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Is there a natural way to treat a vaginal infection?

By Amery Baker, PA-C

The best answer to this question is: not really.

Natural remedies for treatment of vaginal infection have theoretic science behind them and limited evidence supporting use.  When compared to available medications (including over the counter treatments) for vaginal infections, however, they do not help enough for doctor recommendation. Some remedies are even harmful. Here are the most notable natural/ alternative therapies and little about their use:

Vaginal yogurt with honey. Yogurt contains live bacteria and is thought to help restore good bacteria and decrease yeast overgrowth. While the bacteria in yogurt (lactobacilli) is similar to vaginal bacteria, it is not the same.  Honey is a natural antibiotic/ antifungal.  Small studies show that when yogurt with honey is inserted vaginally it can help a yeast infection in some patients, but is far inferior to antifungal treatments available over the counter. Also, there is a concern that using yogurt vaginally can promote resistant strains of vaginal bacteria.

Probiotics: Probiotics are thought to restore healthy balance of vaginal bacteria. Oral probiotics are generally thought to be safe and are reasonable to try.  Using probiotics in the treatment of bacterial vaginosis is showing promise in overseas studies, but they are still inconclusive. Probiotics are not shown to be helpful for a yeast infection.

Garlic. Garlic has natural antifungal properties.  Studies show when taken orally, it has no effect on a vaginal infection. There are no studies on the use of garlic vaginally.

Boric Acid:  While not natural, this is probably the most used alternative treatment for vaginal infections. The boric acid is thought to restore the natural pH of the vagina, thus promoting the growth of good bacteria. It can be used to treat a vaginal infection if used vaginally. It is better for treatment of yeast than bacterial vaginosis and doesn’t work as well as antibiotics or antifungals. It is a poison if ingested orally and very dangerous if not handled correctly. It is recommended to discuss this option with your doctor before using.

pH douches: Vaginal douching destroys the normal vaginal bacteria. It is not a treatment for a vaginal infection, and is often harmful. It can cause a vaginal infection or worsen an already existing infection.

With little effective natural options, what can you do?

First, practice good vaginal hygiene. Anything that can cause irritation, decrease beneficial bacteria or change the pH in the vagina can make an infection worse. Here are a few things to do to help your body heal.

  • Use water only to clean the genitals. Using too much soap, even if it is hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, or for sensitive skin clears the good bacteria and causes irritation on the vaginal mucosa. Bubble baths are also not advised.
  • Keep the vaginal area dry. Change out of work out clothing or swim suits as soon as possible. Don’t use minipads or, if you do, change them often.

Second, you can determine what kind of vaginal infection you most likely have.  There are common signs that help differentiate between the two most common causes of vaginal infections:

Yeast infections:

  • Main symptom is vaginal itching and irritation
  • Discharge is either white and thick or there can be an increase in vaginal dryness (especially with intercourse).
  • Yeast infections are more common after the use of an antibiotic

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV):

  • Main symptom is vaginal odor. The smell is almost always described as “fishy”. This odor is worse after intercourse.
  • Discharge is almost always increased and yellow, thin.
  • This infection can be associated with mild pelvic cramping.

If you think you have a yeast infection, over the counter treatments are very effective. These include Monistat and Gynelotrimin.  If you think you have bacterial vaginosis (BV), there are no over the counter options and a prescription antibiotic is needed.  If neither or both seem likely, an exam by your OBGYN is the most beneficial.

Signs that something more severe could be going on:

  • Fever
  • Irregular vaginal bleeding
  • Severe vaginal or pelvic pain
  • Recent intercourse with a new partner

Do I have to have an exam?

Most OBGYN doctors encourage an appointment for a vaginal infection due to the many potential causes of vaginitis. While most vaginal infections are related to overgrowth of normal organisms in the vagina, some can be very serious and lead to significant problems. These include chlamydia, herpes, trichomoniasis and other sexually transmitted infections.  Getting the right diagnosis decreases healing time and ensures that nothing more serious is the cause. Also, if you are or could be pregnant, you should always check with your doctor before diagnosing or treating a vaginal infection.

If  you would like to make an appointment with Spokane OBGYN, please complete our online form or call us.

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Once a C-section, Always a C-section?

By Mark Schemmel, M.D.

Patients often ask if having had a cesarean once means that they will always require a cesarean.  The fact is that most women who have had a single prior cesarean are candidates for what we call TOLAC, or a trial of labor after cesarean. Many of these women have a high likelihood, 60-70% or better, of succeeding in achieving a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). Individual likelihood of success is variable depending on a number of factors. This can be determined through consultation with your obstetrician as part of an overall discussion of the pros and cons of TOLAC.

When discussing chances of vaginal deliver after cesarean, your doctor will consider the reasons for having had a prior cesarean as well as medical conditions and disorders, gestational diabetes, and current pregnancy complications.  There is always a risk associated in attempting a vaginal delivery after cesarean.  Risks to the mother include having another unsuccessful labor leading to repeat cesarean.  Risk to the baby (and mother) include uterine rupture.

Your obstetrician will assist you in consider all of this information and deciding whether or not TOLAC is the best choice for you.

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Dietary Supplements During Pregnancy

By Dr. Jason Reuter

It is important to maintain healthy nutrition during pregnancy.  Taking the time to meal plan and shop for healthy food is essential.  In addition to obtaining nutrition from food, some women turn to nutritional supplements to maintain good health during pregnancy.  Nutritional supplements are intended to aid in acquiring nutrients lacking from food consumption, or that are in extra demand due to the pregnancy.  However, controversy and confusion exist when it comes to the safety, type, and quantity of nutritional supplements.

In general, there are two categories of nutritional supplements: (1) elemental supplements, or vitamins; and (2) herbal or plant supplements.  Each of these categories is addressed in turn below.

Elemental Supplements found in Prenatal Vitamins

Elemental supplements, also referred to as vitamins, play an important role in the health of the mother and development of the fetus.  Elemental supplements have been well studied for decades and have undergone rigid and comprehensive safety studies to determine the quantity that is safe for a healthy pregnancy.  As a general guideline, the safest practice is for pregnant women to take only prenatal vitamins.  Vitamins such as folic acid, calcium, iron, vitamin D, potassium and many of the “B” vitamins (thiamine, niacin and riboflavin) are found in prenatal vitamins.

Herbal or Plant Supplement Safety

Herbal or plant supplements may be regarded as “safe” by the public, but there is often no scientific data to support this.  While elemental supplements are purified and the dosing range is established, the same is not true for herbal or plant supplements.  Herbal or plant supplements are sold in many different preparations by many different companies.  As a result, they are sold without prior testing and their makers have no obligation to report adverse events.  The lack of oversight of the herbal supplement market allows companies to make inaccurate and/or false claims of the reported benefits of the supplements without recourse.

Another concern for pregnant woman is many manufacturers of herbal supplements use fillers and unlisted ingredients, such as metals, to decrease their cost of production.

The lack of prior testing of herbal supplements is concerning for pregnant women, because the risks are simply unknown.  A lack of proof of harm should not lead a pregnant woman to assume herbal supplements are safe.  Due to the unknown safety of herbal or plant supplements, it is standard practice to recommend that women avoid taking herbal supplements during pregnancy.

Discuss all nutritional supplements with your medical provider

Please note this posting is not meant to be a comprehensive discussion, but rather, a starting point for further discussion with your medical provider.  In addition to the nutritional supplements discussed above, two other items to be discussed with your medical provider include caffeine and omega 3 supplements.  These items are beyond the scope of this article, but a pregnancy woman should be aware these may pose a concern during her pregnancy, should she choose to use them.