Vaginal infections are one of the most common reasons women head to the doctor or pharmacy. Antibiotics can challenge the culprit—most often Gardnerella vaginalis, a bacterium named for its home invasion address—but all too often the infection returns with a vengeance.
Healthy premenopausal women predominantly host lactobacilli which produce antimicrobial substances such as hydrogen peroxide, lactic acid and bacteriocins. The healthy bacteria also compete with pathogens and form barriers to prevent colonization and adherence of pathogens.
Would addition of lactic acid bacteria restore balance to the vagina and help prevent against future assaults?
One recent investigation: two lactobacilli were tested in a pilot trial involving 34 women who had active bouts of bacterial vaginosis. Slow release tablets along with an adhesive gum were delivered vaginally once a day, and then one every 3 nights for 3 weeks and finally one tablet a week for maintenance. Many of the women on the probiotic tablets resumed healthy Nugent scores (a measure of vaginal microbes where < 4 means good numbers). After 3 weeks, more than half of the probiotic treated group reached that target. None in the placebo group changed for the better. The report will be presented at the Vitafoods European Conference on May 2014.
One more reminder in this vein. Douching is devastating to healthy microflora; it can cause risky pregnancy outcomes including ectopic pregnancy and low birth weight, and is implicated in serious gynecological problems including cervical cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease, and increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases as well as HIV. Don’t do it.