Lactobacillus for Women's Health

Joanna Scott-Lutyens BA (Hons) DipION

Vaginal health is an often over looked, rarely mentioned issue, yet affects most women at some point in their lives. The term vaginal health, or women's intimate health, generally covers conditions such as thrush, cystitis and bacterial vaginosis. There is growing research showing how the right bacteria can help alleviate the symptoms of these. The most recent research shows that taking Lactobacillus probiotics alongside conventional treatment can provide long term protection from recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (R-VVC) and bacterial vaginosis (BV).

Woman balancing
Having the right balance of vaginal bacteria is key to vaginal health

The study

The aim of this study led by Pendharker was to look at the effect of colonisation of the vaginal tract with Lactobacillus in women affected with BV and R-VVC, who were also taking conventional medicine for these conditions alongside this probiotic. 

A total of 40 Scandinavian women with BV or R-VVC were recruited for this study. These were then divided into groups where some were given antibiotics and antimicrobials first followed by a probiotic containing the strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus DSM 14870 and Lactobacillus gasseri DSM 14869, other groups were given the same conventional treatment but given more extensive probiotic treatment for four months afterwards. Finally a group was given conventional treatment only.

The results were that the 6-month cure rate for BV was 50 % in groups given limited probiotics, while both the 6- and 12-month cure rates were 67 % in groups given probiotic supplements for an extended period. The 6- and 12-month cure rates for VVC were 100 % and 89 % in women receiving both fluconazole and probiotics, and 100 % and 70 % in women receiving fluconazole only.

Woman at pharmacy
The study showed that probiotics taken alongside conventional treatment increased efficacy

What does this mean for women?

So what are the implications of this for women? This study, albeit very small, is a very positive move towards showing how probiotics can help women with their vaginal health as well as being positive for everyone’s digestive health. Of course, as always, the effects of probiotics are strain specific and in fact there are some large clinical research studies on the strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1® and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14®. For example in one trial, 125 women with BV took these strains for 1 week, alongside antibiotics, as well as for 3 weeks afterwards, and another group who took a placebo. The BV cleared up in just 40% of those who took antibiotics alone, whereas BV was resolved in 88% of those who took these particular strains of probiotics with the antibiotics. So effectively these strains doubled the efficacy of the antibiotics.There are further trials on Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1® and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14® which look at on other aspects of women’s intimate health, thrush and cystitis. Health professionals can follow these links to the Probiotics Database to find out more about the research using Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1® and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14® .

The beauty of these probiotics is that not only does it increase the efficacy of conventional treatments, but also appears to act as a prevention against recurrence. For those 1 in 3 women who suffer from BV, 30% of women who suffer recurring cystitis and 75% of women who suffer thrush at least once, these strains of probiotics could be a welcome addition to their tool kit to rid themselves of these uncomfortable conditions.

Read the following articles to find out more about women's intimate health:

Your Vaginal Flora - What All Women Should Know

Probiotics and Bacterial Vaginosis