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Probiotics may not do much for vaginal health

The importance of probiotics and maintaining the “good” bacteria in the body is essential in many areas of health. The microorganisms that inhabit the vagina can impact pregnancy and other health outcomes.

However, improving the vaginal microbiome might not be as simple as taking probiotics. Experts shared recent study findings at the 38th annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).

They found that treatment with vaginal probiotic capsules among women with unfavorable vaginal microbiomes did not improve vaginal flora more than a placebo.

The importance of the vaginal microbiome

The National Institute of Environmental Health SciencesTrusted Source notes that “[t]he microbiome is the collection of all microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes, that naturally live on our bodies and inside us.”

People’s microbiomes play a crucial role in many areas of health. The vaginal microbiome refers to all the microorganisms in the vagina. The makeup of the vaginal microbiomeTrusted Source can impact the risk for gynecological cancers.

It can also impact the risk for sexually transmitted infections. Finally, it can also affect conception and pregnancyTrusted Source. The microorganism Lactobacillus typically contributes to a healthy vaginal microbiomeTrusted Source and helps protect the body.

Doctors must consider vaginal health and how to improve it, including for those seeking infertility treatment such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

A healthy vaginal microbiome can increase the chances of a healthy pregnancy. However, how to best improve vaginal microbiomes might be more complicated than just using vaginal probiotics.

Probiotics: Not as effective as experts hoped?

The study in question was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, which allows for great objectivity and helps remove the risk of bias. Researchers included 74 participants. The participants had all been referred for IVF and had unfavorable vaginal microbiomes.

Researchers divided the participants into two groups: One received a placebo, and the other received vaginal probiotic capsules that contained Lactobacillus. The researchers reevaluated the participants’ vaginal microbiomes after they had completed their treatment and after they had had their next menstrual cycle.

The study authors found no significant differences between the control and intervention groups. However, more than a third (34.2%) of all participants experienced improvements in vaginal microbiome quality over 1-3 months, regardless of whether they received a probiotic or a placebo.

Yasser Diab, consultant gynecologist and obstetrician at the Cadogan Clinic, who was not involved in this study, noted to Medical News Today that “[t]here was no significant difference between the two groups — the lactobacilli group [and the] placebo group.”

“The intervention did not include all strains of lactobacilli implicated in influencing fertility outcomes. More detailed studies are needed to establish therapeutic strategies to improve fertility treatment outcomes from interventions addressing the vaginal microbiome,” he pointed out.

Study author Dr. Ida Enberg Jepson commented that she and her colleagues were surprised by the results and that specific probiotic treatments might not be as effective as they had hoped.

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