What's The Deal With Probiotic Tampons?

Photographed by Nicole Maroon.
If you're lucky enough to get slammed with bacterial vaginosis frequently, then the prospect of an OTC treatment that actually works will have you sprinting to your nearest drug store faster than you can say, "Metronidazole." And some people claim that tampons loaded with freeze-dried probiotics are that miracle cure.
Where have these magical tampons been all your life? Well, they're not officially sold in the United States, although they are big in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, and available on Amazon. Since they sound too good to be true, we have to wonder: Are probiotic tampons safe?
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Unfortunately, there is very little research on the usage of probiotics — taken orally or vaginally — to prevent or treat a vaginal infection, according to Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine. But logistically it makes sense why people say they work.
We know that bacterial vaginosis is likely caused by an imbalance of bacteria in a person's vagina. Probiotics are varieties of the bacteria lactobacilli, and produce acid inside your body, Dr. Minkin says. In theory, if you were to insert a probiotic-soaked tampon vaginally, "the presence of acid deters the growth of 'nastier' bacteria, which cause infections," she says. That said, there's not enough evidence that this actually works, so doctors typically don't recommend using probiotics to treat BV.
Also, using probiotics won't necessarily cure an infection — only antibiotics can do that, says Roshini Raj, MD, a board-certified physician and women's health advocate. "Nothing else has been proven to be effective," Dr. Raj says. "Since there is a high rate of recurrence [for BV], and there are long-term health risks associated with untreated BV, effective treatment is very important."
While popping a tampon might temporarily relieve your symptoms, if you actually want to treat the infection then you'll have to get to a doctor and take antibiotics. Not to mention, BV is often confused for other vaginal infections, so it's important to see your doctor and get tested before you jump into a treatment plan.
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What's the worst thing that could happen if you use a probiotic tampon? There's a chance you could thwart your treatment, because in some cases, inserting ingredients in the vagina can throw off the bacterial balance even more, Dr. Raj says. Researchers aren't even totally sure what the side effects of taking probiotics are (they can cause gas, but they can also cause severe infections), let alone what would happen when used in your vagina. And there's really no telling exactly what's inside of a probiotic tampon (especially if you're ordering them from outside the U.S.), because the Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate probiotic supplements.
To that point, please don't try to MacGyver your own probiotic tampons by dipping them in yogurt, Dr. Raj says. "DIY remedies are not a good idea when it comes to vaginal infections —they are not effective and can sometimes make things worse," she says. Basically, the moral of all this is that you shouldn't try to replace a medical treatment with a home remedy — even if tons of people on the internet swear that it works. Talk to your doctor, and stick to putting yogurt in your mouth.
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