You've probably come across a lot of random advice about how to best take care of your vagina. There's a lot of good information out there like what a fishy vaginal odor means, but there's also a lot of incorrect information floating around.
If you've heard that probiotics ("Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host," according to the Food and Agriculture Organization) can improve the overall health of your vagina and you have suspicions, we've got you covered. To find out if probiotics can really improve the health of your vagina, POPSUGAR reached out to the experts.
"I actually think they're beneficial," Taraneh Shirazian, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone and the founder of Saving Mothers, told POPSUGAR. "If a woman has a lot of vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis infections or yeast infections, I often will recommend a probiotic because it will keep the pH balanced, if you will, without adding other kinds of things into the vagina that could potentially throw off the pH," she explained.
Heather Bartos, a board-certified ob-gyn, also recommends people with vaginas take probiotics, especially if they have a vaginal infection. According to Dr. Bartos, a lot of vaginal infections can come from your gut. "Rectal type bacteria - E. coli and group B streptococcus - are becoming more prevalent as vaginal infections," she said. "Anything that improves your gut health is going to give you a better bacterial load in the rectum and all throughout your intestines, which sits like two centimeters away from your vagina," she explained. In sum, having a healthier rectum will help to improve the health of your vagina, according to Dr. Bartos.
If you're wondering how probiotics can help balance out the pH levels of the vagina, Dr. Shirazian explained that it has a lot to do with the bacteria and the environment of the vagina. "Everything you ingest - let's say you have a very high-sugar diet. That sugar will wind up in those vaginal secretions as it will also in the bladder, in the urine," she explained. You may also find traces in your GI tract as your body breaks it down and digests the sugary foods, but this can pertain to anything you eat. "The probiotic is just a way of making sure that what you eat and digest is as pH balanced as it can be," according to Dr. Shirazian.
So where can you get probiotics from? Dr. Shirazian recommends taking an oral probiotic "because the probiotic has active bacteria in yeast that are good for you." Neither doctor recommends a specific brand, and Dr. Bartos recommends using any refrigerated probiotic with a combination of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. A 2017 article in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology found that combinations of the lactobacillus strain "strongly suggest" that products with the lactobacillus strains can be used to prevent bacterial infections of the urogenital (relating to the urinary and genital organs) tract.
According to Dr. Shirazian, you shouldn't be concerned with how many CFUs (colony-forming units, which means the number of active microorganisms present) your probiotic contains. Instead, she recommends opting for any daily probiotic that has active cultures and that fits into your budget.
Probiotics can improve your vaginal health, but only with consistency, both Dr. Bartos and Dr. Shirazian explained. In addition to probiotics, Dr. Bartos advises taking prebiotics (high-fiber foods that act as food for human microflora) for optimal gut and vaginal health. This is because "prebiotics help the probiotics stick (to the intestinal mucosa); we think they prep the gut for the probiotics and then kind of stick [to the gut] and work," she explained.
If you want a healthier gut and vagina, taking probiotics can help. As always, consider consulting a medical provider before making any changes to your health and wellness routine.