Most women have experienced a yeast infection at some point in their life. That’s because these infections are a common problem plaguing many women and tend to be persistent in nature. While there are many medical interventions that are effective, some women often find that the infection returns, sometimes even worse than before treatment. I came across some exciting research in my new book, The Probiotic Promise: Simple Steps to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out (DaCapo, 2015), for the treatment of yeast infections. The following is adapted from this book.
Before exploring this new research, let’s take a look at what causes yeast infections in the first place.
Yeast infections occur when there is an imbalance of beneficial microbes to harmful yeasts in the vagina and in the intestines as well. The harmful yeasts can release toxins that create an imbalanced pH balance in the vagina, creating an ideal environment for the fungi to continue proliferating and causing infection.
There are many reasons for the microbial imbalance: excessive sugar intake, alcohol consumption, birth control pill use, antibiotic use, stress, and sexual contact with an infected partner. Restoring the microbial balance is the key to addressing yeast infections and eliminating them altogether.
A study published in the medical journal FEMS Immunology and Medical Microbiology, researchers at the Canadian Research and Development Center for Probiotics in London, Ontario, Canada, studied whether the combination of two specific probiotic strains: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus fermentum RC-14, taken in supplement form could restore vaginal microbial balance. The women who took these probiotic supplements orally had a significant increase in beneficial Lactobacilli bacteria in the vagina. At the same time they had a significant drop in yeast and in E. coli bacteria compared to the placebo group.
The scientists concluded that the combination of these two probiotic strains reduced the harmful bacteria and yeasts in the vagina, while restoring beneficial microbes, and are safe for daily use in healthy women. (Note: The study only examined healthy women. This combination of probiotic strains may work in women with other health issues but this study did not explore this possibility.) The product used in the study, which contains both of the effective strains, was Fem-Dophilus but other products containing the same two strains should produce similar results.
The study raises a couple of important issues:
1) While many medical products are effective at killing the harmful yeasts, it is also imperative to restore beneficial microbes in the vagina at the same time.
2) Many women simply take a random probiotic supplement or eat yogurt and hope that this works but not all strains of probiotics work against every type of infection. In vaginal infections, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus fermentum RC-14 have demonstrated significant effectiveness but other strains of probiotics may not produce the same results. More research on different strains will help to determine whether others will have the same effect. So it is important to choose a probiotic supplement containing these proven strains. Most yogurt does not contain either of these strains.