One of the common misconceptions about women’s health is that yogurt cures yeast infections. How did this idea get started? And why isn’t it true? And if there is no benefit from using yogurt in the vagina or on the vulva, are there other food-related products that are useful?
First of all, what is a yeast infection?
Candida albicans is a fungal organism commonly found in nature and frequently found on humans. It is a yeast-type fungus, which has to do with the microscopic form it takes. That is why vaginal infections (vaginitis) caused by this fungus are called “yeast infections.” These infections cause itching, burning, often a vaginal discharge, and are common. It is a lucky woman who has never had a yeast infection!
Where does the yogurt idea come from?
In order to understand the mistaken connection between yogurt and yeast infections we need to review some microbiology. Lactobacillus is a Genus of bacteria that metabolizes sugars and produces lactic acid. There are many types that are found in animals (including humans) and in foods, and these types are specific as to where they “live.” Lactobacillus acidophilus is the type most commonly used to make yogurt (by fermenting the lactose sugar in milk). It is NOT the type found in the vagina, just its cousin.
Why doesn’t it work?
Lactobacillus is the most abundant bacteria in the vagina, and there are at least four to five types found there, but none are acidophilus . Due to the production of lactic acid by these bacteria, the pH of the vagina is kept acidic, which helps in the natural defense against infection. Therefore it is known as the “good bacteria.” But when something disrupts the natural vaginal defenses, such as a course of antibiotics, there can be an overgrowth of Candida albicans causing an infection. Putting yogurt, and thereby acidophilus bacteria in the vagina doesn’t produce any beneficial effect. It doesn’t kill off the yeast, and it certainly doesn’t grow and produce more of the “good bacteria” because it is a different type of lactobacillus!
How can so many websites be wrong?
The idea of self-treatment of yeast infections with yogurt started back in the 1980’s, before there were any over-the-counter yeast infection medications (antifungals) available. This seemed to go out of fashion for a while, but now with the growth of the internet it is even easier to spread and therefore perpetuate false information. One website author picks up misinformation from another website and republishes it, making it look like multiple sources agree. Even Wikipedia states that yogurt is a treatment for yeast infections! Yogurt is not, in fact, a treatment for anything; it is just a healthy food, a great source of calcium, and a tasty snack. And by the way, some websites also recommend other food remedies for vaginitis including sea salt, apple cider vinegar, and garlic. Applying these products to the vagina or vulva will be smelly, ineffective, and probably painful for inflamed skin, and can even make the inflammation worse, so don’t use them either.
So don’t believe everything you read, don’t believe everything you hear, and DON’T PUT FOOD IN YOUR VAGINA!