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Bacterial Vaginosis Treatment: Can Supplements Help?

Unusual discharge, odor, or discomfort in the vaginal area isn’t something most are comfortable discussing, which may lead to attempts to treat the symptoms with supplements or other home remedies to avoid contacting a physician.

Key takeaways:

Although probiotics and other preventative measures may help prevent this bacterial infection, there are chances of developing other severe health conditions without appropriate treatment.

What is bacterial vaginosis?

A healthy vagina typically has both good and harmful bacteria. Bacterial vaginosis can occur when there is too much overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Bacteria growth can cause uncomfortable symptoms, including changes in vaginal discharge or odor and potentially inflammation and itching.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal condition in women of reproductive age. The increased occurrence may be due to sexual fluids and lubricants disrupting the vagina’s pH balance. BV is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD), but if not treated, there is an increased risk of getting or transmitting HIV or other STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is sometimes confused with a yeast infection, but each has different causes, symptoms, and treatments. The main difference is that a yeast infection is a fungal infection and causes a thick, white, odorless discharge. At the same time, bacterial vaginosis results in a thin, grayish-white discharge with a fishy odor that increases during menstruation or after sex.

Sometimes other infections can mimic the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, or 50 to 75% of those infected may have no symptoms. BV may resolve independently, but treatment can lower the risk of complications or other health risks.

What causes bacterial vaginosis?

The cause of bacterial vaginosis is unknown, but it’s most common among those who are sexually active, since semen affects the pH level in the vagina and contributes to a higher rate of bacteria growth. Women of African and Hispanic descent also have a higher risk of acquiring BV.

Bacterial vaginosis can reoccur, and one in three can have a recurrence within three months or more than half within 12 months. The recurrence may be a new infection or due to stopping the medications used for treatment early or not taking them correctly. Pregnant women are also more susceptible to recurrent bacterial vaginosis, which may be due to fluctuations in hormone levels.

Treatment for bacterial vaginosis

A healthcare provider can diagnose bacterial vaginosis by a physical exam and laboratory testing of secretions. Oral antibiotic pills, or antibiotic creams inserted into the vagina, may be prescribed. A healthcare provider may suggest other STD testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis.

Bacterial vaginosis isn’t transferable to male partners but can be transferred to female partners, so both females should consider treatment.

Do supplements help cure bacterial vaginosis?

Currently, antibiotics are the only recommended treatment for symptomatic bacterial vaginosis, but probiotics such as acidophilus have been helpful for some. Probiotics are good bacteria similar to those already in your body. Taken orally, through the use of suppositories, or by applying yogurt containing acidophilus to the vagina may be effective in treating vaginal inflammation.

Probiotics may be taken as a supplement, found in some dairy products, or commercially added to foods such as yogurt, cottage cheese, or fermented foods.

Other bacterial vaginosis treatment options

Here are additional treatment options for bacterial vaginosis that you can try:

  • Garlic supplements. Taken as an oral supplement.
  • Tea tree oil. Evidence of its effectiveness is limited, and tea tree oil is unsafe for use during pregnancy and may cause allergic reactions in some.
  • Apple cider vinegar. No evidence to validate the effectiveness of apple cider vinegar and treating bacterial vaginosis.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency might contribute to bacterial vaginosis.

Supplements and other home remedies may benefit some, but the evidence of the effectiveness of treating bacterial vaginosis is limited. It’s best to obtain treatment or consult a healthcare provider first.

What happens if bacterial vaginosis isn’t treated?

Bacterial vaginosis may go away if left untreated. But avoiding or delaying treatment can increase the chance of other serious health risks, such as a sexually transmitted disease like chlamydia or getting or transmitting HIV.

The bacteria from the infection can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which may make it challenging to have children. Pregnant women with untreated bacterial vaginosis are more likely to deliver prematurely or at low birth weight. A surgical procedure such as a hysterectomy or abortion while infected with bacterial vaginosis can lead to an infection of the surgical site.

Checking with a healthcare provider about any symptoms of BV and the need for treatment can reduce these risks. After starting antibiotic treatment, symptoms usually resolve within a few days.

Ways to avoid bacterial vaginosis

Many other factors may increase the risk of acquiring bacterial vaginosis, but preventative measures can reduce the risk:

  • Sexual behavior. Limit the number of sexual partners and use condoms or other barrier protection during all forms of penetrative sex.
  • Birth control. Consider hormonal birth control since this may reduce the risk of recurrent BV.
  • Urinate. Do this immediately after sex and rinse the vagina with clean water.
  • No scents. Avoid scented vaginal products since perfumed soaps can spur bacteria growth.
  • Clothing. Wear breathable cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes to avoid increasing bacteria growth.
  • Do not douche. Don't do this, as this may cause inflammation, reduce good bacteria and increase the risk of infections.
  • Hygiene. Change condoms before transitioning from anal to vaginal sex, wash sex toys after every use, and don’t share them.
  • Stay dry. Avoid wearing wet clothes or those with heavy sweat since this can encourage bacteria growth.

Tips for those with bacterial vaginosis

Finish all medications even if symptoms have resolved, and abstain from sex or use barrier protection with intercourse. Any diet change or occurrence affecting the GI tract can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria. Be sure to follow a healthy diet, since a poor diet can impair the body’s ability to return to normal.

Bacterial vaginosis may be common, but following the tips and practicing safe sex may help reduce the risk of acquiring an infection.

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