in healthy women, the vaginal microbiome is dominated by a homogeneous variety of Lactobacillus species (L. iners, L. crispatus, L. gasseri and L. jensenii). It notes, “Lactobacillus species produce lactic acid in the vagina that helps preserving vaginal acidic pH, which acts as a bactericidal against pathogenic bacteria. In contrast, a vaginal microbiome with high diversity of species, as observed in bacterial vaginosis, involves a risk for infections and pelvic inflammatory disease.”

Probiotics have been touted as a way to introduce live microorganisms into your vagina to improve health, according to a Harvard Education blog report. “It’s true that your vagina, like your digestive tract, is teeming with beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms. When it comes to vaginal health, some common gynecological conditions are thought to be caused by an imbalance of bacteria inside the vagina. More often than not, when women seek out probiotics, they’re doing it in an attempt to ease discomfort caused by two of them: bacterial vaginosis and yeast infection,” it notes.

However, a new study indicates that probiotics may not necessarily improve ‘poor’ vaginal health. The study from The ReproHealth Research Consortium Zealand University Hospital suggested that good bacteria from probiotics may not improve “unhealthy vaginal flora when administered vaginally in a daily capsule”.

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As part of the study conducted between April 2019 and February 2021, 74 women were administered the daily course of the capsule for 10 days before their respective fertility treatment. While there was no significant difference between those who took the capsule and those who had the placebo, more than a third of the participants, according to the study, showed improvement between a month to three months regardless of whether they took a probiotic or not.

IVF Vaginal health plays an important role in infertility treatment success (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

The research authors, therefore, suggest that it is “worthwhile to postpone fertility treatments in patients with unfavourable vaginal microbiome until a normal balance is achieved”.

What does vaginal disbalance mean?

Vaginal imbalance can lead to bacterial vaginosis (BV), yeast infections, trichomoniasis, and a urinary tract infection (UTI), explained Dr Surabhi Siddhartha, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospital Kharghar.

How do probiotics help?

According to Dr Surabhi, one strain of probiotic, L. acidophilus, can aid in treating vaginal imbalance issues like bacterial vaginosis (BV). “Taking probiotics is not only good for your gut but even the vagina. Probiotics contain good bacteria and will help prevent and treat imbalance in the vagina. This strain can also help to reduce the symptoms of vaginal infections and other vaginal issues,” she mentioned.

As such, eating probiotics on a daily basis, as recommended by the doctor, can allow you to restore the natural balance of bacteria throughout the body. “This could help re-balance vaginal pH levels and tackle vaginal infections. You will also need to take utmost care of your vagina by following good personal hygiene,” said the expert.

Is it recommended to take probiotic supplements?

While supplements or fortified foods are not meant to replace food, they can be taken in particular cases under guidance, said the expert. “Taking probiotic supplements can be helpful for women and will not have any side-effects. But, you will have to ask the doctor before taking them,” said Dr Surabhi.

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