Vaginas are basically self-cleaning ovens. But even then, your vajayjay might need a little TLC sometimes. Enter: Probiotics. Probiotics can help keep your vagina’s pH level in a healthy range and might reduce your risk of vaginal infections.
Here’s a rundown of the best probiotics for vaginal pH balance. We also have the deets on where to buy them and how to use them.
Maybe! While probiotics aren’t a cure-all, studies show they can help keep your vagina’s pH level in a healthy range. This may help reduce your risk of vaginal issues like yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis (BV), and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
These probiotic strains might work best:
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus crispatus
With an average pH of 3.8 to 5.0, vaginas are on the acidic side. This acidic environment helps protect the vagina from bacteria, yeasts, or anything that could otherwise grow and cause infections.
The acidic pH also keeps your vaginal bacteria happy. Just like your gut has a distinct collection of microbes (aka gut microbiome), you also have a vaginal microbiome. A balanced vaginal microbiome is essential for balancing pH levels.
Lactobacillus is the main genus of bacteria found in the vagina. Many bacterial species with differing jobs fall under the Lactobacillus genus. They’re uber important for pH balance because they produce lactic acid.
Lactic acid is a metabolite made when the bacteria break down carbs. Since it’s acidic, lactic acid can help keep your vaginal pH low and free from interloping pathogens.
It’s a two-way street where your vaginal pH helps maintain healthy bacteria levels, but your vaginal bacteria are also essential for maintaining the acidic environment. They work together to keep your vagina itch-free.
Anything that enters the vagina can potentially throw off pH balance. This includes:
- Menstrual blood. Period blood is alkaline compared to the vagina, so it can temporarily alter vaginal pH.
- Semen. Another argument for safe sex? Semen has an alkaline pH so it can raise vaginal pH. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but unprotected sex might impact pH and influence the risk of infection.
- Douching. Douching is a big no-no for vaginal health. It messes with your pH and throws off the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina. Don’t let marketing fool you — you don’t need special soaps, wipes, or douches. A vagina is supposed to smell like a vagina, not flowers.
- Antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill all bacteria, good and bad. This can throw your vaginal microbiome out of whack and make you more prone to yeast infections.
Pathogens don’t vibe in acidic environments. So, if your vaginal pH is more basic, it can open the door to some not-so-friendly bacteria and yeast. Here are some vaginal conditions to look out for.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
BV is one of the most common vaginal infections. It happens when Lactobacillus bacteria gets replaced by anaerobic bacteria.
BV can be asymptomatic for some. But you might experience:
- a fishy odor
- burning urination
- painful penetration
- vaginal itching and irritation
- grey, green, or white discharge
BV can usually be treated with antibiotics. Your doc might prescribe a gel, cream, or oral meds to help get your vagina back on track. Just keep in mind, reoccurrence is common. So, you might need follow-up treatments if symptoms return.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
UTIs are caused by bacteria entering the urethra (aka your pee tube). The bacteria can travel north and set up shop in your bladder. It can make you feel like you have to pee all the time, but nothing comes out. Or when you do pee it burns real bad 🔥. To top it all off, UTIs can also cause pelvic pain.
If left unchecked, a UTI can turn into a kidney infection. That’s why it’s 10/10 important you get your UTI treated right away. Your doc can give you antibiotics to kill the bad bacteria. In addition to meds, your doc might suggest a home remedy like drinking lots of water or taking certain supplements.
Yeast infections happen when there’s an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida in the vagina. Yeast infections typically occur due to an imbalance in vaginal bacteria (like after antibiotic use).
Yeast infections can cause foul-smelling, chunky discharge. Other symptoms can include:
- swelling and inflammation
- pain during sex or urination
- itching and burning on the vulva and inside the vagina
Yeast infections are often treated with topical treatment. But for more severe cases, your doc might hook you up with some Rx antifungals. FYI: These treatments can ease symptoms but may not address the bacterial imbalance.
Reminder: Lactobacillus is the primary bacterial genus found in the vagina. It’s vital for making lactic acid that keeps pH low. So supplemental probiotics that contain this strain tend to have the best results in restoring vaginal pH. There’s also a chance Lactobacillus supplements can also lower your risk of UTI. Woot!
The best probiotics for a healthy vaginal pH include:
- Lactobacillus reuteri. In an older 2009 study, researchers found that participants who took a Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri supplement alongside antibiotics had better results than those who only took antibiotics. The probiotics group also had healthier bacterial numbers.
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus. A 2013 analysis of 5 studies — comprising of 294 participants — found that Lactobacillus bacteria including L. rhamnosus helped prevent UTIs. But we need more research to prove the exact effects of L. rhamnosus on its own to treat vaginal conditions.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus. A 2021 study found that a combo supplement of Lactobacillus acidophilus and a yeast-based probiotic called Saccharomyces Cerevisiae supported healthy bacteria growth when added to an antifungal treatment for yeast infections. It also helped minimize the risk of reoccurrence.
- Lactobacillus crispatus. Studies show supplementing with Lactobacillus crispatus might help keep harmful bacteria away and help maintain a healthy vaginal environment.
For an active or recurrent infection, you may want a higher amount of probiotics at one time, so supplements can help or be used in addition to food sources of probiotics. You can also take Lactobacillus supplements as a preventive measure, especially if you get recurrent vaginal infections.
Probiotic supplements are found in a variety of forms like:
You can prob find probiotic supplements containing some (or all!) of the best strains for vaginal health at your local health food store. If not, you can def get high quality products online. While there’s no exact recommended daily dosage, your doc can give you a recommendation based on your unique needs.
Food can be a solid source of probiotics like Lactobacillus. Some sweet options include:
Keep in mind, we need a lot more research to show if eating probiotics have the same benefits as taking a probiotic supplement to benefit vaginal health.
Vaginas naturally have an acidic pH. Certain situations (e.g. sex, menstruation, or antibiotics) can raise your vagina’s pH and mess with your vaginal microbiome. This can increase your risk of infections like UTIs, BV, and yeast infections.
Taking probiotics — especially Lactobacillus strains — might help your vagina get back on track. You can take a probiotic supplement in a pill, capsule, gummy, or powder form. There’s also a chance that eating foods rich in probiotics can help.
PSA: Always talk with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or supplement regimen.