Yeast infections happen when there’s an overgrowth of fungus called Candida. There are many different strains of Candida, but Candida albicans is the most common cause of vaginal yeast infections.
Your body is home to trillions of microorganisms, including fungi, bacteria, and viruses. These tiny organisms are harmless and live in colonies. Together, they’re known as the human microbiota. Candida is part of your normal microbiota, but sometimes it grows a little too much. This disrupts your usual microbiota, causing a yeast infection.
Probiotics are a collection of live microorganisms that have health benefits for your body. Some of the most common probiotics are a type of bacteria called Lactobacillus. The vaginal microbiota naturally contains Lactobacillus. It helps to prevent Candida and other bacteria from growing out of control.
Keep reading to learn more about the research behind probiotics as a treatment for yeast infections. You’ll also learn how to safely use them on your own.
Women have been using yogurt, which often contains Lactobacillus, to treat yeast infections for centuries. Recent studies suggest that this might be more effective than experts originally thought.
A 2012 study involving 129 pregnant women with yeast infections found that a mixture of honey, which has antimicrobial properties, and yogurt had effects similar to traditional antifungal medications. The yogurt and honey mixture was better at reducing symptoms, while the antifungal medication was more effective for eliminating fungi. A 2015 study found similar results in nonpregnant women.
Another 2015 study found that combining a prescription antifungal medication — such as fluconazole (Diflucan) — with probiotic vaginal suppositories made the antifungal more effective. The combination also reduced the chances that a yeast infection would return. This suggests that probiotics might be very useful for women who get recurrent yeast infections at least four times a year.
Keep in mind that many of the existing studies about using probiotics to treat yeast infections are fairly small, so it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions from them. However, these studies also haven’t found any risks associated with using probiotics to treat a yeast infection.
If you regularly get yeast infections or experience side effects from traditional antifungal medications, probiotics may be especially useful.
Probiotics come in several forms that you can use in different ways. You can find them in the form of capsules or suppositories, which you insert into your vagina. When choosing a capsule or suppository, look for one that includes a list of the bacteria it contains. Most products will list them based on how many are in each dose. Try to find one that lists Lactobacillus near the top, such as these capsules or this suppository, both available on Amazon.
For a more cost-effective option, you can also use yogurt. Just make sure you choose one with a label that mentions live cultures and Lactobacillus. Avoid yogurts with added sugar or flavoring. Yeast feeds on sugars, so plain yogurt is best for a yeast infection.
To use the yogurt, remove a cotton tampon from its applicator and refill the applicator with yogurt. Lay down while inserting the applicator and releasing all of the yogurt into your vagina. Wait a few minutes before standing up to give it time to settle in.
As with other creams for yeast infections, the yogurt will eventually start leaking out of your vagina. You may want to consider apply it right before bed or when you won’t be standing for long periods of time. If you need to apply it during the day or before being active, you may want to use a pantyliner or a pad to protect your clothing and provide extra comfort.
You can also apply yogurt to your vulva, which is the outer part of your vagina, to relieve itching and burning.
Studies involving the use of yogurt and honey in the vagina suggest that this mixture takes about a week to work. Oral probiotics, on the other hand, can take anywhere from one to four weeks to alter the microbiota of your vagina. If you choose to use oral probiotics, you can still apply yogurt to your vulva to help manage your symptoms while you wait for them to work.
Bad reactions to probiotics are extremely rare. These bacteria already exist in your body, so adding more of them generally doesn’t carry any risks. However, if you have a weakened immune system, due to an underlying condition or treatment you’re receiving, it’s best to check in with your doctor before adding any type of bacteria to your body.
As well, keep in mind that you could experience mild side effects such as gas and bloating.
If you’ve never had a yeast infection before, it’s best to make an appointment with your doctor to confirm you don’t have something else. The symptoms of a yeast infection are similar to those of other conditions, including many sexually transmitted diseases and bacterial vaginosis. Both of these can eventually cause fertility problems or pregnancy complications, so it’s important to rule these out first. Once you’d had a few yeast infections, you’ll get better at recognizing their symptoms.
You should also contact your doctor if you don’t notice any improvement in your symptoms within 7 to 14 days. You may have a different type of infection or need a prescription antifungal medication, such as fluconazole.
There haven’t been many large studies done that look at the effectiveness of probiotics for treating yeast infections. However, the limited research that does exist is promising. Unless you have a weakened immune system, it doesn’t hurt to try probiotics, especially if you notice side effects when you use traditional yeast infection treatments.
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