How can I protect my good bacteria? Will yogurt help?
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are the name we use for foods and supplements that contain some of the good organisms that usually live on and inside of us, usually bacteria.
Different parts of our body have lots of bacteria naturally living on or in them. Your gut for example has many species of good bacteria, as does your skin, and vagina.
The idea behind probiotics is that when our body's natural ecosystem is disturbed (by antibiotics or sickness) that it might be possible to help restore health and prevent disease by taking these supplements or foods to restore balance to our personal ecosystem.
Do Probiotics Actually Work?
We are just starting to understand the ecosystem of the full body and it might be harder than we think to restore it to a healthy balance. Scientists and doctors are currently studying how well they actually work. However there is now some evidence they do help at least in specific circumstances.
Using Probiotics to try to Avoid Yeast Infections and Bacterial Vaginosis
Your vagina usually has lots of good bacteria of many species but one of the most common types is Lactobacillus. It works with your body to keep out other bad bacteria and fungi. When you take antibiotics sometimes you can mess up that vaginal ecosystem by killing the good bacteria. Then bad bacteria can grow, causing bacterial vaginosis, or fungi can grow causing vaginal candidiasis (yeast infection).
There is currently weak evidence that probiotics may help prevent vaginal candidiasis (yeast infection).
Vaginal yeast infections can also happen without antibiotics and other things can contribute to your risk for yeast infections - including:
- Uncontrolled diabetes.
- Sex with a partner who has a yeast infection
- Hormones during pregnancy, menopause, or breastfeeding
- Immune system disorders
There isn't strong evidence currently that probiotics help reduce the frequency of bacterial vaginosis or that it can treat it.
Bacterial vaginosis can also occur spontaneously without antibiotics, and is sometimes related to things like:
- Menstrual cycle
- New sexual partners
Probiotics May Help Avoid Antibiotic Induced Diarrhea
When taking antibiotics you are trying to kill the bad bacteria (pathogenic bacteria) that is causing an infection. However it may also kill some of the good bacteria that helps your body - such as the bacteria in your gut that helps you digest food. This can cause diarrhea, and sometimes it also allows other bad bacteria to flourish and cause serious diarrheal illness.
Some probiotics (especially those containing Bifidobacterium, Clostridium, and Lactobacillus) may be helpful for the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea - specifically the prevention of Clostridium difficile–associated diarrhea in children and adults.
The evidence that yogurt can help with this type of diarrhea is mixed.
The Bottom Line
There is some evidence that probiotic pills or foods that contain probiotics like yogurt can help mitigate some of the negative effects of antibiotics like diarrhea. There isn't strong evidence that it can treat these problems yet.
So - if you like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, or other fermented food - keep eating them and eat the kind with active cultures! And talk to your doctor to determine if other probiotic pills or forms would be helpful for you.