By Lawrence Hoberman, M.D.
There is ongoing discussion and interest about the importance of the human microbiome, the trillions of microorganisms that make up our bodies. Also called the microbiota, this cluster of bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses, present mostly in the large intestines, must remain in proper balance in order to prevent overgrowth of harmful bacteria, aid digestion, empower the immune system and ward off infection and illness.
The microbiome, however, isn’t completely isolated in the gut. Communities of bacteria ─ mainly varying species of Lactobacillus ─ inhabit other areas of the body including the vagina where vaginal flora plays a critical role in women’s health.
Importance of vaginal pH balance
The microbiome of the vaginal lining and its composition of lactic acid bacteria is critical in preventing vaginal and urinary tract infections. A healthy one is comprised of several differing species of Lactobacillus bacteria that ferment vaginal secretions and produce lactic acid, which normalizes pH (the measure of acidity and alkalinity) levels to a healthy range of 3.5 to 4.5. These beneficial bacteria also produce antimicrobials and hydrogen peroxide, which destroy or stymie the growth of harmful bacteria responsible for bacterial vaginosis and candidiasis, or yeast infection.
Women who lack this healthy acidic balance pose a higher risk for contracting sexually transmitted disease, giving birth prematurely and developing perinatal infection and pelvic inflammatory disease.
Changes in sexual practices or taking antibiotics can also trigger vaginal dysbiosis and microbiota imbalance, in turn upsetting pH levels.
Probiotics for vaginal health
Studies and clinical trials have concluded that a regimen of probiotic supplements can restore the vagina to natural bacterial levels. Supplements can be taken orally and will pass to the vagina.
Two well-studied probiotics, Lactobacillus rhamnosus (GR-1) and Lactobacillus reuteri (RC-14) have shown effectiveness in preventing vaginal infections, especially when taken in conjunction with antibiotic treatment, which can destroy the body’s natural lactobacilli bacteria. Another key player, Lactobacillus plantarum (P 17630), adheres to the vaginal lining, intercepting pathogenic bacteria.
Probiotic products can be diverse and it’s not uncommon to find six to eight different strains of lactobacillus bacteria in any probiotic supplement, as multiple strains bring synergistic benefits. The product should contain 10 to 20 billion CFUs (colony forming units) per serving along with a prebiotic to help the bacteria proliferate and maintain viability.
While taking probiotic supplements is deemed generally safe, immunosuppressed individuals should check with their health care provider beforehand.
About Dr. Hoberman
Board-certified gastroenterologist Lawrence Hoberman, MD, is the creator of EndoMune Advanced Probiotic, EndoMune Metabolic Rescue, and founder of Medical Care Innovations. During his 40-plus years practicing internal medicine and gastroenterology, Dr. Hoberman has worked with microbiologists to identify beneficial bacteria, resulting in the development of his own supplements for adults and children. Visit www.endomune.com to learn more.