One of the most common remedies cited for getting rid of vaginal odor is the use of probiotics.
Some women eat them in the form of yogurts, sauerkraut; while others drink kombucha and pop lactobacillus pills.
The golden question is, after all these efforts, do probiotics work for vaginal odor?
Understanding Probiotics and Prebiotics
Infections within the vaginal environment usually results in annoying odors.
Treatments for Infections such as urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis are typically in the forms of antibiotics. Everyone knows that the more antibiotics you take, the more likely our bodies will adapt and become resistant.
What that means is an increasing frequency and escalating strength in the antibiotics used, which then translates to high cost to both your body and your wallet.
So what exactly are probiotics? And prebiotics?
Many research papers offer varying definitions, but i find the Webmd definition to be most user friendly.
Webmd defines “ Probiotics are “good” bacteria that help keep your digestive system healthy by controlling growth of harmful bacteria. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that cannot be digested by the human body. They are food for probiotics.”
Consuming probiotics and prebiotics are considered to be preventive in nature but what happens when there is already an infection going on?
Does probiotics help get rid of vaginal odor?
Why Would Probiotics Work For Vaginal Odor?
Remember that most infections are the results of overgrowth of bad bacteria in the system.
Hence the idea is that when we take probiotics, the good bacteria in our systems will grow in strength and balance the bad bacteria, hence re-establishing equilibrium and peace within the internal environment.
The concept of equilibrium (balance) is important because you see, for women, our internal body systems are continuously in a flux with the changes of hormones and interactions with other environment and emotional factors such as stress and even the food we eat!
What we can do to help ourselves optimize our systems and regulate balance.
There are various types of probiotics that are common in the market. They come in various forms of pills, powders and vaginal suppositories.
There are also foods like kefir, yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut etc. that contains probiotics naturally.
Yogurt is a popular home remedy for women who struggle with feminine odors. Some women swear by soaking tampons in yogurt and using them as homemade suppositories.
For the record, I am not a fan of tampons because of the dangers associated with them, so I do not really recommend doing so.
What Does Current Research Say?
A quick search on Google scholar yielded many pages of research papers and patent applications.
Many of the research papers seem to indicate a certain positive association of using probiotics with reducing symptoms of conditions caused by an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria in the respective body systems.
What that means is that while they cannot be sure that the probiotics are the causes for the reduction in symptoms, they did find that when probiotics are used, the symptoms appear to reduce.
At the moment, probiotics fall under the realm of alternative medicines for symptom relief for certain conditions.
One thing we need to exercise caution about research results is to remember that research requires funding. Researchers and experiments cost money.
In fact, they often do not come cheap. So where does the money come from then?
It is common knowledge that a lot of funding comes from companies with vested interest in wanting a certain components that is being researched to work, for example nutritional supplements companies, especially when they are launching that new money making vehicle. It is, after all, a multi million dollar industry.
Often times, for every positive research paper that is being published, there are more papers with negative or insignificant results that gets shoved into the drawer and never gets published.
Which means to say that the research may indicate that probiotics does not help for vaginal odor. This publication bias is called the file drawer problem.
Again on Google Scholar, we can also see many patent applications that wax lyrical about the efficacy of using certain strains of probiotics that the patent is applying for.
So likewise with the research papers, we also need to remember that patents are essentially money making machines for companies, and hence do exercise caution with the proclaimed results.
Reining in the Skeptic
All being said, that does not mean that all research papers out there are gabosh concocted by money driven companies.
There are papers that are funded by companies/universities that delivers genuine and significant results. I also believe there are academic researchers and papers out there birthed with no competing vested interest.
One of the ways I help myself to balance my opinion is to actually read the paper to see if there is any declaration of vested interest, or dig a bit deeper to check source of funding for the paper.
These information are usually available on the research papers in the declaration portion. If you find them dropping certain brands ever so often, I would be a bit more judicious in my assessment.
I also like reading meta review papers - papers that review other papers that researched on similar topics, for a more balanced view.
As to whether probiotics work for vaginal odor, I think that the effectiveness is person dependent.
Anecdotally, many people seem to find that using probiotics can improve the odor; while others see no results even if they are using the same regime.
No One Size Fits All
I think all this boils down to that fact that no one woman has the exact same microbiota environment.
And because the amount and types of bacteria differs from woman to woman, while something seems to work for some, it may not be so for others. The key, I suppose, is to really try so that you can find out what suits you the best.
However, there seems to be no actual real harm in trying out probiotics.
Before you dig into your wallet to buy that expensive bottle of probiotic pills, may I recommend you to first consider trying out foods that contain probiotics like unsweetened plain yogurt?
My main peeve about yogurt is that too many yogurt brands available in the supermarkets are loaded with sugars, and in my opinion, can be counter intuitive because the sugar can also feed the bad bacteria!
So if you are buying that sugar laden yogurt, I really rather you put it back on the shelf and not eat it. Choose the unsweetened plain ones, please.
Kimchi is also an interesting option, but again, because of the way it is commercially made, a lot of kimchi in the market are super high in sodium content.
I strongly recommend to try your hand in making some kimchi at home - it is quite fun, provides time for good bonding with loved ones, and best of it, we get to control how much salt and sugar goes into the kimchi!
For those who are interested in trying their hand at it, I will post up my favorite kimchi recipe soon. I am really interested to know what works for you.
Do drop me a note and let me know if probiotics work for you?