Yeast infections affect up to 75 percent of women at some point in their lives, according to FamilyDoctor.org. Because they are usually caused by the Candida albicans fungus, the treatment typically consists of an antifungal medication. Although the evidence is preliminary and conflicting, probiotics may also be helpful in preventing and treating these infections. Because there are other serious medical conditions that can have similar symptoms, speak with your doctor before attempting treatment.
Probiotics for Prevention
Taking probiotics may help increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in your vagina, which increases the pH and makes it harder for the organisms that cause yeast infections to survive and multiply, according to an article on the Harvard Medical School website. Although a few studies have shown potential benefits for probiotics limiting the growth and adhesion of Candida albicans in the vagina, not all clinical studies have shown probiotics to be helpful for preventing yeast infections, according to a review article published in 2006. The authors note that probiotics may be helpful for those who don't tolerate antifungals well or who have very frequent yeast infections.
Type of Probiotic
Not all probiotics are beneficial for yeast infections. In fact, many can't kill or prevent the Candida albicans that causes about 75 percent of yeast infections from attaching to the vagina walls. An article published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal in 2003 noted that Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus fermentum RC-14 can have some benefits, but that there isn't enough evidence that probiotics can cure yeast infections. However, the authors noted that they may be useful for preventing recurrences when used along with yeast infection medications.
Another potentially beneficial probiotic for restoring normal levels of healthy bacteria, but not necessarily treating diseases, is Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14, according to a review article published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology in September 2008.
Probiotics as Treatment
A small preliminary study published in FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology in February 2001 found that taking Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus fermentum RC-14 twice a day helped improve symptoms of bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. It didn't necessarily cure these infections, however. Further research using more people is necessary to verify these effects and determine the best type and dose of probiotics.
For this purpose, you'd most likely need to take probiotic supplements because the probiotics found in foods such as yogurt may not be in high enough doses or be the right strains. Not all foods containing probiotics are labeled with the exact strain and amount of probiotics found in the food.
Speak with your doctor before taking probiotic supplements because they may not be safe for everyone. Although most people don't experience adverse effects with probiotics, they can cause upset stomach, gas and diarrhea. People who have artificial heart valves or weakened immune systems should avoid taking probiotics because they have an increased risk of infection. Probiotics may also interact with some medications, including antibiotics and the ulcerative colitis medication sulfasalazine.
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Vaginal Infection
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Lactobacillus Acidophilus
- Harvard Medical School: Health Benefits of Taking Probiotics
- Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy: Probiotics for Prevention of Recurrent Vulvovaginal Candidiasis: A Review
- Postgraduate Medical Journal: Urogenital Infections in Women: Can Probiotics Help?
- FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology: Oral Probiotics Can Resolve Urogenital Infections
- Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology: Probiotic Lactobacilli for Urogenital Health in Women
- FamilyDoctor.org: Yeast Infections
- Photo Credit JGI/Blend Images/Getty Images
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