Most of the time when I am discussing probiotics with my patients, we are talking about them in connection with their many benefits for gut health. While the formulas I recommend for gut health will often also benefit urogenital health, emerging research is showing that different organisms work better for different parts of our bodies. Some beneficial bacteria are best at colonizing the small intestines, but we should chose different ones for the mouth, colon or urogenital tract. It can even come down to a particular strain of beneficial bacteria. For instance, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (sold as Culturelle) has been shown to grow very well in the small intestines, but a very closely related strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 is superior in many recent studies for colonizing the vaginal mucosa, even when taken orally. Most of these studies are using a formula that also contains Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14.
This probiotic combination of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and L. reuteri RC-14 is featured in several recent studies on improving urogenital health in women. For instance, postmenopausal women who had been suffering from recurrent urinary tract infections took daily either a prophylactic antibiotic or these two beneficial bacteria. At the end of a year, the rate of infections had been reduced by half in both groups, demonstrating that the probiotics were just as effective as the preventative antibiotic. In a study on women with Candida infections, all women took an antifungal medication, but half of the women were given this probiotic duo and the other half received a placebo. Of the women taking the beneficial bacteria, 90% had a complete elimination of symptoms compared to 62% in the women who got the placebo pills. This increased success rate is due to the ability of these particular strains to out competing the bad organisms, partially by producing growth inhibitors against pathogenic organisms like Candida.