QUESTION

The last time I saw my gynecologist, she suggested that I take a probiotic for my vaginal health. Aren’t probiotics for gut health?

ANSWER

Yes, research has shown that an oral probiotic supplement certainly can help ease certain digestive conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome—and it can help anyone maintain a healthy balance in the gut for proper digestion. But these supplements promote vaginal health, too, by helping to prevent bacterial infections, known as bacterial vaginosis (BV).

Here’s why: Though most women don’t realize it, the bacteria that we have in our vaginas are the same bacteria that we have in our guts. A healthy balance of the so-called “good” and “bad” bacteria in the vagina contributes to a normal vaginal pH (level of acidity). Many factors, including the use of oral steroid drugs and the hormonal changes of menopause, can disrupt the vaginal pH level, putting a woman at higher risk for BV. Antibiotics, in particular, can affect the vaginal pH since these drugs kill not only bad bacteria but also good bacteria, such as lactobacilli, that protect vaginal health.

Taking a probiotic supplement will boost protective lactobacilli levels. But one of the problems with taking a probiotic is that there are many different strains of lactobacilli, and some seem to be more helpful than others.

Research has found that various types of lactobacilli benefit vaginal health, including lactobacillus reuteri, salvarius and/or plantarum. Several studies have shown that the lactobacilli found in the oral feminine probiotic supplement RepHresh Pro-B, including lactobacillus rhamnosus, also promote a healthy balance of vaginal bacteria and yeast.

Important: Probiotics are generally safe for everyone to take, but it’s best to check with your doctor before using any new supplement—especially if you take medication or have a chronic health condition.

Note: Yogurt does not contain the species of lactobacillus that helps keep the vagina healthy. However, some strains of yogurt may be good for the gut—and yogurt is generally a good source of dietary calcium.

For more strategies that help fight vaginal infections, read here.