Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts. We used to know very little about these so-called “friendly” bacteria that live within us all. There are trillions of them in the gastrointestinal tract and the vaginal tract in women. Well, that was then and this is now. We're certainly getting to know a lot more about probiotics in recent times. Advocates of probiotics claim they have a whole plethora of health benefits, though the science doesn't agree with it all, at least not yet.
In this piece we focus on the use of probiotics for vaginal health.
About the Vagina
The female vagina is a muscular tube that leads from the external genitals to the cervix of the uterus. It is populated by a whole range of microorganisms from a pool of over 50 different species. The most predominant of these species is lactobacilli, especially in healthy women. The microbiota can, and often does, change composition rapidly. The exact reasons for this are not always clear. When change does occur, infection is often quick to follow .
The microbial species that inhabit the vaginal tract are crucial for the maintenance of vaginal health. They also assist in the prevention of infection. It's fair to say that the vagina is as complex and as delicate as it is significant. There is certainly plenty that can go wrong with it, that's for sure. This is why it's vital that women know how to take good care of their vaginas. Even though most do, three out of every four women still experience a yeast infection at least once in their lifetime .
Vaginal Yeast Infections and Probiotics
Candida is a genus of yeasts. It is also the most common cause of fungal infections the world over. When everything is in balance, the lactobacillus bacteria keep this yeast in check. Whenever there's an imbalance, there can be an overgrowth of yeast. And when that happens, the symptoms of vaginal yeast infections begin to materialize.
Vaginal yeast infections (candidiasis) are quite common among females. Candida is the root cause of these common disorders. The symptoms associated with vaginal yeast infections include intense itching, swelling, and severe irritation. Probiotics have shown to be effective at attacking candida in a couple of ways. First they restore the bacterial balance in the vagina. They do this by replacing the depleted good bacteria that the candida overgrowth wiped out. The other thing probiotics do is keep your candida under control by obstructing further growth. It's a clever concept but one that is quite simple, at least from a scientific angle .
In the vast majority of cases, these infections have nothing to do with poor hygiene. There are quite a few causes for them, including:
- Hormonal imbalance near the menstrual cycle
- Lack of sleep or quality slumber
- Poor diet
- Stress and/or anxiety
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Weakened immune system
Choosing Probiotics for Vaginal Health
Choosing the right supplements for vaginal health can be overwhelming. At least it can seem that way for anyone who is unfamiliar with the products. If in doubt, it's best to seek the advice of a medical professional. It's also useful for you to understand a little on how probiotics work at treating your symptoms. The reason for this is because not everyone reacts the same way to every treatment. So the more you get to know your own body and probiotic product the better. You need to find something that works for you specifically.
OK, let's now look at some of your options.
How Many Billions
When you look on probiotic product labels you will see numbers in the billions. This number can range from 1 – 100bn or more bacteria per capsule. In general, the higher the numbers are the better the product, but take note of the strains too. However, before deciding on anything, it's a good idea to start with a lower quantity to see how you react. Remember, not everyone reacts the same way to every product. If the probiotic doesn't cause any severe reaction, you can safely increase the dosage.
Note that soil-based probiotics have a much lower bacteria count. Don't think they're less effective, because they're not. In fact, they're much more resilient and guaranteed to survive the journey to your gut. If in doubt, discuss your options with someone in the know.
How Many Strains
A probiotic ‘strain' is a specific biological variety of a species. Some probiotics contain just a single strain whereas others can contain 15 strains or more. Some naturopaths think that more strains increase the chances of getting candida overgrowth under control. Though this sounds logical, it's not necessarily true. Again, we all react differently, so it's more a case of finding out what works best for you and your symptoms. What you want to look for is a product which contains no fewer than five of the most potent strains.
Probiotic products can contain billions of bacteria and several different strains. It can seem like a minefield of information, but it's not as hard as it might first appear. Here are two strains you definitely want to look out for:
- Lactobacillus Acidophilus: This is by far the most popular strain of probiotic. It can improve your immune system and cut down any candida overgrowth.
- Bifidobacteria Bifidum: This is another popular strain. It can help with digestion and supports the immune system. Bifidobacteria Bifidum also assists in the synthesis of B vitamins.
Good hygiene will only go so far when it comes to vaginal health. In reality, a lot of scrupulously clean women often experience problems with yeast infections. Sometimes the cause is known, but often it's a mystery. Probiotics have shown to be effective not only at treating yeast infections but preventing them from occurring in the first place. There is not a “one product fits all” solution when it comes to probiotics. It's more a case of finding something that works for you and your symptoms and sticking with it.