As we are well aware, millions of bacterial species live within our bodies. When the balance is altered, disorders, such as bacterial vaginosis, can arise. In the case of gastrointestinal disorders, is it possible to treat vaginosis by taking probiotic to restore the compromised balance? We asked Dr. Anna Maria Baggiani, Head of the Unit for Female Infertility and Assisted Reproduction Fertility Center at Humanitas.
The vaginal environment has an acidic pH. This condition helps prevent the proliferation of harmful bacteria and maintains levels of lactobacilli (good bacteria that protect the environment). Vaginal pH balance can be affected by factors such as menstrual flow, antibiotic intake, excessive hygiene, use of an IUD (intrauterine device), and sperm. If the balance of pH is altered, this can result in the increased growth of anaerobic organisms that replace normal lactobacilli, thus causing bacterial vaginosis. Women of reproductive age, between the ages of 15 and 44, are the group at the highest risk of exposure. In many cases, the infection is asymptomatic; however, symptoms such as light-colored vaginal secretions, a strong vaginal odor (especially after sexual intercourse), as well as pain, itching and burning during urination, can occur.
The exact causes of bacterial vaginosis remain unknown because their association with sexual activity has not been fully understood. However, a higher incidence of this infection has been found among women with multiple partners. Bacterial vaginosis can recur if it is not treated the first time around and it can result in complications. For example, if it occurs during pregnancy, it may increase the risk of spontaneous abortion or premature birth.
It is important to maintain the balance of bacteria
“There are products with specific formulations that are suitable for cleansing and protecting the intimate areas, as well as preserving the pH balance” says Dr. Baggiani. “In fact, perfume and chemical agents found in hygiene products are typically too strong for the intimate areas, which are delicate.”
“Some useful approaches to preventing recurrences include cleansing and rinsing the intimate areas from top to bottom, in an effort to avoid dragging the intestinal bacteria present in the anal area towards the vagina and urethra; drying the vaginal area after cleansing, frequently changing absorbents (internal and external) during menstruation, and changing underwear after swimming or playing sports.”
In regards to bacteria, should probiotics be taken before, during or after treatment? “There are products that can be used locally and they come in forms such as tablets, glow plugs or gels. They can help regulate the pH balance in order to eliminate unpleasant odors and abnormal secretions, they can limit the growth of harmful bacteria, and they can provide support to the lactobacillus. However, it is also advised to use oral probiotic supplements containing different strains of lactobacillus. In fact, clinical studies show that the intake of probiotics lowers vaginal pH and keeps it low, all the while increasing the number of vaginal lactobacilli” concludes the specialist.